Planting progress quickens in Virginia
Corn planting in Virginia is off and running as growers open up new growing season, amid much uncertainty in the industry due to the coronavirus.
“It blew up today,” said Tyler Franklin, Axis Seed salesman, on March 30, citing a flurry of text messages from growers that morning ready to take seed and get in their fields.
From his travels and conversations last week, he estimated about 100 growers in central Virginia were starting to plant.
“We’re not stopping. We’re continuing to produce safe and affordable food no matter how bad this thing gets, we’re still going to roll,” Franklin said.
On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Northampton County ag agent, Ursula Deitch said last week potato growers were about 75 percent planted and in the next 10 days, corn planting would start, weather permitting.
Along with corn and potatoes planters rolling, some growers also have pushed the envelope on planting soybeans.
Tom Nixon, whose family farms in Rapidan, Va., planted soybeans on March 30 before starting in corn this year.
Nixon said last year the maturity group three variety he planted early “did really well” and decided to do it again.
“This year and last year we basically started planting beans the same time as planting corn,” he said. “We get more sunlight, the beans are putting more pods on and not getting extremely tall either.”
Pushing the limit even further, Stephen Ellis of Caret, Va., planted 43 acres with a group 2.9 soybean on March 10.
Ellis said as his wheat acres have declined, he’s been looking for other ways to still double crop some fields.
“I had a plan to plant this field in the middle of March and try to get a group three soybean or short season corn behind it,” Ellis said. “Plus I get so bored if I don’t do something new every year.”
The appeal of earlier planting is to capture more sunlight during longer days with the goal of increasing yield.
Franklin said that with depressed commodity prices, growers are looking for ways to increase yield and reduce input costs to widen their profit margin and moving up their soybean planting date is one thing more growers are trying.
“We’ve got a lot of people planting soybeans in March now. I see that’s going to continue,” he said. “All my contacts in the Midwest are seeing the same thing.”
Dr. David Holshouser, Virginia Cooperative Extension soybean specialists said he’s not seeing a widespread move to April planting or early but as growers take on more acres, planting dates get moved up in order to get planting completed.
“I don’t see anything wrong with planting in April, but I don’t see any advantage in my data up until now,” Holshouser said.
For growers considering an April planting date, he leans toward using an earlier maturity group to capitalize on the longer sunlight hours and recommends planting fields with better soil, and definitely using a fungicide seed treatment.
There also are multiple red flags growers need to be aware of, he said. Planting in colder weather can delay emergence and “you have a greater likelihood that it will be attacked by our common seedling diseases” like rhizoctonia and phytophthora.
Planted earlier, the plants are capturing more sunlight but it also times it’s reproductive stage at a time in summer with usually high temperatures and frequent dry periods, Holshouser said.
Harvest timing is another issue to consider. Holshouser said a good rule of thumb is planting the same maturity group 30 days early will move maturity up ten days and moving up a full maturity group, such as from 4.5 to 3.5 will gain another 10 days.
In Virginia’s cotton and peanut growing areas, early soybeans can mature at the same time as those crops, compounding the load on equipment and operators.
A group three maturity group would be approaching harvest stage in September, near or at the same time as corn harvest and at time when a combination of warm air and rain can bring on a host of seed quality issues if it can’t be harvested in a timely manner.
“This all has to play back into what the rest of your farm is doing,” Holshouser said.
Nixon said having the workers and equipment to plant corn and beans at the same time is crucial.
“We’re planting a tremendous amount, we’ve got to be prepared to run two different operations to make it all work,” he said.
Ellis said his nephew has taken over corn planting duties, freeing him up to plant soybeans earlier. Ellis planted the soybeans into a standing cover crop of rye and clover mix with the idea of giving the seeds added protection in emerging.
The field he chose to try the early planting has good subsoil moisture and is close to the Rappahanock River, which offers some frost protection as heat moves off the water, he said.
“They came up fine and I don’t think they’ll get a freeze at this point,” Ellis said, but added, that “a real hot dry July will probably make this a bad decision.”
He said seeing volunteer soybean plants emerge with new corn plants showed him it was worth trying. “We knew that they would come out and grow that early,” he said.
In 2017 he planted a test trial the second week of April and “gave it everything I could possibly think of giving it” in terms of crop protection applications.
He said this year he’s only giving the crop one application of nitrogen during the flowering stage and dropping from three to two fungicide applications.
“That year all of the extras worked but in reality, you can’t spend that much money on the crop every year.”
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