Every year, the timeline to get seed in the ground gets tighter and tighter. Everyone wants to get ahead of the competition. Early crop planting can be a great thing, but it can also be a little risky. Due to unpredictable weather, insects, and other variables, not every crop reacts well to early planting.
It’s often true that early planting results in higher yields, but choose the wrong planting date, and the opposite happens. Finding the time to plant plays an important role in achieving optimal yields. The key to correctly selecting the best time is finding the right combination of good field conditions, adequate soil temperature and moisture, and warm weather in the forecast instead of just relying on a calendar date.
To be successful, there are a few things that need to happen. You need to understand a field’s soil potential, create a plan and a backup plan, and make communicating with teams a priority.
Healthy soil will have all the essential elements in the right proportions to support healthy plant growth throughout its lifecycle. But, not every field will have the ideal level of every nutrient for crop production and sustainability naturally without outside help. In agriculture, the primary soil nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), or NPK. These nutrients occur naturally in the soil but are increased or decreased manually depending on crop needs.
Many factors can affect nutrient availability, including organic matter decomposition, soil erosion, leaching, and improper fertilizer application. So how do you manage it? Each nutrient has its own prevention plan to consider, but they all have one thing in common; precision agriculture. Using precision ag technology is the most efficient way to manage your soil needs, regardless of the nutrient variabilities in each zone or field.
One technique we recommend to our farmers is Variable Rate Technology (VRT). It ensures a crop receives only the nutrients it needs to reach maximum yield. It also limits the potential impact of excess fertilizer on waterways and other natural areas.
Because early planting can be a little risky, make sure to have a backup plan ready if quick adjustments are needed. A good farm plan is essential to farm success. A good plan includes understanding how teams will handle data management, seed treatments, equipment needs, labor requirements, etc.
So, where do you start? Start with determining what the priorities are on the farm. Priorities will vary depending on teams. Agronomists will want to focus on creating and accessing variable rate maps easily. Other team members, such as equipment operators, will probably want to focus more on time savings and yield-data management. With every team member vying for more focus on their specific data, it’s critical to decide up-front what the top priorities will be for the upcoming season.
Pro-tip: consider seed treatment options when planting early. Early-season insects often are a problem in early planting. More so if seedlings are weakened by cold or overly wet soils.
One of the most important tips about early crop planting is for teams to make communication a priority. Crop diversity, soil health, and varying zones mean that no two fields are alike. Having the knowledge, resources, and access to tools for more meaningful conversations around this will strengthen grower-retailer relationships.
It’s vital to make effective communication a priority between teams to ensure the success of the farm. A healthy communication plan will include a list of everyone’s priorities, role responsibilities, business goals, including yields, and a detailed description of how you will communicate with each team member. After a solid plan is created, everything else falls in line.
It’s important to note here that while the ag industry does see the most success with in-person conversations, there are alternative ways to keep the conversation going when being in-person is not an option. It can be done in the form of a personalized check-in email, phone call, or even video chat. Any platform or media can be personalized.