More than 60 percent of the lower 48 states is still experiencing drought conditions, and the dry spell is expected to persist through at least February in most areas, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center. If this prediction is correct, farmers could easily be in the field earlier to plant this spring, according to Seth Naeve, soybean agronomist at the University of Minnesota.
“Moisture really inhibits the soil from warming up in the spring,” Naeve says. “We’ll probably have an earlier planting season in 2013 because of warmer soil conditions, due to a lack of moisture.”
Hurricane Sandy, combined with a cold front, improved drought conditions in the Midwest and eliminated them in the Northeast. However, several states still remain short of moisture in topsoil, which has farmers concerned for the upcoming planting season.
As many farmers are aware, if soil is adequately soaked from precipitation in the spring, it enhances root system development and can support crop growth well into the summer. Soils with better moisture-holding capacity benefit more from precipitation prior to planting season.
Naeve says drought for certain crops depends on the soil type and timing of water stress. Corn is most susceptible to drought during its silking and flowering periods, while soybeans are more susceptible to drought later in the growing cycle.
Planting early-maturing varieties as soon as the soil temperature and moisture permit allows plants to take in moisture from the soil before they’re exposed to summer heat. Although, farmers who choose to plant early need to review their crop insurance policies as some do not pay for replant coverage if crops are planted before a particular date. It’s also important to note that crops should be planted when seedbed conditions are favorable. Wet soil and forecasts of heavy rainfall or frost advisories are reasons not to plant early.