May 1, 2013 Field Crops 28.421 - 117

Optimum Corn Planting Dates Are Later 'Up North'

Joe Lauer, Corn Agronomist

Optimum corn planting dates vary with latitude. The northern Corn Belt is limited by heat units during the growing season, especially during the spring when cool, wet soils delay planting and during the fall when early frosts kill plants prematurely. Within Wisconsin we often find that optimum corn planting dates are later 'up-north' than in southern Wisconsin and that yield loss accelerates more quickly resulting in a shorter planting window.

The general shape of the planting date response at a location has been described previously. The last time a statewide corn planting date experiment was conducted at numerous locations was during 1991-1994 (Lauer et al., 1999). Full- and shorter-season corn hybrids were planted on five to eight planting dates between April 19 to June 22.

For the northern sites of Ashland, Spooner and Marshfield, the date when maximum corn yield occurred averaged May 12, while the southern sites of Hancock, Arlington and Lancaster were one week earlier averaging May 5 (Table 1). Corn yields were still at 95% of the maximum yield on May 17 in the north and May 12 in the south. By June 1, corn yield was decreasing at an average rate of 2.3 bu/A per day in the north and at a slower rate moving south to Lancaster.

Table 1. Corn grain yield response to planting date of full-season hybrids at various locations in Wisconsin during 1991 to 1994 (derived from Lauer et al., 1999).

Location       Date of: Rate of daily yield (bu/A) loss on:
(North to South) Full-season Relative Maturity R2 Maximum  yield
Maximum    yield      95% of max yield May 10 May 20 June 1
Ashland 85 0.43 131 May 11 May 17 0.9 1.4 2.0
Spooner 85-90 0.55 109 May 11 May 15 0.0 0.8 2.0
Marshfield 100 0.68 147 May 14 May 19 0.5 1.5 2.7
Hancock 110 0.40 175 May 5 May 9 0.9 1.7 2.7
Arlington 110-115 0.57 185 May 7 May 14 0.7 1.3 1.9
Lancaster 115 0.37 179 May 3 May 12 0.9 0.9 0.9

Optimum corn planting dates likely vary with farm, hybrid, field, tillage system and other management factors. In northern Wisconsin, these factors along with latitude result in lower yield potential and when combined with grain moisture and drying costs described previously often makes corn production marginal as we move north.

Further Reading

Lauer, J.G., P.R. Carter, T.M. Wood, G. Diezel, D.W. Wiersma, R.E. Rand, M.J. Mlynarek. 1999. Corn hybrid response to planting date in the northern Corn Belt. Agronomy Journal 91:834-939.

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