Corn Late-Planting

Originally written February 1, 2006 | Last updated August 21, 2014

The optimum date to plant corn in Wisconsin is around May 1 in southern and May 7 in northern Wisconsin. Early planting dates are preferred to later planting dates due to the impact on grain yield and increased drying cost of higher grain moisture in the fall.

As planting date gets later during a growing season, there comes a time when

  1. hybrid maturities must be switched,
  2. the use of the corn must be reconsidered (i.e. high moisture corn, silage, forage, etc.),
  3. the question of whether or not corn should even be grown at all and another crop be grown in its place, and finally
  4. corn is a worthy "emergency forage" and should be considered if planting a field is delayed to July.

If the decision is to continue planting corn, then consider the following:

  1. Try to achieve the same target population, but possibly reduce the seeding rate because of possible increased corn emergence and survival
  2. Reduce or eliminate tillage trips
  3. If switching to earlier hybrid maturities then emphasize disease resistance, Bt-corn borer traits and yield potential.

Tillage operations when planting is delayed

Choose tillage systems that limit soil damage and improve root-restricting soil layers. It is essential to leave the soil condition with the maximum opportunity for unimpeded corn root development. Potential corn yields can often be compromised more by poor soil structure following poor tillage choices more than by lost planting days.

Poor tillage choices can include:

  1. wrong tool selection,
  2. operation timing,
  3. tillage depth and frequency.

While corn farmers cannot control the rain on their fields they do have control over tillage and planting systems.

  1. Tillage operations in specific fields depend on the amounts needed for satisfactory weed control. As air temperatures warm, weed growth continues on fields that did not receive recent residual herbicide applications. Generally, herbicide sprayers should precede tillage and planting operations in fields that are not going to receive intensive, full-width spring tillage.
  2. Surface roughness left after fall tillage operations constrain tillage options in May. Effectively, soil conditions need to be fit down to, and at least an inch below, the intended tillage depth, before secondary tillage is advised. Farmers will need to be more patient in delaying secondary tillage operations if they have fields with rough soil surfaces.
  3. Stale seedbed planting often reduces seedbed compaction damage and enables earlier planting. In situations where the soil surface is smooth enough to permit planting corn seed at uniform depths and where timely weed control can be achieved, stale seedbed planting should be considered. Prime candidate fields for stale seedbed planting might be those fields where secondary tillage, but not planting, was completed in the first half of April this year.
  4. A single, shallow and well-timed tillage operation is preferred if pre-plant tillage is deemed necessary. As long as the first tillage operation following weeks of rain delays is done at a soil moisture condition when tillage can make a suitable seedbed, and when emerged weeds can be killed, no further secondary tillage operations should be required.
  5. No-till corn planting remains a viable option. The probability of successful yields with no-till does not decline with later planting dates; if anything, the relative yield potential of no-till corn increases versus corn yields likely to be achieved after more intensive tillage operations.
  6. Vertical tillage systems may speed surface soil drying. Typically, shallow and high-speed vertical tillage operations may help to speed up the rate of surface soil drying when there is non-uniform residue cover or rain-matted residue cover.
  7. Spring strip-tillage operations should be shallow. If farmers can wait until soil conditions are fit down to a 4- or 5-inch depth and have the equipment options to do shallow strip-till in spring, there can be corn yield advantages associated with doing so.
  8. Precise automatic guidance tools provide new opportunities to limit soil compaction in the actual corn rows. Use of the real-time kinetic, or RTK, steering systems enable corn farmers to precisely control where the wheel tracks will occur before planting.

Relative Maturity Switch Dates

There is an yield and moisture trade-off between full- and shorter-season relative maturity (RM) hybrids. In southern Wisconsin the yield trade-off is 1.9 bushels per RM unit. For example, a 100 d ay RM would typically yield 19 bu/A more than a 90 day RM hybrid. The highest yielding hybrids are those that utilize entire growing season and are typically full-season for maturity. Eventually full-season hybrids run out of growing season and are impacted more for grain yield than shorter-season hybrids (Figure 1). Relative maturity must be balanced against harvest grain moisture and the ensuing drying costs required to dry grain down to 15.5% moisture. Full-season hybrids are often wetter than shorter-season hybrids at grain harvest.

The date to switch hybrids depends upon corn grain price and eventual use of the crop due to drying costs (Table 1, also click here). As grain price increases, switch dates become later by 1-12 days. As drying costs increase, switch dates become earlier by 4-17 days.

Table 1. Price ratio of Energy:Corn price (i.e. $/point bu÷ $/bu corn). Partial budget subtracting harvest costs from corn price.  Data source: Arlington, 2003 to 2010.
Price of Energy (LP Gas) Price of corn ($/bu)
$/gal $/point bu $3.50 $4.00 $4.50 $5.00 $5.50 $6.00 $6.50
$0.00 $0.00 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
$0.40 $0.01 0.002 0.002 0.002 0.002 0.001 0.001 0.001
$0.80 $0.02 0.005 0.004 0.004 0.003 0.003 0.003 0.002
$1.20 $0.02 0.007 0.006 0.005 0.005 0.004 0.004 0.004
$1.60 $0.03 0.009 0.008 0.007 0.006 0.006 0.005 0.005
$2.00 $0.04 0.011 0.010 0.009 0.008 0.007 0.007 0.006
$2.40 $0.05 0.014 0.012 0.011 0.010 0.009 0.008 0.007
$2.80 $0.06 0.016 0.014 0.012 0.011 0.010 0.009 0.009
$3.20 $0.06 0.018 0.016 0.014 0.013 0.012 0.011 0.010
Switch date:            
$0.00 $0.00 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23
$0.40 $0.01 May 22 May 22 May 22 May 22 May 22 May 22 May 22
$0.80 $0.02 May 20 May 20 May 21 May 21 May 21 May 21 May 21
$1.20 $0.02 May 18 May 19 May 19 May 20 May 20 May 20 May 21
$1.60 $0.03 May 16 May 17 May 18 May 18 May 19 May 19 May 20
$2.00 $0.04 May 14 May 16 May 16 May 17 May 18 May 18 May 19
$2.40 $0.05 May 12 May 14 May 15 May 16 May 17 May 17 May 18
$2.80 $0.06 May 10 May 12 May 13 May 15 May 15 May 16 May 17
$3.20 $0.06 May 8 May 10 May 12 May 13 May 14 May 15 May 16
Partial Budget subtracting harvest costs:                
              Rate  
  Grain yield (bu/A) 180 handling ($/bu) $0.02 $0.02
  Grain moisture (%) 25.0 hauling ($/bu) $0.04 $0.04
  Input trade-off ($/A) $25.00 trucking ($/bu 100 miles) $0.11 $0.11
  storage ($/bu month) $0.02 $0.06
  drying ($/bu point) $0.06 $0.57
  Total ($/bu) $0.80
          $0.80 /bu    
$0.00 $0.00 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000 0.000
$0.40 $0.01 0.003 0.003 0.002 0.002 0.002 0.002 0.001
$0.80 $0.02 0.006 0.005 0.004 0.004 0.003 0.003 0.003
$1.20 $0.02 0.009 0.008 0.006 0.006 0.005 0.005 0.004
$1.60 $0.03 0.012 0.010 0.009 0.008 0.007 0.006 0.006
$2.00 $0.04 0.015 0.013 0.011 0.010 0.009 0.008 0.007
$2.40 $0.05 0.018 0.015 0.013 0.011 0.010 0.009 0.008
$2.80 $0.06 0.021 0.018 0.015 0.013 0.012 0.011 0.010
$3.20 $0.06 0.024 0.020 0.017 0.015 0.014 0.012 0.011
Switch date:            
$0.00 $0.00 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23 May 23
$0.40 $0.01 May 21 May 21 May 22 May 22 May 22 May 22 May 22
$0.80 $0.02 May 19 May 20 May 20 May 20 May 21 May 21 May 21
$1.20 $0.02 May 16 May 18 May 18 May 19 May 19 May 20 May 20
$1.60 $0.03 May 14 May 16 May 17 May 18 May 18 May 19 May 19
$2.00 $0.04 May 11 May 13 May 15 May 16 May 17 May 17 May 18
$2.40 $0.05 May 9 May 11 May 13 May 14 May 15 May 16 May 17
$2.80 $0.06 May 6 May 9 May 11 May 13 May 14 May 15 May 16
$3.20 $0.06 May 2 May 6 May 9 May 11 May 12 May 14 May 15
Harvesting costs: handling = $0.02/bu, hauling = $0.04/bu, trucking = $0.11/bu for 100 miles, storage = $0.02/bu of 25% for 4 monthes and 25% for 8 monthes, drying = $0.04/point moisture above 15.5% (assume 22.5%).

Source for drying efficiency: Hoeft et al., 2000 p.328 T15.6; also Hellevang and Morey NCH-14 Table 4.

Switch dates usually occur around May 20 for most locations in Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, two switch dates can occur for grain (May 20 and June 1), while in northern Wisconsin only one switch date is available (May 20). The planting window is much shorter in northern Wisconsin.

Figure 1. Shorter-season hybrids (7 to 10 days M) become more economical (yield and moisture) than full-season hybrids after about May 23. Source: Lauer (Arlington, WI, 2002-2010).

The switch date decision is also influenced by the eventual use of the corn (Table 1). If the field to be planted is intended for corn silage or high moisture grain, then switch dates can be later because there is less concern about drying costs. The crop needs to achieve between 25% kernel milk for silage and black layer for high moisture corn grain yield to optimize yield.

In addition, switch dates are influenced by geographical location. There is more flexibility for southern Wisconsin than northern Wisconsin. In southern Wisconsin, we have two or more possible switch dates for grain, May 20-25 and June 1-5 (Table 2). While in northern Wisconsin, we have only one switch date May 20-25.

Table 2. Relative maturity of adapted corn hybrids for different planting dates
and relative maturity zones in Wisconsin.
  Relative maturities for late planting on
Full-season relative maturity zone
(planting before May 15)
May 20 June 1 June 10 June 20
         
80 and earlier 75- 80 75- 80 (silage) -- --
85- 90 80- 85 75- 80 (silage) -- --
90- 95 85- 90 75- 80 75- 80 (silage) --
95-100 90- 95 80- 85 75- 80 (silage) --
100-105 95-100 85- 90 75- 80 75- 80 (silage)
105-110 100-105 90- 95 80- 85 75- 80 (silage)
110-115 105-110 95-100 85- 90 75- 80 (silage)

Another factor influencing switch date is, what shorter-season hybrids do you switch to? During the winter, a lot of research often goes into selecting good high performing full-season hybrids. But as the decision to switch to shorter-season hybrids draws near, do you have enough time to adequately research and find a good performing shorter-season hybrid? Is a good high-performing hybrid available from the seed company? Remember the basics (see http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/AA/A082.aspx) as you select new hybrids and don't be pressured into switching into just any hybrid - make sure it is a good performer.

One last point is that late-planted corn often has increased pest pressure, especially from European corn borer (ECB). Planting a transgenic Bt-CB hybrid can help manage ECB if pressure is high.

Should Corn be Planted?

If corn planting is delayed until June 1 in northern Wisconsin and June 10 in southern Wisconsin, then growers should consider putting corn planters away and planting soybean. The low corn yields seen in June will not recover the input costs required to produce the crop. This decision is influenced by corn price, price of the alternative crop (usually soybean) and the proportion of farm acres of each crop left to be planted. If the production objective is dry grain and you have been delayed, then you may want to begin pricing fuel for fall drying.

Other crops that night be grown can be found here.

Corn as an "emergency forage"

Corn planters could be brought back out after July 1. By this time, if fields are not planted, the production objective becomes "emergency forage" for dry matter production. We have produced up to 6.8 T/A dry matter with July planting dates for corn (see http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/Research/03DOP/Late2005.pdf and http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/Research/03DOP/Late2006.pdf).

Key Questions

  1. What is the yield penalty for late-planted corn and soybean?
  2. What are the latest recommended planting dates for corn?
  3. What corn and soybean maturities should be used when planting late?
  4. Should corn and soybean seeding rates change when planting is delayed?
  5. Should corn and soybean planting depth change when planting is delayed?

Further Reading

Corn Replanting or Late-Planting Decisions (UWEX Bulletin A3353) for guidelines on switch dates for corn hybrid maturity.

Corn Planting Options for June June, 1996 Field Crops 28.421-7

Planting Corn in June and July! - What can you expect? June 2008 Field Crops 28.421-57 PDF


University of Wisconsin, 1575 Linden Drive - Agronomy, Madison WI  53706    (608) 262-1390
If you would like to subscribe (or unsubscribe) to updates during the growing season, click here.
For a list of website updates, click here. Send comments about this website to Joe Lauer.
©  1994-2017 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, Division of Cooperative Extension of UWEX.