Evaluating Progress Towards Emergence and Plant Stands (Collins & Edmisten)

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The beginning of our 2016 planting window has been marked by short periods of suitable planting weather along with intermittent wet or cool spells. Rains during the last week of April and first week of May have put planting progress in many areas on hold for a few days. As of now, the weather forecast for next week looks decent, so hopefully fields will dry out enough to allow for planting to proceed without major delay.

Given the recent weather fluctuations, it would not hurt to evaluate plant stands or at least the progress from germination to emergence in fields that have been planted. Many areas have reported slower-than-ideal emergence, which isn’t surprising given the few cool nights we’ve had. Although temperatures greatly influence the rate of emergence, intense rainfall can influence emergence as well. The bright side of the recent weather is that we are not hurting for soil moisture for germination or herbicide activation. However, packing rains have occurred in some areas which can lead to crusting, most likely in fields with a history of crusting. In areas that received significant rainfall, complete saturation of the soil could cause seed to sour or slow the progress towards emergence.

There is no reason for panic as we have some time for reaction, and plenty of time for replanting, which should be avoided if possible anyway. Additionally, we could be surprised by how well seedlings emerge despite the cool wet weather. Over the next few days, it will be important to frequently monitor fields that have already been planted but not yet emerged, to evaluate progress towards emergence. In cases where significant and intense rainfall was experienced, and/or if fields have had a history of crusting, then light crust busting or rotary hoeing may be necessary. Usually, this practice is done when poor stands are noticed and is usually too late to help seedlings emerge or damages the few seedlings that have emerged. However, in our current situation, growers have a good opportunity to avoid stand problems by rotary hoeing or crust busting as soon as the soil surface begins to dry out and the crust begins to form. Delaying this practice for several days diminishes the likelihood of achieving optimal stands, therefore quick action could offset many problems and the need to replant. Evaluating planted fields now, and looking for the early signs of potential crusting such as swollen hypocotyls (necks) as the seedling approaches the soil surface, will help growers make the best decisions and take action in a timely manner.

Despite best efforts to achieve optimal stands, if replanting is necessary, growers should make replanting decisions on a case-by-case basis, and potential benefits must be weighed against additional costs (cost of additional seed, likelihood of achieving better stands by replanting, time lost, etc). Previous research in the Southeast suggests that replanting may generally be justified if approximately half (or more) of the planted area is occupied by 3-foot skips (2-foot skips in more conservative situations, such as late replanting or poor health/status of remaining seedlings that did emerge the first time). When determining how many 3-foot skips are present, remember to give appropriate credit to large skips (for example, a 12-foot skip should be considered as four 3-foot skips). In many cases, spot replanting in certain parts of a field may suffice.