Gearing Up for Spring Planting

Dr. Mark Sulc, Professor and Extension Forage Specialist, Department of Horticulture and Crop Science and Jason Hartschuh, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Crawford County, Ohio State University Extension

The current weather outlook for early spring planting season is starting to sound like a broken record of the last few years – a wetter pattern than normal for Ohio and the Great Lakes region, along with a warmer than average pattern. So, it is more important than ever to be ready to take full advantage of any short windows of opportunity we will get to be in the fields this spring. This is particularly important because most forages should be planted earlier rather than later, the exception being the warm-season grasses like sorghum-sudangrass.

Start preparing by imagining your first day of planting forages. What will you do the day you plant? It might even help jog your thoughts to physically “walk through” those activities. List every single activity needed to get the whole job done.

Then ask the question, “What can I do NOW that will make that first planting day go smoothly?”

Below are some examples of preparations to do now:

  1. Make sure your fuel supply is full and fill the tanks of all tractors that will be used. Service all tractors.
  2. Get any needed fertilizer on hand or order it to be spread as soon as the field is fit (hopefully you pulled a soil sample last fall, and if not, do it ASAP and send to the lab).
  3. Calibrate the fertilizer spreader.
  4. Buy the seed (including any companion crops you will use) and have it on the farm, if not done already.
  5. Buy inoculant if seed is not pre-inoculated.
  6. Service all tillage equipment that will be used and have it ready to go, including hooking it to the tractor if possible.
  7. Get the drill/planter out, service it, and set the planting depth so it is ready to go. Arrange for equipment you will rent or borrow. Consider contingency plans for your borrowed equipment if used to also plant forages on other farms each spring.
  8. Calibrate the drill to the desired seeding rate using the seed that will be planted and then don’t touch the drill settings. Watch this video about calibrating drills:
  9. If contracting planting, get agreements and expectations in place now.
  10. Finally, list the field work tasks that you will need to do when the weather and soils are fit, then prioritize them. Think through the tough choices you might have to make between competing activities. Think through contingency plans if each specific activity cannot be completed in a timely manner, or if it can’t get done at all this spring because of wet weather.

This last #10 item is the hardest. When the windows of opportunity are shorter than the list of work that can be accomplished, then tough choices are necessary. For example, how do you prioritize planting forages versus manure spreading in the spring? It will likely depend on the specific situation.  If the manure is stored in a lagoon, then when the lagoon is full, the manure must be pumped out and spread on the field rather than planting forages, so the forage planting might have to wait. But planting forages too late in the spring brings a lot of risk to stand establishment and low yields (maybe only one cutting). If forage planting will be delayed past May 10, it might be better to plant a summer annual for a couple cuttings, then kill it and plant the perennial forages in August. But if the manure is a dry pack, perhaps it is better to take those first days of field work to plant the perennial forage and spread the manure later on other fields. Thinking through these choices and establishing a game plan will help you be more efficient and not waste time with indecision or making a less than optimal choice for the situation.

We surely all hope for good opportunities for planting this spring, but climatologists are forecasting another possibly challenging planting season. Do what is in your control now to prepare as much as possible for when planting time comes. You do not want to waste hours of potential field planting doing stuff you can do today. Try to be completely ready, as if you will be planting tomorrow morning…which we hope will be true one day very soon!