Back to Articles

Planting Strategies for Dry Conditions; Importance of Early Season Scouting

BY Dairyland Seed Agronomy Team


The Pros and Cons of Different Planting Strategies in Dry Conditions


Most of us have experienced a lack of moisture in some form this spring. This ranges from the extreme, in parts of the Dakotas, to noticeably dwindling soil moisture in parts of the east. Deciding how to approach planting in scenarios like this might be one of those “Art and Science to Farming” situations where we don’t know the best answer until we can look back and evaluate the season as a whole. Que the meteorological crystal ball!

The biggest concern here is uneven emergence caused by variations in soil moisture throughout the seedbed. Below, we weigh the pros and cons of four planting strategies or options that we have in trying to achieve a uniform crop stand. The challenge in all this, as one agronomist’s father told him, “don’t out smart yerself”.

Let’s take into consideration all the pros and cons, but try not to overthink the situation. Considerations for all of these scenarios include: crop type, soil type, calendar date, weather outlook and planting progress to date.

Strategy 1: “Plant to Moisture”: Plant deeper to reach soil moisture
  • Continued planting progress: as Charlie Berens of The Manitowoc Minute says “Keep er Movin”
  • Consistent emergence
  • Perhaps better seedling establishment
  • Works better on “lighter” soils
  • Not well suited for emergence in tight soils
  • Risk of crusting in the event of rain prior to emergence
  • Planting too deep has yield risks.
  • Works better for corn than soybeans
Strategy 2: “Set it and forget it”: Ignore soil moisture and plant to standard depth
  • Planting progress continues
  • Hard to know what weather will do, so don’t stress what you can’t control
  • Works better in no-till, stale seedbed or ground that could settle or rest for 24 to 48 hours between tillage and planting
  • The epitome of uneven emergence from lack of moisture at planting
  • Worked ground develops varied pockets of moisture
Strategy 3: “Plant into dust”: Plant shallow to stay above moisture to favor uniformity
  • Planting progress continues
  • Quick, uniform emergence once it rains
  • Good option in the doughtiest conditions where moisture is too deep
  • Perhaps the riskiest in marginally dry conditions
  • Small shower may cause exactly what you were trying to avoid.
Strategy 4: “Waiting for a rain”: Stop planting and wait for rain
  • More ideal moisture for germination
  • Faster emergence
  • Consistent emergence
  • Viable option early in the planting season
  • Planting progress stops
  • Not a practical late season option
  • Could face a rain delay



One of the most important things to do after your crop is planted is to evaluate the crop. Early detection of a potential problem allows for the opportunity to correct those protentional issues. Keep in mind that germination and emergence are greatly affected by moisture and temperature. Emergence can be delayed by up to three weeks if soil temperatures are 50-55°F or less. For optimal emergence and uniformity, the seeds need uniform planting depth, moisture, temperature and seed-to-soil contact.

Determine Plant Population

To determine the population of the existing stand measure 1/1,000th of an acre by using the measurement in Table 1 that corresponds with your row width. Next, count the number of plants in the measured area and multiply that number by 1,000. Chose at least six representative locations across the field and average the populations to get the final plant population per acre.

Stand Quality

Once we determine the population of the stand then we can assess the quality of the stand. Ideally stand quality is assessed early enough to still be able to dig for seeds and late enough to know all the plants have emerged. This is usually around the V2-V4 stage for both corn and soybeans.

While walking the field, pay extra attention to areas of the field that are slow to emerge or have missing plants. One of the first things to do in these areas is to dig up the seedling and check the planting depth. In most instances, we want corn planted 1.5 to 2 inches deep and soybeans 1 to 1.5 inches deep. Moisture and temperature extremes may increase those depths but hardly ever warrant shallowing up the depths.

After checking the planting depth, look for other possible planter issues, like singulation. Are there skips and doubles? Did the row shut-offs work correctly? Did we reach the desired planting population? If you are applying fertilizer through the planter then use this opportunity to evaluate how well the planter accomplished that task. Areas that did not receive the fertilizer will typically be a lighter shade of green and shorter. If an area received too much fertilizer or the fertilizer was placed incorrectly, then the seedling could have cell desiccation or tissue damage.

Seedling diseases can also be the cause of a poor stand. When scouting for seedling diseases check for sunken or discolored mesocotyl, discolored leaf tips, brown roots, rotten seed or damping off. Some common soilborne seedling diseases for corn include Pythium, Fusarium and Rhizoctonia. In soybeans, common pathogens include Phytophthora, Pythium, Fusarium and Rhizoctonia.

Dead or missing plants can also be the result of insect damage. Early insect damage can occur above or below ground and affect the seed, roots or seedling. Look for misshapen seed, pruned roots, holes or feeding on the stem or in the leaves of the whirl. A few common culprits are seed corn maggots, wireworms, black cutworms, true armyworms and bean leaf beetles.

There are several factors that can hinder early season growth. It is important to thoroughly scout your fields early to determine the amount of quality plants in your stand. If the amount of quality plants in your stand is greatly reduced from your target population, replanting may need to be considered.

Estimate Yield Loss from Stand Reduction

Using Table 2 for corn and Table 3 for soybeans, we can estimate yield loss from the stand reduction and decide if replanting is going to achieve a greater return on investment versus your current stand.

Please feel free to reach out to the agronomy team with any questions for concerns.

Brian WellerDan RitterBranden FursethAmanda Goffnett
Brian Weller
Western Region
Dan Ritter
Central Region
Branden Furseth
Northern Region
Amanda Goffnett
Eastern Region
Enjoying our Agronomy Updates? Suggestions for topics you'd like us to weigh in on? Drop us an email at We'd love to hear from you!
Subscribe for more insights delivered straight to your inbox.
You may also like...
  • Drought Stress, Summer Pests, and Protecting Your Soybean Yields
    Dry weather has been the dominant theme for the Agronomy Team at Dairyland Seed, at least since the threat to frost passed. Today’s corn, soybean and alfalfa varieties are as drought proof as ever, but we all know that nothing is “desert-proof”. Here are a couple interesting things that your crop is doing to stay alive in dry times and some outcomes to expect:
    Read more
  • Late May Frost Event; Post-Planting Recommendations
    On Friday, May 28, and Saturday, May 29, a frost event occurred that seemed to affect northern sections of the Dairyland Seed marketing footprint. Typically, we like to wait three to perhaps five days before making an assessment.
    Read more
  • Corn at the VE to V3 Stage; Spray Tank Cleaning; Pale Corn; and Soybean Seedling Diseases
    The 2021 growing season is progressing and this week's newsletter touches on timely topics for corn that is just germinating or approaching the V3 or V4 stage as well as advice on identifying soybean seedling diseases.
    Read more
Find Your Rep