As the wet spring continues to delay planting in Indiana, grain farmers are faced with tough decisions about their intended tillage operations. As of May 1, just 2% of Indiana's corn crop and 13% of the national acreage had been planted. Once the ground is dry enough for farmers to work in the fields, some tillage operations may need to be sacrificed, says Purdue Extension Agronomist Tony Vyn.

"The major question this season is: How should my intended tillage program change in response to the current realities of saturated soils within fields, the weather forecast and the calendar?" he says. "Overall, the most essential aspects of tillage management for corn planting in Indiana and surrounding states over the next few weeks will be to exercise caution, control weeds and enhance seedbed quality where possible."

Important to choice of tillage systems is limiting soil damage and root-restricting soil layers during tillage or corn planting.

"It is essential to leave the soil condition with the maximum opportunity for unimpeded corn root development," Vyn says. "Potential corn yields can be compromised more by poor soil structure following poor tillage choices from now on than they have been by lost planting days thus far."

Poor tillage choices can include wrong tool selection, operation timing, tillage depth and frequency.

While corn farmers cannot control the rain on their fields, Vyn said they do have control over tillage and planting systems. Those choices now represent the principal soil management decisions required to get corn plants off to a healthy, though delayed, start.