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Planting corn in low soil moisture is not ideal, but can be productive with timely in-season rainfall. It is important to preserve as much soil moisture possible and help protect the developing seedling to provide the best start in a stressful environment.
Limit the amount of tillage in dry soil conditions as each pass through a field reduces soil moisture through evaporation.
Ideal planting depth for corn is 2-inches deep. If you are fairly certain of a rain event soon after planting, then planting at the standard depth is best. However, if rain is uncertain and there is moisture available at 3 to 3.5-inches in clay soils, 4 to 4.5-inches in loam soils, or 5 to 6-inches deep in sandy soils, then consider planting corn deeper than usual to plant into moisture.1 Be mindful that increasing planting depth adds more stress to the germinating seedling as more energy is used to emerge from the soil. Keep weeds, insects, and disease pressure minimal to help provide the best start for the developing corn crop.
Slow down planter speed to help maintain seeding depth consistency and prevent uneven germination. Ensure good seed-to-soil contact to surround the seed with as much moisture as possible for germination. Seed contact with crop residue can prevent access to soil moisture.2
Narrower rows can utilize soil moisture more evenly throughout the field and quickly form a canopy to help reduce evaporation of soil moisture.
Decrease the seeding rate to 15,000 seeds/acre or lower to help provide each plant with as much soil moisture as possible.3
Plant corn products that are well-adapted to dry conditions with proven stability under stressful conditions. Select a corn product with ear flex to help compensate for a lower plant population. Include a seed treatment to help protect the seedling under stressful conditions.
Plant when soil temperatures are 50 ˚F or higher, with 2.5 to 3 feet or more of soil moisture present.3
Sources: 1 Elmore, R. 2013. Corn planting FAQs. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. https://crops.extension.iastate.edu/. 2 Ransom, J. 2017. Dry soils and poor corn emergence. North Dakota State University. https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/. 3 Bean, B. 2010. Dryland corn in the Texas Panhandle. Texas Cooperative Extension. http://agrilife.org/. Web sources verified 04/06/18. 180416131308