Plant, Spray, Fertilize, Till? Working Through a Busy Spring

Indianapolis, IN

May 9, 2019

As we sit in early May, it has been a struggle for many Indiana farmers to get out and begin much fieldwork.  With many of us feeling the calendar begin to bear down, we know that when the window of opportunity opens, it will result in a flurry of activity.  However, for many, planting the crop is not the only spring operation that needs to be completed.  Here are some thoughts around prioritizing your springtime operations.

Fertilize or Plant?

Should you go ahead and make your preplant anhydrous ammonia application, adding another 5-10 days before planting?  Luckily, according to Purdue University research, a split application of 25-50 pound N/ac at planting + sidedress is usually as good as if not better than a preplant N application. Wondering about rate? Purdue University research has also established Economic Optimum Nitrogen Rates (EONR) for the whole state based on 13 years of trials.  Link to nitrogen management practices here:

Nitrogen Management Guidelines for Corn in Indiana (Purdue Agronomy)

Agronomy Technical Note #8: No-Till Nitrogen Management (NRCS)


Spray or Plant?

Indiana fields with cover crops have generally weathered the excessive rains better than those without.  However, what do you do with a field that has grown beyond its targeted termination size?  Particularly with grasses like annual ryegrass or cereal rye, you may want to consider planting into a live or just-sprayed field rather than terminate then wait the usual 7-10 days to plant. In Indiana, Federal Crop Insurance guidelines allow cover crops to be terminated up to 5 days after planting and before crop emergence.  Guidance on planting into cover crops here:

Cover Crops & Crop Insurance (RMA)


Till or Plant?

In a narrow window of time, perhaps this could be the year to make one less pass across the field.  Tips for setting your planter up for no-till here:

Agronomy Technical Note #9: Planter Settings for No-Till Management (NRCS)

Agronomy Technical Note #5: Entry Phase No-Till Management (NRCS)

Agronomy Technical Note #13: Top 15 Basics for No-Till Management (NRCS)


Heavy winter and spring rains have created a lot of gullies and washouts across Indiana fields.  Tips for repairing damaged areas of fields here:

Farming with Ephemeral Gullies: Fix It, Don’t Disk It (NRCS)


Beware the old myth of working the soil to “open it up to dry.”  You may dry the surface, but create a compacted layer that will come back to bite you in the heat of summer.  Too wet is too wet.  A demonstration on the effect of tillage and rainfall here:

Can your soil pass the “infiltration test? (YouTube)

Is your soil healthy and functioning? (YouTube)


Look For Guidance

Of course, these recommendations may vary depending on you, your farm, and how weather and soil conditions develop in your area.  Your best bet is to develop a plan and then be sure to check with a trusted advisor like a Certified Crop Advisor, ag retailer, local conservation staff or a trusted neighbor or friend.  So much of a successful crop can be outside of our control, but be diligent and make the best decisions with the situation in front of you.  And of course, be safe through this hectic season.

The Indiana Agriculture Nutrient Alliance is dedicated to keeping Indiana at the forefront of proactive nutrient management and soil health practices that improve farm viability, and ultimately, reduce nutrient loss to water.  IANA is supported by USDA-NRCS and all of our partner organizations.  Learn more at