As of April 19, the Nebraska Drought Monitor shows 96% of Nebraska in moderate to extreme drought. With planting being critical for everything else that happens during the growing season, the dry conditions have led to a variety of questions this planting season. In this article educators from the University of Nebraska work through the questions they've received.

Soil Conditions

This is perhaps the most critical component to planting because soil conditions set the stage for the decisions we make regarding planter adjustments, which crop is planted and planting depth. The dry, open winter allowed for freeze/thaw and the mellowing of soils. Some have shared they’re seeing the best no-till planting conditions they’ve seen in a long time. Others are sharing the high winds removing the corn and soybean residue — even in no-till conditions — has made the top few inches of the soil very hard. When planting into drier conditions, increased down pressure is most likely necessary; however, be careful of causing any sidewall compaction. John Mick, Field Agronomist with Pioneer Hi-Bred, shares some excellent planter setting tipsin addition to other planting tips in his newsletter this week.

Soil Moisture and Planting Depth

Corn needs to absorb 35% of its weight in moisture to complete the imbibition (water-uptake) phase of germination. When adequate soil moisture is available, this typically occurs within 48 hours. Soybean needs to absorb 50% of its weight in moisture to complete the imbibition process. When adequate soil moisture is available, recent research has shown imbibition can occur anywhere from eight to 24 hours. Once imbibition has occurred, soybean seeds enter an osmotic phase and are quite tolerant of soil temps as low as 35-40°F, although extended low soil temperatures can be expected to lengthen the germination to emergence timeframe. You can view soil temperatures on CropWatch. Also be aware that soil moisture can help buffer soil temperatures, reducing larger swings.

How does soil moisture impact planting depth? Research has consistently shown the need for corn to be planted at least 1.5- to 2-inch deep. UNL showed best soybean yields were obtained by planting at a 1.75-inch depth. So, the short answer — aiming for close to two inches is a good consideration for both corn and soybean. Planting shallower than 1.5 inches leads to more impacts with root development in corn, such as rootless corn syndrome. The main concern with planting shallow with soybean this year is the potential of PPO herbicide injury, which is mentioned later in this article.

Uniform emergence is more important for corn than soybean. Because of this, Rob Nielsen, Emeritus Extension Agronomist at Purdue shares, “When seedbed conditions are dry, make sure you choose a seeding depth that ensures uniformly adequate soil moisture for (corn) germination and emergence. Even though a 1.5- to 2-inch seeding depth is a good choice for many conditions, do not hesitate to increase seeding depth to 2.5 or 3 inches if that is the depth where uniform soil moisture is located.”When it comes to soybean, we wouldn’t recommend planting much deeper than 2.5 inches.


Irrigating Prior to Crop Planting: 

In general, we would only suggest watering before planting if the planter needs higher soil moisture levels to work well. So, if the soil is too hard, too powdery or cloddy, it may be worth running the pivot. Another situation to consider pre-watering is if greater than 180 lb/ac anhydrous ammonia was applied in a strip with less than 2 inches of moisture received since application to help reduce ammonia burn to the corn. Otherwise, our recommendation is to run the pivot after you plant if needed.

Irrigation Considerations Early in the Year:

Running center pivots early in the season do have some extra challenges. The first one that comes to mind this year is the cold nights. The usual recommendation is not to run a pivot when temperatures are below 40 degrees. This year, several pivots have been operated below 40 degrees without problem, but keep in mind with low dew points the pivot can ice up when the actual air temperature is well above 32. So, if you do choose to run in these conditions, keep a close eye out for ice buildup.

Secondly, the bare, powdery soils this spring will seal over very easily from rain or irrigation, so keep an eye out for runoff problems even with fairly low application amounts. And thirdly, make sure if you do irrigate that you put on enough to get water down to the moist soil below. This is particularly a problem with tillage or where fertilizer knifes have been used and dried the soil out.

Irrigating for Herbicide Activation:

It’s important that herbicides are activated with 0.5- to 0.75-inch of rainfall or irrigation, preferentially between five to seven days after herbicide application. If moisture received is less than this amount, some herbicide products have the potential to remain on the soil for up to 14 days without being fully activated. We will have to see how the high winds blowing soil and removing soil particles containing herbicide impact future weed control.

Irrigating to Reduce Urea Loss:

For those who applied dry or liquid urea on the soil surface, particularly without the use of an inhibitor, irrigation of 0.5-inch can help with incorporating the urea into the soil and minimize urea loss. If irrigation is not available, an inhibitor was not used and no rainfall has been received within seven days, monitor the corn crop to determine if nitrogen deficiency occurs due to nitrogen loss. The losses can occur early and be significant if there is high surface crop residue, high soil temperature (>70°F), moist soil, high soil pH (>7.0), or sandier soils while the losses can be lower with dry soil, cooler soil temperature (<70°F), low soil pH (<7.0), bare soil or clayey soils.

Irrigating in Strip-till:

Regardless if anhydrous was applied in the fall or spring, and regardless of amount applied, ammonia burn is likely this year in strip till situations due to the dry conditions. Sometimes ammonia burn is seen early with seed germination and emergence. Most often, it is seen when roots get to four to eight inches long and hit the ammonia band. Irrigation can help alleviate the impacts of the ammonia injury.

Irrigating and Cold Water Impacts:

John Mick shared that water from irrigation wells in the southern part of the state often is around 50-53°F, with it slightly less in temperature as one moves north in the state. These temperatures are not a problem to be concerned with regarding any negative impacts to seeds imbibing water.


PPO inhibitors are an effective chemistry often used for pre-emergence application in soybean. The different PPO-inhibiting active ingredients, products, and timing restrictions can be reviewed in this article. Soybean injury can occur in situations where the seed/germinating seed comes in contact with the PPO-inhibiting herbicide and via water splash onto the emerged soybean hypocotyl and cotyledons.

Some considerations to reduce injury to soybean include:

  • Do NOT apply a PPO inhibitor herbicide if the seed vee is not closed, if the soil is cracking along the seed trench, or if the soybean is beginning to emerge/emerged.Another option if one is concerned about PPO inhibitor injury is to consider using a Group 15 herbicide (such as acetochlor, pyroxasulfone, etc.) for residual in a post-emergence application once the soybean has emerged. Remember that residual herbicides applied post-emergence do not have foliar activity, so they will not control emerged weeds but would prevent emergence of new weeds.
  • Do not plant soybean shallow (less than 1.5 inches), particularly if the soil at seeding depth is dry. If a PPO inhibitor is applied in these conditions, it can allow the soybean to imbibe water with the herbicide in it, particularly if a rain and/or irrigation event occurs after application.
  • If soybean is planted into moisture to allow imbibition phase to complete, herbicide can be applied within a few days and watered in as long as the seed vee is closed and no soil cracking of the trench is occurring.