Soil temperature and moisture update for late March 2019

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Selection of the optimal planting date is one of the most critical factors in the farming decision-making process. In making this decision, producers should consider soil temperatures rather than just calendar dates. After a very cold start to March, air temperatures across Kansas warmed this past week.

For the week of March 15-March 21, average weekly soil temperatures at 2 inches among crop reporting districts ranged from 37 to 47 degrees F (Figure 1). For example, in the northeast region, soil temperatures ranged from 38 to 44 degrees F; while in the southwest region, soil temperatures varied from 43 to 47 degrees F. Soil temperatures were around 35-41 degrees F for the northwest region.

Figure 1. Average soil temperatures at 2-inch soil depth for the week of March 15 – March 21, 2019. (


Differences in soil temperature were related to the large variations in air temperatures experienced last week, from 37 degrees F in northern portions of the state to 51 degrees F for areas in southeast Kansas (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Weekly mean air temperatures for the week of March 13-March 19, 2018.


Projections for the coming weeks call for increasing air temperatures, but remaining cooler-than-normal statewide, which will slow soil warming (Figure 3).

Figure 3. 8 to 14-day outlook temperature probability for March 29 - April 4, 2019. (NOAA)

The actual change in soil temperatures in any given field will be affected by amount of residue cover, soil moisture, and landscape position. Wet soils in a no-till situation will be slower to warm. Dry soils will fluctuate more rapidly, matching air temperatures, particularly if skies are clear. (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Soil moisture as of March 21, 2019 (Kansas Mesonet).


Current moisture status across Kansas is quite wet, with the largest weekly departure in precipitation in the southeast corner (Figure 5). Projections for coming weeks are for precipitation to be above-normal for the eastern parts of Kansas and drier for the west (Figure 6), slowing down soil warming and any potential plans for an early start to planting.

Figure 5. Departure from normal precipitation for the week of March 13 – March 19, 2019


Figure 6. 8 to 14-day outlook precipitation probability for March 29 – April 4. (NOAA)

Optimal soil temperature for emergence

Every summer row crop has an optimal soil temperature for emergence. A minimum for corn is 50 degrees F for germination and early growth. However, uniformity and synchrony in emergence is primarily achieved when soil temperatures are above 55 degrees F. Uneven soil temperatures around the seed zone can produce non-uniform crop germination and emergence. Lack of uniformity in emergence can greatly impact corn potential yields. This is particularly true for corn, since it is the earliest summer row crop planted. When soil temperatures remain at or below 50 degrees F after planting, the damage to germinating seed can be particularly severe.

Impact of a hard freeze on corn

Corn is also more likely than other summer crops to be affected by a hard freeze after emergence if it is planted too early. The impact of a hard freeze on emerged corn will vary depending on how low the temperature gets, the intensity and duration of the low temperatures, field variability and residue distribution, tillage systems, soil type and moisture conditions (more severe under dry conditions), and the growth stage of the plant. Injury is most likely on very young seedlings or on plants beyond the V5-6 growth stage, when the growing point is above the soil surface.

The average day for last spring freeze (32 F) is quite variable around the state (Figure 7). The largest variability is from southeast to northwest Kansas; with the earliest last spring freeze date for the southeast region (April 5-15) and latest for the northwest area (>May 3). Corn planting dates before April 15 in the southeast region would increase the likelihood of the crop suffering from a late spring freeze. Similar conditions can be projected for northwest Kansas if corn is planted before May 3.

Figure 7. Average last spring freeze (32 degrees F) for Kansas.


Think about all these factors when deciding on the optimal planting time. More information about the planting status of summer row crops will be provided in upcoming issues of the Agronomy eUpdate. Stay tuned!



Ignacio Ciampitti, Crop Production and Cropping Systems Specialist

Mary Knapp, Weather Data Library

Christopher “Chip” Redmond, Kansas Mesonet Network Manager

Tags:  soil soil moisture