Manning, S.C., grower Bill Simpson and his father Billy Simpson booked a high percentage of their wheat and corn crops to take advantage of high prices. Though they were careful to book only a part of their crop, the aura of a total loss was not on the radar screen.
As of late April, it appeared their 575 acres of wheat will be close to a total loss. “We don't know what will happen on the wheat we booked,” Bill Simpson says. For the corn crop, they will get a second chance, but that will require replanting most of their 1,000 acres of corn.
The freeze burned the flag leaf back. The flag leaf feeds the head. The wheat will head out, but there won't be any seed in it. “You can look at our wheat and you can tell it was burned so bad, you could just about cut it and bale it,” Simpson says.
Corn is much the same way, Simpson adds. “We had near drought conditions when we tried to plant corn. And, actually we stopped planting because it was so dry. That turned out to be fortunate, otherwise we may have lost all our corn,” the South Carolina grower says.
So much corn was damaged in South Carolina that insurance adjusters are over-taxed.
South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers says his state was hit so hard by the Easter freeze that he will ask the governor to declare it a federal disaster.
“Our peach crop was virtually destroyed, vegetable production was at a critical stage and wheat and corn were hard hit,” Weathers says.
When the Easter freeze hit Simpson's corn was anywhere from just cracking the soil to a foot tall. In some low lying areas of his fields, where more moisture remained in the soil, corn appears to have weathered the cold better, but the damage is still evident.
Knowing what to replant and what not to replant is a tricky question, according to the veteran South Carolina farmer. “In some fields we may leave the outside eight rows. Otherwise, we will come back and plant right in the row with the damaged corn,” he says.
“It would be nice if someone could look at your fields and tell you this will make 50 bushels per acre and this will make 150 bushels per acre. It's so difficult to determine how skips in rows will affect yield and how many of the damaged corn plants will recover and produce a normal crop,” Simpson explains.
“We hope to utilize all the nitrogen in the corn fields by dropping seed right in the row. Then, we will come back after the corn comes up and make a decision how much additional nitrogen we will need. We had 50 units of nitrogen on most of our fields, and we feel like most of that is still available. Originally, we put nitrogen and manganese in a two-by-two application beside the row and came back behind the row and sprayed liquid nitrogen and atrazine.
Under normal weather conditions, it would have grown off so fast, we would have had to hurry to get to layby. Now, we are just worried about trying to get it replanted,” he explains.
All his corn is Roundup Ready, so he will give corn a couple of weeks to shade the row out some, then come back with glyphosate for weed control.
Simpson says that's about as economical as possible in a re-plant situation. “We didn't have any rain, so all the nutrients we put down with the initial planting should still be there. We will look at it closely at side-dress and add some on that fertilizer application to compensate for what we lost from the original planting, he adds.
“The first freeze on the Friday before Easter, with temperatures just below freezing put some stress on our corn and wheat, but the Saturday night freeze is what really did us in,” Simpson laments. Temperatures that hovered in the mid-20s for 5-6 hours left thousands of acres of wheat and corn in varying states of destruction.
“It looks like the heaviest damage was in the driest parts of our fields. In low areas where there was some moisture, it looks like that moisture generated enough heat to protect the plants,” Simpson says.
Truly a family farm, the Simpsons still raise a couple of cows and hogs and keep chickens — not to sell, but for their own use. They also work out a labor arrangement to clean nearby poultry houses and use poultry litter to fertilize their fields.
“We have tried both chicken and turkey litter, but have found chicken litter the best to generate the units of nitrogen we need,” Simpson says. They haul the litter, dump it on-site and use it as needed.
For many growers how much corn to replant, when to replant and how to replant are management decisions they weren't expecting to have to make in 2007. Guidelines for re-planting are available, but generally apply to corn producing states in the Midwest.
These guidelines include:
Know what you have left in terms of plants per acre. Count plants in at least three places in the affected field. Count plants that make up at least 1/100 of an acre.
Determine if the standing plants in the 1/100th of a row will survive or whether there are “skips” that need to be accounted for and whether these plants will emerge or are destroyed by the freeze.
If uneven emergence is row to row, that is, most rows are emerged but some are not, replanting will probably not increase yield.
If the delay in emergence is less than two weeks between the early and late emerging plants, replanting may increase yields, but by only 5 percent or less. Replanting would probably not be economical.
Replanted corn fields will emerge up to 3-4 weeks later than fields that were not replanted, will flower later and be more susceptible to second generation corn borer moths. In these cases, consider replanting Bt corn borer resistant hybrids.
The bottom line is replanting corn is an expensive proposition. With half of their corn forward contracted, whether to replant for Simpson is not a question.