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20 take-home points from 2021 corn season

Tom J. Bechman pale green stalks of corn
FIND DEFICIENCIES EARLY: If you find pale green corn like this or classic firing beginning at the tips of leaves during silking, consider options to add more nitrogen.
Corn Illustrated: Here are lessons learned or relearned this year.

Studying how corn interacts with the environment reveals new things about the crop every year. Here are key lessons or reminders gleaned from observing cornfields in 2021.

1. Silk clipping. When severe, silk clipping can result in poor pollination, aborted ear tips and irregular pollination patterns.

2. Identifying hybrids. Tell hybrids apart by such traits as number of tassel branches and ear height placement.

3. Application costs. Factor damage by high-clearance sprayers, especially on end rows, into the cost of application.

4. Early planting. If you have the option, planting early pays dividends.

5. Pollination timing. Timing of when corn pollinates in relation to hot, dry spells is crucial.

6. Yield stress. Chris Jeffries, president of Seed Genetics Direct, says, “The biggest stressor on corn plants is high yield, followed by diseases like leaf blights, rusts, anthracnose and now tar spot.”

7. Reducing stress. Instead of seeking big ears, aim to reduce ear size but harvest more ears per acre.

8. Fungicide application. Control the most important diseases with timely applications of fungicides. The most effective time for fungicide application is after pollination is complete.

9. Walking fields. Scout by walking inside fields. A field that looks good during a windshield survey may not look so good on the interior due to diseases or nutrient deficiencies.

10. Plant spacing. Plant spacing within the row can matter as much as uniform emergence.

11. “Wrong” planting day. Find the “wrong” day to plant in retrospect. Study conditions around that day to avoid planting in those conditions next year.

12. Spreading risk. Planting two hybrids in each planter pass with maturity three days apart can spread the pollination period and reduce risk. Make sure flowering time is truly three days apart.

13. Drone scouting. Fly a drone midseason to pick up patterns of nitrogen loss and other patterns.

14. Cold tolerance. Ask your seed representative for hybrids with cold tolerance at germination.

15. Disease tolerance. If tar spot or gray leaf spot was bad this year, put more emphasis on selecting hybrids with tolerance. Still be prepared to spray fungicides.

16. Uniform emergence. Uniform emergence can help determining the fate of a corn plant, but it’s not the only factor. If emergence wasn’t uniform, check depth on each row.

17. Drainage issues. The effects of drowned-out spots extend farther in a circle around the wet spot than just the wet spot itself in terms of lost yield.

18. How corn grows. Understanding where the growing point is at each stage of corn growth helps you better understand how plants might react to stress. What can you do to reduce it? It’s easier if you have irrigation.

19. Nutrient deficiencies. A cornfield may not look healthy due to nutrient deficiencies. If they appear early, especially nitrogen, consider adding more.

20. Smut. Smut will show up every year. It needs open wounds on plants to enter and set up shop. How many plants will be deprived of an ear depends on injuries caused by farm equipment, insects or wildlife.

Nanda is director of genetics for Seed Genetics Direct, Jeffersonville, Ohio. Email [email protected] or call 317-910-9876 and leave a message.

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