Farm Progress

5 questions to ask when corn scouting

Field Finds: Early corn scouting efforts can reveal problems and find solutions.

Kyle Allen

May 18, 2017

3 Min Read
GET OUT AND LOOK: Farmers need to step out of the truck and into the cornfield to assess the condition of the crop. Early scouting provides answers to planting problems and disease or pest pressure.anmbph/iStock/Thinkstock

Farmers in east-central Missouri were on a planting roller coaster ride this year. Early warm weather gave way to cold temperatures and rain. The planting window once again tightened.

The small planting window for corn is creating uneven emergence. Area farmers even lost a few plants due to those plants being in the ground for more than 14 days as cold, heavy rains — rainfall totaling more than 14 inches — moved into the area. There will be replanted or spot-planted acres in this region of the state.

However, once the corn is up and growing, evaluating those early-planted corn stands is key to success in the field. It is much easier to drive by our cornfields with the pickup and say, “Yep, corn's up. I can row it.” It is critical to scout corn early and determine if this year's planting went according to plan, or what changes need to be made to make next year's corn stand more desirable. Early-season scouting shows corn plants growing at full leaf stage.

What to expect in the field
Look both aboveground and belowground to determine any problem areas.

Take a tape measure to double-check your target population in the field. Also, grab a shovel and dig up a couple of plants in your field. Assessing the overall vigor of your corn plants and root development can help you better understand the health of your field

If your cornfields are not looking quite how you would like, here are five questions to ask.

1. Why are there areas of doubles, triples or skips? You may notice that up and down the rows you see doubles, skips, or even blanks in the row. Time to check the meters. Were they calibrated? How is your meter singulation?

2. Are there signs of early-season pests? With early cool temperatures, our soils will make a home for a pest that enjoys early-planted corn in our area. The black cutworm can play havoc on corn. Consider adding an insecticide to combat this pest for better stands next season

3. Did weeds start early? When scouting corn early, look up and down the rows to find those early weeds that are starting to push through. Many farmers use the “soda can” spraying rule — weeds big as a soda can mean it's time to spray. On the other hand, weeds can grow 2 to 3 inches a day in the right growing conditions. Get a jump-start and spray early.

4. How was your planting depth? Once you dig up a few plants, find the corn kernel. Measure from the mesocotyl length, which is the area between the seed or growing point, and then add three-quarters of an inch to determine planting depth. Make sure your planter deposited corn kernels at the desired planting depth. If not, that could be the cause of the problem — and an area to adjust next season.

5. Are corn roots developing? Once corn reaches that two- to three-leaf stage, it's great to dig up a few plants and look at the overall root development. Then check to see if the seminal roots are running deep. Could you find good-developing nodal roots and deep-setting brace roots? Just by digging up a few plants, you will be able to see the overall health of your corn.

Impact of successful scouting
Many factors determine a successful corn crop, and success starts with proper seed placement, depth and overall health of your corn plants. Instead of driving by your cornfields and thinking they are fine, take the time to walk, feel and assess your corn stand. Take notes and develop a game plan to build a successful corn crop each season. Success starts with correct seed placement. If you notice doubles, triples or skips, start with the source: your planter meters. If you have any questions while scouting, talk to your local agronomist or seed supplier to help make your scouting a success.

Allen is owner of Allen Seed and Service, where he scouts 3,500 acres of corn and 10,000 acres of soybeans annually. He writes from Hawk Point.

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