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Corn crop report card: regional challenges offer lessons for 2023

Farmers in the Mid-South and High Plains navigated heat, dryness and elevated input costs.

October 18, 2022

4 Min Read

Harvest can shine a light on the good, the bad and the ugly of any growing season, offering a report card farmers can use as they begin preparations for the next season. LG Seeds Agronomists Matt Teply in the High Plains and Dan Mitchell in the Mid-South say 2022 offered plenty of lessons. 

Challenging heat and dryness a hallmark of 2022

The 2022 growing season fell in the “ugly” camp for many farmers on the High Plains, with Teply describing it as the driest and most difficult growing season of his life. “We thought last year was bad, but that was a cakewalk compared to this year. It’s far worse than 2007, or even 2012.  

“Much of the dryland corn crop won’t be harvested. And most of the irrigated crop is well below average,” Teply predicts. He says this year’s dryland/irrigated percentage split for the region is around 40/60.  

After an abbreviated spring, the weather turned hot and relentlessly dry. “Where I live in southwest Nebraska, we had more days above 105 degrees Fahrenheit than days between 100 and 105 degrees,” Teply says. Temperatures held around the 100-degree mark well into September, a time when temperatures usually cool.  

Conditions weren’t as dire for the Mid-South, but the region did face some ill-timed heat and dryness. Mitchell says this year’s corn crop “is not as good as last year’s, but it’s better than expected.” Corn was planted later than normal due to cool spring temperatures, with the bulk of the crop planted over a three-week span, Mitchell details. Which of those three weeks farmers planted corn had a major impact on yield.  

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“Extreme heat and dryness during pollination took the top end off yields for some farmers. Others pollinated outside that stressful period and ears were able to fill out and make the grain they’re capable of,” Mitchell explains. This year offered a warning against planting hybrids with too narrow of a maturity window. “If you split your seed portfolio between early-, medium- and late-maturities, you can spread your risk,” he says. 

While green snap and lodging are not major worries for farmers in the Mid-South or High Plains this year, both agronomists expressed concern about stalk health, given heat and drought stress. Therefore, Mitchell warns, “You don’t want to leave crops out there any later than necessary.”   

Conserving water will remain a priority

“We just didn’t have enough water to meet the crop’s needs on the High Plains. And after two and a half years of drought, farmers are struggling with water allocations,” Teply explains. Until the drought pattern breaks, conserving water and improving soils’ water-holding capacity will remain their biggest concern.  

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Residue is key to soils’ water-holding capacity, Teply says. “The biggest thing farmers need to do moving forward is quality crop rotations and making sure they’re covering up the soil, especially for soils with lower water-holding capacity.  

“Farmers can also conserve water by moving to an earlier maturity hybrid or lowering plant populations,” Teply continues. “We have hybrids where we can back off a population and still maintain yield.”  

A silver lining of the punishing drought is it has put a stamp on some LG Seeds hybrids that can handle heat and drought stress phenomenally well. Teply says standouts include:  

Assessing fungicide and fertility choices

One upside of drier weather is an environment that’s less conducive for disease. In most years, the Mid-South battles gray leaf spot and southern rust. This year, these diseases arrived later in the season, limiting their impact.  

Mitchell says the two most common practices regarding fungicide application are: 1) spray at full tassel regardless of the current disease situation, or 2) scout for disease and only spray when infection and weather conditions warrant. Some farmers who sprayed before disease appeared this year probably did not get the return on investment due to the late arrival of the major diseases. This is yet another one of the gambles farmers face when trying to maximize profits. 

This season’s fertilizer prices also led some farmers to cut back on their fertility programs, particularly for nitrogen. “There will be a lot of assessment this fall as to whether cutting back was the right decision,” Mitchell says. 

Match hybrids to your management program

Mitchell also emphasizes the importance of choosing hybrids versatile enough to handle stressful situations and still produce high yields. “Hybrids are like cars,” he says. “They get you to the same place, but in a lot of different ways and fashions.”  

With that in mind, he advises farmers to match their hybrids to their management program, especially when it comes to fertilizer. He elaborates, “Some hybrids can handle front-loading of the nutrients, while others need that mid- to later-season fertility boost to max out their yield potential.”  

Mitchell says two newer hybrids worth a look for farmers in the Mid-South in 2023 are LG66C06 and LG69C03

Source: LG Seeds

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