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Mother Nature a strict teacher in 2019

Goose-necked stalks of corn
TRUE CAUSE: Goose-necked stalks were observed here before tasseling and were obvious near harvest. The cause was poor root development, not rootworm feeding.
Corn Illustrated: There are many lessons to carry forward from a year most people want to forget.

Every growing season teaches new lessons, but I’ve never learned so much in one season as in 2019. I’ve been working with corn since 1961, and I don’t ever recall so much rain in the spring when there wasn’t a window for planting. 

I’ve talked with several growers and seed business leaders, and most agree. However, Chris Jeffries, president of Seed Genetics-Direct, and Tom J. Bechman, editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, remember that in Indiana and Ohio, 1981 was quite similar. I only remember the summer of 1981 being very hot, but I was in Iowa then, which may have made the difference.

According to Jeffries, in 1981 in southern Ohio, a wet spring was followed by a cool, dry summer.

“It was the year of the 40’s — 40% moisture, 40-pound test weight and 40-bushel-per-acre corn yields,” Jeffries says. “Combine this all with 18% interest rates, and the start of the ’80s wasn’t pretty for many growers. Today’s hybrids, grower management and technology are far superior to the last time I participated in a wet spring of this magnitude.”

Bechman states, “There is always a wrong day to plant — even if it turns out to be in mid-June.” This year it was June 14 in some areas, a day ahead of a 10-day stretch of heavy rain and cool temperatures.

Here are situations from 2019 that farmers would benefit from remembering:

Chilling injury. This can prevent corn from germinating and result in replanting. Patience is a virtue in every season, even during late planting. Chilling injury was blamed for corn that never emerged that was planted on June 14!

Forward planning. Ahead of the planting season, select dates when you’ll switch to earlier-maturity hybrids and dates when you’ll switch to another crop. This makes decision-making more objective if those situations arise. You always have the option to modify your decisions, but you’ll have a plan.

Wet soils. Planting in wet fields leads to root issues and soil compaction problems every time. Be very patient when pulling the trigger on when to start planting, even if it’s getting late.

Goose-necked roots. They resemble rootworm feeding but may come from poor brace root development. Too much water during the seedling stage can affect a corn plant’s ability to develop a strong root system, both below and above ground.

Growing degree days. A 90-degree-F day in late September doesn’t have the same energy power as a 90-degree-F day in July. Days are getting shorter in September, and both light and heat are needed for photosynthesis.

Disease timing. Tar spot and southern rust can come late in the season. That means scouting is warranted until kernels reach black layer. After that stage, diseases can’t affect yield much, though they can help with drydown.

UAVs and scouting. Use of unmanned aerial vehicles for scouting is becoming more important. An aerial view can show patterns that can’t be seen from the ground. This year, thanks to drone photos, I saw nitrogen application patterns in a cornfield that would be virtually impossible to realize just walking it. If certain patterns keep showing up in aerial photos, ask questions until you find answers. Make corrections for the future. In this case, some rows likely received more anhydrous ammonia because the controller wasn’t functioning properly.

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

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