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Corn Watch: You may not find an explanation for everything you see in the field.

Tom J Bechman 1, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

August 18, 2020

2 Min Read
small corn plant grows in field next to green flag and bigger corn plant grows next to blue flag
JUST A RUNT? The small plant next to the green flag emerged two days behind the plant next to the blue flag. Sometimes emergence date alone doesn’t explain everything. A two-day delay should not have set it back that far, Dave Nanda says. Tom J. Bechman

A plant breeder by training, Dave Nanda has seen almost everything in nearly 60 years of working with corn. Few things happen in a cornfield that he can’t explain.

Yet, now and again, even Nanda can only guess and suggest theories. Not even someone with his experience base can fully explain everything one might observe in a cornfield if scouting and making careful observations all year.

Here’s a case in point: In the Corn Watch ’20 field, planted May 13, emergence monitoring plots were set up across 10 adjacent rows; each plant in 1/1,000 of an acre was flagged with an appropriate color of flag, depending on which day it emerged. In this case, plants that emerged two days after the first plants emerged were marked by blue flags. Plants that emerged four days after the first plants received green flags.

Earlier in the summer, Nanda made an interesting observation while walking through the emergence plots. He found a plant with a green flag that was struggling just to exist. Its diameter was much smaller than the plant marked by a blue flag next to it, and it was several growth stages behind.

“You really can’t explain it just by saying it emerged two days later than the plant with the blue flag,” Nanda says. “Two days difference in emergence, especially at that point in the season, should not result in that kind of difference in stalk height, diameter and amount of growth. Something else was going on with the green-flag plant.”

Related:Compare gap in row to no gap with late-emerging plant

Nanda is director of genetics for Seed Genetics Direct. The company, based near Jeffersonville, Ohio, sponsors Corn Watch ’20.

So, what was going on? “We can only guess as to what was occurring,” Nanda says. “If we could have dug up the plant, we might have found more clues in the roots. But the goal was to monitor the emergence plots all season, so we didn’t want to dig up any of the plants.”

That means more guessing. Nanda suspects that perhaps the plant had trouble emerging, even though it was above ground only two days after the plant next to it, and only four days after the first plants emerged in the field. Perhaps the area where it emerged was more compacted, even though it was only inches from other plants.

“That’s why we talk about microclimates,” Nanda says. “If it was just a touch wetter and it compacted more at that point in the row, it might have affected the plant. Perhaps the seed went deeper than other seeds, and that affected emergence.

“The truth is, we can’t always explain what happens to every plant. They are living things, and sometimes things just happen. Yet scouting allows us to pick up trends.

“One thing we know is that plant by the green flag will probably become a weed. If it survives to harvest, it will likely be barren. We will watch it to find out.”

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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