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Will 2024 be a good year for corn emergence?

Corn Commentary: Flagging emergence helps put a finger on the pulse of the crop early in the season.

Tom J. Bechman, Midwest Crops Editor

May 14, 2024

3 Min Read
 A cornfield with various colored flags
TOO MANY COLORS: Each different-colored flag represents a different day of emergence. Cool, wet weather hampered emergence here in 2021. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

If you see small flags in a neighbor’s field, it may not be a test plot. Instead, the flags may denote the days when plants emerged. Different colors mean plants emerged on different days. If corn plants emerged uniformly, flags would be the same color. If the bevy of flags looks like a kaleidoscope, something interfered with emergence.

“It’s always important to judge how evenly corn plants emerge,” says Dan Quinn, Purdue Extension corn specialist. “Flagging a section of several rows side by side is one way to do it.

“You hope most plants emerge and get the same color of flag. Weather shifts, uneven planting depth and planter issues can result in uneven emergence. When emergence is spread over eight to 10 days, yields can suffer.”

Quinn will assist with this Corn Commentary column and project. Reports will include information on one nonirrigated cornfield in Indiana, consisting primarily of silty loam soils, that was planted May 4. Hopefully, lessons coming from this field will apply to your cornfields.

Stark difference

Three years ago, plants in the project field began emerging 10 days after planting, and continued emerging over the next 14 days. Planted the last week of April, cool wet weather affected emergence.

In both 2022 and 2023, the project field was planted during the second week of May, and warm weather followed. In both years, 80% to 90% of seedlings emerged within 24 hours, and emergence was complete within three days. Yields were higher in both ’22 and ’23 vs. ’21.

“Once plants are a leaf stage behind, they never catch up,” Quinn says. “They often act like weeds. If they are two stages behind, they usually don’t even produce an ear.”

A close up of blue flags in a field

Across the rows

Farm Progress editors offer a peek at early-season conditions elsewhere:

In Iowa. Growers got a good start, with 10% to 20% of corn in various regions going in during mid- to late April. Rains came across most of Iowa during the week of May 6. By then, one farmer in northwest Iowa hadn’t turned a wheel in six weeks. Yet many people weren’t complaining, because most of the state had been dry, and moisture will be welcome later. — Gil Gullickson, editor of Wallaces Farmer

In the Dakotas. Planting progress early was all over the board, depending on where rains fell. Many areas were dry going into early May, although eastern South Dakota saw heavy rain in mid-April. By the week of May 6, some people were likely finishing up planting things like peas, lentils and wheat, but others were still waiting for drier soils. — Sarah McNaughton, editor of Dakota Farmer

In Kansas. Spring rains were plentiful in central and eastern Kansas, which is dryland corn, soybeans and wheat country. Some were out of the fields during the week of May 6 due to wet soils. Others weren’t affected as much. Soil types and subsoil saturation made the difference. — Jennifer Latzke, editor of Kansas Farmer

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About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Midwest Crops Editor, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman became the Midwest Crops editor at Farm Progress in 2024 after serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer for 23 years. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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