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Midwest agronomists talk October harvest and crop progress

Winfield United agronomists offer detailed look at corn and soybean issues as of October 13, 2017.

By Winfield United Agronomists

Winfield United agronomists offer details on the corn and soybean harvest in this sixth report of the 2017 crop year. Concerns noted in this report include the slow harvest in parts due to the slowed corn and soybean maturation depending on planting dates and growing degree days.

The agronomists say that the fall is a good time to monitor field fertility and collect soil samples. In addition, producers need to focus on fall weed control and the insect pressure. The biggest challenge farmers are going to find is the weather. Some states have received rainfall hampering the harvest while others worry that the lower temperature has slowed the maturation rate down for soybeans planted as a double crop.

One thing made clear by the agronomists is that producers need to plan their harvest and prioritize according to standability.

Check out what each agronomist is finding in the fields in their respective states.


 Illinois: October 10, 2017

Most corn and soybeans have reached maturity in Illinois, with the exception of some double-crop soybean fields or late-planted corn, reports WinField United agronomist Jason Haegele. In the southern part of the state, harvest has been underway for a few weeks and is nearing completion in some areas. In central Illinois, soybean harvest has progressed faster than corn due to the accelerated senescence. In the northern part of the state, slow-growing degree unit accumulation, especially during August, has slowed corn maturation and harvest is just getting started.

Even in challenging economic conditions, Haegele reminds farmers that it’s important to monitor the fertility of their fields and make appropriate fertilizer inputs. As harvest finishes, it is an opportune time to collect soil samples. Soil test data can enable phosphorus and potassium applications this fall and into next spring. Fall nitrogen applications, specifically anhydrous ammonia, should be delayed until soil temperatures at the 4-inch depth are consistently below 50 degrees Fahrenheit to limit potential loss.

He says fall weed control is also becoming critical in many parts of Illinois. Marestail, butterweed and henbit are becoming more common due to their ability to germinate during the fall and grow rapidly during early spring. Fall burndown applications including a residual herbicide product can help control winter annuals and ensure a cleaner field to start out next season.

Overall, 2017 presented several types of stress throughout the growing season. Despite challenging conditions, yields have been excellent in many areas. This is a testament to the potential of modern genetics and crop management practices.


Indiana: October 10, 2017

Harvest in Indiana is progressing ahead of last year, especially with soybeans, says Glenn Longabaugh, WinField United agronomist. Currently, both corn and soybeans in his region are mostly harvested. The state is seeing soybean yields all over the board, but so far the corn yield has been a pleasant surprise in many areas.

Despite the progress, insect pressures are still posing a threat, says Longabaugh. Stink bugs aren’t going away, and each year they prove to be a worsening issue. Disease pressures this season were well-managed with fungicide applications. Year after year, fungicides prove to be a huge benefit and help to maximize ROI potential for farmers.

This year, Indiana farmers saw the importance of planting soybeans early and defending them. Longabaugh says diversified genetics also played into this success. And once again, we learned fungicides, insecticides and diligent in-season management are the three essentials to raising a good crop.

To ensure next season is off to a good start, farmers should consider a fall herbicide application, especially to control marestail. Fall is also prime time for planting cover crops. Longabaugh recommends that farmers take a close look at this year’s decisions and field trials, and take advantage of this time to get ahead of the 2018 season.


Iowa: October 12, 2017

According to WinField United agronomist Tyler Steinkamp, recent weather stressors in Iowa have complicated harvest conditions this year. Heavy rain has posed a particular challenge to the soybean harvest. Too much moisture has caused the beans to swell in the pods, and some have opened and dropped to the ground. Without much heat, corn is drying slowly. In areas across the state, there is still some green corn. Recent heavy winds have also blown down corn stalks, so farmers should make sure corn is still properly standing and plan their harvest order accordingly.

Steinkamp recommends paying close attention to the yield monitor. Observe what areas of the field are better or worse than others. He suggests farmers consider fall fertilizer programs and start making decisions on how much fertilizer needs to be applied in certain areas. Farmers often forget about phosphorus and potassium, but these macronutrients are important to ensure adequate fertility levels for next year.

Looking back on this season, Steinkamp says a huge takeaway is understanding that farmers should have a plan, but they have to be willing to make in-season adaptations to optimize ROI. Low commodity prices are emotional, but farmers have to look at them from a business standpoint as well. Many farmers have pulled back on inputs, but they must determine how to pull back evenly to protect yield potential, he says.


Michigan: October 11, 2017

Most corn has reached or nearly reached black layer and is waiting to dry down, says Jason Roth, WinField United agronomist in Michigan. Seed corn and corn silage have been harvested, some high-moisture corn is currently being harvested, and corn that is being used for grain will be harvested soon.

Soybean harvest is also underway; but what fields are being harvested depends on when beans were planted. Most beans are mature, but some are still green and holding on, Roth notes. He expects soybeans that were planted later to have suffered more because of a lack of moisture this growing season. Pockets of the state received pretty good rain, but many more parts were very dry. Roth thinks the weather will reduce yields slightly for both corn and soybeans in terms of state average.  

The big takeaway from 2017 was moisture — or the lack of it. Irrigated acres are mostly located in southwest Michigan, but crops there are largely seed corn and potatoes and other specialty crops. Irrigation is limited and not the norm for most field crops, Roth says.

Lack of moisture did hinder disease development. However, marestail became a big problem for many Michigan farmers this year who had not had to deal with this troublesome weed previously. Marestail management should begin this fall, says Roth. Although the past weeks of dry weather were not conducive to winter annuals emerging, recent rains and the weather forecast favor emergence. Farmers should have good conditions for a fall burndown; however, they may want to wait one to two weeks after our recent rains for weed germination and establishment to occur. 

Farmers located in areas that missed the recent rains should note that dry weather can affect fall soil sampling. Consistent soil depth is difficult to achieve because soil cores are so dry they can crumble, says Roth. Dry conditions can also make for lower-than-normal pH and potassium levels. Farmers should be aware that some soil test results may look a little odd, and that the dry conditions will probably affect how they fertilize.


Minnesota: October 9, 2017

In central and southern Minnesota, many soybean plants have reached maturity and are ready to be harvested, says Mark Glady, regional agronomist for WinField United in southwestern Minnesota. Some spotty harvesting began recently, but subsequent rains have forced farmers to wait until fields dry out to continue. Initial reports are that soybean yields, though not quite as high as last year, will still be good.

Much of the corn crop is at black layer or very close. After a cool, wet August with limited sunshine, there was a concern that corn would not mature before a killing frost, Glady reports. But a warmer, sunnier September made up for the deficit in growing degree units. Now, that warm weather needs to continue to dry the grain down.

Occurrences of soybean white mold were well above average this year in southwestern Minnesota. Glady recommends three things to help suppress white mold next year: rotating soybean fields to non-host crops such as corn, or small grains like wheat; selecting a soybean variety with a high tolerance to white mold; and applying a foliar fungicide at the R1 growth stage.

It was a mild year, however, for corn rootworm. But even though a non-rootworm hybrid might have worked this year, Glady cautions that rootworm populations can flare up at any time. If farmers are going to take a calculated risk and plant a non-rootworm hybrid, they should make sure it’s planted on rotated ground, in fields that haven’t been in corn for a while, or in fields that have never had a rootworm history.

Farmers should take note of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s proposed rule to ensure farmers follow best management practices for nitrogen management, which, if adopted, would take effect in the fall of 2018. Glady encourages farmers planning to apply fall nitrogen to use a nitrogen stabilizer as well. Stay ahead of the curve to help keep nitrogen in the soil, where plants can use it.


Ohio: October 6, 2017

Early corn is at black layer, but some later maturity hybrids are not quite there yet; soybeans, however, are at full maturity and harvest is in full swing, says Joe Rickard, regional agronomist for WinField United. He estimates that about 10% of corn and 25% of soybeans have been harvested so far, with corn silage harvest complete. So far, yields have been on track.

Harvest is proceeding very well, in part because of unprecedented warm weather and no rain the entire month of September. A dry September put farmers ahead of the curve for harvest compared to previous years, Rickard observes. There have been some small rainfall amounts at the beginning of October.

Farmers did a good job of protecting yield potential this year with fungicide applications to corn and soybeans during their early reproductive stages, Rickard says. Weed control will also be important this fall, and a fall burndown application is crucial to getting the 2018 growing season started off right. Rickard adds that fall soil sampling is also important to ensure that inadequate nutrient levels are identified and addressed.

Despite a wet spring and dry summer, farmers in the region didn’t give up on their crops, Rickard notes. They employed sound management practices during the season to achieve good yields at harvest.


South Dakota: October 11, 2017

Farmers in South Dakota are facing wet weather challenges, resulting in a slow harvest season, says Kyle Gustafson, agronomist with WinField United. Nearly all of the state’s corn and soybeans are at physiological maturity, but the recent rainy forecast has kept farmers from the combines. The USDA reports that only 6 percent of the state’s corn has been harvested. Gustafson is based near Brookings, S.D., and says many farmers in his area have yet to start harvesting corn but are slowly beginning to work through soybeans. According to the USDA, 22 percent of soybeans in the state have been harvested, which is well behind the 59 percent average.

Due to this year’s time crunch, farmers should keep harvest order top of mind. Gustafson recommends scouting fields as frequently as possible to check for standability issues, then prioritize harvest order from there. He also advises farmers to speak with their agronomists and retailers before soil sampling. Recent rain and potential weather stress can affect samples, which influence next year’s input decisions.

Looking ahead to next season, Gustafson asks farmers to consider a fall burndown herbicide application if marestail and winter annual weeds are a common problem in their area of South Dakota. He also recommends reviewing data and in-season management practices. Now is an opportune time to look back at the season and review what decisions worked well for the operation and what farmers may want to change for next year.


Wisconsin: October 12, 2017

Soybean harvest has just begun in northwestern Wisconsin and rainy weather is delaying it two to three weeks, says Tim Mares, master agronomy advisor, WinField United. Corn silage harvest is winding down, but grain harvest is three weeks later and will likely remain that way. A lot of corn has not reached black layer yet, but should do so in the next seven to 10 days. Although the area received a light frost a few days ago, temperatures were not cold enough to kill corn plants.

Soybean yields are substantially less than they were last year — especially in fields affected by white mold, which has reduced yields by at least 20 bushels per acre. If the area receives good weather in the next week, every farmer should be able to harvest soybeans. A few acres of corn have been harvested, but the moistures have been high. Anthracnose has shown up in many cornfields, and farmers should not let corn stand in the field this year. This disease is causing significant issues with stalk quality.

Fall is a great time for soil sampling and creating a nutrient plan for the next growing season. Applying lime in the fall usually causes far less soil compaction than applying it in the spring.


As we close the books on 2017, we can look back and learn lessons that may help us with future crops:

  •       Planting dates are very important. We usually only get small windows of time to get our crop planted. Farmers who hit the April planting window will be rewarded with better crops.
  •       Nitrogen management continues to be one of the most important aspects of growing corn, especially with the wet springs we’ve had. Split nitrogen applications were critical for crop performance in the last three growing seasons.
  •      Soybean varieties with the best white mold tolerance will be the best-yielding beans this year.
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