A strong start for your corn crop lowers the odds of early season pest and disease pressure. That starts with patience, says Alan Bass, LG Seeds agronomist in Wisconsin.
“Wait for the proper temperatures and moisture and then look five days out from when you’re going to plant and make sure it’s a good forecast,” he recommends, reminding that with today’s equipment, farmers can get crops planted in a hurry.
Tip #1: Use seed treatments for added protection
In the event the corn seed sits in the ground a little longer than hoped, seed treatments provide a layer of protection versus untreated seed that’s more susceptible to fungal diseases that can weaken plants and make them a target for insects, Bass explains.
That protection against reduced stand and the resulting yield loss is critical this year given high prices for corn, fertilizer, fuel and other inputs.
Those lofty input expenses mean reduced tillage and manure are on many farmers’ minds. Bass says cover crops and manure applications leave residue, which can increase the risk for pests. While good soil health practices are great for corn plants, Bass says “they have to be managed correctly with smart seed selection and seed treatments.”
Tip #2: Scout for pest damage
When you’re scouting, look for irregularities and then determine whether it’s truly due to a pest problem, Bass says. If so, the next question is whether it’s a below- or above-ground issue. Seed treatments can help narrow the list of suspects.
“Dig down to that seed and focus on that zone around the seed and how it’s taken care of,” Bass recommends. “Look for damage to the kernel, whether it be chewing or rotting. Look in that seed trench.”
When the corn plant emerges, Bass advises identifying the whorl and seeing if there’s chewing on the leaves and leaf margins.
A good rule of thumb for scouting timing is usually a week after planting, Bass says. Corn emergence happens around 120 heat units, which can be a week or more after planting depending on when the crop went in, as well as air and soil temperature. Find more tips on checking corn emergence and stand counts.
Pest pressures vary from year to year and region to region, Bass says.
That variability is why he recommends farmers protect themselves up front with seed treatments and corn traits rather than chasing a particular pest reactively. “Most pests can be controlled pretty easily and cost-effectively with seed treatments versus treating over the top with an insecticide,” Bass says.
Tip #3: Lean on your agronomist
If you have a pest issue in your corn field, options include replanting, treating it or letting the issue stand. The first step is to determine your economic threshold and then use that to guide your decision.
For some pests, it may be worthwhile to use an over-the-top insecticide. In other cases, treatment may not be economically feasible, Bass says.
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