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Southern rust and other woes slam corn yield in southern Indiana, IllinoisSouthern rust and other woes slam corn yield in southern Indiana, Illinois

Perfect storm for diseases wrecks high yield hopes in southern counties.

Tom Bechman 1

October 10, 2016

3 Min Read

Agronomists who commented in late August and early September that diseases like southern rust came in late enough that they shouldn’t cause big yield losses were basing their statements on history and what should unfold. Mother Nature doesn’t read history books, and sometimes seems to get a charge out of upsetting the apple cart.


Large amounts of rain and extended periods of hot, humid weather near the end of the season in southern Illinois and Indiana turned the tables on both agronomists and the corn crop. “We wound up with a lot of very bad cornfields in the southwestern part of the state,” says Chris Perkins, manager of the CPS branch at Otwell, Ind., and a farmer himself. "Southern rust came in strong and just smacked corn yields in many fields in about 10 days.”

The results are low yields — under 100 bushels per acre, in some cases, he says. Add low prices and dirty, dusty harvest conditions caused by diseases, and it’s been a difficult, frustrating fall for many people, Perkins says.

“They don’t want sympathy or anything else, but they just want farmers in other areas to know that not everyone is having a good year,” he adds. “One customer says his grandfather calls it the worst hit by diseases since southern corn leaf blight nearly 50 years ago.”

Widespread hit

The same conditions extend across most of southern Illinois, according to Mike Wilson, an agronomist with Wabash Valley Services Co. He’s based in Allendale.

“It became a bad situation,” he agrees. “The corn was dirty, and anyone out in the fields came out orange from the rust.”

However, Wilson isn’t ready to blame the entire yield collapse on southern rust. “There were other things going on this year,” he says. “The corn crop was already dinged up in several areas from a dry June, followed by lots of rain late. We believe it’s hard to separate out how much of the yield loss was due to southern rust and how much was due to other factors."

Kiersten Wise, a Purdue University Extension plant pathologist, suggests Wilson is on the right track. Southern rust comes in most years. It went all the way to northern Indiana this year, but definitely hit harder than usual in southern counties.

“There were many other things going on which didn’t favor the crop in southern counties before the rust came in,” she says. “And it did come in fairly late. Quite a bit of the crop was planted late due to a wet spring. Stalk quality didn’t seem to be up to par even before disease came in. Many fields had anthracnose or other stalk rots which contributed to the dramatic decline of the crop. It’s not realistic to lay all of the blame on southern rust.”

Worst cases

Perkins acknowledges that some of the worst-hit fields were those planted late because it was simply too wet to plant any sooner. Some of them also weren’t sprayed with fungicide. Sometimes it was an economic decision because the farmer had already poured a lot of money into the crop, and corn prices were tanking, he adds.

Wilson saw a similar trend. “Fungicide applications paid in our area this year by as much as 20 bushels per acre,” he says. “However, where southern rust was the worst, even fungicides didn’t prevent some yield loss. Even yields in fields where fungicides were applied didn’t meet expectations.”

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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