Prairie Farmer Logo

Crop Watch provides look at 'the season that was' in 2016

Crop Watch: What happened in one cornfield typified the season.

Tom Bechman, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

November 11, 2016

6 Min Read

Why is the Crop Watch concept valuable? Because by putting one field under a magnifying glass, you get a feel for what might happen in fields over a much larger area. If you need proof that this concept works, the 2016 season has provided it in spades.

Here is a look back at the Crop Watch ’16 cornfield, from emergence to harvest:

Planting dilemma. It was April 27 and the soil temperature was warmer than needed for germination. The weather forecaster was calling for some rain and cooler temperatures. What would you have done?


Most of you would have planted. That’s what the Crop Watch farmer did. What the forecasters didn’t know was just how cool and how wet it would be over the next three weeks. Bitter cold for spring and saturated soils made germination a question mark (see photo below).

There are always a couple of days that turn out to be the wrong days to plant in any season. For 2016, this was likely it for corn. The catch is that you never know until you’ve already planted.

Replant dilemma. Soils weren’t ready to plant again until late May. Farmer instinct said tear up the stand. The tables in the Purdue University Corn and Soybean Field Guide said leave it. According to the guide, odds were that leaving a less-than-perfect stand would be better than replanting at that date, even if the new stand was perfect.

The farmer compromised and spotted in seed in the thinnest areas. About 15% to 20% of the field required spotting in corn. He selected an earlier hybrid when replanting.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

SIDE BY SIDE: Note a new row of corn next to existing plants. The farmer spotted in seed here. This was one of the weakest parts of the field.

Growing plants examined. Favorable weather in June allowed the field to take off. It became obvious that the stand from the first planting was adequate in most of the field. Dave Nanda, a crops consultant, demonstrated how to determine planting depth weeks after planting. The corn seed doesn’t move, and he found the original seed at about 2 inches deep. That seeding depth should be acceptable, he noted.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

FIND PLANTING DEPTH: Dave Nanda illustrates how to tell where seed was planted by finding the remnants of the old seed. He established that planting depth was about 2 inches in the Crop Watch field.

Corn plants vs. weeds. Where seed was spotted in, by late June the second planting was filling the gaps in the worst rows. Nanda suggested that in the gaps, the new plants would add to yield. However, if a young plant was right beside a healthy, taller plant, it would become a weed. Checks later in the season proved him right.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

TOO CROWDED? Plants from replanting fill the gap in some of the worst rows. Nanda predicted some plants would add yield, while those next to larger, existing plants would act like weeds.

Disease pressure. Gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight organisms were missing in action in June and even early July. A few plants were infected with oddball symptoms, such as one infested with smut. Diseases like smut rarely siphon off yield.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

MINIMAL DISEASE: This plant was infested with smut. However, note the rest of the leaves. Few lesions indicating foliar diseases, usually much more damaging than smut, appeared.

All systems go at tasseling. As pollination occurred, there were precious few disease lesions on any leaves. This farmer scouts regularly. He determined this field didn’t need fungicide. Even though there were a few 90 degree F days, weather was generally favorable at pollination.

A couple of weeks later, the farmer began noticing lesions in other fields, and selected fields where hybrids were most susceptible for fungicide applications. He later concluded that it definitely paid to apply fungicide in those fields.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

CLEAN AND GREEN: All systems appeared to be a go as pollination and tasseling approached. Plants were healthy. The farmer scouted and decided a fungicide was not needed.

Yield estimates on high side. When Nanda counted plants and checked ears in mid-August, he estimated yield would range from 160 to 235 bushels per acre. He figured yield would wind up in the 190-to-200-bushel-per-acre range. More signs of disease were showing up, but it still wasn’t widespread.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

CORN NEARS MATURITY: Two hybrids were planted in the Crop Watch field. This one wasn’t quite at black layer in mid-August, while the other one was closing in on it.

Southern rust. Favorable conditions for gray leaf spot and southern rust helped those diseases get a foothold late in the growing season. In most years, it would have been too late to affect yield, Nanda notes. This didn’t turn out to be most years. It was very warm and very wet into September, and fields in some areas were hit hard. The Crop Watch field held up fairly well.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

DISEASE FLOURISHES: Southern rust appeared later in the season. It didn’t become a major factor in this field, but it did in many other fields, especially in southern Indiana counties.

Late-planting success and failure. This plant with an ear with few kernels was from the replant, and grew next to an existing plant. As expected, plants from the replant that grew in gaps contributed yield. When harvest was over, the farmer determined that this field yielded near the farm average. Looking back, he figures he made the right replant decision, although it likely didn’t make a lot of difference on yield either way. It saved him the costs of a total replant.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

CORN PLANT OR WEED? This is a plant from the replant that Nanda pointed out earlier in the season. Competition from other plants caused it to act more like a weed, producing this small ear.

Ear and stalk rots. Late-season foliar diseases set up plants for ear and stalk rots. There wasn’t enough ear rot in this field to cause a dock, but in fields elsewhere, damage to kernels was significant enough to cause dockage.

Crop Watch provides a look at the season that was in 2016

STALK ROT APPEARED: Late-season foliar disease pressure and other stresses allowed anthracnose stalk rot to get a foothold in the field. A few ears were affected by ear rot, too.

The Crop Watch '16 field's final yield turned out to be 184.1 bushels per acre, down 5% to 10% from the original yield estimate. Given the extra disease pressure that came after that the yield check, harvesting a somewhat lower yield wasn’t a surprise, Nanda concludes.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm, Indiana Prairie Farmer

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like