By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net
With the average age of an American farmer being 58, there is no doubt that many in Ohio agriculture have seen drought conditions like the ones being experienced this year. Many will refer to 1988 as a similar example of what farmers are dealing with in 2012. However, for
every three farmers that recall the harsh situations and dismal outcome of a quarter century ago, there is one that doesn’t have that experience under their belt. For those “young guns” of agriculture, this year’s Farm Science Review will be an opportunity to learn what to do to survive an extreme drought.
“This spring we had optimal anhydrous conditions along with nice soil conditions, adequate moisture and got off to some of the earliest planting dates we have ever had,” said Nate Douritas, Farm Science Review’s farm manager. “We started planting corn and soybeans on the 13th of April. It was a little dry in some areas so we were trying to save whatever moisture we had, knowing it could get dry on us.”
At that time optimism was high, not only at Farm Science Review, but all across Ohio. Planters rolled early as soon as the ground became fit and the earth warmed up. It was shortly thereafter that the majority of the rain that accumulated all season fell.
“We had five to six inches of rain in the first week of May,” Douritas said. “That gave us some pretty large holes in our stands. We were just getting germination on both corn and beans, so it wasn’t the start we were looking for.”
As the growing season progressed, hot and dry conditions began to set in. Douritas said the heat brought the corn right along, maybe a little too nicely, as it was just about the tassel stage that the triple-digit temperatures began to put some stress on the crop at a very inopportune time.
The heat took its toll. While corn originated as a tropical grass and can tolerate exposures to temperature extremes as high as 112 degrees for brief periods, the optimal daytime temperatures for corn typically range between 77 degrees and 91 degrees, said Peter Thomison, an Ohio State University Extension agronomist. When temperatures rise above 95 degrees, corn growth decreases, he said.
“When temperatures hit between 93 degrees to 98 degrees for four days or more, you could start to experience yield losses in corn, but it also depends on the amount of moisture in the soil,” Thomison said. “It’s hard to separate high temperature effects on corn from effects of drought on corn because the two usually go hand in hand.”
As the corn crop matured in the FSR fields, Douritas started to see how severe the problem was.
“We didn’t really know the extent of the damage caused by drought until we made our way deep into the fields,” Douritas said. “The results that we are getting are what you would expect for the type of growing season we’ve had. We’ve had some poor pollination, poor kernel set, zipper ears, tip die-back and aborted kernels.”
In late July, the Farm Science Review acres caught a shot or two of rain that helped fill the kernels that they had at the time, but according to Douritas, the damage was already done.
For the corn crop, considering the situation, insect and disease pressures were not a major issue. For the soybeans, it was top of mind.
“We knew with how dry it was that we may have issues with both spider mites and possibly aphids,” Douritas said. “Aphids were not a problem but we did have some spider mites and a pretty good defoliation event occurred with some bean-leaf beetles. We took care of those as they approached threshold levels and in a year like this, you have to adjust those levels because you have a shorter crop and less canopy so you have to be ready to pull the trigger, and we did.”
The hot dry conditions also had an impact on the soybeans. Soybeans are a more temperate leguminous plant with an ideal daytime temperature of 85 degrees, said Laura Lindsey, an assistant professor of horticulture and crop science at Ohio State. When air temperatures exceed 85 degrees, soybeans can experience heat stress regardless of reproductive stage, she said.
“Soybean yield is affected by three things, the number of pods per plant, the number of seeds per pod, and how big the seeds are,” she said. “When soybeans experience heat stress, yield reductions can begin to occur, especially when soil moisture is limiting. Temperatures over 85 degrees can result in a decreased number of pods, while temperatures above 99 degrees can severely limit pod formation.”
For Douritas, this year has presented a number of teachable moments, not only for him and others on the farm, but also for those who will visit the Review this month.
“We want to provide the environment for guys to come out and demonstrate equipment and see, firsthand, the crop conditions we have,” Douritas said. “This year we’ve got short plants and lower ear sets, which will cause some challenges for shelling corn. We will see that with the soybeans as well so manufacturers will really have a chance to demonstrate how good their heads are and how close they can cut to the ground.”
Farm Science Review is September 18to 20 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London.