2012 harvest offers surprises

By Matt Reese

The devastation of the 2012 drought may have left some farmers preferring to watch the endless stream of political attack ads on television instead of the dismal displays on their yield monitors. In many cases, it will be a crop year to remember for the surprises.

Jeff Heimerl

There were certainly plenty of surprises for Jeff Heimerl, who farms with his family on their Licking County livestock and crop operation. The weather offered surprises in the form of the blast of late June wind, the worst drought in 50 years and soggy harvest conditions courtesy of a superstorm called Sandy. The surprising weather led to some surprises at harvest.

“The corn yield was down 30 or 40 bushels from what we would call normal, but the beans were actually pretty close to normal yields, and that was kind of surprising,” Heimerl said. “Harvest started early but then the hurricane weather slowed things down. There were a lot of days this fall where there was just enough rain to get the ground wet and keep us out of the fields. We got started on September 24 with harvest and we finished right around Thanksgiving.”

The 30-bushel yield range for many of the double-crop soybeans on the farm was also unexpected.

“Half of the double crops were around 30 bushels and half were around 20 bushels,” he said. “A lot of the double-crop beans did not look like they were double-crops.”

Another surprise, due to the challenging weather, was the fact that, once again, the later planted corn did better that the corn planted earlier.

“We started planting around April 20 and the same hybrid planted two weeks later did more than 50 bushels better,” Heimerl said.

This was particularly unexpected due to the nearly ideal planting conditions very early in the season across Ohio. For some it was the earliest start to corn planting ever. After a mild, wet winter, the sunshine shaped up soils in late March and had many planters rolling around the state in early April. The early planting bolstered optimism, but ultimately set the crop up for disaster in many cases, said Peter Thomison, Ohio State University corn specialist.

“Some people are saying that their May plantings did better than some of their April plantings. That early corn was subjected to higher temperatures when it was going into pollination and some of those fields had kernel set wiped out by the high temperatures and drought stress,” Thomison said. “That early corn was also hurt more by that wind storm at the end of June. The early corn suffered more root lodging and green snap than some of the later corn. We had some hybrids that green snapped and root lodged that just didn’t seem to bounce back like they have in the past. That could be due to the stressful conditions. The early pests in fields also reduced stands and caused uneven development of the crop and we know that plant variability results in lower yields.”

The early start was followed by a cool, wet period and then the hot, dry pattern took over.

“One of the big issues was with the heat. There was certainly some variation with those high temperatures. We had some sites with several days over 100 degree temperatures and in other places where we had none,” Thomison said. “In Defiance County, they think the average yield may be 50 or 60 bushels, which is really sobering. But we also are getting some very good corn yields. We were saying through the growing season that the heat was going to put a ceiling on the high yields, which may have occurred, but we may have overstated the impact in some of these fields that are looking really good and producing high yields. Obviously high temperatures create more water stress, but it could be that high temperatures are not causing as much yield loss as we may have thought, especially when adequate soil moisture was present. It could also be that our genetics today are much more tolerant of high temperatures. The plants hung in there remarkably well. I think our genetics are proving themselves. There are some very low yields out there, but 20 years ago we would have been getting nothing.”

The weather turnaround in the fall has added challenges.

“Within the past five years, we’ve had three years where a fairly significant portion of the crop is coming out of the fields late. This is shaping up into another year where a quarter to a third of the crop is coming out of the field later than normal with the wet weather this fall,” Thomison said. “Fortunately we really are not seeing widespread stalk lodging problems from the high winds we had with Hurricane Sandy. Hearing the winds on some of those nights, I thought it would just be a disaster.”

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