By Matt Reese
As Ohio’s crops work their way through another Ohio growing season, farmers should take some time to observe their fields and review the season while it is still fresh in their memory. Much can be learned from the successes and failures in the fields leading up to harvest this fall.
Some wheat growers had disappointing 50- to 60-bushel yields and poor quality, while others had a great year. What happened?
“On our own farm we had had very good wheat yields with a number of fields in the 90s and one field that broke 100 bushels,” said Brad Haas, a Wood County farmer who sits on the Ohio Wheat Growers Association Board. “We have really stepped up wheat management. We scout and invest in treatment when needed and it has paid off for us.”
Even when time is at a premium, Haas makes wheat a priority. He adjusts his seeding rate and plant population for the soil types and yield potential of the fields. He also spends time in the fall assessing the stands and scouting for pests.
“Scouting for aphids in the fall is important. There have been a few times we sprayed in the fall to control barley yellow dwarf,” he said. “We still split apply our nitrogen and, to me, that has some importance but is no guarantee of higher yields. We get the first nitrogen on in mid- or late-March and then again at about the time we’re planting corn like crazy and do not really have the time, but we have to make it a priority.”
As the crop matures, the importance of scouting increases with the potential for disease.
“When it comes to using the fungicides such as Prosaro or Pro-Line and Folicur, timing is very critical,” Haas said. “I even saw a difference between twin-jet nozzles, where it almost fogs it on, and a drift guard nozzle. I switched to a drift guard nozzle and I saw an 8- or 10-bushel difference.”
This year, especially, required careful scouting for disease management.
“We started the wheat season not too bad and all of the sudden things got really hot and wet during flowering and that’s when we started having disease problems,” said Pierce Paul, Ohio State University Extension plant pathologist. “We had quite a bit of head scab this year and Stagonospora leaf blotch and glume blotch. Those two diseases plus the warm days in late May definitely took a bite out of our yields.”
As a result, the differences in farm management really showed up this year.
“We definitely saw the growers who had resistant varieties planted and who got on a fungicide at flowering. They definitely had the best response in terms of low vomitoxin and scab levels,” Paul said. “This is the first season we really had fungicide registered for use. Growers quickly learned that even with the best fungicides, we’re not going to prevent it 100%, but it definitely led to reductions in problems with vomitoxin.
“My recommendation going into 2011 would be to find the most resistant varieties and be prepared to apply a fungicide if it gets wet and humid at flowering. About 20% of the varieties are considered resistant to scab. Of that 20%, several of them are in the top 10 yielders. We’ve got some pretty good resistance with good yields.”
Soybean planting was obviously less than ideal this year due to weather challenges.
“We had plenty of trouble planting soybeans. We normally like to have all of our beans in by the middle of May and the last three years we’ve had trouble with that. I have some neighbors that didn’t put any beans in until May 29,” Haas said. “I just looked at beans planted on June 18 and they look really nice but they have a long way to go. I hope we don’t get a frost in late October because we’re off schedule a month with soybeans.”
The lesson this year was to get crops planted when conditions were fit, even if it seems a little early.
“There were guys around here planting beans in April and those beans are looking good. They have a lot less of a chance of being frosted than my late beans that are 16 or 18 inches shorter,” Haas said. “My philosophy has always been to get the beans planted when you can get them in. The breeders have done a pretty good of coming up with varieties now that can handle more stress. And we have these various treatments now that, once those beans get out of the ground, they can stand some stress.”
“This has been a crazy corn season. We had corn planted in late April and in late May. We have corn everywhere from V10 to tasseling,” Paul said. “We have quite a bit of gray leaf spot already. Conditions are definitely favorable for gray leaf spot — warm conditions, hanging dew and fog in the morning. My concern with gray leaf spot is the latest planted corn. We’ve got several top fungicides that are good against gray leaf spot.”
It is important to scout for diseases, identify the most susceptible hybrids and treat, if necessary. But despite the challenges, improvements in hybrids have helped tremendously.
“I think we’ve seen hybrids that will tolerate much higher stands because of better stalk quality,” said Peter Thomison, Ohio State University Extension corn specialist. “Just over the last three years we’ve seen increases to a third of our corn acreage with 30,000 plants or higher. We’ve seen a big increase in the percentage of acreage planted to higher stand counts and that is directly contributing to the higher yields we’re getting. This is due in large part to the better stalk quality of our hybrids today.”
The higher yields are also due to better pest and disease resistance built into the plants.
“The new traits we have today are helping tremendously. Corn borer problems are disappearing. With the new traits, the stalk quality issues, the root lodging and the stalk lodging which oftentimes appeared in late plantings have disappeared,” Thomison said. “With these improved genetics, can we push plant populations? Do we get a better response to N? Do we have better N use efficiency? These are questions we’re addressing in our research right now.”
Thomison also points out that the challenges of 2010 corn production will likely make for a good year to assess the success (and failure) of hybrids.
“Last year was a little bit of a deviation for us. Last July was one of the coolest on record, which was so beneficial for corn production,” Thomison said. “This year is more typical of the type of summer Ohio has. It is important to see how the practices and products they are using perform this year and not really rely on what happened last year.”
“We need to look at the weeds that have gotten really out of hand. We had a tough year in many parts of the state,” said Mark Loux, Ohio State University herbicide specialist. “We had areas where it was wet and people couldn’t do burndown. Sometimes you have to look at that situation and say, ‘Well that’s a little out of the ordinary.’ On the other hand, it can sort of reinforce what a really consistent management practice is versus one that works sometimes when everything goes your way.
“Marestail is a really good example of that. We can get by with a glyphosate, 2,4-D burndown in early spring when it is fairly small and use a residual herbicide to get pretty good control. But we can get into situations where we get delayed in planting soybeans and guys say, ‘OK I can’t use 2,4-D.’ Then they might not go to a burndown that is aggressive enough so there are plants that survive. Then they are playing catch-up the whole rest of the year.”
This can be an expensive mistake.
“They wanted to spend $6 on burndown when in reality it has morphed into a $12 to $14 burndown situation. They decide they don’t want to spend that much money up front, but in the end it would’ve been worth it to get the control,” Loux said. “And our populations are still evolving with more resistance to glyphosate and other herbicides. Giant ragweed is a prime example of this. I am starting to see more populations that turn yellow, survive and come back. Sometimes guys will go through a cycle where they keep trying to use glyphosate. They need to go ahead and spend the extra money to make sure they get control the first time.”