By Bill Mullen, Director of Agronomic Services, Seed Consultants Inc.
Who would ever thought the growing conditions in 2011 could be worse than those we experienced in 2010. I never imagined corn and soybean planting, for the most part, would start at the end of May and finish up by mid June. Most farmers were ready to start planting corn and soybeans in mid-April, but rains fell for 40 days before fields started to dry out.
With as much continuous rainfall in April and May, many realized planting conditions would have a serious effect on getting the seed out of the ground. Saturated soils kept many from ideal planting situations. The planters and drills were able to plant in the top two inches, but going deeper showed how much mud was below the two-inch depth. Early rains after planting kept the crop growing above the soil surface but did not do much for developing a healthy, root system. Because of these early growing conditions, root development was setback due to the shallow compaction and sidewall compaction in the seed furrow.
I saw many fields with nutrient deficiencies early due to poor root development. Lack of nitrogen and potassium was evident throughout early corn growth. With heavy winds in July, cornfields were uprooted in areas throughout the state due to the poor root development. Then it went from too much water to not enough, which made for a very stressful growing season for corn and soybeans in some parts of the state.
By July in some areas it was dry. Very little rain fell and 95 to 100 degree temperatures came early and nighttime temperatures stayed warm, not allowing the corn plant to recover from the day’s heat. To make matters worse, this heat came at a time when most cornfields were pollinating, especially for those fields with a mid-to-late May planting. Looking at fields now, you can see results of the poor pollination — zippered ears, gaps in kernel rows and significant tip-back. June planted corn fields were not as affected with the pollination issues, but with no rain in many places, ear size was smaller than normal.
Corn plants continued to grow despite the heat and moisture stress. As bad as it was, cornfields never showed the tight, leaf-wrapping characteristic except for those fields with severe compaction. I truly believe corn genetics today have a better drought tolerance mechanism than genetics five years ago. Also, traited corn seems to have better stress tolerance as well. With the dry, growing conditions early, leaf diseases do not appear to have a negative effect on yield. Heat and moisture stress allowed the ear to cannibalize the stalk, lessening the intactness of the pith.
Normally, by mid to late September, with an April to mid-May planting, corn has physiologically matured (black layered).
The poor growing conditions from May through September have resulted in issues that are affecting the harvest of corn. There is a crop out there to harvest and there is also a sense of urgency to harvest the crop and haul it to the bins or local elevators to guarantee having grain to sell. With the June plantings, growing conditions less than ideal throughout summer, temperature fluctuations in late August and September with late rainfall, with the possibility of potential stalk rots in the field, the priority should be harvesting the corn in mid twenties from a moisture point of view. This is not the year to let the corn crop dry out in the field. Issues described above can lead to higher than normal harvest losses. Hopefully warmer temperatures will continue into mid-October allowing the corn crop to mature and minimize loss in the field.
Looking back over the 2011 growing season, it would have been healthier for corn to be planted mid-April to mid-May. The growing season of 2011 has made us better crop consultants and grain producers for years to come.