Ruts, weeds, and bugs: The challenges of a wet, warm winter

By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Associate Agronomist for Seed Consultants, Inc.

The 2011 growing season offered many challenges. While that difficult season is behind us, 2012 could also be challenging due to lingering effects of 2011, and an unusually warm winter. Some of the challenges farmers may face this year include ruts, compaction, early weed growth, insects, and disease.

As a result of 2011’s wet harvest, farmers may be facing ruts and compaction this spring. In no-till fields, management options will vary depending on the severity of ruts. Light tillage should be used for ruts that must be filled before planting. No-till farmers should perform tillage only where ruts are present, not disturbing the rest of the field. Performing unnecessary tillage to an entire field will be detrimental to the long-term benefits of continuous no-till. Tillage should be performed only when soil conditions are favorable. Tillage under wet or “marginal” conditions will only make compaction problems worse. Compaction is a huge yield killer, as Randall Reeder and Alan Sundermeier wrote in a recent C.O.R.N. Newsletter: “Years of OSU Extension research on Hoytville silty clay loam showed that through compaction, 10% to 15% of the potential crop yield was being left in the field.” Farmers should plan to deal with ruts, alleviate compaction when possible, and avoid traffic on wet soil this spring.

Weeds could also be a challenge as mild weather has allowed winter annuals to come out of dormancy, giving them a head start this season. Higher populations of weeds could lead to crop establishment delays this spring.

“When winter annuals have had a lot of growth, soils dry and warm more slowly in the spring because of the weed cover,” said Purdue University weed scientist Bill Johnson.

Cool, wet soil hinders seed germination, while favoring insects and diseases. Weeds such as marestail, chickweed, and purple deadnettle may create problems this spring. Application of an early burndown while weeds are small enough to be controlled by herbicides is important. Marestail, for example, is tough to control once it reaches a height of 6 inches. Farmers should be prepared to make timely burndown applications this spring when field conditions are right.

Mild temperatures this winter have made it easier for diseases to survive on crop residue as well

“Our biggest concern is fields that have a lot of residue. Those are perfect areas for all of those residue borne diseases like frogeye leaf spot and brown spot on soybeans and gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight in corn,” said Ohio State University plant pathologist Anne Dorrance, in a recent interview on the Ohio Ag Net.

White mold could also become an issue in soybeans. Farmers should work with their seed company to choose hybrids or varieties with disease resistance. Seed companies have ratings for disease tolerance and can recommend varieties with good resistance to specific diseases. It is critical to know what diseases were present previously and select resistant varieties accordingly. Tilling residue and rotating crops are also options for managing diseases that survive on crop residue. Field scouting in-season is critical for identification of developing diseases.

Insects have also benefited from the mild winter.

“Those that overwinter here as adults, above or close to ground level, have had a particularly favorable winter so far,” said Christian Krupke of Purdue University.

These insects include bean leaf beetle and corn flea beetle. Corn and soybeans will benefit from seed treatments this spring. With more insects, higher weed populations and possibly cool soils, seed treatments including fungicides and insecticides will benefit the early development of seedlings. Biological seed treatments that grow with the plant will offer extended protection in the early stages of crop development as well. Field scouting in-season will also be important to identify pests, the extent of crop damage, and to determine management options.

Each year has its own challenges and new experiences. While we can’t control the weather, we can use information available to make sound decisions. Success in 2012 will depend on our ability to evaluate problems and make timely management decisions.



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