By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Associate Agronomist, Seed Consultants, Inc.
What a difference a year makes! According to a recent USDA crop progress report, as of May 20, 94% of Ohio’s corn crop was planted and 74% of the state’s soybeans were in the ground — a big difference compared to last year when almost nothing had been planted at that point. This year’s planting progress is also well ahead of Ohio’s 5 year average. Some growers planted corn as early as late March and some were sidedressing nitrogen in early May. The unseasonably warm weather in early March created favorable conditions for field work and had farmers in their fields earlier than normal.
It is a common understanding that early planting will provide corn with a higher yield potential; however, planting too early can leave plants vulnerable to adverse weather conditions, such as below freezing temperatures. Some of the earlier planted corn in Ohio was stunted by frost. According to University of Illinois crop sciences professor Emerson Nafziger, “The bigger issue is whether or not the damaged plants will be healthy enough to produce as much as they normally would.” The costs of frost damage can outweigh the benefits derived from planting extremely early. In addition to dealing with damage from frost, some of Ohio’s growers have had to replant fields due to the large amount of rainfall in early May and late April.
While the weather this year allowed farmers to get started with field work much earlier than normal, it was also favorable to some weeds and pests. As predicted by university researchers and many agronomists, we have seen increased issues due to the mild winter weather. Early winter annual weed growth in fields provided an attractive place for the high number of black cutworm moths to lay their eggs.
“Remember, corn is one of the black cutworm’s least favorite foods. It just so happens it is the only plant remaining by the time larvae have emerged and weeds have been killed,” said Purdue Extension entomologist Christian Krupke. Cutworm damage has been reported in both tillage and no-tillage fields, as well as to insect resistant GMO corn. While the insect resistant traits are still very effective, insects need to feed on the plants in order to die. Consequently, high numbers of cutworms can still result in reduced stands of GMO corn.
The soybean crop may also be affected by certain pests and diseases due to the mild winter and early spring weather patterns.
“In previous years where we have seen alternating dry and wet conditions, Rhizoctonia is more prevalent than those diseases caused by water molds, “ wrote OSU soybean pathologist, Anne Dorrance, “The watermolds, Phytophthora sojae and Pythium spp., may have a tougher time this year.”
Symptoms of Rhizoctonia root and stem rot are brick red lesions. Soybean plants that are not killed by the disease will appear yellow and stunted late in the season. University specialists are also warning of possible higher numbers of bean leaf beetle this year due to the warm winter. High numbers of bean leaf beetle could especially be an issue in fields that emerge first. Scouting will be important to determine if bean leaf beetles are present and if a rescue treatment is warranted.
Wheat development is ahead of normal as well this year. After the weather warms up in the spring and wheat starts to grow, plants are more susceptible to cold temperatures. Some wheat in Ohio may have been damaged by freezing temperatures after the unusually warm weather early in the season. Another emerging wheat concern is a new wheat disease (wheat blast) that was discovered by University of Kentucky researchers. This is the first known incidence of this disease outside of South America. Wheat blast has been known to cause significant yield loss in South America. Field scouting will be critical in determining if this disease is present in Ohio, how it will develop, and if it is capable of surviving Ohio winter weather.
Despite some of the problems experienced in Ohio’s fields this spring, the 2012 growing season is off to a better start when compared to 2011. As planting wraps up across the state, it will be important to continue to scout crops for problems and implement the appropriate management practices when needed.