By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Product Manager, Seed Consultants, Inc.
The 2018 growing season was one of the most challenging for our customers in recent history. Although growers would rather move on from the frustrations and challenges thrown at us this year, there are several lessons that can be taken from 2018 to ensure success in the future.
Timely field work
Wet spring weather has shown the importance of timely field work in the spring. Saturated soils create delays and pressure to complete field work in narrower windows of time. Although heavy rains and cool weather can cause extended delays, field conditions can turn around quickly as observed this spring. Our agronomists observed soil temperatures a few inches below the soil surface go from the upper 30s (Fahrenheit) to the mid 50s in just a few days in no-till fields where soils had been saturated. Having equipment ready to go when a favorable planting window arrives is imperative. While it is important to wait for soil conditions to be warm and dry enough for field work, it is equally important to avoid planting right before a cold snap that accompanies excessively wet weather. When planting is delayed growers should also minimize preparatory trips across the field (tillage, etc.) that will further delay planting.
Varietal selection and placement
The 2018 growing season demonstrated the importance of varietal selection and spreading out risk across multiple varieties and maturities for both corn and soybeans. One important key to achieving high yields is choosing varieties adapted to each farmer’s unique growing conditions and management programs. The environment put crops through many different stresses this year including: a cool wet spring, excessive rainfall throughout the season, drought during pollination, heavy disease pressures, etc. Although growers have no control over the environmental conditions, they can make varietal selections to maximize yields and minimize risk. Because timing of stress and rainfall is unpredictable but critical to yield during reproductive and grain fill periods, planting a range of maturities in both corn and soybeans will minimize risk associated with major stresses throughout the season. Selecting varieties with strong defensive traits where there is a history of disease or disease infected residue present will offer protection from diseases that can significantly reduce yields. Selecting varieties and placing them in the field or soil type they are adapted to will ensure their best performance. Along with correct placement comes proper management of each variety from timing of nitrogen applications to fungicide applications when disease is present. Working with the sales or agronomic staff to place varieties where they have the chance for best performance will contribute to maximum yields.
Field scouting and timely management decisions
The challenges our customers faced during the 2018 growing season also reinforced the importance of scouting crops. Anyone who walked corn and soybean fields throughout the season saw indications early that several issues could create problems before harvest. Around the time of pollination nitrogen deficiencies were showing up in some corn fields where soils had been saturated and N was lost due to leaching or denitrification. Plants in these fields most likely cannibalized their stalks to fill out ears, resulting in weakened stalk tissue as plants matured and an increased risk of stalk lodging. The presence of diseases early in the season with weather conditions conducive to continued development justified fungicide applications in many areas. Disease pressure was so heavy in these areas that even corn and/or soybean varieties with above average disease tolerance exhibited moderate symptoms of disease. Timely scouting of these fields allowed growers to apply fungicides where warranted and protect their yield potential. Scouting of corn fields where nitrogen deficiencies and stalk rots were discovered allowed growers to make plans on which fields to harvest first to minimize harvest losses. Time taken to walk fields and observe what is going on can allow for timely action and better management of challenges throughout the season. Scouting may take a great deal of time but it is time well spent.
Although some growers prefer to allow corn to dry as much as possible in the field, 2018 was not the year to delay harvest. With the many disease and agronomic problems 2018’s crop faced, delaying harvest increased the possibility of harvest losses and damage to grain. When stress, disease, and insects have caused damage to corn stalks, ear shanks, soybean pods, etc. harvest should be started as soon as crops mature to avoid losses and further damage. Scouting plays an important role in determining which fields need to be harvested first.
Although most of the challenges growers face throughout the year are out of their control, it is important to focus on what can be controlled and prepare for these challenges to the best of their ability. It is impossible to predict when and where we will see a repeat of 2018’s agronomic challenges, but growers who learn from this growing season and use that knowledge in future years will continue to be successful.