Avoid the knee-jerk reaction

By Andy Westhoven, Regional Agronomist, CPAg, CCA, AgriGold

I realize it is now mid-May and plenty of corn and soybean fields have been planted, but avoiding the knee-jerk reaction actually applies to the entire growing season —

Andy Westhoven

not just at planting. Many farmers (including me) have very short-term memories. The last thing we need to do is base our decisions solely off 2019. Coupled with the frightening facts of the virus pandemic and market decreases — staying with the plan is the best action to take.

Many areas that experienced prevent plant acres know full well there would not be a repeat in 2020. My own farm had only a third of the acres planted and, regardless of the environment(s) this spring, crops will be planted. So far this season, many small pockets were able to plant early while others waited on the sidelines. The planter is the most important pass of the season and no one enjoys a redo.

Make sure to focus on the three key principles for germination: 1) uniform soil temperature, 2) uniform soil moisture, 3) consistent seed to soil contact. Oh, and plant two inches deep (couldn’t help myself). If you have not finished planting your crops, one lesson we did learn from 2019 is that we can plant crops fairly late and still achieve respectable yields. Many years I have seen growers mud corn/beans in April that seem to get by in the end. The same cannot be said for May planting (the Rule of May). Almost every time, if the conditions are not right, you will pay all season. “Plant into a warming trend” is a common (but rarely achieved) statement made each spring. The reason behind this statement is the importance of the first 24 to 48 hours after the seeds are planted. The first step in germination is to imbibe water. If that is a cold drink, it can send a shock to the seed and cause chilling injury which could affect the stand and reduce germination. If it is a warm drink and the three principles of germination (mentioned above) are followed, high germination and emergence should soon follow.

When it comes to weed management, do not skimp, especially on acres that were fallow. Cutting rates or eliminating products during this management step should never be considered. Many fields that were left unplanted allowed weeds to grow and that increased the seedbank for future years.

During the growing season, many growers like to spoon-feed the crop with foliar pesticides and multiple nitrogen applications. This might be the year — better than ever before — to really focus on the trips that pay. Focus on practices that produce return on investment. This most likely means a different management scenario for each field. This might be challenging to manage but taking time and planning will undoubtedly pay in the end.

I realize we are a long way off from spraying fungicides, but for many growers this is an annual event. It bears repeating. Focus on return on investment. For soybeans, I have considered spraying fungicides a must for years. The payback is typically there with an average bump of 8 to 10 bushels (if not more).

For corn, my stance has changed throughout the years. I used to focus on hybrid, crop rotation, weather, etc. While those criteria are still important, I have shifted my criteria to yield environment first. If the field has a yield potential over 200 bushels, then I am heavily leaning towards spraying. I understand there are situations where this changes (i.e. too far north, dry down and limited/no grain storage, etc.). While fields that yield under 200 bushels might still pay, they usually are more variable and have other yield-limiting factors than disease. Fields over 200-bushel potential certainly are more consistent and also have more yield to protect. There are many secondary advantages observed from spraying tassel-app fungicides and they can certainly add to the bottom line.

Overall, avoid knee-jerk reactions, stay the course, and do what you do best — plant a crop, manage it to the best ability, and hope for a market turnaround (quickly)! I wish you health, safety, and a productive spring season!

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