Learning from 2020 to prepare for 2021

By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Seed Consultants, Inc.

 2020 has provided Ohio’s producers with another challenging growing season. As Ohio’s growers wrap up harvest, it is important to begin planning for next year and work to minimize the impact of some of the lingering agronomic issues.

One area of concern that can significantly impact yields is soil compaction. Thanks to a pattern of wet spring and fall weather over the last several years, field work has been performed under marginal or wet soil conditions. Agronomists and growers have observed symptoms of compaction such as restricted root growth, stunted crops, deficiencies, and yield losses. Because soil compaction lingers for several years and is estimated to causes as much as 10% to 20% yield loss, Ohio’s growers should focus on alleviating and avoiding compaction in the future. Some compaction can be alleviated through tillage. Deep compaction should be alleviated in the fall with deep ripping. Growers should also consider the use of certain cover crops (such as cereal rye, oats, and radishes) to help alleviate existing compaction.

It is important to note that the best way to minimize yield loss by compaction is to avoid compacting soil in the first place. Avoiding field work under wet conditions, avoiding excessive axle loads, minimizing tillage, use of cover crops, etc. are all methods for protecting soil from yield-robbing compaction. Growers need to be mindful of the management practices that are causes of compaction and avoid them. Compaction lingers for several years, causes significant yield loss, and ultimately impacts profitability.

Another problem observed this harvest in corn fields was ear molds/rots. Although the development of ear mold is greatly influenced by environmental factors that are out of our control, there are still some actions growers can take in the future to minimize their impact. Pre-harvest scouting is critical to determine if ear molds are present and to identify which specific molds have developed. Because some ear molds are associated with mycotoxins and others are not, it is important for growers to determine which ear rots have developed in their fields.

 Because there are no in-season management options for ear rots, preventative management is key. Growers should work with their seed company to select hybrids that are less susceptible to ear molds (if ratings are available). Crop rotation away from corn as well as tillage to bury infected residue will help minimize the possibility that ear molds will develop. If ear molds develop, problem fields should be harvested early, stored separately, and dried to 14.5% moisture to minimize the impact of mold development. Grain from infected field should be tested for mycotoxins before being fed to livestock.

 When planning for the 2021 growing season, a challenge for growers is going to be weed control in soybeans as well as selection of the correct herbicide trait. With the plethora of available soybean traits, the process for choosing the correct varieties is becoming increasingly difficult. It is important to start by selecting varieties that are adapted to Ohio’s soil types and growing conditions. When selecting a soybean trait, growers must weigh the pros and cons of herbicide efficacy, flexibility in application timing, field border requirements, and potential for off-target movement. Growers have many choices, but it is key to choose a high-yielding variety with a herbicide tolerance that allows for effective weed control. Additionally, no matter what trait is chosen, use of multiple modes of action, residual herbicides, and following the label are all critical parts of ensuring the availability of effective weed control now and in the future.

Every year brings a new set of challenges for growers to deal with, however, lessons learned in a tough growing season with many challenges will help ensure success in future seasons.

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