Early season crop scouting

By John Fulton and Elizabeth Hawkins

Planting is one of the critical field operations during the growing season with yield potential established and impacted once seed is placed in the soil. Uniform emergence and making sure the correct population emerges are important objectives after planting. Emergence is impacted by plant density, seed-to-soil contact within the furrow, seeding depth, soil moisture, soil temperature, seed size, seed orientation, and genetics. It is important to scout your corn and soybeans to evaluate planter performance and crop establishment. Scouting can provide valuable field-by-field insights on how planter performance affected yield potential. 

Scouting can be enhanced by using one of the several mobile applications (APPs). Not only can you take notes, these mobile applications allow you to drop geo-referenced pins and collect images at these points. Another aspect of these mobile applications is the ability to share this information with others within the farm operation or with your trusted advisor. 

Here are scouting suggestions of important information you may want to collect during early stages of crop growth. First, the quality of emergence can be evaluated though three metrics: 

1. Stand counts, 

2. Stand uniformity, and 

3. Seed depth. 

These three metrics can help to evaluate both planter performance and understand yield potential across a field. Further, we suggest scouting across the entire field visiting locations where growing conditions differ. Remotely sensed imagery, as-planted maps or other knowledge of the field can help identify what areas to scout. 

Stand counts can serve as a means to understand the number of plants emerged. The recommendations is to collect stand count data at multiple locations across a field. Within our research program, we evaluate soil and terrain variability prior to collecting stand count data so we can understand how field variability may have played a role in emergence quality. 

While collecting stand counts, consider evaluating stand uniformity by looking at plant growth stage. You should note late emerging plants along with any skips and doubles. You can also take this time to determine if any furrow compaction occurred, noting places where the furrow may not have been fully closed by the closing wheels. The final suggestion is to dig up a few plants at the locations you collect stand counts and evaluate seed depth. This can be especially important in areas where uneven emergence is found. To note, this information can be easily recorded and georeferenced with scouting apps available today.

Additional early season scouting should look for plant leaf and stem discoloration and the presence of any dead or dying plants. Leaf and stem discoloration can help identify issues such as nutrient deficiencies. We find in some of our Ohio research fields that nutrient deficiencies can be localized in the field and due to soil conditions (wet areas) or compaction caused from equipment tracks. In terms of dying or wilting plants, this can be a sign of frost or herbicide damage, seedling diseases and occasionally early season insect issues such as slugs.

In all, you should leave the field understanding if there were any planter issues and what the yield potential is for the field at that point in the growing season. A simple approach to noting yield potential is by using 3 categories to characterize the field: yield at or above pre-season planning potential, issues found suggesting yield could be below average, or severe issues exist with yield potential already lost. It is still early in the growing season but noting where yield potential is for a field may help with management decisions as the season progresses.

Additional information and resources can be found at the Ohio State University Digital website: https://digitalag.osu.edu/precision-ag

Dr. John Fulton can be reached at fulton.20@osu.edu. Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins can be reached at hawkins.301@osu.edu. This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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