Managing crop stress to maximize yields

By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Product Manager, Seed Consultants, Inc.

Matt Hutcheson

The 2021 growing season has already provided growers with several challenges. Learning from these challenges and making sound management decisions throughout the remainder of the growing season will be critical to achieving top-end yield potential. 

One important management practice that was highlighted this spring was timing of crop planting in relationship to weather. Agronomists and university experts occasionally discuss the timing of planting and the importance of the first 36 to 48 hours a seed is in the ground. The first 36 to 48 hours a seed is in the ground is a critical period of water uptake where the seed is sensitive to temperature extremes. In many areas we saw fields planted immediately before a cold rain even and seed/seedlings that exhibited imbibitional injury.

In areas where cold rain/snow events occurred this spring, observed soil temperatures dropped from the mid 50s to the lower 40s overnight. In some cases, these fields needed to be replanted as a result of significant stand loss. One lesson we can already take away from 2021 is the importance avoiding planting right before cold weather events that could expose the seed to damaging temperatures. 

In the coming months growers should continue to monitor fields, being prepared to make timely decisions to ensure crops achieve their highest possible yield potential. With growing farm size and increasing distractions, it is difficult to scout fields thoroughly. Although it is time consuming, scouting fields is a critical piece to producing a successful crop. 

With the increasing presence of weeds such as waterhemp, growers must be vigilant of weed development in their fields and employ herbicide programs that effectively control weeds while eliminating the production and spread of weed seeds. With the plethora of herbicide and trait options available, growers should work with their agronomist to ensure effective weed control as well as crop safety. As always, following the herbicide label is a must.

Scouting fields and observing crop development with the ability to make rescue treatments will be key to producing crops with top-end yield potential. With the existing compaction and root restrictions as a result of saturated spring soils over the past few years, growers should be on the lookout for nutrient deficiencies. With poor root development, crops can show signs of nutrient deficiencies, even where soil fertility is adequate. In the last several years, agronomists have seen an increase in sulfur deficiency as fields are not receiving as much sulfur from the environment due to improvements in air pollution. In areas where heavy rain and saturated soils exist late into the growing season, nitrogen deficiency may appear as a result of N loss. In some cases, nutrient deficiencies will need to be corrected to avoid yield loss. 

  Growers should also be on the lookout for diseases. The inoculum for many diseases is always present in crop residue, however, these diseases only become a problem under the right environmental conditions. Many yield-limiting diseases such as northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, and frogeye leaf spot can be controlled if identified and treated in a timely manner. Some disease symptoms such as sudden death syndrome can be a sign that other issues (compaction) exist. Disease presence can also help growers make future decisions on crop rotation, tillage, or varietal selection.

Although Ohio’s crops have gone through many stresses already during the spring of 2021, there is still potential for very good yields at harvest. The key to achieving these top yields will be closely monitoring fields and making sound management decisions throughout the remainder of the growing season.

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