Lessons learned from the 2021 growing season

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

Every new growing season presents its own set of challenges and gives growers an opportunity to learn and improve their management practices, 2021 was no different. From the wet weather and adverse conditions early in the season to diseases and agronomic problems there is a great deal to be learned from this year.

One critical management practice that 2021 highlighted is the timing of planting operations. In many areas of the eastern Corn Belt there were large rain events that included cold temperatures and created adverse growing conditions for seeds and seedlings. The first 24 to 48 hours a seed is in the ground are critical to seedling development. In that time period the seed is taking in moisture and beginning the germination process. When planted directly before a cold/wet weather event, seeds are at risk of imbibitional chilling injury. Agronomists and farmers observed chilling injury in corn and soybean fields that resulted in seedling damage, seedling death, and reduced stands. The damaging weather events in the spring of 2021 proved the importance of watching forecasts and avoiding planting crops right before extreme changes in weather. It is easier said than done, but many times it is better to keep the planter in the barn when cold rain events are predicted within the next 48 hours.

In addition to imbibitional injury, the adverse weather conditions combined with field work resulted in shallow soil compaction and crop root restriction. Although problems existed across many fields and crops, concerns with roots first became evident in soybean fields this summer. While scouting fields or just driving through the countryside, it became evident that there were areas of soybean fields that were stunted a under significant stress. Heavy rains, saturated soils, and shallow compaction led to poor root development in many fields across the eastern Corn Belt. With poor root development agronomists and growers observed stunted plants, poor standability, and yield loss. The problems observed in crop roots during the 2021 growing season reinforce the importance of avoiding compaction and improving drainage in fields. 

Another important management practice that was highlighted in 2021 is field scouting. Growers and agronomists who spent time walking fields and scouting observed some pest and disease issues that we don’t normally see every year in the eastern Corn Belt. Whether it was southern rust in corn, root restrictions in soybeans, or large armyworm populations, scouting allowed growers to identify and manage problems in their fields. Sometimes scouting allows growers to manage problems with immediate action, sometimes scouting allows growers to identify problems that cannot be addressed immediately but can be handled after harvest or before next spring. Scouting during the growing season is a critical part of crop production because it is easier to correctly identify problems while the crop is present and growing. If problems are discovered at harvest when the crop is completely mature or no longer present in the field it can be difficult to correctly identify and manage them. 

In addition to crop scouting, another important tool in the grower’s toolbox is varietal selection. The difficult growing conditions, diseases, pests, and weed control issues of 2021 highlighted the importance of varietal selection. By choosing varieties with strong stress emergence growers can help protect themselves against adverse conditions early in the growing season. Corn hybrids with good tolerance to diseases such as northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, rust, etc. were protected from some of the more significant corn diseases of 2021. Soybean varieties with SDS, Phytophthora root rot, and Sclerotinia while mold tolerance were protected from some of the major soybean diseases present in 2021. With the plethora of herbicide and insect traits available to farmers, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of the selecting the variety itself. Choosing the right genetics with proven performance in eastern soils and protection against eastern diseases and pests should not be overlooked when determining what herbicide trait package is best for your farm.

In many ways, 2021 was a challenging year. Although we can almost guarantee that 2022 with have its own set of different challenges, growers can take what they learned from the 2021 growing season and apply it to future seasons for continued success.

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