2023 in review

By Matt Hutcheson, CCA, Soybean Lead/Field Agronomist, Seed Consultants, Inc. 

Matt Hutcheson, Seed Consultants, Inc.

The 2023 growing season presented growers with many challenges. Environmental factors caused stress in crops and created obstacles for farmers across the eastern Corn Belt. Although these challenges impacted field work and yields, the lessons learned from these challenges can help growers make management decisions to allow for success in future growing seasons. 

Wet spring weather made completing field work a challenge and caused planting delays in some areas. In excessively wet springs where weather delays field work, growers should work to minimize any additional delays. In addition to timely planting, it is important to make sure planting equipment is operating properly and providing consistent seed placement at the correct depth. Every year agronomists observe yield-robbing problems caused by mistakes made at planting. Throughout the planting season, growers should check for adequate down pressure, good seed-to-soil contact, uniform planting depth, correct planting populations, ect. Some of the problems we see in crop development throughout the growing season are a result of poor seed placement or incorrect depth. Planting sets the stage for the entire growing season, paying attention to these details and adjusting as needed throughout the planting season will help crops achieve high yield potential.

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 in some fields. Symptoms of compaction include restricted root growth, stunted crops, deficiencies, and yield losses. Because soil compaction lingers for several years and is estimated to cause as much as 20% yield loss, Ohio’s growers should focus on alleviating and avoiding compaction in the future. Deep compaction can 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. 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.

Every year we observe disease in crops and 2023 was no different. In both corn and soybeans, growers observed diseases that typically impact crops each year. Diseases such as northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, and tar spot were observed in corn as well as sudden death syndrome and Phytophthora root rot in soybeans. For many areas, there was a higher incidence of Sclerotinia white mold (SWM) in soybeans, which required rescue treatments and resulted in yield loss. Yield-limiting SWM occurred farther south than we typically see it, which is a good reminder of the importance of scouting fields.

Field scouting is a crucial part of managing crop disease, allowing growers to identify what diseases are present and to determine if they are reaching treatment threshold levels. No matter how you scout, whether it is by drone, walking fields on foot, or if you get help scouting from crop consultants and agronomists, it is important to know what is going on in the field. Identifying diseases not only allows growers to apply recuse treatments if needed, but also aids in future selection of varieties. One of the best ways to manage disease is through varietal selection. Growers should work with their seed company to choose varieties that have good tolerance to diseases they typically see in their fields. Additionally, growers who have a good idea of what diseases typically impact their crops can plan for fungicide applications if need be.

Although most of the challenges growers face throughout the year are out of their control, it is important to focus on what can be controlled and prepare for these challenges to the best of your ability. We can’t predict when we will see a repeat of 2023’s agronomic challenges, but growers who learn from this growing season and use that knowledge in future years will continue to be successful.

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