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Corn yields a pleasant surprise for many in 2017

There have been pockets of lower than expected corn yields around the state where the full force of 2017’s broad challenges came to fruition, but corn has generally been a pleasant surprise for many farms, said Peter Thomison, Ohio State University Extension corn specialist.

“Planting progress curves showed planting at about the five-year average this spring. If you just looked at that it would suggest there were not problems as far as the planting, but the National Agricultural Statistics Service doesn’t factor in replanting,” Thomison said. “Some counties had 20% or more of the corn replanted. Seed company reps said that this was the most replanting they had experienced on record in some areas. In northwest Ohio there were people I heard from that replanted three times with corn. When I hear a report about issues like this from more than two or three people, I suspect it is the tip of the iceberg and there is much more of that going on.”

The extreme variability (even in fairly uniform fields) led to variable environments for a number of yield limiting factors.

“This year we saw a little bit of everything out there. We had some soil compaction that causes things like corkscrew seedlings in the spring. I am always interested in abnormal ear formations and there were many of those out there this year. Some of those have direct yield losses and others can be in fields that still generate good yields. We had ear rot and sprouting ear problems scattered across the state as well. It was a smorgasbord of trouble shooting issues exhibiting themselves this year,” Thomison said. “We were worried about some bad situations at harvest where we had ponding and too much water early in the season. There was poor emergence, uneven emergence, slow plant development — I took a lot of pictures of fields with pockets of plants falling behind the rest of the field this year. Once the canopy closed the fields looked great but when you walked out there you’d find these pockets. There were de-nitrification issues and disease issues affecting the crops as well. There was also some direct stand loss. We even had some losses from green snap around July 20. We had a little bit of everything out there this year.”

Ultimately, though, the situation set up corn for a good growing season in many cases, but not for soybeans. The plentiful rainfall for most of the state through much of July, followed by a cooler, drier August and dry early September, favored early planted (and replanted corn) but hurt soybean yield potential.

“There were localized situations where corn yields were hurt, but yields were generally higher than expected. I think the quality of the drainage in these fields was an important factor this year. People were concerned about nitrogen loss and yet some of the fields have turned out extraordinarily well. I have heard there are areas in the state where yields are in the 150s and 160s, but I haven’t heard as much about those as the corn yields that have been higher than expected,” Thomison said. “The corn and soybeans responded differently to the rainfall and temperatures this summer. We had some really cool weather in August and September and those temperatures benefitted the corn crop because it was starting to experience moisture stress and the cooler weather mitigated the impact. Soybeans didn’t respond the same way. There were also reports of southern rust and people were wondering about fungicide applications in corn and the cool dry weather came along and slowed the development of southern rust so that may have helped reduce potential yield loss from that and other diseases. The cool temperatures during grain fill and after the crop was pollinated helped the corn perform better. Early on, we were concerned about corn with shallow roots. The cool temperatures helped us later in the season. I think it helped more in corn than soybeans.”

Especially for all of the replanted crops, the delayed frost was a huge factor this fall.

“We got a killing frost well after the normal frost date, two to three weeks later in some areas,” Thomison said. “We even had late planted corn that was much drier than would have been expected after the warm fall weather we had.”

In what has been (and continues to be) a long 2017 for many farmers in Ohio, challenging weather conditions take on increased importance as opportunities for a timely harvest are quickly evaporating for a dry, soggy, dry, soggy season.

“Right now the main concern is that the 2017 harvest is not finished yet,” Thomison said on Nov. 9. “We still have three locations of the Performance Trials that need to be harvested. We are worried about how long this corn will stay out there with these repeated rainfall events. We have fields with lodging in them. There are growers out there where these windstorms really flattened some of the fields. You can see big differences in some of these hybrids in terms of the standability as the harvest continues. If we had a dry stretch of about a week we could see a lot of corn coming off, but if we keep getting these sporadic rains harvest could take awhile. If you have corn sitting in moisture or the ears are in contact with the ground it will be slower and take awhile. The final chapter has not yet been written for 2017.”

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