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Agronomic price for high yields

By John Brien, AgriGold

The adage states there is nothing free in life and high yields in the corn and soybean fields in the Eastern Corn Belt are no different. While the growing season of 2018 has had its share of challenges, the overall trend has been for higher than normal yields. The start of planting was slightly delayed but when May rolled around planting happened rapidly. Once the crop was put into the ground it never looked back. There was plenty of heat, water and sunshine for much of the State. The trend continued shortly after pollination with plenty of timely rainfalls and adequate heat accumulation. All these ingredients have made for a big yield potential. But the adage that nothing is free in life is the theme growers need to be aware of during this harvest season.

Growing crops in the Eastern Corn Belt provides many challenges that are constant and often compounding. The 2018 growing season is unique in that the challenges where not the major story but instead the stories of success ruled the day. But, when the success stories are big and grand, there must be a hidden cost associated with it. Often these costs are viewed as a negative, the goal here is to demonstrate that these costs are associated with positive results.

There are three costs that can be associated with the high yield potential in corn in 2018. The first cost is the extreme high level of gray leaf spot (GLS) that many corn fields have been battling. GLS favors warm and humid weather that keeps leaves wet for extended periods. These same conditions are conducive to high yields.

The second cost is stalk strength. Most often individual hybrids are blamed for having “weak” stalk but this year the large ear and its high demand for nutrients have caused corn plants to have to steal from their roots and stalks to meet the high sugar demand of the ear. With normal yields, plants can meet the sugar demand of the ear but when you add double digit yield increases over “normal” yields the plants have to rely on the nutrient reserves in the stalk.

The third cost is yet to be realized in many corn fields and that is ear molds. There is a correlation between high yields and various ear molds. “Rain makes grain” but it also needs to be remembered that “rain makes ear molds.” All of these costs are not ideal but when put into context of the results most growers are willing to pay the price.

There are also three costs with high yielding soybeans that are being displayed this growing season. The first surrounds the high and constant presence of frogeye leaf spot. Frogeye thrives in similar conditions to GLS in corn and soybeans plants likewise excel in the greenhouse like conditions Ohio experienced throughout July and August. The second cost is sudden death syndrome (SDS). Many soybean fields started “turning” too early and this was mainly caused by the infection of SDS. While high yields don’t cause SDS, the conditions that promote a large-scale outbreak of SDS are also like conditions favoring high yielding soybeans. As many growers think back to the last outbreak of SDS, they can often relate that to some of the highest yields those farms have experienced. The third cost that many soybean fields may pay in 2018 are lodging plants. Extremely warm growing conditions in June and July along with ample moisture caused the beans to put on a “little” extra growth. To compound the problem of taller beans, weigh them down with extra pods with really large soybean seeds and the plant can become weak-kneed very quickly.

Harvesting high yields is a delight for every grower. The hope for all agronomists is that they don’t let the costs overshadow the return.

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