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Agronomy Notebook



What is the proper plant population?

One factor that greatly influences corn yields is plant population. Determining the correct plant population may take some effort, however, it is a critical factor that every corn grower needs to get right in order to maximize yields.

Recent research performed by universities and seed companies has determined that that yields increase significantly as populations are increased up to a point of 34,000 seeds per acre. In general, yields begin to level off at planting rates around rates 36,000 seeds per acre. Recent studies have also determined that even in low yield environments planting rates of 31,000 seeds per acre maximize yield and economic return. In very productive, 250 bushel per acre yield environments, research results show that higher populations (38,000+ seeds per acre) maximize yields. Breeding and advances in genetics have improved the modern corn plant’s ability to yield at higher populations when compared to corn hybrids from the past.

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Uniform corn emergence tips

Two aspects of stand establishment often discussed by agronomists are emergence and seed spacing. “Picket fence” spacing in corn helps plants grow efficiently and minimizes competition between them. Uniform spacing is an important part of stand establishment. More importantly, however, is uniform emergence. Plants that are just 1 leaf collar behind (due to uneven emergence) significantly reduce yield. According to Paul Jasa, University of Nebraska Extension ag engineer, “When a plant develops ahead of its neighbor, it hurts yield dramatically. It’s going to vary somewhat from year to year, but a plant lagging behind those around it becomes a weed.” To achieve uniform emergence, consistent planting depth is critical.

Field conditions, gauge wheel settings, unit down pressure, and planter speed all affect seeding depth. Set planter depth and check it regularly. A planter may have enough weight to apply the proper down force when full, but what about when it’s almost empty?

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Winter wheat management

In the coming months as the weather warms, up winter wheat will break dormancy and will begin to green up. After a period of about 2 weeks producers should evaluate their stand in order to make management decisions for their wheat crop. Part of this evaluation includes counting tillers to determine if there is an adequate stand for achieving high yields. According an article in a 2014 C.O.R.N. Newsletter written by Laura Lindsey, Ed Lentz, Pierce Paul, “Yield potential is reduced if tiller numbers fall below 25 per square foot after green up.”

So, what is a tiller? And how should they be counted? Tillers are additional stems that develop off of the main shoot of the plant. Primary tillers form in the axils of the first four or more true leaves of the main stem. Secondary tillers may develop from the base of primary tillers if conditions favor tiller development.

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Planning for high yielding soybeans

When planning for the upcoming growing season, it can be easy to focus more energy on corn production as it has traditionally been the more intensively managed crop. However, producers who put in the effort to manage their soybean crop have proven it is possible to attain high yields of 70+ bushels per acre. Below are some tips for planning to produce high-yielding soybeans in 2016.

• Quality Seed: Planting the right seed sets the stage for the entire growing season. Growers should plant genetics with high yield potential. Choose varieties that have been tested at several locations and across multiple years. Growers should choose varieties adapted to their soil types and management practices. As with corn, choosing varieties with strong disease packages and agronomic traits with aid in achieving higher yields.

• Planting Date: University research has proven that timely, early planting is one way to increase soybean yields. As with corn, planting soybeans by early May improves yield potential.  

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Green stems still a problem in soybeans

In many areas of the eastern Corn Belt, soybean growers had difficulties this harvest due to Green stem syndrome. When green stem syndrome occurs, stems and leaves can remain green after pods have matured. As a result, while pods and seeds are mature and dry enough to be harvested, harvest operations can be slowed as combines work to “chew” though green stems and leaves. In addition to creating harvest delays, green stem syndrome can increase fuel consumption and result in shattering losses if growers delay harvest until stems have fully matured.

The occurrence of green stems varies from year-to-year and can be affected by several factors, such as:

• Viral infections

• Insect feeding

• Late planting

• Drought stress

• Application of fungicides

Successful management of green stem syndrome requires management practices that include timely planting, establishing adequate plant stands, irrigation, and controlling insects/pests. Although green stem syndrome slows down harvest, soybeans should be harvested as soon as pods are fully mature in order to minimize harvest losses due to shattering.

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It’s never too early to plan for next year: Now is the time to implement plans to ensure clean fields and maximum yields in 2017

For many of us, fall is about seeing the “payoff” from all our hard work during the past season. While harvest does allow us to make observations and summarize our findings from the past season, I’d encourage you to also consider preparing your seed bed for next year. For some of you that means tillage, for others who do not intend to till their acres, this means controlling those fall emerged weeds.

While this past growing season was hot and dry for many of us, the recent fall rains have provided the moisture necessary for winter annual and perennial weed populations to thrive. Those same weeds will not only be tougher to get sufficient control of next spring, but will inhibit us from getting our 2017 crop established and off to the best possible start.

Fall is an excellent time to control many of these troublesome winter annual and perennial weeds such as marestail, dandelion, chickweed, henbit, field pennycress and purple deadnettle.

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Maintain quality of grain in storage

As harvest is in full swing across the state, and fields of corn and soybeans are disappearing, grain bins are starting to fill up. All of the management decisions that growers made throughout the growing season are being evaluated as yield data is collected and analyzed. Also, growers marketing programs are in full swing trying to maximize the best price per bushel across an entire operation.

One factor affecting profitability is still at jeopardy; that is the quality and marketability of corn and soybeans before they are sold. Grain condition in storage is often overlooked until there is a problem as grain begins to be moved for sale. Grain quality and condition will never improve after it is put into storage, however, it can quickly decline to the point of dockage or rejection at a point of sale. Considering the following points when storing grain can help reduce potential grain quality issues.

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Use plot data to make good decisions

As harvest is completed across the Eastern Corn Belt, seed companies, universities, and growers will have the chance to compile and analyze data from yield testing. One of the most important decisions a farmer will face all year is deciding what variety to plant and in which field to plant it. To ensure that the best possible decision is made next spring, it is important to spend some time looking at yield data. While reviewing data is critical, knowing how to determine whether it is accurate and useful is equally important. Below are some tips for using data to make sound planting decisions next spring.

Look for Replicated Data

Don’t rely on yield results from one strip plot on a farm or from a single plot location. Look for data from randomized tests that are repeated multiple times and across multiple locations. Replications in testing increase the reliability of the data and help to remove variables that can skew results.

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Maintain grain quality with proper storage

As producers across the Eastern Corn Belt get into their fields this fall, care should be taken to ensure proper handling and storage of grain. Proper storage and grain handling is necessary in maintaining the quality of the harvested crop.

It is critical to start with both a clean bin and handling equipment. Any moldy grain or grain infested by insects from the previous year can contaminate grain harvested this season. Storage facilities and aeration equipment should be clean and in proper working condition.

Harvesting equipment that is adjusted and operated correctly will also preserve the condition of the crop. Combines should be set to clean grain thoroughly to eliminate foreign material/fines and handling equipment should be operated in order to minimize damage to grain. It is also important to use a spreader or distributor as grain enters the bin to evenly spread any fine materials remaining in the grain. Without a spreading device the fines will collect in the center of the bin and create aeration problems as well as a place for moisture to accumulate.

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Kernel red streak in corn

One common occurrence observed by growers and agronomists as corn begins to mature is a red coloring of the normally yellow pericarp of corn kernels. Kernel Red Streak (KRS), pictured top left, results from the development of red pigment in corn kernels caused by wheat curl mite feeding on the kernel seed coat. According to Purdue’s John Obermeyer and Christian Krupke in the 2015 issue 25 of the Pest and Crop Newsletter; “There are two suspected mechanisms causing the red streaking. One is the triggering of anthocyanin, a red pigment, in the pericarp as a response to mite feeding. Hybrids vary greatly in how much and where anthocyanin accumulates (e.g., purple seedling corn under cool, wet conditions). The other is the elicitation of another red pigment, phlobaphene, that determines cob (white vs. red), pericarp (great variability as shown with Indian corn), and silk (yellow vs. pink) coloration”

Just like purpling of a corn plant itself during the growing season varies by genetics, so does KRS.

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The benefits of collecting good yield data

The sound of locusts in the evening and back-to-school advertisements on TV are a sure sign that August has arrived and summer is quickly coming to an end. Before you know it, corn and soybeans will be changing color and it will be time for harvest. During harvest, most farmers don’t think twice about making sure that their combine settings are fine-tuned. For example, if the sieves aren’t set correctly, there will either be grain left in the field or discounts at the elevator for grain that’s not clean. There is a clear gain in profitability by taking the time to set your combine correctly. The benefit of yield monitors and the maps they produce however can be more obscure, but are also important. Here are three ways that well-calibrated yield data can help make you more profitable.

1. Recordkeeping: Once harvest and fall fieldwork tasks are completed, the season of paperwork and planning will be in full swing.

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Time to scout: Here’s what to watch for

Now is an optimum time to scout your corn and soybean fields. This time of year you can begin to gain knowledge on the progress and condition of your crop.

Some key items to assess in the corn crop can be, but aren’t limited to: pollination, kernel development, and amount and/or type of foliar disease present in corn fields. Some soybean key items to assess can be: pod set, flower development, pod fill and amount and/or type of foliar disease. However, there seems to be fairly common objections from growers when it comes to scouting fields during this time frame. Whether it has to do with the heat, humidity, pollen shed or wet soybean canopies from morning dews, whatever your objection might be, let’s take a look at the disease triangle and how it can help guide our scouting trips to make them more efficient and productive. Three things must be present for diseases to occur, also known as the three legs of the disease triangle.

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Fhb1 fusarium head blight gene

Although not as prevalent this year, one problem that eastern Corn Belt wheat growers face frequently is Fusarium Head Blight (Scab). This disease can cause significant yield loss in addition to reduced grain quality and high levels of mycotoxins. Growers have effectively managed head scab with timely fungicide applications.

One additional too available to growers for management of Fusarium Head Blight is gene resistance. The Fhb1 gene is widely recognized as an outstanding source of head scab resistance in wheat. This gene is effective in reducing the DON (Deoxynivalenol) levels in wheat, ultimately resulting in better grain quality. DON levels are a major concern in wheat because they cause animal feed refusal, sickness, and decreased weight gain.

For the 2016-2017 sales season Seed Consultants, Inc. is offering a new wheat variety (SC 13S26) with the Fhb1 gene. The Fhb1 gene provides Type II resistance, which slows down or inhibits the spread of the pathogens from the initial infection site.

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Watch for Palmer amaranth

Now is the time of year when scouting for Palmer amaranth is critical. This weed’s emergence begins in May and will last through the fall. Because of its prolific growth habit and resistance to multiple herbicide modes of action, it is critical to identify and control Palmer amaranth shortly after it emerges.

It is important for growers to have the ability to identify Palmer amaranth so that it is not confused with other pigweed species. Universities have published some excellent resources for ID and control of Palmer, including this Purdue Fact Sheet and this Herbicide-Resistance Management publication. Staying on top of this aggressive weed is critical to managing it and keeping it from competing with crops.

 

Tips for controlling Palmer amaranth

‪1. Scout for and identify problem weeds early. Palmer Amaranth is a pigweed species and can easily be confused with other pigweeds, such as redroot pigweed, during early growth stages.

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Corn plants appreciate a stress-free summer

Over the next several weeks the upper canopy in Ohio corn fields will look much different, as tassels begin to emerge and extend beyond the top leaves of the plant. This visual change signifies that the corn crop will soon be shifting from vegetative into reproductive growth. The first reproductive growth stage (R1) begins when silks extends outside of the husk leaves and typically occurs two to three days after tassel emergence.

The two basic processes that occur during corn reproduction are pollination (transfer of pollen grains from the tassel to the silks) and fertilization (joining of the pollen grain and ovary to create an embryo). Though these processes seem very simple, there is a lot riding on their success. Approximately 85% of the variability in grain yield is related to the number of kernels produced per acre while the remaining 15% of the variability in grain yield is related to the weight of these kernels.

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Watching for fertilizer burn

Some plants don’t have much of a root system while others show a beautiful root system with no shoot.  What is going on? In each case I have looked at this year, each farmer was using more than 30 pounds of total nitrogen (N) (28% plus 10-34-0) and/or sulfur in a 2×2 system. These reduced stands appear to be caused by fertilizer injury burn.
Urea ammonium nitrate (28% UAN) is made up of 50% urea, 25% ammonium, and 25% nitrate. When urea volatilizes, it turns into ammonia (the same type of ammonia in anhydrous ammonia) and is lost to the air. That’s why we need to work in urea (or stabilize it) within a few days after application if we are using it as a N source. As a starter, stabilizing N is not recommended and is not normally a problem.
So what made urea volatilize faster this year?
  1. Volatility of urea is microbial driven, so warmer temperatures make this reaction occur more quickly.
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With planting finished, it’s time to take a walk

Finally corn and soybean fields are planted and are up and growing. Now growers need to walk their fields often or hire a professional to identify crop issues that can impact yields.

What happens in the next 80 to 90 days will have a major effect on maximizing yield potential. A good tool for scouting plan is the Corn and Soybean pocket Field Guide from Purdue or Ohio State University. Here are some potential problems to monitor.

There are corn fields where seedling blights — especially Pythium  — had an effect on the stand, especially in early planted fields. With the wet and cold conditions of early May, soil borne insects including wireworms and seed corn maggots attacked the seed and also hurt the stand. For some fields where 30,000 to 34,000 kernels were dropped, because of seedling blights and insect issues, stands were reduced down to 24,000 to 28,000 plants.

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Documenting the relationship between corn emergence and yield

One very important aspect of corn plant development and yield is emergence. While evenly spaced “picket fence” stands are often discussed, agronomists and university experts stress the more important aspect of emergence-uniform emergence. According to Paul Jasa, University of Nebraska Extension ag engineer, “When a plant develops ahead of its neighbor, it hurts yield dramatically. It’s going to vary somewhat from year to year, but a plant lagging behind those around it becomes a weed.”

In order to achieve high yields, uniform emergence is essential.

As part of Seed Consultants testing in 2016, our agronomic team has planted a test plot in Fayette County that will be observed twice daily (morning and evening) during the emergence process. This study will observe 1/1000 acre sections of rows for 5 different hybrids. Approximately every 12 hours an agronomist will walk through the plot and place garden stakes next to plants as they emerge (as pictured above).

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Deal or no deal: Finding the right nitrogen rate

One of the largest investments in a corn crop is the nitrogen (N) application, and many farmers will be sidedressing their corn soon. Especially with this year’s profit outlook, it is important to carefully consider how much N to apply. Deciding on the correct N rate can be a lot like playing the game “Deal or no deal.”

“Deal or no deal” was a TV game show that aired a few years ago. The game consisted of a series of 26 cases, each containing a different amount of money ranging from $0.01 to $1,000,000. A contestant would select a case at random, and then play the game to reveal how much money was in their case, or try to sell their case for more than it was worth.

Each corn field will require a certain amount of N to reach its maximum yield potential. However, that ideal rate is a lot like the dollar value in the contestant’s case — it isn’t known until the end of the game (harvest).

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Purple corn concerns?

For many areas of the eastern Corn Belt, a great deal of corn has been planted over the past few weeks. Some corn has emerged and is in the early stages of growth. One phenomenon that commonly occurs at the early stages of the growing season is the appearance of purple corn plants. Corn plants can turn purple for several reasons related to environmental factors such as:

• Sunny days and cool nights (temps in the 40s to 50s F)

• Soil pH lower than 5.5

• Cool temperatures

• Wet soil

• Stresses that hinder the uptake of phosphorus

• Herbicide injury

• Soil compaction

Because many fields have saturated soils and the forecast includes a week of cooler weather, producers may see some purple plants in their fields. Purpling in corn due to cooler weather most often occurs when plants are in the V2 to V5 growth stages. Because of diverse genetics, hybrids react differently to early stress and some will exhibit purpling while others will not.

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