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Agronomy Notebook



Uniformity continues with seed germination

The first step in corn stand uniformity is getting the corn planter maintained and adjusted to plant the corn crop as uniformly as possible. The next step in the uniformity equation is achieving uniform emergence.

Germination is simply the process that allows a seed to sprout or begin to grow. Although the definition is simple, the actual process is quite complex. The germination of a corn seed requires soil moisture to “reawaken” the seed and adequate temperatures to speed along the enzymes and chemical reactions that allow the cells in the corn plant to grow and reproduce.

Corn growers know the importance of germination but often don’t believe they have much of a roll in that process. Growers tend to be disconnected from the germination process because they cannot control the rainfall, sunshine and/or temperatures. But, in all accounts where and how a grower places the corn seed greatly dictates the ultimate success and/or failure of germination.

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Identifying wheat growth stages: Feekes Stage 6

For determining the right timing of winter wheat management decisions, identifying the growth stage of wheat plants is critical. For example, knowing how to identify wheat Feekes Stage 6 is important because this is the cutoff timing for certain herbicides ( i.e. 2,4-D and dicamba) and also the point at which rapid development with increased need for nitrogen occurs. Feekes Stage 6 is also the timing when extreme cold temperatures can cause significant damage to wheat plants. Agronomists and wheat experts recommended that spring applications of N are made prior to Feekes Stage 6 (also known as jointing) when the wheat plant begins a period of rapid growth and will utilize more nitrogen. Wheat is currently at or past Feekes 6 in many areas.

How do you identify wheat plants at Feekes Stage 6? The easiest way to tell is to dig up a wheat plant and examine the main stem.

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Is starter fertilizer a practice to cut in 2016?

Growers use multiple fertilizer practices and application timings to address the fertility requirements for successful corn production. As the “bearish” agricultural economy continues, resulting in low commodity grain prices, many producers are looking for ways to streamline their crop production budgets, and often pose the question, “Should I remove my corn starter fertilizer program in 2016?”

Starter fertilizer is typically defined as placing a small volume of fertilizer, either in close proximity (i.e. two-by-two, which is two inches adjacent and two inches below the seed furrow) or inside the seed furrow while in direct contact with the seed (i.e. pop-up fertilizer). Two-by-two placement allows the newly emerging seminal roots to encounter the fertilizer shortly after emergence. “In-furrow” fertilizer may result in earlier nutrient utilization by the plant when compared to a traditional two-by-two adjacent nutrient placement and involves less application hardware, less overall cost and lower amounts of fertilizer. So in regards to a nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium starter program, does this option benefit your bottom line?

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Corn germination and emergence processes

As growers across the Eastern Corn Belt get ready to plant corn, it is important to review and understand what goes into corn the germination and emergence process. Uniform corn emergence is one of the most important aspects of stand establishment and producing high yielding corn. Understanding germination, emergence, and how environmental factors influence these processes is the first step toward ensure uniform emergence.

Germination

Germination begins in a corn seed when it has imbibed 30% of its weight in water. While corn can germinate when soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or higher, research has determined that the optimal temperature is 86 degrees F. Visual signs that corn germination is taking place are the appearance of the radicle root, coleoptile, and seminal roots. When temperatures are cooler, the germination process is slower and seedlings are more susceptible to disease, insects, and other damaging factors.

Emergence

Uniform emergence is one of the most important yield-influencing factors that growers should work to achieve.

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Reminder about winter wheat management for spring of 2016

Wheat Feekes

With recent warm weather, winter wheat has broken dormancy and begun to green up. With wheat plants no longer dormant, scouting and management of wheat fields is critical to producing high yields. As discussed earlier in the year, now is the time to plan for N applications where field conditions allow. Below is an excerpt from and a previous newsletter with recommendations for nitrogen application and rates:

Spring applications of N should be made after the plants break dormancy. Although in some situations field conditions may be favorable, nitrogen applied in the late winter before plants have broken dormancy is more likely to be lost before plants can utilize it. Spring N applications should not be made before wheat has broken dormancy and begins to green up. The University of Kentucky publication “A Comprehensive Guide to Wheat Management in Kentucky” recommends: “When making a single N fertilizer application the best time is when the crop growth stage is Feekes 4-5, (Zadoks 30, usually mid-March) just before the first joint appears on the main stem and when wheat starts growing rapidly.” The UK publication goes on to say that “The rate of N fertilizer for a single application should be between 60 and 90 lb N/acre for fields with a yield potential less than 70 bu/acre and 90 to 100 lb N/acre for fields with greater yield potential.”

Wheat plants begin a period of rapid growth and stem elongation once they reach Feekes Stage 6 (first node visible).

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Things to watch with corn emergence

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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Corn planting date considerations

For much of the Eastern Corn Belt it is widely understood that the optimal planting period is between April 20 and May 10. Research has proven that corn loses yield potential daily when planted after the beginning of May. For the Central Corn Belt, the declines in yield potential due to planting delays vary from about 0.3% per day early in May to about 1% per day by the end of May, according to Bob Nielsen from Purdue University. Knowing that this is true, it can be frustrating during a wet spring or when field work is delayed for one reason or another. Planting is a critical component of a successful crop as it sets the stage for the entire growing season. However, it is important to keep in mind that early planting is just one of many factors that contribute to high yield potential. Planting early favors high yields, but it does not guarantee them and growers should not focus entirely on the calendar.

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How do wheat tillers contribute to yield?

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 two weeks following green up 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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Leaf disease: Management and consideration for 2016

As spring of 2016 approaches, producers across the Eastern Corn Belt will begin to put more thought towards their production plans and management decisions for the upcoming season. One challenge that has affected corn yields in our sales territory over the past few years is foliar disease, especially Northern Corn Leaf Blight. Anyone who attended one of our Winter Agronomy Meetings heard a discussion of what conditions promote diseases (Northern Corn Leaf Blight and Gray Leaf Spot) and possible management options. You might ask, “What are the important management options that will protect yield from leaf diseases?” Below are the answers to that question:

• Select Resistant Hybrids: One very effective way to protect yield potential is to plant varieties that have resistance to leaf disease. Many university publications, including this MSU fact sheet, generally recommend that fungicides are not required for hybrids with strong disease resistance.

• Crop Rotation: It is widely understood that crop rotation is one of the best management practices for mitigating problem diseases.

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Helpful tips for reducing soil erosion

Soil erosion is an annual problem throughout the Eastern Corn Belt. Recent research estimates that farmland across the Corn Belt looses close to four tons of soil per acre each year due to erosion. Additionally, even under the best conditions topsoil buildup is very slow, if it occurs at all. Soil particles can be detached and moved out of a field by both wind and water. Wind can pick up small soil particles, transporting them long distances. Water moving along the ground surface can remove a thin sheet of soil, create small channels, or wash out large gullies.

Soil erosion has a large number of negative effects to both crops and the environment. It is important to use various management practices to protect the soil’s surface and minimize the likelihood of erosion.

 

Factors that contribute to erosion

‪1. Rainfall — soil erosion increases as length or intensity of rainfall increases.

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Palmer amaranth update

During the past few years agronomists and university weed experts have been discussing the potential northern movement of an aggressive weed that can reduce yields and increase costs of weed control. The arrival of Palmer Amaranth, nicknamed “Pigweed on Steroids”, has been confirmed in multiple states across the Eastern Corn Belt. Seed Consultants’ customers and agronomists have already worked together this year to deal with new populations of Palmer that were discovered this spring. Palmer amaranth populations have recently been confirmed in several counties in Indiana, and are present in Michigan, isolated areas of Ohio, and areas of Western Kentucky.

Palmer amaranth is an aggressive plant that thrives in drought, can grow more than two inches a day, is resistant to multiple herbicide modes of action, and produces 100,000 or more seeds per plant. Many populations of this weed are resistant to multiple herbicide modes of action. The key to keeping Palmer Amaranth from establishing itself is implementing management practices to effectively eliminate seed production and hinder its ability to spread.

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Use plot data to make good decisions

As harvest continues 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 critical 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.

For strip plot data, was a “tester” used?

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Tassel ears showing up in fields

While scouting fields this time of year it is common to find a few strange looking ears. Corn is a monecious plant, which means it has separate male (the tassel) and female (the ear) flowers. In some cases, both male and female structures form as a combination in the same plant structure.

“Tassel-ears” often form on the tillers or “suckers” of a corn plant. Corn experts and agronomists believe that tassel ears are the result of some kind of environmental occurrence, however, the exact event that causes their development is unknown. The number of kernels that form on the tassel ear are limited. Without a husk to protect them, these kernels are exposed to environmental conditions and are usually damaged by the time harvest occurs.

According to Bob Nielsen from Purdue University, “The male and female reproductive organs of a corn plant are contained in physically separate unisexual flowers (a flowering habit called “monoecious” for you trivia fans.) The tassel represents the male flower on a corn plant, while the ear shoots represent the female flowers.

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Assessing fields after a roller coaster 2015

The growing season of 2015 has turned out to be a roller coaster ride of moisture stress (both too much and too little), disease pressure, and curiosity in the mind of the grower as to what’s really out there in terms of yield.

We started 2015 with an abundance of rainfall across the state from north to south, causing late planting dates in some areas and prevented planting claims in others. Depending on which field you are standing in, yield potential seems to range from very good to very poor. Near record yields appear to be anticipated in parts of the southern Ohio area, as well as pockets of central Ohio, whereas dismal yields from drowned areas and flooding appear as you look north.

As corn plants neared reproductive stages, northern corn leaf blight and gray leaf spot could be found in most of the state. Growers that applied fungicides to help prevent infection are now happy that they had done so.

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Standability a concern this harvest season

As crops approach maturity and harvest begins, standability could become a concern in some corn fields.

Corn fields across the Eastern Corn Belt have experienced various environmental factors that create stress conditions for the plant and as a result, stalk rots could become an issue late in the season. Ohio State University Bulletin 802 states: “The severity of stalk rot is confounded by plant stress. In general, the greater the stress the plant endures, the greater the severity of stalk rot. This has been demonstrated very well with plant nutrition. Plants with excessively high levels of nitrogen or with an imbalance between nitrogen and potassium are very susceptible to stalk rot. Plants stressed by drought (especially late season drought), foliage disease, or insect injury generally have more stalk rot.”

Many corn fields have experienced nitrogen loss, leaf disease, and insect damage this year. Some areas of the Eastern Corn Belt have experienced dry conditions late in the season as well.

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Stress during grain fill

Rains during June and July set new records in some areas of the Cornbelt this year, causing weak root development, nitrogen loss and even affected pollination in some fields with poor ear-tip fills. Leaf diseases like Northern Corn Leaf Blight and Gray Leaf Spot were rampant in some areas causing additional stress on the corn crop. Some of the effects of this stressful environment on grain-fill are indicated below:

• After pollination, we need 50-60 days depending on the relative maturity of the hybrid, for the grain-filled period. This is when the plants’ primary focus is to fully develop the kernels.

• If there is severe heat or moisture stress during the grain-fill period, the plants start to cannibalize their leaves and stalks to fulfill the growing needs of their progeny, the seeds or grain.

• Plants, like animals, don’t want to produce runts. So, if there is stress during the grain-fill period, the plants start to abort the youngest kernels causing tip die-backs so that the remaining kernels can fully develop.

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Do cover crops reduce leaf diseases?

Five years ago a lot of the ground was left bare during winter without any cover crops. Recent surveys have indicated that the number of farmers using cover crops in the Corn Belt states is increasing every year.

Many benefits of cover crops have been reported but a major advantage has not been emphasized. While scouting corn fields during the last three years, I have noticed fewer disease lesions of fungal diseases like Northern Corn Leaf Blight (NCLB) and Gray Leaf Spot (GLS) in fields following cover crops than those following corn or even soybeans. The disease lesions were more prevalent even on fields where corn was grown two years ago in a corn-beans rotation.

I scouted some corn fields near Batesville, Indiana in the last three years and saw several fields with NCLB and GLS where cover crops were not used. However, less than 20 miles away where Marshall Alford has been using cover crops for many years, I had hard time finding any disease lesions on hybrids with exactly the same genetics.

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Factors for Phosphorus loss from land to surface water

Most of us have reduced fertilizer inputs as crop prices have gone down and this is documented by reduced phosphorus fertilizer sales. But still, I am often asked about issues of phosphorus from an agriculture and water quality standpoint, “Is rate the only concern?”

Rate, and more appropriately soil test level, is important from a water quality standpoint. If we are at a soil test level that does not require any fertilizer application, perhaps 35% of our fields, then risk of loss is reduced to whatever background levels are coming from the soil. If the soil test is in an agronomic range (15-40 ppm Bray P1), water concentration of Total P in runoff is 0.5 ppm or less. If soil test levels are four to five times agronomic levels, however we can see this produce a runoff concentration of 1 ppm or more.

Recently applied P is subject to loss based on the timing, source and placement during the nutrient application.

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Productivity issues for your 2015 corn crop

Yellow corn and soybeans have been widespread the first part of July in most of Ohio. Since May 1,

many parts of Ohio have received at least three to four inches above the five-year average. Growing Degree Days (GDD’s) for the same period have accumulated 1,300 to 1,400 units, which is 200 to 300 GDD’s ahead of normal. We use the GDD’s to track the overall progress of corn development. I like to consult the numbers weekly to track the progress of rainfall and temperature in the state. You can also track these at the Ohio page for the National Agricultural Statistics Service: http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Ohio/Publications/Crop_Progress_&_Condition/index.asp

Another great service for tracking rainfall comes from The Climate Corporation. Climate Basic is a free service that will send you e-mail alerts when rainfall is detected at your farm. The nice feature of Climate Basic is that it will send you alerts daily on a field-specific report.

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Fungicide economics

Mother Nature has been too generous with moisture this year in most of the Corn Belt states. It has hurt some crops but has been conducive to the development for diseases like Northern Corn Leaf Blight and Gray Leaf Spot. Some of the early planted corn has already been sprayed with foliar fungicides. Late planted corn is starting to pollinate. I have seen a lot of these two diseases during the last two weeks especially on corn after corn ground and have been asked by some farmers if these fungicides applications are economical at the current prices. Some of the guidelines for economic thresholds are given below:

• Corn needs to be protected from leaf diseases mostly during the grain-fill period. Depending on relative maturity of the hybrid, 45 to 55 days, are needed from pollination to physiological maturity or Black Layer.

• We need to protect leaves above the ears which produce most of the grain yield.

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