Del Voight – Penn State Extension
Each season there is much to be learned about corn production regardless of your experience. This season proved to be another interesting season. Here are some lessons I learned this season.
A few fields this spring many growers "mudded" in some corn, I was sure those stands would have a lot of issues from compaction. One field plot where we compared tilled to no tilled really demonstrated the ability of the corn to grow through problems. I learned that even though the populations dropped substantially the yields remained high. The no till outperformed the tilled area simply because the ground most likely was firmer during the planting period and thus had plants with less stress than the tilled area. The lesson here is that no till provides more benefits than just time savings and this year it meant a lot to yield by allowing growers to get onto soils that are firmer than if tilled. This is even evident now at harvest with many no till fields being harvested while tilled fields remain due to the soil not allowing equipment on the area.
Another lesson was on nitrogen loss. At the time of this writing our area received about 70 inches of rain compared to about 30 inches this same time. That enormous amount of rain really cleaned out the soils warehouse of nitrogen. I looked at several stalk N tests from fields that produced over 200 bu/acre of dry corn that were in the single digits. Most times you would like to see these levels at 1500ppm and I was observing 10ppm this indicates a deficient plant which should result in decrease yields. This was not the case in some fields that received both manure N and commercial N applications. The lesson here is that using manure and other sources of N seemed to allow for more N uptake overtime while relying solely on commercial N really resulted in a lot of it being washed down the creeks. With the high price of fertilizer many growers hauled manure in place of commercial fertilizer. I observed many fields that the producer had applied adequate manure to provide corn with its needs. However, with the early season rains, much of the N was lost for a host of reasons. I found the Chlorophyll meter to be a valuable tool this season to assist in making N side dress decisions. Many growers ended up putting a large amount of N on the corn even though the grower calculated they would have enough. Further potassium (a non mobile nutrient) showed its effects this year with that tell tale sign of deficiency of yellowing from the outside of the leaf toward the midrib. The lesson was that now more than ever a fertility plan needs to be in place. This includes a current soil test, and the knowledge that commercial fertilizer, while it is high in price, cannot be left out of the management plan in many cases. With respect to N, be sure there is enough there for the crop and let the plant tell you if more is required by using the meter and then following the recommendations.
Another lesson deals with pest behavior. I was primed for more widespread stinkbug issues. We had seen signs from last year that this could be a year to watch for stink bugs. I can count on my hand the few fields that we had to treat this year as opposed to last season's widespread outbreak. My feeling is that with the tremendous amount of rainfall that this must have affected the ability of the stink bug to really get a foothold this season to limit widespread infestations to our crops. The lesson here is that pest behavior is really tied to weather and extreme fluctuations as we witnessed with the rain this year certainly affect pest behaviors.
Hopefully you too learned some lessons like this from observing your crops this year. I know that I could write for hours on this year. I only included a few. Now our challenge is to put these lessons to work as we plan for another successful year in 2012.