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A tale of two crops in 2012

Gil Gullickson 12/05/2012 @ 10:09am Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Drought seemed like a distant thought as Ryan Weeks' combine purred through 230 to 260 bushels per acre of irrigated corn last October.

“We started irrigating much earlier than normal,” says the Juniata, Nebraska, farmer. “It was a grind, but it paid when it came to harvest. We were also fortunate to catch a couple timely rains.”

This bright picture was the case throughout the 75% of his family's corn acres that they irrigate.

Weeks also saw the downside of 2012. Over the summer, he empathized with farmers via social media in the central and eastern Corn Belt. He shared their frustration over wilting and dying corn. That's exactly what his family's dryland corn was doing.

“Most went between 50 and 97 bushels per acre,” he says. We had some sandy, tough ground along the Platte River that went 30 to 35 bushels per acre.”

Enough of 2012

That's behind you now. While planning for 2013, don't let images of this year's pineappled corn haunt you.

“The chances of another scenario like this year are minimal,” says Jeff Hartz, marketing director for Wyffels Hybrids. He advises planning for a normal year.

That's what Weeks plans to do next year, along with incorporating six things he learned in 2012.

1. Pick hybrids smartly

“Yields this year are a testimony to new technology,” says Weeks. Even though dryland yields were subpar, they at least existed. Corn hybrids in 1988 (the last year of a major drought) would have disintegrated under 2012's searing heat and drought, he says. That's what makes corn hybrid selection so important for 2013.

In 2012, he says triple stacks with resistance to glyphosate, corn rootworm, and European corn borer worked well. Corn rootworm isn't typically a problem in Weeks' area, but he notes that the subsequent root mass of triple-stack hybrids helps deter the effects of drought.

“They have such a root mass that they are able to scavenge the water and nutrients in a dry year,” says Weeks.

Besides yield potential, stalk quality is a key factor for Weeks.

“We do get greensnap out here, as there are lots of 90- to 100-mph winds occurring at times,” he says. “Hybrids have gotten a lot better. But it seems like every hybrid has a period when it is susceptible to greensnap. It's when the corn is growing fast that we hope a wind doesn't hit.”

Standability is also aided by a strong disease-resistance package. That is crucial for irrigated corn-on-corn, which provides a conducive disease environment.

“In the last 10 years, we've trended toward a corn/corn/soybean rotation,” says Weeks. “Ten years ago, our corn was in a 50-50 rotation with soybeans. But corn pays more.”

Still, the resulting residue creates a haven for perennial Corn Belt diseases, including familiar ones like gray leaf spot and anthracnose, and new ones like southern corn rust. Southern corn rust, a devastating corn disease in the South, rides wind currents in certain years to infect Midwest corn.

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