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Corn questions for 2013

Many of you couldn't wait to throw your 2012 calenders away and think about 2013. That's an understatement, for 2012 was the worst drought year since 1988.

Fortunately, 2013 is here and you can start out with a clean slate, particularly if winter snow recharges subsoil levels. Here are some questions and answers you may have regarding future growing seasons.

1. Is the hybrid supply always this tight?

Not usually. Then again, 2012 was one of the most abnormal years in recent history. It came on the heels of a tight seed supply going into 2012, when adverse weather in seed-growing regions hamstrung seed production in 2011.

“The weather has impacted the whole Midwest,” says Chris Garvey, Mycogen Seeds general manager. “We geographically diversify our seed production over a wide area, but the drought, as well as heat, has impacted pollination.” It's important to note, though, that irrigated domestic acres and South American winter production have helped ease supplies.

Consider what's happened the last two years as you plan for future years. Ordering hybrids and varieties early in fall may not guarantee you'll obtain them, but it puts you first in line.

“In some years (like 2012), some growers might not get their first choice of hybrids,” says Matt Kirkpatrick, a Monsanto marketing manager.

Kirkpatrick points out that shortages result every year, however, for top sellers. “Do some preplanning to get your favorite hybrids on order,” he says. “It pays to have early discussions.”

This particularly applies to new hybrids. “There is always a cap on brand-new products in the first year of commercialization,” says Jeff Hartz, director of marketing for Wyffels Hybrids. Early orders are one way you can access new technology, he adds.

2. Do high corn prices key seed price hikes?

“Commodity prices play a role, but a small one,” says Kirkpatrick. “Because the market is so volatile, we couldn't raise seed prices one year and then drop the next year based on commodity prices. Farmers would not want to see variability like that in seed pricing.”

Instead, seed is priced according to value, says Mick Messman, U.S. region director of product marketing for DuPont Pioneer. “With value-based pricing, we look at the value that products deliver to the customer, whether it's new traits or new genetics,” he says.

3. How much does uneven corn growth hamper yields?

If your chest tightens and your stomach churns when you walk though a field with uneven stands, there's a reason why.

“If plants are two leaf stages behind, there is a big yield drag,” says Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension agronomist. The delay carries all the way throughout the growing season.

“When some plants are done silking, the other plants are still two leaf stages behind,” he notes.

U of M tests show corn yields for stands where every other plant is delayed one leaf stage tallied 94% of yields in fields with uniform stands. Yields for stands where every other plant is delayed two leaf stages tallied 83% of yields of fields with uniform stands. Yields for stands with every other plant missing were 73% of yields of fields with uniform stands.

4. How important are picket-fence stands?

Picket-fence stands – those stands straight out of seed ads with nary a skip throughout the field – are desirable. Still, an occasional double or skip doesn't hurt as much as you'd think, says Coulter.

Stands with one double out of every six seeds yielded just 1% less than a stand with uniform plant spacing. Meanwhile, one triple out of every six seeds clipped yields by just 2% compared to a uniform stand. “Yield differences are relatively small,” Coulter says.

5. Should I watch for Goss's wilt?

Yes. If there was an upside to the 2012 drought, it was that Goss's wilt rarely surfaced.

The lack of disease in 2012 likely will help for 2013, believes Daren Mueller, Iowa State University Extension plant pathologist. However, don't let down your guard, as the pathogen can survive over two years. “It will still be there, but at lower levels,” he says.

Goss's wilt overwinters in corn debris. The bacteria is disseminated onto corn leaves via wind or splashing rain. Bacteria then enter plant tissue through wounds or natural openings.

“If you look at where it was really bad in 2011, it followed where the storms occurred,” says Hartz. “The storms provided an entry point in the plant.”

What to do? Tillage after harvest can break up the corn residue in which it overwinters.

“Quicker decomposition will help cut inoculum,” says Carl Bradley, University of Illinois Extension plant pathologist.

Rotating to another crop the next year is another prevention step. Ditto for planting hybrids with the highest level of Goss's wilt resistance available the next time corn is planted.

Bear in mind, though, that resistance isn't complete. But it can lessen disease severity, says Bradley. Unfortunately, fungicides don't work on this bacterial disease.

6. Is European corn borer still a threat?

Yes. Granted, you don't see European corn borer (ECB) moths flying around like you used to. Still, there are pockets where they threaten corn.

“In 2011, European corn borer moths were terrible around here,” says Gary Gathman, who farms with his son, Tony, near Havanna, Illinois. ECB still congregates in fields close to the nearby Illinois River. “Corn borers love to move into the fresh stuff,” he says.

Popcorn is particularly prone to damage since it doesn't carry an ECB-resistant trait the way most field corn does.Thus, planting an ECB-resistant trait in field corn is an easy way to nix the threat.

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