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4 drought issues lingering into 2013

Gene Johnston 12/05/2012 @ 11:09am On the scene at the 2012 Cattle Convention, Nashville

You might like to delete the dry 2012 crop season from your database of farming knowledge as the worst year of your career.

Roger Elmore sees it differently. “It was a good year to learn some things that will be important to us down the road,” says the Iowa State University (ISU) Extension corn specialist.

With that in mind, here are four impacts from 2012 that may influence the way you farm in 2013 – drought or not.

1. Weather

Some weather experts believe 2011 and 2012 are the beginning of a dry decade, with periodic recurrences. Ryan Siefken, corn product manager for Hoegemeyer Hybrids, thinks that could push farmers toward earlier-maturing crops, especially corn.

He points to eastern Kansas, where farmers practice a program informally called early-corn early. The theory is to plant early-maturing hybrids as soon as you can get them in the ground. Farmers plant 92- to 106-day corn on lighter soils, hoping the corn makes it on moisture in the soil profile before mid-July's heat.

“You could apply that idea in the heart of the Corn Belt,” says Siefken. Of course, he reminds, you never do all of anything. “The principle still holds to plant half your corn to your target maturity, 25% earlier, and 25% later,” he says.

Sheila Hebenstreit, an agronomist for West Central Co-op in Jefferson, Iowa, makes a good case for diversifying maturities. In her area in 2012, early-planted corn and late-planted corn did relatively better than corn planted on April 23-25. Normally, those would be ideal corn-planting days. But just by accident of catching the worst hot winds of the whole hot summer, corn planted on those dates cooked. The lesson is to diversify maturities and spread out planting dates.

Hoegemeyer had introductory quantities of its drought-tolerant corn (DuPont Pioneer technology) out in fields in 2012, and early reports are encouraging.

“To date, our Aquamax products have outyielded the plot averages by 10.5%,” Siefken says. “There will be quite a bit more of it available for 2013.”

Aquamax hybrids use native traits to deter drought. DuPont Pioneer sold 25 of these hybrids with a relative maturity range ranging from 96 to 116 days, with more planned for 2013. DuPont Pioneer is targeting water-limited environments for Aquamax hybrids.

“In most years, a hybrid will hit water-limited periods over part of the growing season,” says Josh St. Peters, corn marketing manager – North America for DuPont Pioneer.

A corn plant is not a cactus. If drought is too severe, eventually all hybrids surrender. The Aquamax hybrids, however, endured drought better than conventional hybrids in 2012, says St. Peters. Besides being visually greener, they shed more pollen during pollination, helping to ensure kernel fill. Root digs revealed healthy root masses, he adds.

2. Tillage

Your inclination after a drought may be to get out to your fields in order to open hard, dry soils to rain and snow.

Don't. It will be counterproductive, says Mahdi Al-Kaisi, ISU Extension soil management specialist.

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