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Sponsored: Getting Ready Before Harvest

Completing an end-of-the-season evaluation — checking stalk health and integrity, evaluating plant health and tying ear size and quality back to stand quality — can help you determine harvest timing and make notes on adjustments for next year.

Checking stand and ear quality    

Assessing ear size and quality and tying back what you see to stand quality can tell you a lot about the season and the harvest to come. Events occurring earlier in the season may impact what you see in the field at this stage; for example, late-emerging plants have smaller root masses, stalks and ears relative to their neighbors. Identify early season issues associated with weak plants — like late emergence or damaged seedlings — so if you have the opportunity, you can adjust next season. 

Steps to analyze stand and ear consistency

  • Use a measuring tape to measure 1/1000 acre.
    • 30″ rows = 17′ 5″
    • 22″ rows = 23′ 8″
    • 20″ rows = 26′ 2″
    • 15″ rows = 34′ 9″  
  • Husk all ears in that area.
  • Observe ear size and consistency.
    • Analyze weak plants for potential problems, like small or barren ears.
    • Dig up a few plants to check root development.
    • Figure the percent of stand affected based on plant population.
  • Repeat in several areas of the field to get an average and understand the differences within each field.
  • If you see smaller ears, ask yourself, “What caused those smaller ears?” More than likely you can tie it back to what happened early in the season.

Nutrient deficiencies  

Nutrient deficiencies can impact late-season plant health and ear fill. Nitrogen deficiency can cause leaves to turn yellow and die prematurely. Applying late-season nitrogen between the V13 and V15 stages provides corn with additional nutrients during the grain fill period.

Work with your local ag retailer to adjust nitrogen applications, if needed. Soil nitrate tests and tissues samples taken prior to additional nitrogen applications can help provide direction for in-season nitrogen management. Stalk nitrate tests at the end of the season can help as an indicator if the plant had adequate N. For more information on different N testing, consult your local ag retailer, a Mycogen commercial agronomist or your local extension agent. 

Stalk health assessments 

At this stage, it is important to scout fields and check stalk quality. Understanding stalk health can help you start planning your harvest schedule. Early season stress or stress throughout the season can result in stalk health issues like charcoal rot or common late-season diseases like fusarium stalk rot, gibberella stalk rot and crown root rot. Here’s how to check stalk health.

  • Start scouting for stalk rot before blacklayer and continue weekly until harvest.
  • Look for prematurely dead plants and stalk lesions.
  • Test at least 100 stalks for stalk integrity — use either the pinch or push test.
    • Pinch test: Squeeze the internodes to check firmness. Listen for a snap or crunch sound, which may indicate the stalk is soft. 
    • Push test: Push on the stalk at ear height to find out how much pressure it takes to cause the stalk to lodge. 
  • If more than 10 percent to 15 percent have soft stalks or lodge easily, schedule for earlier harvest.

Harvest preparations  

Before you make the first round with the combine, it’s important to prepare your equipment and your plan. Here are a few reminders as you gear up for harvest this year. 

  • Prioritize fields for harvest: Scout fields and identify those with the potential for loss due to stalk rot, hail damage or other injury. Target these fields to harvest first.
  • Evaluate the combine: Always clean the combine to remove any field trash, oil or grease buildup and rodent nests. Check for any loose, worn or missing parts and replace them as needed. Inspect all belts and chains for wear and tear.
  • Know where loss can occur: Be sure to take a few minutes to measure incremental losses after harvesting each area and then make the machine adjustments necessary to correct them. This will help avoid excessive loss over the entire crop.
  • Prevent grain loss: Eardrop, shatter, improper cutting height or lodging can reduce yield. Grain also can remain on the cob, stay in the pod or pass through the combine with the residue. Fine-tune your combine settings to avoid these issues.
  • Reduce harvest speed: A ground speed of 2.5 to 3.5 miles per hour usually produces good results. Slower speeds might be required under poor field conditions.  

For more harvest tips, call your local Mycogen commercial agronomist or visit


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