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Four Steps for Corn Farmers to Survive a Soggy 2019

Be ready to plant during appropriate weather windows, but wait for soils to warm to 50°F.

This week’s Midwest flooding has compounded already soggy soils around the Corn Belt.

“No matter how much we think we know, we will always have Mother Nature to throw us curve balls,” says Mike Kavanaugh, AgriGold product and agronomy manager.

Granted, there’s little that can be done for fields obliterated by this weekend’s flood waters. Even those farmers not impacted by recent flooding, though, are wrestling with soggy soils this spring. Here are four factors to keep in mind as the 2019 corn planting season approaches.

1. When soils are fit to plant, plant.

“For 2019, make sure your planter is ready to go and pull into the field,” Kavanaugh says.

AgriGold has been working with a company called Weather Trends 360, which provides projected weather information for upwards of 11 months with high accuracy levels, say AgriGold officials. Kavanaugh says the firm forecasts narrow spring fieldwork windows.

“We are advising farmers to be ready for warming trends in which to plant,” says Kavanaugh. 

Granted, N is the lifeblood of corn production. Given the choice of spending a 5- to 7-day window of nice weather applying anhydrous ammonia or planting, though, plant, says Kavanaugh. 

“You want to be concentrating on planting and getting a good stand,” he says.

Take care when applying springtime anhydrous ammonia, cautions Brian Humphries, business manager for Wyffels Hybrids. Applying anhydrous ammonia into wet and sticky soils will not only result in compaction, but also key failure to seal anhydrous ammonia in the soil, he says. 

Nitrogen carried in preemergence chemicals can provide some oomph to get corn off to a good start, as can starter fertilizer in a 2×2 band. In cases where N couldn’t be fall applied and time is scant in the spring, sidedressing anhydrous ammonia later can be an option, he says. 

Also, be flexible on fertility sources. Logistical problems this spring with anhydrous ammonia may prompt farmers to switch to other N forms.

Kavanaugh says Weather Trends 360 models foresee big yield opportunities in 2019. “When you get ample moisture, we need good amounts of N out there, so be flexible with your N program season-long,” says Kavanaugh.

2. Plant when soils are 50°F. or higher.

Granted, it’s tempting to plant when all your neighbors are going gangbusters. Still, wait until your soils reach the 50°F. threshold. Your fields’ soil types may be slower to warm up than neighboring ones.

Planting into soils warmer than 50°F. is a big factor in gleaning an even stand, says Humphries.

“An even stand of 35,000 (plants per acre) will outyield an uneven stand of 37,000 (plants per acre),” he says. 

3. Get ready for corn disease later in the season.

Ample moisture with excellent growing season temperatures can provide an environment for corn disease to thrive later in the season.

“Throughout last summer, we saw more gray leaf spot (GLS) than we have had in the last few years,” adds Humphries. "Tar spot also showed upon the horizon. Later on, there were other diseases like anthracnose. When you get two to three diseases working on a corn plant, you can have some harvestability issues.”

Fungicides pay their way in a number of cases, says Humphries. “As an unbiased company, we have done fungicide studies for over 10 years,” he says. “We are not out to push any brand of fungicide, but we saw huge yield improvements with fungicides. Out of the last 10 years, this past year showed the second-highest return from all the years we have conducted trials.”

4. Consider the yield potential for full-season hybrids. 

Obviously, soggy soils can delay planting to the point when farmers need to switch to shorter corn maturities. Still, remember that full-season hybrids pack much yield potential punch, says Humphries. Wyffels Hybrids agronomists recommend sticking with an original hybrid plan until at least May 25. 

“Over the last five to 10 years, we have tended to see record yields in corn,” Humphries says. “I believe that’s due to genetics and also people planting fuller season hybrids for their geography, and also getting more sunshine and heat units. I don’t see that trend stopping until we get a year when we get a real setback, with cloudy and cool days with fewer heat units and higher moisture corn. Until that happens, I believe farmers will continue to push the envelope on maturities.”

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