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Plan to learn from your fields in 2023

Tom J. Bechman farmer examining ear of corn
STAY OBSERVANT: If an ear doesn’t look right or a leaf has lesions, remove it from the field. Examine it more closely and take pictures.
Corn Illustrated: Take what you learned in 2022 and apply it to next year’s plans.

In our Corn Watch fields, we learn new lessons every year. Every lesson is important, but some lessons leave an impact that you should pass on to others. I would like to pass on these lessons I learned from the Corn Watch ’22 field. Hopefully, they will help you develop strategic plans for your 2023 corn crop.

Pay attention to everything you can imagine. At every visit to the field, I looked for what was happening to the crop. Starting early, this included seedling emergence, number of late emergers, diseases, insects, nutrient deficiencies, uneven spacing and its effects on ear development. Later, I noticed tassel and ear development, size of tassels, brace roots, husk cover, ear size, kernel row numbers, kernels per row and any other abnormalities.

Tom Bechman documented everything in pictures and stories. He passed along information weekly on the internet. In your own fields, you could use your tablet or cellphone with apps to record locations of where you see things worth noting.

Track foliar diseases and consider fungicides. Every time I visited the field, I looked for diseases or insects that might affect plants. During most years, I have no problems finding lesions of northern corn leaf blight and gray leaf spot on leaves by midseason. But during 2022, I had a hard time finding anything except a few small lesions of gray leaf spot when checking pollination. I figured the hot, dry weather conditions weren’t favorable for diseases.

As it turned out, the grower had done a timely job applying fungicides. Usually, we find lesions and alert him to spray. This year, he beat us to it.

Since it was so dry, did he really need to spray? He didn’t leave test strips, so we don’t know for sure. However, the answer is likely yes. Sprays don’t last forever, and weather patterns shifted to wetter than normal for August into September.

At black layer in mid-September, we sent leaf samples to Purdue University. Specialists found four foliar diseases on the leaves: northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot, southern rust and tar spot. However, most lesions were small, and the crop was finished developing. But tests confirmed that inoculum was there, and development began late, after fungicides weakened and weather conditions turned more favorable.

Here’s the take-home lesson: It’s critical to apply fungicides at the right time. So, what is the right time? To be most effective, apply after pollination is over and silks start turning brown. Always scout for disease earlier, and factor in weather patterns.

See hybrids in test plots first. Use test plots including new hybrids before planting large acreages to those new hybrids. The two hybrids in the Corn Watch ’22 field yielded very well but developed ear molds, perhaps favored by short peduncles, which kept ears erect instead of drooping down near black layer.

If you have your own test plots and see hybrids on a small acreage first, you could pick up these agronomic tendencies earlier. Then you could weigh high yield potential against the risk of issues caused by certain characteristics.

Nanda is director of genetics for Seed Genetics Direct, Jeffersonville, Ohio. Email dave.nanda@gmail.com or call 317-910-9876. Please leave a message.

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