It May be a Good Time to Stop and Assess our Corn Crop

This time of the year on the farm is always busy with planting, managing crops, getting supplies, moving tractors from field to field, troubleshooting problems, fixing equipment…..the list goes on and on.  So, you certainly get the picture.  There is much to do but little time to do it, right?  IF you planted over a month ago or just recently and your crop is just emerging, please take the time to take a few minutes to walk the fields and assess your successes and failures. I wrote about this last year, and it’s good to always review what we’ve done to make sure we are not making mistakes that are or were preventable.  Keeping good records on your success and mistakes will pay dividends in your future.  Remember in corn, it is very important to keep records in growing degree days rather than calendar days.  Temperature and light are the driving factors in our crops, particularly corn and it can tell you much more about how to manage corn successfully.

Twisting due to cold conditions

A couple of weeks ago, the southeast went through a couple of days of near freezing temperatures in the southern portions of the state to below freezing in the upper counties of the state. Fortunately, little corn was planted in areas that reach below freezing. Damage overall to the crop was cosmetic but still stressful. On some of the older corn, you had some burn and twisting of leaves in the whorl. In younger corn, the temperatures were cold enough to burn most of the leaf tissue. Fortunately the weather after the cold snap has been good and supported rapid growth. Over the last three days, the growing degree units are averaging ~25 to 30 per day in the southern areas of the state which means corn will add about 1 leaf every three days. Be careful, it is easy to get behind in side-dressing and soil moisture.

Leaf emerging from a twisted whorl due to cold on older corn

I encourage all to take time to walk your corn fields and look closely.  Whether your corn is just emerging or at a V-7 stage, taking the time to review the state of the crop is important. Check your spacing, plant emergence, stage of growth.  Ask yourself these questions: “Am I a happy with the results so far?  “Could I have done better?  “Why are these plants much smaller than the rest?”  Pull it up and look at it. Go deeper with your questions. “Was the seed deeper or shallower than the others?”  “Has an insect fed on it?” “Did my starter fertilizer pump quit?” “Am I satisfied with my spray program?”  Or, “Do I have a lot of weeds emerging?’  “Is my crop at the right stage to sidedress?”You can only become a “student of the crop” if you get out and truly study it.  Determine the problems or challenges now!  Don’t let them linger if you can do something about it and if you can’t, make sure to note when, where, what, why, and how it happened so that you can avoid it next year.  Problem solving is what you do to make it better next time.  Our mistakes sometimes create stress and lead to yield loss.  Now is a good time to assess what you have done well and what hasn’t gone the way you wanted it.  IF you are just beginning to plant, make sure to review last year’s problems and mistakes to and work at getting it right this time.

Early season infestation of stubby root nematodes

The following is a recent update from Dr. Bob Kemerait, UGA plant pathologist, about one of those mistakes that cost you dollars $$: “NOW is the perfect time (early in the season while corn is still small) to observe stunting and poor vigor in corn fields.  Stunting in young corn could be caused by a number of factors, but nematodes are a major possibility.  I encourage you to sample for nematodes- especially stubby-root, sting, and southern root-knot.”  If you see uneven growth in your corn fields, check the roots of good plants vs poor plants and look for root pruning from nematodes. Recognize the problem now so that it can be solved NEXT year.  If you are uncertain, call your local county extension agent for help in identifying the signs of root pruning or any other problems that you might find.  I hope you don’t have this problem.

One last thought… If you have a crop growing in some fields and you’re waiting to get another crop in the field (such as cotton or peanuts), take the time to walk and look. It may add some time of reflection, of a job well done and the potential for a great year.  Take a deep breath and release the stress of urgency.  If you see some problems that can be solved, then make a note and get it done.  You caught it in time.  Continue walking and breathing, and thinking.  You see new life around you. Smile and give thanks.

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