A corn crop that emerges unevenly and has reduced yield potential requires a different management strategy than a crop that looks like a picket fence, says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist.
“Retailers who have growers with rough stands need to make agronomic decisions in-season—for fungicides, insecticides and herbicides—through a different lens than the one used originally for a 230-bu. yield potential,” Ferrie explains. “Every decision you make from now until harvest is to salvage yield, not add yield.”
First Things First. A revised production plan can only be made when you and the grower know what’s in the field. Determining stand counts will help you know yield potential.
“We never walk away from a crop, but we have to make decisions about how we manage it based on the financials,” Ferrie shares. “If you can help the farmer be realistic now on his upper-end yield potential, it could keep him from getting into a bad marketing situation.”
For instance, if the crop’s yield potential is only 155 bu. per acre and the grower is contracted to sell 190-bu. corn for $3.30, then he needs to make sure he’s covered in the market.
“If everyone would have a short crop, corn could be $6 next fall, and he’d have to go buy some $6 corn to fill a contract; he probably wouldn’t have the cash flow to do that,” Ferrie explains. “The grower can get out of that corn now at $3.30 versus $6 this fall. He can buy it back on the board if he needs to.”
In addition, the grower needs to take a look at his insurance coverage.
“If yield potential is only 155 bu. and the crop’s insured for 190 bu., he might want to go with the insurance check and not invest a lot more in the crop,” Ferrie notes.
Here are four additional considerations as you work with growers in the weeks ahead:
1. Nutrition Game Plan. Now that the crop’s emerged, the grower’s nutrient plan, especially for nitrogen, can be based on realistic yield goals.
“We have to feed all the corn plants out there, even those that are essentially weeds, but you can dial back if you’re dealing with 24,000 plants now instead of 36,000,” Ferrie says.
2. Pest Problems At Pollination. With an uneven corn crop, you can expect to see a longer pollination window—and more bugs. Silk feeders like western corn rootworm and Japanese beetles migrate around a field to fresh pollen.
“The grower needs to be scouting fields daily to decide whether he needs to treat,” Ferrie says. “If he just scouts when the early corn pollinates, there’s a high possibility none of the late corn will get pollinated at all.”
3. Fungicide Factors. If the farmer usually makes blanket fungicide applications, then help him re-evaluate that decision. “If disease pressure is coming on, to get the yield we’re looking for (because of the fewer ears), we may need to apply a fungicide on a susceptible hybrid,” Ferrie says. That’s particularly true for hybrids that get a yield punch from depth of kernel, which occurs in the last 30 days of grain fill. “That’s when the fungicide and Y-Drops become more important,” he notes. “But if it’s a hybrid that creates yield on the front end, we might cut some applications because they’re not needed.”
Ferrie adds that some fungicides can only be applied pretassel. Make sure in those late-emerging areas that the fungicide is set up for the grower’s youngest corn.
4. Weed Control. An uneven crop can make weed issues more pronounced and push up costs. Plus, if the grower planted soybeans in drowned out areas of fields, then review the grower’s postemergence corn herbicide plan to make sure that it can still be used.
Ferrie acknowledges that all of these decisions require thinking through various scenarios before making a decision. That may be a time-consuming process, but there are valuable benefits.
“A retailer who can help the farmer maneuver through these kinds of decisions is worth his weight in gold,” Ferrie says. “Years like this can earn you a lot of customer loyalty.”