Corn Learnings for 2019

Dec 31, 2018

Corn Learnings for 2019
Corn Learnings from 2018
Jesse: “A year in review doesn’t help, so we’re going call this learnings from 2018.  Moving forward, we want to take what we learned and apply it to future crop years.  Let’s kick this thing off! Biggest thing I saw this year during harvest was stalk quality concerns. It doesn’t matter what the bag of seed is, you had stalk quality concerns.”
Jason: “It’s fitting we start here as it’s often the most emotional thing we talk about in the fall.  Nine times out of ten, therefore I get called to go look at corn.  Usually it’s come ride in my combine because the corn is laying down, and not in such friendly terms.”
Jesse: “As an agronomist we get a call, not so much to look at something good.  Normally it’s because of issues.  There are three things that, potentially four, that we saw this year that contribute to stalk quality issues
  1. Anthracnose
  2. Lack of nitrogen
  3. Not having enough potassium
  4. Solar radiation 
I know Jason did some stuff at the answer plot in Le Sueur to look at issues with stalk quality.  Let’s touch on those”
Jason: “Anthracnose is real and every summer we’ve had anthracnose issues.  I’ve seen it on disease shield products, but we also see it on hybrids without a ton of plant health and it’s interesting we see it on both types of hybrids.  One thing we saw was in one of our Nitrogen trials, in stalk nitrate tests. The samples we sent in, there was a clear difference in using and not using a stabilizer when it comes to anthracnose.  It was interesting that the hybrid that had a disease shield technology had a clear difference in anthracnose when using and not using a stabilizer.”
Jesse: “The pictures I’m looking at from the Answer plot, any of the stalks not treated with a nitrogen stabilizer are also full of anthracnose. Is there any correlation that you could see like yield impact or fertility?”
Jason: “Without getting too in the weeds as far as the relationship between nitrogen and potassium, but the relationship is fairly well known.  The reason this looks so bad this is with and without stabilizer as a pre-plant stabilizer and it mimics what we saw in the fields this year with rains in early June.  As part of this trail we did a 300 pound up front nitrogen rate and we did tissue samples and used FFT to give a perspective of a nitrogen loss.  Even the 300-pound rate up front, was deficient at V5.”
Jesse: “You just threw a lot of money away! As a farmer knowing that you put 300 pounds up front, if we were deficient at 300 pounds we obviously had to be deficient at 200 pounds.”
Jason: “Any rate at that point would have been deficient.  Where I was going, was the un-stabilized nitrogen mimicked what we say in farmers’ fields this year with the weather events.  One of the things that we can see is that early season stress helped compounds the other planting problems we had which that impacted ground health, ultimately impacting root health that ultimately resulted in increased incidents of anthracnose.  If that plant was deficient in nitrogen then all the other macros and micros were deficient in that plant, and not as efficient.  All the factors were compounds and that increased the incidents of anthracnose. “
Jesse: “You’re talking about in-efficiencies in the plant.  In the middle of June, going into July, we also had a lot of wild fire smoke affecting our solar radiation.  Did you guys capture any data that would support that and how does that impact our stalk quality?”
Jason: “There is a great correlation there.  2018 will be a very interesting year.  We had one of the top ten snow events in MN in mid to late April. 2 weeks, and sometimes 10 days later, we were planting corn.  The conversation was, do I need to change maturities because we are so far behind.  What happened in May we were actually 30% higher our GDU from normal, so our departure from normal was 30% higher, and in June it was 12% higher. The rest of the summer was average and into September we were still 25% higher GDU accumulation from normal.   Even though we had a higher GDU accumulation during the growing season, our solar radiation was significantly lower.  So, you talked about in June, even though we were 12% higher in GDUs, we were 24% lower in solar radiation accumulation.”
Jesse: “That’s not a good thing.  When were up in GDU, but down in sunlight, were in for a disaster.  We saw that this fall with the stalk quality concerns.  June was very wet, our GDUs were elevated but solar radiation was down, which tells me it could have been the smoke or the cloudy days, since we had so many rainy days.”
Jason: “June we were above GDUs and low in radiation and you tied that in with how rainy It was. Our departure from normal rainfall at the Le Sueur answer plot was plus 7 inches versus normal.  You can get by having a lower than normal solar radiation in June, what you can’t deal with is in August.  This August the Nelson family vacation was in Seattle, when they were dealing with the worst of the wildfires.  Like a good agronomist I drove there and back and, on our way, back we encountered smoke from Seattle to North Dakota that we could actually see, and that’s our visibility.  Think of the corn solar radiation, that will be exponentially higher.  How this affects stalk health, when you have low light during ear fill, the plant will cannibalize that stalk to make an ear, grain and seed.  A corn plants only goal in life is to produce as many seeds as possible and make sure those seeds fill and it will cannibalize itself to do so.  It will do anything to fill those seeds, not stand until Thanksgiving.  We go back to this anthracnose and nitrogen loss and solar radiation loss, it’s no surprise that stalk health was the most passionate calls I got.”
Jesse: “That’s a great way to sum up what we learned from 2018, so for 2019 there are a couple of things we need to think about:
  1. Choosing a hybrid with a disease shield or at least a good anthracnose rating
  2. Manage around anthracnose
    1. Rotate acre
    2. Look at doing a fungicide, even if it’s not a high responder to fungicide
  3. Making sure base fertility is there
    1. Including potassium
When we have down markets, there are guys that are pulling those extra things, but we need to think about what we are removing.  We need to be able to produce a crop, the only way to get through tough times is to be able to produce a crop.”
Jason: “The other topic we need to take away from this is the importance of setting a harvest order.  The knee jerk reaction going into 2019 is to plant getting stalks that will stand until Thanksgiving.  You must be careful, often the highest producing hybrids in the area are hybrids may not have the best stalk health.  It’s all about how you manage around that information and set a harvest order.  Know that some hybrids will need to be the first taken out of the field instead of waiting until its 15% dry, even if it is wetter.  Plan some hybrids that will stand later, but also plan on harvesting those later too. Work with your UFC FSA on what fields look like, use technology like United Insight to manage that harvest order and go out and walk the fields; do a push and kick test.  Guys can avoid a disaster by picking corn that could be a faller earlier.”
Jesse: “You talk about walking fields, all summer long that’s what we do.  What is the biggest thing you saw this summer when walking fields in one word?”
Jason: “Variability”
Jesse: “Spot on, I would agree 100% with that.  The last 3 years, not counting 2018, we didn’t experience a lot of variability.  We’ve been able to raise higher yield corn with minimal management practices. What I saw this year was, for example I had Dekalb 49-72 planted in one field and in another field across the road.  The difference between the 2 was 40 bushels, the only difference was the management styles between grower A and B.  Grower A had the greater yield and that’s because he managed it, grower B planted corn, killed weeds and that’s it.  When we think about Fred Below, he always says you get your tile, fertility and drainage right and then you can start managing crop in season.  In the seven wonders of the corn yield world, number one is weather, we can’t do a dang thing about it.  With weather we can manage around certain things, but some we can’t. But if we have that plan in place and can set ourselves up for success that’s what we need to strive for.  Number two is nitrogen; nitrogen is worth 70 bushels and that’s a lot. That’s 25% of his 260-bushel yield goal and it is the most expensive inputs.  When we think about variability in general, the easiest way to mitigate risk is variable rate products; fertilizer, side dress nitrogen application, population, or even micronutrients. Trying to push those A zones to produce bushels.”
Jason: “The one thing I tied into variability this year, when talking to growers, to me what made the difference was how it performed in the A zones.  The parts that happened to be a little drier, maybe on the hilltop, the part of the field that had the best tile.  The other thing we learned this year is it’s also about, not so much where the tile is, but how good the outlet is.  To me, it was how well the A zones did and did they carry though the drown outs.  Put more inputs where you make the most money to help carry the rest of the field.”
Jesse: “For 2019, the key things are to
  1. Plan for success,
  2. Look at doing variable rate
    1.   If you have the equipment to variable rate seed, why put all the seeds costs in a zone that you won’t get that cost out.  Try to maximize that ROI”
Jason: “As you think about 2019, if you plan for a bad year I guarantee you’ll get one.  If you plan for a good year you might get one.  There is 70 bushels plus that’s tied into weather that we can’t control.  Variable rate, stabilize, side dress are all things we can do to help mitigate risk.  All we can do is have an A, B, and C plan.”
Jesse: “We’ve talked a lot on managing risk, when we look at 2018, fungicide is going to become a bigger player in this market. Looking at the last 3-4 year so of answer plot data, we’re +/- 15 bushels; depending on if it’s high response to fungicide or not. Isn’t it like 75% of the hybrids in answer plot are higher responders to fungicide?”
Jason: “One of the conversation I had with a grower, he had 52-84, he was complaining about the performance even though it had been a good performer the last few year.  He hadn’t used a fungicide this year, but he had in the past, and he was probably 18-20 bushels under what it normally produces. As I think about that hybrid, not a typical responder to fungicide, but I have seen a range of 18-2 bushel.  If you plan for success; IE a fungicide, you have a better chance of success if you plan.  75% of hybrids that we test in the market, happen to be moderate to high response to fungicide, meaning we see 10-12-13 bushels response in mod and 15-20 bushels in a high.”
Jesse: “I had a similar experience with 52-84. I had a grower that split a field, putting Trivapro on the west half, but he only put in on every other pass using a ground rig.  At harvest time or close to, maybe 20% moisture, you could still see on the areal image every strike where we treated.  We have a greener plant at roughly harvest time, means we’re still collecting sunlight and means where still adding to that test wright.  The other plants are not, they were not adding to test weight.  When the combine went through he understood what that longer grain fill period actually means.”
Jason: “Far too often the word fungicide is a misnomer. These Are products that kill fungus. However, you need to think about fungicides, like Trivapro, Stratego Yield, Headline AMP as plant health products. To quote research from one of those manufacturers, in a year with no disease, when they treated with a tassel fungicide, they had 61 grain fill days compared to 55 grain fill days for the untreated check. That picked up 11 (6 days of grain fill) At the same time Iowa State found out that for every extra day of grain fill yield increased by 2%.  Often, we think about putting fungicides on plants that are the least healthy, but I think we need to look at the highest response to fungicide products, these are the ones that are the fast die fast dry, like 47-09, 49-09.  These are all products that are fast die, fast dry.  Extending that grain fill period 5-10 days is worth it.  If we had 3-5 days extra of grain fill it would be about 20 bushels.  That’s the way I look at this plant health thing.  The limiting factor could be that plant health product.”
Jesse: “Let’s talk 52-84, because it’s a consistent respond to fungicide. At V5 what is that corn plant doing?”
Jason: “It’s determining girth”
Jesse: “So, at somewhere between V8 and V10, what are we doing?”
Jason: “We’re determining ear length”
Jesse: “When we talk about a fungicide adding yield, it’s not adding yield. So how is that fungicide actually giving us yield?”
Jason: “We did a fungicide trial, with 5 different combinations of treatment.  In every case, the later we applied that fungicide, the more yield we got. It’s also interesting because the later we applied that fungicide, we didn’t add anymore kernels per bushel, in fact it was the opposite.  The highest amount of yield, had the lowest number of kernels per bushels. That means we had much denser, much heavier, kernel on that ear.  Those extra grain fill days that we get by using a fungicide, we get heavier kernels.  The lowest yielding treatment had 90,000 kernels per bushel and the highest yield treatment had 75,000 kernels per bushel.  It is about protecting yield potential, not the number of kernels per bushels, you’ll be making heavier, denser kernels.”
Jesse: “Let’s create a checklist planning for 2019.
  1. Know your RTF – Response to Fungicide
    1. Know your hybrid sand how it will respond
    2. Manage by hybrid
      1. Don’t need to spray it all; spray the fields that will get you your highest ROI
  2. Know your environment
    1. Know what the past two weeks and forecast for next two weeks
    2. Will give you hints on if you should spray that fungicide
  3. Disease Pressure
    1. If there you’re just starting to push tassels out and northern leaf blight is there, probably not a bad time to use that fungicide
  4. Using a disease model
    1. Bayer has disease model
      1. Will give you a general direction on what is coming
      2. Most things come from the south, so if it’s down there it will probably get here”
Jason: “Typical fungicide is a $25-$30/acre investment with application, so think about that.  There’s probably a 40-bushel response difference.  Using the scores and fungicide model to dial in input decision to make a smart investment on that acre.  UFC can help you with that decision-making process like what hybrids to put a fungicide on.” 
Jesse: “One last topic that we learned about in 2018 is nitrogen.  We’re getting closer on know how much and when to apply, but it’s hard to predict.  I think we learned what not to do, more so than anything else.  We might plan to side dress or put it all as a side dress.  In the answer plot did you guys have anything?”
Jason: “Absolutely, we spend a significant amount of research devoted to Nitrogen. One of the trial we had was, we went from a check, so not putting anything down, all the way up to 75 pounds of nitrogen pre-plant and then managing with the field forecasting tool. Every year I have seen that side dress has paid and every year we’ve had a different weather pattern.  Using the same amount of nitrogen, just depending on when you apply it like a 50-50 or 66-33 versus all upfront, was anywhere from 11 to 20-bushel response.  Upfront 150 pounds was base fertility check and we did that upfront stabilized and then a 50-50 plant, around V5-V7 with combinations of stabilizers.  This year is it was a 15-bushel increase using the same amount of nitrogen, just splitting that nitrogen into two passes.  Those 15 bushels more than pays for the extra application, and it’s a more effective use of investment.”
Jesse: “A lot of times when we think about using a stabilizer, we think fall. But why? Maybe because we’re putting it on in October or November and we need it in June and that’s a long time for the most or second most mobile nutrient.  So, when we think of putting it on in the spring, we tend not to think about using a stabilizer.  Why? Because the theory is we have high CC soils around here, so our N stays put but not necessarily.  I would maybe say we don’t have to worry as much about leaching as much as de-nitrification. We’ve got a lot of heavy, wet clay soils that are tight.  When we are saturated, we lose oxygen so we de-nitrify that nitrogen.  Jon Zuk did a jar test with soil and put in 2 different jars and put urea in one jar with some water and urea treated with Agrotain and water in the jar.  Within 6 hours you could smell ammonia gas.  When we’re talking about side dress or top dress timing, if after 6 hours you can already smell ammonia gas, what do you think is happening in the field? I think that reiterates how important a stabilizer is at that time.  So, if we’re are relying on a side dress, I think you need to have a stabilizer at that time.  You’re making that investment, so why leave it out there for who knows when it’ll rain.  One of the things I learned in 2018, is just to rethink nitrogen in general. I think every year we could come up with that same argument. Field Forecasting from R7 platform is a great way to spend some risk out.  The tool is calibrated throughout the season with tissue samples.  It’s not put your info in and here’s what it kicks out, it’s an in-season adjustment to try and capture more bushels.”
Jason: “I mentioned that this nitrogen thing is like Ground Hogs Day. A couple things, I said that every year I’ve been in this trade area, I’ve seen a split or side dress application pay.  Every year I’ve seen a stabilizer, whether it’s N-Serve, Instinct, or Agrotain, pay.  This year in the demo there was a 11-bushel response using Agrotain versus not using it in our side dress application.  The other things I’ve seen is that Field Forecasting Tool has helped guide us to the proper nitrogen rate.  The things that’s been interesting, every year it says you should be putting a nitrogen side dress, but every year the timing has been vastly different.  In 2017, we had a heck of a crop out there, Field Forecasting Tool recognized that and called for that side dress as late as possible and apply as much as possible. This year, because of all the nitrogen loss, it said give me as much as possible but do it now.  And that’s the difference and value of the model.  Think about all the different factors that affect that corn crop. Managing nitrogen like you did 5 years ago, isn’t enough, you need to rely on a model to help navigate. The Field Forecasting Tool that we use through United Insight helps us manage that uncertainly.”
Jesse: “Learning summed up:
  1. Hybrids know response to nitrogen
    1. Probably won’t be able to side dress every acre, but know which hybrids have a high response to nitrogen first and focus on those.
  2. How full is that gas tank
    1. What has the previous weather been and forecast
  3. Environment
    1. Relates to all the rainfall in June and looking at that Field Forecasting Tool
  4. Use Field Forecasting tool
    1. It’s pretty accurate – UFC was within +/- 12 bushels of the predictive yield
  5. Have a balance nutrition
    1. When you go out to side or top dress, don’t just put nitrogen, put amomum sulfate in there too
    2. We normally don’t talk about potassium
    3. 40-40-12
Sum up 2018 in one word”
Jason: “Variability”
Jesse: “I would say unique. We learned somethings, but we have a long ways to go on how we manage.”

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