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How farmers grew a record corn crop in a season marked by drynessqrcode

Feb. 14, 2024

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Feb. 14, 2024

LG Seeds
United States  United States

A strong start, genetic advances and just-in-time rains are a few factors agronomists credit

″If you would’ve told anybody we’d produce a record corn crop in the middle of June, people would have thought you were crazy,″ says Brian Weihmeir, LG Seeds agronomist for the southern half of Illinois. He wasn’t alone. Agronomists around the Corn Belt marveled at the crop’s ability to yield in the face of dryness, a testament to the dramatic gains in hybrids’ stress tolerance. 

″2023 taught us that no matter how doom-and-gloom the outlook or how bad the crop looks, it’s not over until the combines roll through,″ Weihmeir says. ″Those who stuck with their game plan saw it pay off huge.″  

Ideal weather to start and end the season bolstered Illinois’ corn crop

Yields were fantastic and well above expectations for farmers in southern Illinois. Weihmeir says a lot can be attributed to the start of the growing season. ″Many farmers had a 10- to 14-day window to get their crop in,″ Weihmeir explains. ″Because we had such a wide window, farmers weren’t pushing the envelope. They were able to take their time, make sure soil conditions were fit and then hit the ground running. They set themselves up for a very good growing season.″  

June was hot and dry, but there was no sidewall compaction to limit root growth. ″Roots were able to find soil moisture and hold up during those stressful conditions,″ Weihmeir explains. And while the corn crop looked rough and curled tightly each afternoon, temperatures cooled overnight, giving crops a breather. And timely rains arrived just before the Fourth of July.  

A smooth harvest also contributed to 2023’s bumper Illinois crop. ″Many farmers were worn out by the end of the season because once combines started going, they never stopped,″ Weihmeir says. Farmers were able to move through harvest quickly and roll right into fieldwork and then projects like laying tile, setting themselves up for success in 2024.  

″The big lesson from 2023 was to never give up on a corn crop,″ Weihmeir says. Amid the stress, some pulled back nitrogen applications and cut out fungicide. But those who stuck with their plans and did all they could to mitigate stress were rewarded, he says.  

As farmers prepare for 2024, Weihmeir advises incorporating practices and products that have worked well historically into their plans. ″Make sure you’re considering factors that go beyond yield when it comes to hybrids, considering things like stress tolerance, emergence scores and agronomic health,″ he elaborates.  

Weihmeir also urges farmers to consider new hybrids that bring something new to the table — the biggest one being yield, but also plant health and agronomic strength. ″Choosing the right seed and placing it on the right acre is even more important when margins tighten,″ he says. 

Wide planting window and genetic advances helped crops in the Mid-South

Results varied across the Mid-South, but the region’s corn crop was generally better than anticipated with near-average yields, according to LG Seeds Agronomist Dan Mitchell. His territory stretches from southern Indiana to Tennessee. Heat and dryness during pollination had less of an impact on yields than feared. Mitchell credits some of that to the ″ever improving″ genetics of the crop.  

A wide planting window and farmers’ use of varying relative maturities also spread risk, limiting the impact of the ill-timed stress, Mitchell says. ″Farmers are also doing a much better job waiting for good weather and soil conditions to plant,″ he continues.  

″One thing we’ve learned over the past three or four years is that corn is not as precise on its maturity as we thought,″ Mitchell says. ″We’ve seen hybrids pull some magic late in the season to fill and dry down in years where we didn’t think we’d get the crop in.″ In other words, don’t give up on it.  

Mitchell encourages farmers to be open minded when it comes to hybrids, inputs and practices. As budgets tighten, he says it’s critical to make decisions grounded in logic, not emotions.   

Rain from July forward upped yields (and mold) in Michigan

Short plants and a dry start to the season had many farmers in Michigan expecting an average corn crop. Yields topped expectations, but Gibberella ear rot turning into vomitoxin tempered enthusiasm, reports LG Seeds Agronomist Justin Schneider.  

″Michigan was dry from April 25 to July 1. It finally started raining around the Fourth of July, and it kept falling through fall,″ Schneider says. ″Strong yields are a testament to the stress tolerance breeders have developed over the past decade.″ 

Schneider encourages farmers to stick with their rotations in 2024, noting, ″You can’t put all your eggs in one basket.″ That’s also an argument for a multi-hybrid approach. Michigan farmers are seasoned in this. ″Most farmers plant at least three hybrids because they’ve seen the benefits of spreading that risk with genetic diversity,″ he says. 

Another 2023 takeaway for Schneider was the importance of protecting the crop from start to finish. ″Those who applied fungicide at tassel saw lower vomitoxin levels and yield bumps,″ he says.  

″Make sure you finish out that kernel through maturity, making sure the crop has what it needs nutritionally to finish strong,″ he advises. ″Babying the crop with late-season fungicides and split applications of nitrogen delivers bigger benefits than we’ve seen in the past. Hybrids are flexing kernel depth in response and pushing yields.″  

Snowfall came in clutch for the Upper Midwest

Corn yields were better than expected in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, reports LG Seeds Agronomist Tim Beninga. ″The 2022 growing season was dry, and we had even less rain in 2023,″ he reports. ″Snow was our saving grace.″  

″All the snow we received late last fall insulated the ground,″ Beninga explains. ″Our ground never froze beyond the first few inches, which allowed our snowpack to soak into the ground rather than running off.″ While an April snowstorm delayed planting, it also added moisture. ″We got by with late planting and crops did well,″ Beninga says.  

Farmers in the northern Corn Belt should be on alert for corn rootworm heading into 2024, according to Beninga. Last year’s shallow freeze resulted in a big corn rootworm hatch that was particularly devastating for corn-on-corn acres. ″For rotated acres, I recommend farmers add some insecticide in-furrow with their fertilizer,″ he says. ″Those planting corn-on-corn need to use hybrids with SmartStax®, SmartStax® PRO or Agrisure Duracade® traits.″ 

Beninga’s other piece of advice is not to get stuck planting the same hybrids over and over. ″Try to plant four to five hybrids, and make sure to include some new ones along with your favorites,″ he says. ″Genetics are rapidly evolving, with some of the 80- and 90-day maturity products ushering in new yield levels.″  

Source: LG Seeds


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