This years corn harvest has been an eventful season, and as we come to a close and put 2017 in the books, there may be some things weighing on your mind before we begin 2018. One of them is undoubtedly hybrid performance this fall. I don’t know of anybody who was spared the winds at the end of October, those winds capped off a challenging growing season and created a whole new set of challenges for many of you. However, in the last two weeks, I have spent many hours in cornfields and I have a hypothesis that may be unpopular with some of you. The fields where there were challenges with stalk quality and ear loss are not to be blamed entirely on hybrid selection.
I want you to pay close attention to what I said, not “entirely” on hybrid selection – stick with me for just a minute. We have talked at length about the 40 major decisions that go into a growing season; including tillage, fertility, when to plant, when to irrigate, etc.. What happened to us on some fields this harvest is also a culmination of the 39 other decisions that we made this season besides hybrid selection. Now, I know some of you are ready to call me out on this, and your argument may be that you’ve had a hybrid or two that had a much worse end of season performance than the other. I totally get that, and while that performance may carry from field to field, my guess is that the severity of it is not always consistent. Think about it, it was just hybrid performance. Every plant would have done the same thing. We would have fields with 95-100% ear loss, and not 5-10%. The reason every part of every field isn’t affected the same comes down to all of those other things.
But what happened this year is in the past. We cannot change it. But, those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. So, lets talk about the four biggest things we need to do to ensure we don’t repeat the struggles we had this year.
First, the truth is there are a couple of hybrids that need to be out of your personal lineup. They had failures in lots of environments from the wind, and you and your seed advisor need to jettison those off of your farm. But second is Potassium management. I think that many of you know there are a few more scores that a hybrid has than what is in the seed book. One of those scores is a response to Potassium. Even though a soil test may indicate that K levels in our soil are in the acceptable or better ranges, that doesn’t mean the same thing to every Hybrid. There are times of the year that K consumption exceeds the soils ability to release K. Some hybrids are more demanding than others and therefore, respond to Potassium. If we couple a High Response to K with a lower K level, or more specifically, a lower Base Saturation of K, we have more opportunities for stalk and shank quality issues.
The third is a response to Fungicide. Much like Response to K, there are hybrids that have a much greater response to fungicide than others. When we manage that response with the right ground, the effects are magnified. With all of the late rains we had in August and again in October, and then the rapid dry down of grain, we put together a recipe for weakened stalks and shanks and a great opportunity for those rots and diseases to affect us. Finally, there is irrigation management. I will throw a lot of things in this bucket, including compaction management. I think that this is underestimated every year, and this one is no different. Compaction causes us to change watering strategies. Soil conditions when we plant cause us to change watering strategies. Nitrogen timing and needs effect our irrigation. All of those things require us to manage irrigation and where the real problem lies, increase frequency or rate of irrigation. That comes around in the end to affect the last two factors we talked about.
My take home for the day is simply this; it may very well be the hybrid that we put in place is 100% to blame for the loss of corn on the ground this fall. That is not something for someone like me to assess from afar. But, what if the hybrid was 30% to blame and a handful of other decisions that we made make up 70% of the blame. Insert whatever number you like into that conversation. My responsibility is to challenge you to look at the other factors and make sure those consequential factors aren’t repeated year after year.