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Hindsight gives us better vision for future crops

Lessons learned from 2023 can improve management strategies for 2024

At MFA, we talk to our producers about the importance of planning ahead to achieve a successful growing season to come. Developing a sound cropping plan involves looking at the history of pest and disease activity at the field level along with a grower’s local geography. The knowledge builds year after year and culminates with what we have learned in the most recent season. It all works together to influence plans for next year. The 2023 growing season brought us familiar challenges along with some new ones that we will need to consider in future management strategies.

Certain pests do not overwinter in MFA’s trade territory and may not reach our latitudes every year. Southern rust is a disease that must move by wind currents from tropical areas each year to infect corn in our geography. While we commonly see southern rust throughout Missouri, this past year it seems to have mostly infected fields in a few northwest and northeast counties. While this potentially damaging disease didn’t have a big impact in 2023, history tells us that we still need to keep it in mind when planning for 2024.

Other pests do overwinter here, and, once they move in, will likely become endemic. Tar spot has been frequently discussed the past couple of years and has now reached many counties in MFA’s north and central regions. This disease is probably here to stay. Now that we have had a chance to evaluate its impacts in the field, our management recommendations have not changed. Planting corn hybrids that show a tolerance to tar spot along with supplying sufficient nutrients to the crop provide a solid disease management base.

Applying a fungicide containing multiple modes of action between VT and R2 has also shown to be very effective in preventing yield loss from this disease. The good news is that adding tar spot management to a cropping plan mirrors practices for many other foliar diseases for which we plan management strategies, such as gray leaf spot, northern corn leaf blight and even southern rust.

Sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soybeans is a disease that we have been managing for in our cropping plans, but 2023 may have proven that our strategies need to be enhanced. The fusarium fungus that causes the disease infects soybean roots early in the season and prefers cool, wet soils. In years past, growers avoided planting early and selected varieties that showed tolerance to SDS as a management plan. In more recent years, new seed treatments with SDS activity have been used and planting dates have moved earlier on the calendar to take advantage of the yield benefits of planting soybeans early and extending the growing season.

However, SDS infection was widespread in 2023, and the disease was present in soybeans that used the newer treatments. This past season has shown that if soybeans are to be planted early, seed treatments alone may not be the answer for SDS control. We still need to carefully consider variety ratings when making seed decisions. While planting early may be fine, we still need to look at soil conditions. Infection is more likely when conditions are cool and wet at planting time.

We can’t forget about soybean cyst nematode (SCN) either. Sudden death infection is more likely to occur when SCN is present due to wounds that the nematodes make to soybean roots. This indicates we also need to look at soybean varieties with SCN-resistant genes and consider additional seed treatments that provide nematode control.

While diseases in 2023 will certainly influence cropping plans for 2024, don’t forget about weeds. The drought provided many challenges with weed control. Using multiple effective modes of action and overlapping residual herbicides for our target weed species is still a must, but looking at water solubility ratings on the residual products will play a bigger role in creating a cropping plan. Products with a low solubility tend to be more effective when soils are wet, while high-solubility products tend to be more effective when conditions are dry.

When it comes to insects, 2023 brought its fair share. Stinkbugs, Japanese beetles, dectes stem borer and corn earworms/soybean podworms were some of the pests causing problems in MFA territory this past season. While not technically an insect, spider mites were also found in soybeans, and these can only be controlled with a few specific insecticides.

A lot goes into creating cropping plans for 2024, and now is the time to start working on them. MFA’s team of location managers, key account managers, local agronomists and precision specialists are equipped with the knowledge needed to help, so please contact them for assistance.

senior staff agronomist
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