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Reflections on 2023 crops can enlighten next season

Choosing right seed genetics, managing disease are keys to protecting performance and yield

It’s hard to believe another harvest season is in the books and plans for the 2024 cropping season are well underway. The genetics in our corn hybrids and soybean varieties really helped carry us through this challenging season. Even so, this year’s yield numbers have been all over the board.

In MFA replicated plot trials for corn, which includes MFA’s MorCorn brand and partner brands Brevant, NK and DeKalb, yield ranged from 100 to nearly 300 bushels per acre for longer-maturity hybrids. Test weights were certainly down. In many spots, cooler nighttime temperatures during the summer allowed corn to recover more effectively.

As for soybeans, many producers have been pleasantly surprised with yield. Those August rains really paid dividends, despite the dry spring and summer. Many yield estimates are in the mid to upper 50-bushel-per-acre range, but the lows and highs range from mid-30s to upper 70s. In areas that struggled with extreme lack of moisture, some producers were forced to bale soybeans for forage. This mainly occurred in the east-central part of Kansas.

DougAs I reflect on the growing season, there were several surprises given the conditions we had. First, we hit an early onset of charcoal rot in spots, sparked by dry soil conditions coupled with warmer soil temperatures during the second week of April through the middle of May. This disease thrives in warm, dry environments, which we typically experience later in the growing season—more so in the reproductive growth stages when pods begin to fill (around R5). Including wheat in our crop rotation can help manage charcoal rot because wheat is not a host for the disease. Seed treatments to manage soybean cyst nematodes (SCN) can also help. SCN causes physical damage to soybean root hairs, creating an open door for pathogens to invade. In several cases this year, other diseases were present in addition to charcoal rot, and the combination of multiple pathogens contributed to declining plant health.

Tar spot movement into new areas also surprised me, even more so than my other observations this year. Most of our internal reports of the disease picked up during the second week of July when many fungicides were beginning to be applied. I think greater producer awareness of this newer disease has contributed to more sightings and documented cases, but reports of widespread devastation of the corn crop—like what has been documented in northeastern Kansas this year—fortunately did not develop in much of MFA’s trade territory.

What has been dramatic is the difference in visual symptoms of tar spot where foliar fungicides have been applied and where they have not, especially where leaf disease severity ratings exceed 5%. Producers had the most success in managing tar spot when tolerant hybrids are planted and when fungicides containing two or more modes of action are applied at the VT (tassel is fully emerged) to R3 (kernels filled with milky fluid) growth stages. Keep in mind, tar spot overwinters on crop residue and is not carried in from the south like southern rust.

The last thing I want to mention is to be aware that gray leaf spot, northern corn leaf blight and other diseases have not gone away. Be mindful of those diseases and historical trends in your own fields as you make cropping plans with your MFA advisor.

On the management side of things, having an initial cropping plan led to many producers having success this year. How success was ultimately measured or determined may have looked different from producer to producer and farm to farm depending on the goals set for the cropping season. Expectations were certainly modified for many as the season progressed. Not having a plan and letting emotion settle in caused challenges this year and potentially resulted in lost revenue and profit. Deciding not to replant in early June when much of the corn acreage was planted in April to early May could have been a costly mistake for some.

If conversations about the 2024 cropping season haven’t been initiated yet, I would encourage you to reach out to your trusted MFA advisor. Start working through some of the challenges you experienced in 2023 to make more bushels and lower your cost of production for next year.

Read More of the December 2023 / January 2024 Today's Farmer magazine Issue.

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