Calendar year 2010 was filled with environmental stresses, new product releases, non-traditional pest invasions—but more importantly—great opportunity for our farming community.
For the third straight year, excessive early season rainfall dominated our spring. Like last year, the wet spring forced delayed planting or caused many fields to be replanted. Unlike last year, our dry September and October created excellent harvest conditions.
The open fall allowed us time to start replenishing the negative nutrient balance that has occurred via a combination of plant food prices, high crop yields and restrictive application weather over the past several years. If you haven’t already addressed this issue, please plan to do so before spring planting.
How did our crops respond to the weather patterns? Generally, corn yields were more adversely affected than soybean yields. Aside from the obvious flooded areas, much of the lost yield this year came in the form of nitrogen deficiency. Preplant nitrogen just couldn’t hold up to the loss pathways associated with the wet weather. Once again, split nitrogen performed much better than applying all nitrogen up front. Slow release or nitrogen stabilization products helped, but for the third straight year, they were inferior to a planned split nitrogen program.
If decades of preaching the benefits of sidedressing nitrogen onto corn, combined with environmental conditions over the past three years doesn’t generate interest in this management operation, then I guess nothing will. I fully understand the equipment, logistics and timeliness issues associated with sidedressing, but still highly recommend considering it as a planned, standard component of your corn production system.
Unlike corn, I was pleasantly surprised with soybean yields this fall. Obviously, nitrogen loss is not critical with beans, but other factors like adequate moisture, improved genetics and better adoption of residual herbicides, foliar fungicides and foliar insecticides played a role.
Soybean fields that received foliar fungicides, insecticides and fertilizers applied between growth stages R1 (flowering) and R3 (pod set) performed very well. A common denominator with yield increases was the positive response to the fungicide. The insecticide and foliar fertilizers increased crop growth and yield in some situations. Late season disease pressure, thick canopies and high humidity conditions stimulated diseases like Septoria brown spot, Frogeye leaf spot and Cercospora blight.
I believe that soybean insect pressure was much higher than normal and response to insecticides was from insect control and not a function of plant health, that is so often claimed as a benefit.
We had high podworm pressure in several areas. One hundred percent yield loss was reported at some western and northern Missouri locations. I have not seen this in 24 years of walking soybean fields in our region.
We had mid-season garden webworm and late season stinkbug problems this year. Both required treatment and the stinkbugs led to “green bean syndrome” and appreciable yield loss.
Soybean aphid pressure was much less than last season. These insects have been known to cycle in large numbers every other year. Therefore, we need to be prepared to address them next season.
Foliar fertilizers have been the rage the past few years. Higher commodity values and increased crop yields have driven these phenomena that cycle through about every 7 to 10 years. What, if anything, is different this time around? First, crop yields are much higher. A shot of needed plant food mid-season may help top-off a good crop. Second, since we are already going across fields with mid-season fungicides and insecticides, a good situation for piggy-backing crop nutrients is already present. Third, is the glyphosate-chelation theory that has generated quite a buzz.
With increased demand, comes misinformation. It also generates a myriad of new products, many of which are unproven. My advice to anyone considering foliar fertilizers is to check out the products thoroughly and buy them from a reputable source.
Forage yield (especially tall fescue) was down this year. With adequate moisture, this should not have happened. I believe in many situations, that years of neglect in plant food applications and weed control strategies were the primary causes. As commodity prices continue to stay high, pressure on forage will continue. Let’s not overlook the management required to reap the most benefit from our forage acres.
The optimist in me predicts a strong agronomic 2011. As we enter the holiday season, remember the important role we play in feeding, clothing, and fueling the world. It is a mission to be proud of.
Paul Tracy is Director of Agronomy for MFA Incorporated.