It’s been quite a year for Ontario corn growers. Of course there are always exceptions and not everybody is the benefactor of timely rains and optimal growing conditions, but for the most part 2015 produced an incredible corn crop that averaged better than 170 bushels per acre.
In this episode of Corn School, Pride Seeds agronomist Ken Currah offers his assessment of the corn year and highlights some key learnings for growers. To start things off, Currah reflects on the challenging 2014 season. “Given all the harvesting and test weight issues we saw it really is incredible that the 2014 crop put an average 160 bushels per acre in the bin,” he says. “After that, it’s not surprising that we saw 170 bushels this year.”
Again this year, growers witnessed the benefits of early planting. Unfortunately, some growers were dinged with a late-May frost,” says Currah who’s always plugged into growers through his Twitter account. One comment he heard often as reports came in off the combine: “Early corn may not always be our best, but it’s never our worst.”
Currah notes that plants buzzed by frost at the 2-, 3- and 4-leaf stage typically bounce back pretty well, but an “ultra dry” May added a different twist this year. “When we got that frost on May 23rd that cold got down in there and did physiological damage….We had fields that regrew to 20,000 plants and yet the yields are 100 bushels less,” he says.
What can growers learn from this experience? “We have to remember that the real mitigating factor this year is that it was so dry. If we had any kind of moisture … in that week to seal up the soil surface we would’ve been a lot better off,” stresses Currah. He adds that growers wanting to avoid a repeat of this year’s frost impact may consider planting light ground, sands and loam mucks a little later.
2015’s tremendous growing conditions also allowed many growers to witness the true yield potential of many of today’s hybrids, says Currah. “What I really saw this year was well-managed, good hybrids will outdo those sturdy workhorse hybrids on some of he more challenging ground – the medium and low potential soils.”
What about nitrogen strategies? The dry May was followed by lots of moisture in June and early July and the tap was then turned off. “Those rainfalls caused some nitrogen management havoc … and the late nitrogen paid,” says Currah who notes that split applications also hit the mark. “But it was based on the rain timing. If we had been dry in June and early July, it might have been a different story.”
Did foliar fungicides pay in 2015? “Fungicides don’t increase yield, they protect it,” says Currah. “This year there was more potential and you were protecting a percentage of that and that translated into more bushels.” He adds that a 20-bushel benefit was not uncommon. “Fungicides are part of this 170-bushel average too with so many acres treated.”
The biggest story to emerge from the 2015 crop may be residue management. The tough 2014 harvest and winter conditions posed many challenges for growers this spring. “When we went into the deep freeze post harvest, we had no residue breakdown through the winter and it was perfectly preserved out of the freezer coming into the spring,” recalls Currah.
Fast forward 12 months: “We had fantastic drydown in corn. We’ve had warm weather all fall and that breakdown and microbial activity is still going on this week. If we’re still on the golf course, our corn residue is still breaking down. That’s gonna make it much easier to work with next year,” adds Currah.