Corn School: How to assess stand establishment

The corn crop is in the ground in Ontario and it’s time to get out and scout. When scouting corn early in the season, diagnosis of issues is key for managing the crop further along in its growth.

In this episode of Corn School, Bernard Tobin is joined in the field at Lambton County, Ont., by agronomist Ryan Benjamins from Benjamins Agronomy Services, to talk about the specific things to look for while scouting.

When Benjamins scouts a field, he’s looking at things like plant population, plant spacing, uniformity of the crop, and how management factors have affected the crop so far, and those that could also affect the crop in the future.

The first thing to look at is plant stand per acre, says Benjamins. In the video below, Benjamins explains how to backtrack to 1000th of an acre. In the field that Tobin and Benjamins are in at 20-inch row spacing that works out to 26 feet, two inches (on 30-inch row spacing it would be 17 feet, five inches).

Look for skips or misses in the plant row measured, and as Benjamins notes, a missed plant could be due to any number of reasons. “Dig it up and have a look to see whether it is actually planter performance with a miss, maybe it’s insect related, or environmental.”

Consistent plant spacing is the next thing to look at. Eight inches between plants, with no doubles, and all uniform in emergence is desirable. If there is a plant that doesn’t fit uniformly, it’s always going to be behind in timing compared to its neighbours, and if it does produce a cob, it’ll be smaller, says Benjamins.

“Some thing we can manage, but knowing that it was mainly environmental, not really planter performance related, we always fight that challenge between ‘do we plant early or do we plant late’ and get that perfect picket-fence stand,” says Benjamins.

Seed depth uniformity from plant to plant and row to row can be a tedious task, depending on soil conditions, and it can be hard to determine where to measure from. Benjamins has a pretty slick way of doing it: pinch the plant off at the soil surface, dig it up, find the seed, and measure from the seed to the pinch point. Dig up a few plants around and determine if depth of the planter needs to be adjusted.

Lastly, Benjamins likes to look at the condition of the sidewall, which can say a lot about conditions at planting. “Some of the earlier planted fields this year, it was quite dry, at least on top, cause we had next to no rainfall, but we also didn’t have a lot of heat at the time,” he says, and some sidewalls have actually cracked back open, which can affect plant growth now.

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