Farm Horizons, February 2010

Tips for the 2010 growing season

Dave Schwartz
From the Field Agronomist, Hutchinson

In harvest reports I’ve read, corn and soybean yields were much better than anyone could imagine, including me.

The beautiful weather in September provided just what the crop needed – heat and sunshine. Crops were running 200 to 250 growing degree units behind normal Sept. 1, so we needed a miracle, and got one.

Looking ahead to the 2010 crop, here are four items to consider as farmers put their crop plans together.

• For corn growers, this may not be the year to cut back on nitrogen.

Due to the cold growing season, mineralization was slowed down, so less nitrogen was released from organic matter. The cold growing season followed by the monsoon in October likely left soils depleted of nitrogen. Corn yields suffer significantly if nitrogen is lacking, so use full rates for the 2010 growing season.

• Sulfur is a nutrient that has caught more attention the past few years for corn production.

In the past, the common recommendation for sulfur has been to limit sulfur to sandy soils or those low in organic matter. The expectation was that high organic matter soils released adequate amounts of sulfur for corn production. Research the past few years is showing a nice yield response to sulfur, either applied in the band or broadcast. It may be due to high corn yields requiring additional sulfur, possibly less sulfur falling from the atmosphere, or possibly a combination of the two. Anyway, it may be worthwhile to run strip trials with sulfur on your farm.

• Use either pre-plant or pre-emergent herbicides to control weeds in corn and soybeans, in combination with post emergence herbicides.

Many growers are planting Roundup-ready crops, so they rely heavily on Roundup as their complete herbicide program. University research is finding an early herbicide application, before or after planting, widens the window for Roundup later on.

I learned, at the Crop Pest Managemet Shortcourse in December, that once weeds reach four inches in height, corn yields are reduced three bushels per acre for each day spraying is delayed. Researchers believe weeds at this stage remove nitrogen, a key nutrient for corn production.

• And last, but not least, be careful about making decisions for 2010 based on the past growing season.

The 2009 growing season was unusually cold and dry. I would expect growers will have more success with minimum tillage in 2010 than 2009, because the upcoming growing season is likely to deliver more heat.

I hear some reports of corn growers selecting shorter-season hybrids for 2010, due to immature corn and wet grain in 2009. It may be wise to stick with maturities that have served the farm well over the past five years. Full-season corn and soybeans are normally most profitable.

Have a safe and great new year!

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