Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions
October is all about harvest. And harvest is the best time to reflect on the amazing advancements in harvesting technology. My earliest memories involve watching a tractor-mounted corn picker run very slowly across the field, taking two rows at a time. So, it’s no wonder I am amazed to see 12-row combines, harvesting at 6-plus-mph, unloading on-the-go, simultaneously collecting spatial data and reporting it in real-time.
Two other harvest advancements that are often taken for granted are the two-way radio and the buddy seat. The radio gave my dad a chance to yell at family members (except mom, of course!) from miles away for various real and imagined infractions without having to stop. Meanwhile, the combine buddy seat has changed the way suppliers work with farmers. The early buddy seats were small and uncomfortable. Today the buddy seat, like the one shown below, has transformed the combine into a mobile office. Local input suppliers can be invited to this rolling office to see some great results. Salespeople can also be summoned to the buddy seat, perhaps to explain why the corn is down, leaning, dropping ears, polluted with disease, or simply “not there.” I have spent some uncomfortable moments in a buddy seat that has become a “hot seat.” But I’m always grateful when growers invite me to see things first-hand, even when the results aren’t what we expected.
Harvest is all about planning for next year. The view from the combine provides the intelligence that farmers need to make management decisions for next year. The yield monitor gives every hybrid a report card that helps determine whether it will be on the farm next year.
Weed control is easy to evaluate. Has there been a season-long collapse, or just a weed or two breaking through late? Similarly, are diseases present like tar spot or Goss’s Wilt that cause plants to shut down early? If so, you may need to change your hybrids and/or fungicide program. From the combine the farmer can tell, based on experience, whether a field is under-performing. It may be time to start thinking about tough-to-diagnose problems with hidden symptoms like nematodes, nutrient deficiencies, and planting densities.
And everybody is thinking about fertilizer prices. Most farmers understand that good commodity prices are often accompanied by higher input costs. The graph below shows that anhydrous ammonia is about $800-per-ton higher today than in 2021. This offers farmers a couple strategies. First, defer the expense until next spring if possible. More important, think long and hard about application rates. I believe that applying more than 200 pounds of anhydrous (160 pounds actual N) is unlikely to be profitable.
Keep an eye on tar spot and palmer amaranth. The spread of tar spot, a bacterial disease, was limited by dry conditions in many corn growing areas this year. But farmers will need to keep their guards up as they start planning for 2023 planting. In the map below, farmers in any county that had tar spot this year or previous years should be on high alert. Although there is no resistance, using hybrids with high ratings of staygreen and keeping fungicides handy will slow or stop it.
Controlling palmer amaranth is also becoming more and more difficult. The farmer who shared the picture below (UT Weed Guy@ut_weed) relied on multiple post-applications of glyphosate and dicamba. As a result, he doesn’t need to worry about harvesting the field this year. Avoiding a hot mess like this one requires the use of residual herbicides pre-plant, followed with overlapping residuals 21 days post-plant, combined with a post-program that rotates dicamba, glufosinate, and 2,4-D.