Tom Hall, Senior Agronomist, Rooster Strategic Solutions
As we head into June, about 80 percent of corn and 60 percent of soybeans have been planted, with progress slowed by cool and wet conditions. In normal times, growers who hadn’t planted yet would begin to seriously explore the “prevent planting options” within their crop insurance programs. These are not normal times, however; with corn at $7-per-bushel and soybeans at $17-per-bushel, farmers are going to plant every acre they can squeeze into the mid-June planting window – and maybe even later for soybeans.
As an agronomist, June was always the busiest month for on-farm visits where we’d try to problem-solve a long list of ills that included frost, hail, corn rootworm, weed escapes, green snap, and my favorite, “my corn looks like crap.” To address these issues in the field, an agronomist must be part scientist and part psychologist. I always thought I had two advantages over the farmer in solving problems. First, over the years, I’d been in lots of fields and saw a variety of different situations. Secondly, I had the gift of distance. I carried much less stress and emotion into the field compared to what the farmer was shouldering.
Having said that, the decision to replant is a painful one. This decision is often faced after a late frost when the growing point has emerged above the soil surface, or in higher elevations, when hail has beaten small corn plants to the ground. All a farmer sees is a hot mess. After years of walking these fields, my biggest life lesson is the incredible resilience of corn to recover. I would encourage farmers to use the “whiskey cure.” Go home, have a drink of your favorite beverage, and give the corn a chance to recover. I first heard about this cure from my father, who saw a grower pull a rotary hoe into a field and said, “Our neighbor has an emergence problem, and it’s about to get worse.” In other words, the emotional need for a farmer to do something – anything – overpowers the option of “let’s wait and see.”
There were two general rules I used in service calls. One was that if you could find 17,000 healthy plants, do NOT replant. Second, do NOT try to use the planter to fill holes caused by poor emergence, frost or hail. Those new plant will be weeds for the rest of the summer. If a farmer wants to improve the stand, do it right. Kill the existing stand with an herbicide and start over.
Drought is causing big trouble in the Great Plains. A look at the map below tells the story that wheat in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado is getting the worst of it. There are moisture improvements in the spring wheat areas in the Dakotas. But between moisture and cool conditions, only 27 percent of spring wheat has yet to be planted, when in a normal year, wheat farmers would be finishing up about now.
The 2022 Kansas Wheat Quality Tour has given us our first glimpse of how badly the drought and early freezes have hurt this year’s Kansas wheat crop. The tour estimates that this year’s crop of 261 million bushels will be at least 100 million bushels less than last year’s crop. This is heartbreaking news for many wheat farmers who have an opportunity to market their crop at unheard of prices above $11-per-bushel. All farms need that great year to average out the poor ones. The income from the great year allows farmers to lower debt, upgrade equipment, take a vacation, or bring a family member back into the operation.
June is the month for weed escapes, and famers should monitor fields closely. Pre-emergent herbicides applied at or before planting are now starting to break down. When dealing with resistant weeds in soybeans, the best course of action is to apply a second residual that “overlaps” the first application to extend weed control to when the beans form a canopy and shade the ground. If farmers are going to rely on post herbicides like Liberty® or XtendiMax® they must apply them when weeds are small – less than four inches tall. The problem is that resistant pigweeds can go from controllable to uncontrollable in 24 hours. Constant field scouting is a must. In the case of resistant weeds, growers should continue to scout after the first post-emergent application and be prepared to make a second.
In the Corn Belt, corn rootworms (CRW) will start chewing on roots in earnest in mid-June. Late planted corn and CRW are a bad combination; root lodging is almost a certainty because a heavy CRW infestation can chew the roots as fast as they can grow over a four-week period. Almost all the current corn Bt products on the market have been tied to field resistance. That is why we all are closely watching a new Bt + mRNA product called SmartStax® PRO, which is broadly licensed by Bayer. This is the only CRW trait product that has not suffered any resistance issues to date. Farmers paying attention to rotation and refuge requirements are key to stopping SmartStax PRO from facing CRW resistance issues.