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Crucial periods ahead for fate of corn crop

July 31, 2013 | 0 comments


Although much of Wisconsin’s 2013 corn crop enjoyed a growth spurt during the final four weeks of July, the crucial days and timing are still ahead on whether many of the fields should be harvested for corn silage or for grain corn.

That period is the approximately 55-60 days needed between pollination (tasseling and silking) and the physiological maturity that’s suitable for harvesting corn for grain, University of Wisconsin Extension Service corn agronomist Joe Lauer said.

He spoke to members of the Fond du Lac and Dodge County Corn Growers Association at their annual mid-summer field meeting at the crop plots on the Ed Montsma farm.

Lauer advised corn growers to track the dates of pollination (tasseling normally occurs about two days before silking) and compare them to the date of a likely killing freeze in their area.

Anything that leaves the number of days well short of the 55-60 should prompt negotiations with area dairy or other livestock farmers to sell the crop for harvest as silage rather than to take the risk of having to deal with high-moisture grain corn, he suggested.

Crucial Dates

In most parts of Wisconsin, Aug. 10-15 are the latest pollination dates for a reasonable expectation that corn would reach physiological maturity before a freeze, Lauer indicated.

He also referred to the early days of September as being the point at which kernel denting should begin in order to count on harvest as grain.

Regarding the overall late planting of the 2013 corn crop before its rapid development during July, Lauer explained that leaf development depends greatly on relatively high temperatures while cooler weather is ideal during the 30-40 days during which grain fill typically occurs.

To a question about moisture availability during grain fill, he noted that hot and dry weather would shorten that period, thereby reducing grain yield.

Once corn kernels reach 50 percent kernel milk (the R5.5 growth stage), they need approximately another 250 growing degree units or 13-18 days in order to reach black layer and be appropriate for harvest as dry grain, Lauer observed.

Based on the likely harvest time, either for silage or grain, he advised informing custom forage harvesters about those dates so services can be scheduled and provided when needed.

Uneven Growth

Regarding the uneven growth stages in some corn fields, Lauer said nothing can be done at this point from a management perspective.

In most cases, he said there’d be no benefit or practicality in trying to devise a harvesting plan based on the differences in maturity.

When harvested as silage, there’ll be plenty of mixing and blending of differing maturity stages in the chopper wagons or trucks and as the crop goes into storage, Lauer pointed out.

If the corn is harvested for grain, there will be variances in moisture content to deal with, he added.

In his recent travels around parts of the Corn Belt, Lauer noticed that corn in other states is comparable to that in Wisconsin.

For the most part, that means a late maturity for which the frost date will prove to be crucial, he stated.

Plots and Yields

As corn growers cope with another unusual growing season, Lauer said the same applies to the Extension Service’s corn variety trial plots around the state.

For example, the plot near Marshfield, which was originally planted on June 5 was replanted on July 5 because not enough corn had emerged to make valid comparisons of differences between corn hybrids, he explained.

Regarding corn yields for 2013, the only discussion at the session here was prompted by Fond du Lac County Extension Service crops and soils agent Mike Rankin, who recalled the predictions made a year ago by the attendees at a similar meeting prompted by the drought, which affected the 2012 crop yields.

At the time, the attendees expected average grain yields to run at 130 bushels per acre in the two counties.

Citing the official reports by the Wisconsin field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Rankin noted that the surveys indicated an average yield of 120 bushels per acre on the 70,600 acres of corn harvested for grain in 2012 in Fond du Lac County while Dodge County posted an average of 141 bushels from 138,300 harvested acres.

County Competition

Rankin quipped that the two-county average for 2012 proved to be almost right at 130 bushels per acre.

As for 2013, not one of the approximately 50 corn growers and a handful of seed company representatives at the meeting questioned an estimate that this year’s corn in the two counties should average at least 150 bushels per acre.

For other crops in 2012, Rankin observed that Fond du Lac County averaged 44 bushels per acre on 45,800 acres of harvested soybeans while Dodge County had an average of 47.2 bushels on 66,000 acres.

Average winter wheat yields in 2012 were 81.3 bushels per acre in Fond du Lac County and 82.9 bushels in Dodge County.

In some friendly inter-agent and inter-county banter, Dodge County agricultural agent Mike Stanek asked why the growth of corn this summer in Fond du Lac County was lagging the crop’s progress in Dodge County.

This was evident at the Montsma field plot, where surplus moisture delayed the establishment of the numerous corn and soybean plots until May 15-21.

Some fields on the periphery of the city of Fond du Lac have corn that did not emerge until the second half of July.

Lauer was aware of some situations where corn was planted very late with the intention of harvesting it as forage during its late vegetative or very early reproductive stage, which research has shown provides very good milk production per ton of forage.

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