Good Planning Gives Crop a Jump Start

Protect the 2008 crops against early season diseases and nematodes with proper rotation and appropriate treatment. By Bob Kemerait

Published on: Apr 14, 2008

One Sunday afternoon I kept one eye on the laptop computer screen as I typed and the other eye firmly fixed on Fox network's presentation of the 50th Daytona 500. My wife, anxious to watch the Home and Garden Network, urged me to focus on the essay and to forego the 500. Ignoring her, I doggedly kept my attention split between seedling diseases, nematodes, and auto racing. I cheered as Mark Martin, driving the number: "8" U.S. Army Chevrolet, weaved his way through traffic. The untimely wreck and 31st finish of the "8" car sent me back to the computer and this essay. My wife lunged for the remote control and happily returned to a program about fixing up houses, creating gardens, and fictional husbands who loved to do both of these things.

If you follow the NASCAR and row crop seasons, you will recognize that they share some similarities. For example, competing for the NASCAR championship requires a team to maintain a competitive edge throughout a season that stretches into November; row crop farmers must protect and nurture their crop into the fall as well if they are to maximize success and profit in their efforts. However, there is a major difference between success on the NASCAR circuit and in row crop production in the Southeast. Despite the disappointing finish in Daytona, Mark Martin still has the potential for a highly successful season. For growers in the southeastern U.S., it may be impossible to overcome a poor start to the field season for corn, cotton, soybeans, peanuts, and other crops.

A key component to a great start in the row crop season is adequate protection from early-season diseases and damage from nematodes. Obvious consequences from a poor start include:
Skippy stands caused by under-managed seed and seedling diseases. Poor stands create replant considerations, lower yields in all crops, and severe increases in tomato spotted wilt in the peanut crop.

Reduced vigor and growth for plants affected by attack from seedling diseases and nematodes. Damage from nematodes and seedling diseases cause poor root development, inadequate uptake of nutrients and water, reduced ability to tolerate stresses in the field (e.g. drought), and stunted plants.

Losses in yield and quality because the damaged crop could not reach its genetic potential or the potential based upon inputs made to the crop.

Given that control of early season diseases and management of nematodes is absolutely critical for our row crop producers, below are some strategies to be considered:

  • Practice careful crop rotation to reduce the populations of nematodes and disease-causing pathogens.
  • Select varieties that have rapid germination, aggressive growth, and resistance to nematodes that are problematic in your fields.
  • Select high quality seed that has a good cold germination value and has been treated with effective fungicides.
  • Plant the crop when soil conditions (temperature and moisture) are conducive for rapid germination and vigorous growth. Avoid planting into cool wet soils, hot dry soils, or before an approaching storm. The impact of cool soils and a flush of cold rain or irrigation can cause significant stand losses, even in the absence of disease.
  • Use a nematicide that is appropriate for the population of nematodes in your field. The nematicide must protect the young root system as it becomes established.
  • Use additional fungicides for seedling diseases if seedling disease threatens to be severe. These fungicides include additional "overcoat" treatments for the seed and also in-furrow applications.

After Sunday's Daytona 500, Mark Martin and the other drivers who didn't win will have more chances to rise to the top of the NASCAR point standings. After a poor showing in the cotton, peanut, corn, and soybean fields, the grower may not have many options left to optimize his cropping season. Therefore, the contest at planting time is a race he cannot afford to lose.

- Kemerait is an Extension plant pathologist for the University of Georgia.