Lessons Abound in Corn Field Before Harvest

Ask questions- corn plants will answer!

Published on: Sep 29, 2008

OK, we're not advocating that you talk to your plants everyday like they were pets. But when it comes to know how to improve your crop production system next season, Dave Nanda says it's not tool ate to scout fields and ask a lot fo questions. Nanda, consultant for Corn Illustrated, says that while plants can't make a verbal answer, they often revel the answer by how the symptoms they're showing.

For example, Nanda scouted in the Corn Illustrated plots last week. Harvest is still likely two to four weeks away, maybe longer for part of the plots. When he saw something out of the ordinary, he stopped and examined the plants for clues. "Ask the right questions, and plants will likely give you the answer," Nanda says.

In one field he pulled a stalk form 32,000 population and laid it next to a stalk form 40,000 population, both plants being the same hybrid. The plant form the higher population was turning brown, showing more maturity. That hybrid plot also failed the 'push test.' When Nanda pushed on the lower part of the stem, many more of those plants didn't snap back compared to when he pushed on plants at the regular plant population.

"I suspected stalk rot, so I split each plant down the middle, form the bottom node up," he explains. Sure enough, the nodal tissue inside the stalk on the plans from the thicker plot were already brown, while the nodes on plants from the regular-planting populations plot showed only a tinge of yellow. When I pushed in on the nodes with my finger, node tissue on plants from the thicker plot was mushy. Node tissue from the plants at the regular population was still much firmer.

"The plants from the thicker plot were sick," Nanda says. "They were showing signs of stalk rot. The disease was set up by stresses during the season. One of the stresses for the thicker plot was obviously too many plants per acre. We didn't add extra N, but instead fertilized all the plots in that study by exactly the same amount.

Nanda suggests walking fields at harvest, or even keeping a keen outlook for things that look different at harvest. As long as the corn is still in the field, the stalks may carry answers to what went right or wrong for them this year. Don't be afraid to look, investigate and listen!