Look for Positives in a Nightmarish Fall

Molds, rain and saturated soils took their toll.

Published on: Dec 7, 2009

The 2009 harvest season was well on its way to being the worst since 1974 until a 10-day stretch of late Indiana summer rescues soybean harvest and allowed corn harvest to get down to serious business across much of the Midwest. Even so, it may still contend for that honor. And when it comes to dealing with grain quality issues some think it rivals 1972, nearly four decades ago.


The main culprit is a complex of ear molds, with Diplodia being more noticeable in southern parts of the Corn Belt, and Gibberellla being all too common in central and northern sections, from Ohio all the way west into Iowa and beyond. It's the pinkish mold that also produces DON- vomitoxin. To a lesser degree, it produces a second mycotoxin that can affect reproduction in pigs. However, the big headache appears to be caused by vomitoxin.


What's become clear is that there is a wide range in how hybrids responded to Gibberella. The fungus is typically always present, and thrives in years just like this one. A perfect storm of weather conditions developed that favored this particular brand of ear mold. Yet there are fields that have only mild infection, and some with virtually none.


Hybrid difference may not be the only answer, but it's a big part if the picture, one disease specialist says. It explains why one Indiana hog farmer took to sampling every field to find corn that his hogs would eat. He planted a variety of hybrids across his farm. Some were hit hard and the grain was full of vomitoxin. Some weren't hit nearly as hard.


The disease specialist puts a positive spin on the situation. Instead of thinking of this fall as a total nightmare, look for the silver lining. Take advantage of the chance to se which hybrids stood up to it and which ones didn't, the specialist says. It's a rare moment when natural selection puts as much pressure on a crop as Gibberella mold did this year. If a hybrid sailed through with flying colors, or even just a few dings, then it should be able to ward off Gibberella easily in the future. But if a hybrid or two took it on the chin, it might be wroth looking for other choices, especially in fields where Gibberella was the worst, the specialist says.


Your goal now is to attempt to manage to minimize effects of the diseases in the future. Hopefully Mother Nature will be the ultimate regulator, not granting the fungus this type of season for another 35-plus years.