No matter where you farm, you would be hard pressed to define '09 growing season as normal. Of course, you might be hard pressed to define 'normal.' The best answer is that for 2010, a 'normal' season won't be what unfolded in 2009!
What lessons, if any, came out of 2009? What questions did the season raise? Here are some observations. Thanks to Dave Nanda, an independent crops consultant,. Indianapolis, for helping nail down these conclusions and questions.
What we learned
#1- Given the right environment, corn yields go through the roof- It wasn't an accident that Beck's Hybrids broke 300 bushels per acre on their special 300-bushel per acre challenge plot for the third year in a row. The weather favored corn production.
#2- Corn likes cool weather- reaffirmed- Much of the crop was planted well after prime planting dates and it was the coolest July ever in the Eastern Corn Belt. Yet records approached record levels. Corn likes it cool- to a point.
#3- Still need grain dryers!- The string of falls where many dryers were never turned on ended abruptly. Advanced genetics resulting in better dry-down have helped a lot, but if Mother Nature throws a curve, high grain moisture is still an obstacle.
#4- All hybrids aren't created equal- Bob Nielsen, Purdue University, studies results of university hybrid trials in Indiana. After some quick calculations, he concluded that picking the right hybrid is still the number one way ot make more money in corn.
#5- Pests don't read textbooks- Western bean cutworm is supposedly a pest of western and northwestern states. This year it moved quickly across the top third of Indiana, and was spotted in Allen County on the far eastern edge of the state, and not just on sands. And triple-stacks without the Herculex rootworm gene didn't stop it.
Concerns raised by 2009
#1- Planters don't walk on water- If Mother Nature elects to do so, she can still bring field progress to a halt. Planting was delayed by a significant margin across much fo the Corn Belt.
#2- There's a wrong day to plant every year- You just don't know when it is until after the fact! This year in the Eastern Corn Belt it was around May 8-10. Corn planted in that window struggled to emerge. Much of ti revolves around weather conditions after planting.
#3- Seemingly minor traits make big difference- Keeping ears upright into harvest so they won't risk dropping is a good thing, right? Not when ear molds are attacking big time. Hybrids which held ears upright longer tended to be more susceptible to ear molds.
#4- Disease pressure changes as weather changes- Signals from the weather as to which diseases should take off kept switching. Gray leaf spot was spreading early, before pollination, because conditions favored it. Then the mild 'winter' of July came, and gray leaf spot withered. When conditions turned favorable for it later, it returned, but typically too late to cause much yield damage.
#5- Population, row width question will take time to unravel- There are already reports circulating that twin rows did well, twin rows weren't any better and yet twin rows were better at high populations. Which do you believe? The truth, Nanda says, is that multiple tests over multiple years will be needed to create enough environments to determine how corn responds to twin rows, plus or minus, and at what populations.