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Are There Breaks in the Clouds in This Tough Planting Season?

By Jonathan Eisenthal

Farmers, farm professionals, students and scientists packed the meeting room at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca on Tuesday. They came to hear research results directly applicable to the average farmer’s row-crop production. They also came seeking work arounds to help crops already embattled by an ongoing deluge of water this spring.

As of June 16, 93% of Minnesota’s corn crop had emerged—five points behind typical progress, according to the latest USDA estimate. USDA rates 26% of the crop in fair condition, 3% is poor, while a little more than half in in good condition, and 17% is considered excellent at this point.

“This was the third wettest May in Minnesota on record,” Tom Hoverstad said. The SROC Agronomist will retire this year after four decades of helping Minnesota farmers maximize their crop production. Weatherwise, he was not there to report any good news. “Statistically, June is the wettest month of the year. We’ve had five inches of rain so far and we are on track to get at least two more inches.”

It’s not just the totals, but the timing of the rain that has proved a steep challenge for many farmers. In a typical year, rains are periodic, with pauses that serve as nice windows for getting into the fields to plant, and then apply herbicide and fertilizer at the right times. This year, there were only two main planting windows for corn, one from April 13-15, and a second one later in the month. Many farm operators looked at forecasts of a cold snap arriving around April 18, and decided not to plant, leaving them with only the one window in late April. Then, attempts to finish strung out through the month of May, often one day at a time between the frequent rainstorms.

Hoverstad reported that, due to the timing of planting, and rains the that followed, many farmers have found their corn crops are emerging unevenly, as the young plants tried to break through top of the soil. Many farmers tried rotary hoeing to alleviate crusting problems and were able to increase emergence by a couple thousand plants per acre.

“Our corn isn’t quite as healthy as it should be,” Hoverstad said. “I’m not so sure that (the plants growth) stages are way behind, but the plants themselves don’t look normal in filling out the rows. Soybeans seem to be in the same situation.”

Hoverstad said farmers need to focus on when they can apply post-emergence herbicide. Again, the timing of the rain has brought all sorts of challenges, from limiting the ability of producers to use pre-emergence weed control, to the uneven and late emergence meaning a longer period until corn achieves canopy closure—sunlight hitting the soil leaves a bigger opening for weeds to take hold. Usually, one avoids weed control applications in July, to not run afoul of the effective period of the herbicide.

One particular weed, waterhemp, will present a challenge for many farmers this year, due in part to weed control application timing issues. In fields planted after May 17, many will be good candidates even now for an application of post emergence controls. Atrazine in particular is one control that can be effective for the later planted fields, where the crops haven’t exceeded the 12-inch height restriction yet. It’s a control that is used sparingly, at a typical rate of one pint per acre.

“Layering a residual herbicide will be a good strategy, with this wet year, and the slow growth (of the crop),” Hoverstad advised. He mentioned that a number of post emergence herbicides can be used safely until later growth stages—V7 for glufosinate, V8 for glyphosate and V10 for some other broad-spectrum herbicides.

Coulter also gave the one real bright spot to farmers looking at fields checkered with patches of yellow corn and bare spots, with uneven stands.

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