After a delayed planting, Mark Cudney had the window he needed to finish planting, and corn crop was up and going in seven to ten days. "The biggest challenge for us was the cool temperatures holding us up. It sure wasn't the moisture," Cudney says. Following the cool spring, with freezing temperatures into late March and early April, warmer temperatures in May have helped give the crop a boost. "The ground temperature warmed up, when it got to 97 degrees three days in a row, it really got things going."
With the help of warmer temperatures, the crop is on schedule. According to USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service's crop progress and condition report, Kansas corn planting across the state was 86% complete as of May 18, compared to 64% at that time last year, and the average of 82%. Corn emerged was at 52%, compared to 17% last year and an average of 47%.
Roller coaster of a spring
"It's kind of been a roller coaster," says Eric Blakeslee, agronomist for Stewart Seed, LLC in Washington, Kansas, which covers Washington County and part of Jefferson County, Nebraska. "This year the challenge was getting enough good, sunny, warm days to get that soil temperature around 50 degrees to where they could get it up and emerged."
The small amount of rain that fell on many parts of central and eastern Kansas followed by the warmer temperatures in early May gave the crop a boost, says Blakeslee. "Around here, all the corn went into really good conditions, all of it planted really nice," he adds. "In our area, we've got good moisture about two inches in the ground. That's really going to get the corn going."
The crop was hit with temperatures as low as 28 degrees the night of Friday, May 16, but Blakeslee says fortunately, there wasn't a lot of damage. "The corn is starting to come back out of it. It's going to take a few more days," he says. "For the most part, the corn was young enough it shouldn't have any problems."
A good start
Cudney, who finished planting corn the last week of April, got a boost from timely rains and as well as in-furrow 6-24-6 starter fertilizer with a small amount of zinc to give the seed a good start, along with Ascend to stimulate root growth.
In-furrow applications make phosphorus available at an early stage when it's needed for root growth, Blakeslee says. "When that seed is small, you need to get the roots growing. Phosphorus is there, he's applying more as a starter to get those roots going. It's going to develop those seminal roots off that feed reserve," he explains. "The seed itself has enough food reserves to start that seedling off to a certain point, after that all those reserves go away so it needs some nutrients to start off on its root growth."
Most corn in his area is emerged and at V3. However, Blakeslee adds, "We're going to need quite a bit more moisture as this corn gets going." "It's usually around V5 when corn ear size is determined, if there's a lot of stress on the plant then, it's going to decrease the size of that ear," he says. "If we get good moisture and a good growing season, there could be a good crop."
New technology, new endeavors
As farmers in Washington County have upgraded equipment and technology, they have more opportunities to take advantage of technology like variable-rate seeding, including Cudney, who is trying it for the first time next year.
"I get a few more customers every year interested in it," Blakeslee notes. "With the rising costs in the seed, fertilizer, fuel, everything associated with farming is increasing every year. If growers can put their inputs into that field as accurately as possible by saving seed or fuel, I think toward harvest, they're going to get a better yield because that population is going to be more accurate for their soil type."
Being able to plant higher populations on productive acres, and place less emphasis on less productive acres, growers can increase yields while saving money on inputs. "On fields that vary a lot, I've gone anywhere from 18,000 to 26,000, depending on how the ground lays," Blakeslee says. "If you would cut it down the middle and use 22,000, it would be too much for the tough dryland areas, and on the bottom ground, you wouldn't see the full yield potential. By adjusting the rate on those specific spots, it makes the corn yield that much better."