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The Pollination Period

March 9, 2013
By: Darrell Smith, Farm Journal Conservation and Machinery Editor

Hybrid selection and scouting increase success

The management you lavish on a crop during its pollination window is time well spent. "Besides planting, pollination is one of the most crucial parts of corn production," says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie says. "If you don’t get good pollination, everything else you do will be wasted."

Pollination Period p14

After planting, pollination is the most crucial element to high yield. Scout the crop early to identify areas where pollination problems are most likely to occur.

Pollination management begins long before plants shoot tassels. Hybrid selection is the first step, followed by disciplined scouting from planting through pollination.

Widen the window. The easiest way to reduce pollination problems is to lengthen the period during which your crop pollinates. By doing so, you reduce the chance that all your hybrids will be caught by a week of bad weather. "A prolonged wet spell can be just as harmful as a week of hot, dry weather," Ferrie notes. "During lengthy wet periods, corn tassels might fail to open and drop their pollen."

Diversifying the pollination window also makes scouting easier. "You need to check each field at least once a week when the corn is pollinating," Ferrie says. "If you have 3,000 acres of corn all pollinating at the same time, getting through every field on schedule will be pretty difficult."

You can lengthen your pollination window by planting hybrids with different physiological maturity and different flowering dates. You need to know both, Ferrie says, because two hybrids of the same physiological maturity might have different flowering dates. Your seed salesperson can provide flowering date information.

Although flowering and physiological maturity dates are important, always put yield first. "Choose high-yielding genetics first, and then select other characteristics," Ferrie says. "Pick hybrids that fit your soil type, fertility situation, disease pressure and insect problems. Finally, make sure you have a range of flowering dates."

You can also lengthen the pollination window by staggering your planting date. That’s easier to do in areas such as the High Plains of Texas, where spring rain, frost and heat are less likely than in areas such as the northern Corn Belt where rain and frost can stall planting, and in the Mississippi Delta where heat is an issue.

"Using both days to flowering and a staggered planting date is ideal," Ferrie says. "But if you have a short planting window, diversifying your flowering date might be your only option."

Resist the urge to plant all your corn as quickly as possible, unless you’re forced to by weather. "Many farmers are equipped to plant their entire corn crop in about seven days, and that’s good," Ferrie says. "But try to spread those seven days throughout the optimum planting period."

Have a strategy. Plan where and when you will plant each hybrid. "Plant early maturing hybrids first and later-maturing hybrids last," Ferrie recommends. "If you don’t, all your corn will pollinate in the same window.

"Even if planting season gets hectic, take time to document changes to your plan," Ferrie adds. "You will need to know which hybrids are in each field to effectively scout."

Based on long-term weather averages, estimate when each hybrid will start to pollinate. "Clear your schedule, or make sure an employee or crop consultant is available, to scout your fields during pollination," Ferrie says.

Scout from the start. Early season growth determines when pollination occurs. "Early season scouting tells you where to scout for problems after pollination begins, so you can react in time to prevent yield loss," Ferrie says.

"Early on, look for clues about how the crop is going to pollinate within individual fields," Ferrie says. "If you have growth and development problems in certain areas, map them as zones to scout later, during pollination.

"For example, in cold, wet seasons, plants in low-lying areas might emerge slowly and fall behind the plants in other parts of the field," he explains.

"At this point, you haven’t neces-sarily lost any yield, but it’s as if the low areas had been planted later. You might get frost in low-lying ground or high, well-drained areas might be too dry. During pollination, these areas will require scouting for a longer period because the flowering date will be later than the rest of the field," Ferrie says.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - March 2013



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