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CropTech: Take Stock of Stalks

March 12, 2011

Take Stock of Stalks

F11113Cornstalks just aren’t what they used to be. While they’re still an inexpensive way to graze cattle, producers are now reporting that stock doesn’t fare as well on today’s stalks.

Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Exten-sion forage specialist, says the changes started a few decades ago when modern combines became more efficient at collecting grain.  Harvest losses usually run around 2% or less today, compared with around 4% or more in days gone by. Less grain left in the field means cows will need supplemented feed earlier.

Today’s stalks may also be less nutritious, Anderson says. Modern hybrids draw more nutrients out of the stalk and into the kernel. He adds that hybrids which have been genetically modified to resist insects and reduce lodging produce stalks that may be less palatable and provide fewer digestible nutrients.

Today’s cows are larger and need more forage—and often more supplementation—than the smaller cows of yesteryear. "A quarter section of stalks won’t carry as many cows as it once did," Anderson says. "Even when stocking adjustments are made, if supplements aren’t also adjusted, cow performance may suffer."

Scout Like a Master

Most farmers are just having their first cup of coffee when Charlie Hinkebein is heading to the field to look for whatever insect might be eating his crops. The Chaffee, Mo., farmer is a perennial corn and soybean yield contest winner. He says the recipe to achieve 100-bu. soybean and 300-bu. corn yields includes an aggressive pest scouting program.

"I usually head to the field before 5 a.m.," Hinkebein says. "It seems like that’s when bugs and worms come out and start moving around.

"In my experience, insects crawl up under leaves or even go underground during the heat of the day. It requires the use of drop cloths and some real shaking to find what’s out there after midday," he says.

Typically, he’s hunting for soybean aphids and bean leaf beetles. A tough new nemesis—the

red-banded stink bug—showed up this past year.

Insecticides are an important part of Hinkebein’s yield-winning recipe, but scouting is still a requirement. Windshield surveys don’t cut it.

Hinkebein personally scouts each of his fields at least twice and sometimes three times a week during the growing season.

His other secret to yield success is test plots. Hinkebein devotes about 250 acres to testing new corn and soybean varieties each year.

Fungicide Timing Matters

Fungicide spraying has become an effective way to control corn leaf disease and protect yields. The debate the past few years has revolved around when to apply fungicides.

Many fungicide labels prohibit applications sooner than VT (full tassel). However, University of Illinois plant pathologist Carl Bradley says, some companies have begun encouraging an earlier foliar fungicide application in the V4 to V6 crop stage.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - March 2011

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