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From the Rows, Western Tour, Day 2 (Terry Johnston)

August 24, 2011
By: Chip Flory, Pro Farmer Pro Farmer Editorial Director

From the Rows with Terry Johnston

It was sunny and warm today as we sampled fields in Southeast Nebraska from Grand Island to Nebraska City.

I know some areas need another shot of moisture, but it’s more enjoyable going in and out of the fields when you’re are not soaking wet. The drivers certainly appreciate scouts not dragging mud into their cars form fields.

As we traveled our routes today, the corn yields like yesterday were variable. A cool, wet spring along with hot daytime and nighttime temps has negatively impacted yields. We noted some plant health issues, we saw gray leaf spot and rust along with hail and green snap damage (although not to the extent reported yesterday). There was some insect pressure in the fields, nothing wide-spread but it has affected the yields. These factors combined lead to lower yields by reducing the size and the number of ears. Bottom line Nebraska ear counts are down 2% from last year. Although the length of the ear and kernel rows around impact yield, fewer ears equals lower yields.

The question is, "Why are ear counts lower than year-ago." I don't think there's a simple answer to that, but the cause of the problem probably goes back to the planting season. In April, soil temps rose steadily through the first couple of weeks of the month. By April 12, soil temps were encouraging growers to go ahead and stick some seed in the ground. (There was the warning of a cold front in the forecast... but you've got to plant when you can plant, right!?!)

After that, soil temps went on a rollercoaster ride and dropped below levels that would allow emergences for the next several days. Seed that was planted in the middle of April had to sit and wait for the right temp to emerge. That right there is "strike one" against ear pops for 2011.

The next problem came when soil temps warmed up... the forecast cleared up... and soils dried out enough to get back in the field. That was early May... and guys were feeling under the gun to get the crop planted. When they got in the field, they might have hurried through the planting season just a bit. (Remember the impressive increase in Nebraska and Iowa corn planting progress in just one week back in May? That probably didn't happen by driving 4.5 mph while pulling the planter!) That's strike two.

Strike three was delivered by Mother Nature. Too much water came too fast on a very short corn crop shortly after it emerged. Get a little dirt in the whirl and you can lose an ear.

The first two "strikes" resulted in staggered emergence of the corn crop in Nebraska. When emergence is staggered, on plant might emerge as much as a week behind the two seeds planted next to it. That means the late emerging plant is "late to the party." Not only that, it's neighbors are probably going to beat it up for most of the growing season and steal every thing that plant needs to make an ear. That's probably the big reason we saw some blank stalks and short ear counts in Nebraska this year.

Now... with that said, I don't want to make this sound like it's a yield-busting problem in Nebraska. We're talking about one or two blank stalks in some fields. A "big problem" was finding three blank stalks. But, that's enough to push the ear count down 2% from year-ago, contributing to the 2.9% drop in the Nebraska corn yield from 2010.

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