Most farmers are intent on getting ready to plant corn this spring. But as you prepare, keep in mind that another very important aspect of the production process is the pollination period for corn. In fact, if you don’t get good pollination, everything else you do will be wasted, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie.
The easiest way to reduce pollination problems in any season 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, for instance. 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. 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, 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. While you probably already have your hybrids in hand, keep in mind it’s best to choose high-yielding genetics first, and then select other characteristics. 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. 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. But try to spread those seven days throughout the optimum planting period.
Plan where and when you will plant each hybrid. Plant early-maturing hybrids first and later-maturing hybrids last. If you don’t, all your corn will pollinate in the same window.
Even if planting season gets hectic, take time to document any changes to your plan. You will need to know which hybrids are in each field to effectively scout.
Based on your long-term weather averages, you can 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.
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.
Here are several other good reasons to scout.
The possibility of another dry season makes it even more important to scout your corn crop early and often. In 2012, we could tell by the second week of July that some fields were not going to pollinate at all. Ferrie says he wouldn’t have thought that possible with today’s genetics, but that’s how bad the growing season was in some areas.
By making that discovery early, growers who had over-sold corn had time to react and buy back their contracts. Also, if you see a disaster looming, you can take photos to document that weather was the cause of poor pollination. The pictures will prove you did not fail to follow Best Management Practices by not applying an insecticide to prevent silk clipping.
It’s a good idea to notify your insurance agent as soon as you see a problem developing. That becomes especially important if a problem is localized, rather than affecting an entire county.
Block out time for pollination scouting. Summer is a busy time, and the press of other activities sometimes causes farmers to neglect crop scouting just when it’s most important, during pollination. Scouting during pollination lets you monitor silk-clipping insects, whose impact might be determined by varying plant maturity within a field.