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August 2010 Archive for Ask an Agronomist

RSS By: Farm Journal Agronomists, Farm Journal

Have your agronomic questions answered by a Farm Journal agronomist. E-mail us directly at, and we’ll respond on this blog to provide an interactive dialogue.

How Well Do Seed Firmers Work?

Aug 31, 2010

Question: I have a quick question about using seed firmers. They say you don't need them, and I sometimes think they affect the seed spacing somewhat. Was just wondering what your feeling is on this?

Answer: The job of a seed firmer is to help achieve uniform planting depth and good seed-to-soil contact. There are two important things to keep in mind when running seed firmers. The first is to be sure your planter is running level. You can check this by placing a level on the main tool bar and have someone walk along the planter while you are planting in the field to ensure the bubble stays in the level position. You can adjust planter levelness by raising or lowering your hitch height. If your planter is not running level, you could have problems with seed firmers. The second thing is to pay attention to moisture conditions if you are also running an in-furrow fertilizer with your seed firmer. You do not want soil to build up on the firmer; in fit soil conditions this should not be a problem. However, they do make a low-profile seed firmer to help with this issue. As long as the planter is running level in the field and wet conditions and in-furrow fertilizer are not causing soil to build up on the firmer, then we have been very successful running seed firmers. We have seen a good improvement in the uniformity of planting depth. Remember, a one-fourth inch variation in planting depth can often be the difference between a good ear and a non-harvestable ear.
The planting process for corn is an important factor contributing to the quality of the crop you’ll see at harvest.
This blog is provided as an interactive way for you to have your questions answered by our Farm Journal Agronomists. E-mail your nitrogen, soil fertility, soil density, planter set up, scouting, and other questions to

How do I address pinch-row compaction in my fields?

Aug 26, 2010

Question: How do I address pinch-row compaction in my fields?

Answer: Pinch-row compaction results when soil next to a row is crushed by a heavy tractor or planter wheel, restricting a root’s growing space. Because of the wet spring, and the use of heavier tractors and center-fill planters, we’ll probably see quite a bit of this problem this fall, especially in fields where conventional tillage is used because the ground is softer, enabling the compaction to go deeper. But it can be a problem in no-till and strip-till, too. I recommend adopting some type of tillage game plan for this fall. You need to get all the way underneath the compacted layer and lift it up. You need to do that without subjecting your soil to wind or water erosion or violating your highly erodible land conservation plan. The more aggressive your vertical-tillage tool, the more soil you fracture, the faster you will fix the problem. But the more aggressive your tillage, the less residue you will leave on the surface. It’s a trade-off. If you’re working in soybean residue, you need to be especially sensitive. Use an in-line ripper or a chisel plow with straight points, rather than twisted shanks, to maintain as much surface residue as possible. In corn residue, with shallow compaction, a coulter chisel may be all you need. If compaction is deep—if you tracked or rutted up the soil enough to require filling in the ruts last spring—you may need a disk ripper.


This blog is provided as an interactive way for you to have your questions answered by our Farm Journal Agronomists. E-mail your nitrogen, soil fertility, soil density, planter set up, scouting, and other questions to

What Is Corn Ear Tip Back?

Aug 20, 2010

Question: What causes corn tip back? I’ve been hearing that phrase quite a bit lately. 

Answer: Unfortunately, we’re hearing about and seeing quite a bit of tip back, too. It means that corn pollination wasn’t fully successful, so the tips of the ears were unable to fill with kernels or were aborted. Either way, the result is lower yields than what might have been possible under better conditions. A variety of stresses can contribute to this problem, and it just depends on the year. This year, I believe two of the main culprits are a lack of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, some of which may have been leached by rains earlier in the season, and the high temperatures a lot of the Midwest has encountered over the past four to six weeks. Insects, disease and drought can also contribute to the problem.
The main factors affecting nitrogen loss are weather, temperature and drainage.
This blog is provided as an interactive way for you to have your questions answered by our Farm Journal Agronomists. E-mail your nitrogen, soil fertility, soil density, planter set up, scouting, and other questions to

Sudden Death Syndrome Affects 2010 Soybean Crop

Aug 18, 2010

Question: We have something in our beans called sudden death syndrome.  What is it?  How will it affect that crop? Can anything be done about it? How fast and how long does it spread? 

Answer: Sudden death syndrome (SDS) is a really nasty fungal disease. A lot of the Midwest experienced cool, wet weather at planting and through the early part of the growing season, and these factors probably helped contribute to the development of SDS in your fields. Some varieties are more susceptible than others, and agronomic factors also will play a role in how severely your crop ends up being affected. The ultimate impact on a soybean crop in a given field can vary between limited yield loss to loss that reaches nearly 100 percent. Foliar symptoms tend to progress very quickly, thus the name sudden death. At this point in the season, you can expect to see infected plants with roots that are rotting near the crown. Infected plants also tend to be very easy to pull up by hand. I would encourage you to send some of the infected soybean plants—roots and all—to your local university extension disease clinic or consulting agronomist to evaluate and confirm that SDS is what you’re dealing with. There’s not much you can do this year to remedy the situation, unfortunately. For 2011, look into using SCN-resistant varieties and/or rotating to non-host crops. If you use conservation tillage practices, consider pulling out the moldboard plow. Good soil drainage and delayed planting can also help.

Should I Chop Flooded Corn Stalks?

Aug 13, 2010


We have several acres flooded by river water that’s been over the ears for four days. Over the past week I have noticed that the ears are starting to rot from both ends. The corn is at the half-milk line, and I think that I should chop stalks and all before they rot any further. I am concerned with the nitrate levels in the stalks as well. What would you advise?
Corn that is subject to flooding should not accumulate high levels of nitrates. High levels of nitrates in the stalk are usually a problem in drought-stressed corn. In the absence of proper ear development, typical of extended dry periods, the nitrates accumulate in the lower stalk. Since the nitrates will be a higher concentration in the lower part of the stalk, you can chop the stalks a little higher than normal if you’re concerned. It’s recommended that under high nitrate levels you leave at least a 12-inch stalk at harvest. In my opinion, a bigger concern is ear molds. Some ear molds can produce mycotoxins. Be sure to test your silage for mycotoxin levels before feeding.

Will Replanted Corn Make it to Maturity?

Aug 10, 2010

Question: What is the likelihood of these corn fields I replanted making it to maturity prior to a killing frost?

Answer: It depends on a number of things, including the hybrid maturity, date of planting and average date of your first frost. Several years ago, Purdue University collaborated on field research that investigated the effects of delayed planting on the Growing Degree Day (GDD) needs of different hybrid maturities. That research indicates delayed planting actually decreases hybrid GDD requirements from planting to maturity. According to the Purdue study, after May 1, the number of GDDs from planting to kernel black layer (physiological maturity) decreased by about 6.8 GDDs per day. In other words, a hybrid that normally requires 2700 GDDs from planting to maturity would require slightly less than 2500 GDDs if planted on May 31 rather than May 1 (30 days of planting X 6.8 GDD-2700). Purdue University corn specialist Bob Nielsen reports that hybrids commonly grown throughout his state will mature safely when planted throughout most of the month of May. However, things get sketchy when planting is delayed further as the ever-shortening growing season finally exceeds the fuller season hybrids' abilities to adjust their developmental GDD needs. I hope this gives you a guideline on what to anticipate this fall.  Let us know how you make out.
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High Winds Snap Susceptible Corn Stalks

Aug 01, 2010
Question: I’ve got some stalk breakage in my corn because of storms that rolled through here last week. This isn’t a problem I normally see. Any suggestions?
Answer: I’m not sure where you’re located, but since this problem isn’t something you normally see, I’m going to guess you’re somewhere east of Illinois? This issue, called green snap, is fairly common in those states that experience thunderstorms containing high winds. Corn that is in the pre-tasseling stage, when it’s rapidly growing, seems most vulnerable to strong winds no matter where you’re located. Also, some hybrids are more affected by high winds than others. If yield loss is significant—and you’ll know for sure at harvest—ask your seed provider about other hybrid options for 2011. Another thought: using growth regulator herbicides like 2,4-D late in the season or when temperatures are high have also been associated with snapped stalks. Review your agronomic practices from this year and jot down some notes to refer to so you can make adjustments, if need be, next season.

This blog is provided as an interactive way for you to have your questions answered by our Farm Journal Agronomists. E-mail your nitrogen, soil fertility, soil density, planter set up, scouting, and other questions to

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