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Prioritize Plant Health from Start to Finish to Advance Yields

WESTFIELD, Ind. (Oct. 18, 2023) – Late-season plant health is critical to a smooth harvest and maximizing yield potential. It’s not something that just “happens.” Keeping your corn crop healthy all the way to harvest takes planning, hybrid selection, fertility management and fungicide.

“It’s an investment that pays off — especially in challenging years,” says AgriGold Agronomist Jeff Morey. In years when drought and heat stress the crop, he has witnessed a 10- to 20-bushel-an-acre advantage.

Late-season plant health starts with hybrid selection
Plant health should influence farmers’ corn hybrid decisions. “Farmers with a lot of acres to combine need that corn plant standing well into October. They should look for genetics with good late-season plant health, stalk quality and standability,” Morey advises. “You’ll find those ratings in our seed guide.”

“A fungicide application is a must for hybrids with lower plant health ratings and on disease-prone acres,” he adds. “You’ll also want to make sure you have good fertility, including getting nitrogen into those plants when they need it.”

Fungicide’s ability to improve standability at harvest has made them popular in Morey’s Iowa territory. “Farmers recognize the need for fungicides and genetics with strong plant health to ensure the plant is standing later in the season,” he says.

Recognize disease can be a lingering threat
Stalk health issues can date back to the start of the growing season. “The longer corn takes to emerge, the more potential for disease to infect the plant,” Morey explains. “If infection occurs early and the environment is right, disease can have an immediate impact on yield.”

If the environment is not conducive, a plant can be infected early in the season with no immediate impact. However, that doesn’t mean the threat goes away.

“A crop may look healthy for much of the season, leading a farmer to opt against a fungicide application,” Morey says. “But if late-season drought stresses the crop or nitrogen runs low, the disease that infected the plant early in the season can flare, degrading stalk quality and harvestability.”

The lesson is twofold:

  1. Think twice before bypassing a fungicide application.
  2. Don’t rush planting.

“If you’re able to plant your crop within a 10-day window, don’t rush,” Morey says. “There’s no need to push planting earlier if it means fighting wet, cool conditions that can translate to yield loss and standability issues come harvest.”

Additional considerations for corn-on-corn and no-till acres
Farmers with corn-on-corn or no-till acres should be especially vigilant regarding disease threats. “These acres are subject to more disease pressure, so farmers should make sure to choose hybrids with good plant health,” Morey says.

Traits with good corn rootworm protection, such as Duracade®, SmartStax® and SmartStaxPro®, are also important on these vulnerable acres.

Don’t fret about a later harvest
There is still discussion about whether applying fungicide to a 108-day relative maturity hybrid will make it act more like a 110-day. That is a possibility, Morey says. “But if you have a green plant that stayed healthy to the end of the season, it should pay off in yield. It also tends to lead to a decent dry down.”

Morey asks, “If it’s going to dry down and stand in the field, what’s your concern?” Plus, extending the growing season has soil health benefits. He points out, “The best thing for soil health is to have plants growing on it.”

Take stock at harvest and plan for next season
Morey encourages farmers to keep a notepad handy throughout harvest. “Keep record of how products fared in terms of plant health,” he says. “When harvest wraps up, talk with your agronomist and see if your experience matched what they heard from other farmers. Then use that to make decisions that work well for your farm next season.”

For more support choosing hybrids that will thrive from emergence until the combines roll, reach out to your local AgriGold agronomist.

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