Around the Farm – Short rainfall, short corn

Posted: July 17, 2023

What a spring and summer this has been!

We started planting corn on May 5th with some pretty decent conditions. As planting progressed it got drier and drier, and we had to start chasing moisture with the planter. While we had planned to wait to plant our transitional soybeans in June, we started the 23rd of May hoping there was enough moisture to get the crop to start growing.

From the start of planting until the last week in June we got 0.6 inches of rain – in most years we would have had between three to six inches of rain during that same period. The incredibly dry weather has had some concerning effects on the crop.

The corn has been incredibly slow to grow. Normally we would have corn that is six foot tall or better by early July. This year our tallest corn is about four foot tall. We expect that when the corn is fully grown it will be the shortest corn crop that we have had in a long time.

What we don’t know and won’t know for another month and a half is what the effect of lack of moisture will have on yields. Some of our corn planted later in May is really struggling with growth, where the roots were not able to develop in moisture before it dried out.

Even with recent rains it may be too late to avoid a large yield reduction in some of those fields. My hope is that with good July weather the early planted corn can still do pretty decent. The fields that look like they have potential will get a side-dress pass of nitrogen to try to give them a boost as we get closer to tassel.

We struggled with our soybean germination in dry ground, thus the soybeans also have been slow to grow. The dry weather made creating a good seedbed a challenge for our tillage tool. We had a lumpy hard seedbed which made it hard for the planter to maintain good depth leading to uneven germination.

The benefit of the dry weather has been that weeds have been slow to grow as well, and we have been able to stay ahead of them as we learn how to control them with iron instead of herbicides. The first pass we took was with our rotary hoe which was a fun pass to take at high speeds, but we learned a lot of lessons for next spring.

Our first pass row crop cultivating has been a steep learning curve. We had tons of issues with corn residue plugging, making us realize we have to do way a better job of residue management in the fall. We also learned that field cultivator sweeps and row crop cultivator sweeps are not the same and not interchangeable. After we switched to the right sweeps cultivating went well; we realized we could run tighter to the row with our guidance systems. So hopefully that will let us take out a few more weeds as we do second and third passes.

We hope that with a wetter July and August and cooler weather, this crop year can still be good. But either way the lessons we learned this year will make for changes in the coming years.