What We’ve Learned (So Far) in 2018

When I think about this year’s harvest, the word “struggle” comes to mind. Around the second week of October, we were just coming out of the longest wet spell I had ever seen in my career. Many have struggled to get this large 2018 crop out, but hopefully you’ve made some great progress by the time you read our newsletter.

For me, 2018 will be remembered as the year of extremes, particularly in temperature and moisture. Just when we thought the rivers were going to flow at normal levels after a dry July, they overflowed during the monsoons of September and October. But, we were still able to grow a very large crop. Where did it come from?

Planting conditions: Nothing beats a good seed bed.
Spring started off a little slow due to cold temperatures in March and early April, combined with untimely rains. However, once the rain stopped and field conditions improved, the planters were able to roll. For the most part, the crop was planted in ideal soil conditions and got off to a great start.

Dicamba: It works, but you have to manage it.
After the 2017 release, new regulations were placed on the application of dicamba on dicamba-tolerant soybeans to prevent off-target injury to other crops. While these regulations required more management, we were able to successfully apply dicamba on a number of soybean acres and see outstanding weed control. This success was attributed to increased training, increased dicamba-tolerant soybean acres and a favorable application window in terms of wind speed and moisture.

With increased weed control, we expect dicamba acres to increase in 2019; however, we do not expect the perfect application window we had in 2018. Our recommendation is to plan on spraying your dicamba field in early 2019. Do not wait for weeds to become big and numerous. Waiting to apply could decrease your level of control and possibly put you out of the application window for dicamba, forcing you to a different chemistry with a lower level of weed control.

Nitrogen management is all season long.
We saw excessive rain in June, September and October. Each of these moisture events depleted the nitrogen available in the oil. While the September and October precipitation did not have a large effect on yield, the June rains did. By June, much of the nitrogen that had been applied in the spring or fall had converted to nitrate, which was easily leached from the field. The areas that saw significant leaching also saw limited yield potential due to nitrogen loss.

With the variability in weather patterns, especially rainfall, we recommend a planned approach to your nitrogen program in 2019. This includes using a nitrogen stabilizer, split-application, monitoring nitrate levels through soil and tissue testing and using management tools like Climate.

Fungicides: To spray or not to spray, that is the question.
Variable weather patterns also made for tough decisions about fungicide application. July started wet but quickly turned hot and dry. With most corn and soybean leaf diseases being prevalent in humid conditions, the decision to spray was forgone to save on input cost. Fast forward to a humid August, followed by a wet September and an October that prevented harvest for the first half of the month.

In addition to the delayed harvest, there were corn crops falling apart with stalk diseases. Many of these diseases started in the leaf and worked into the stalk as the plant matured. However, there were also fields that stood very well throughout harvest. While a fungicide application does not guarantee corn will not go down, we found fungicide had typically been applied to the best standing fields. The fungicide prevented leaf disease, which led to a healthier plant (including stalks).

For 2019, we recommend a planned plant health approach to corn and soybeans. While soybeans show ROI year after year, you can be more strategic with corn. When making your fungicide decision for corn, consider crop rotation, hybrid disease ratings and stalk strength ratings.

Though the 2018 weather pattern may not happen again for 100 years, please take note of how the crop responded to these extremes. This year’s weather definitely pushed our efficiencies in planting, spraying, nitrogen management, disease management and (last but not least) harvest. Make sure you’ve made the right adjustments to your 2019 crop plan based on these lessons.

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