Dr. Ron Heiniger, NC State Research and Extension corn specialist, drew a large number of growers at his research presentation at the Joint Commodity Conference in Durham last week. Inarguably, 2011 was a tough year for corn and Heiniger says that his research plots revealed some valuable data regarding growing corn in dry years:
“I think you start to see which components are important to you. Hybrids. Huge opportunity but it’s got to be placed with the right components to work for you. Population. That’s your second-best opportunity and the risk is low, so that’s something that I’d consider every time, and that’s why I talk about population. Third; Starter fertilizer has the next biggest bang, but it’s also the riskiest. If it doesn’t need it, you’re putting money in the ground, you wasting money that you’re not going to put in your pocket. So, all of these are adding to these costs, if I could put $107 out of the system, that helps my costs quite a bit.
So, those are the top three; the ones that we’ve seen, ESN, the fungicide look like they’re marginally….they help a little bit. If we’d had a better year, perhaps we could see if they had a better value, and we’ll certainly look at these, hopefully in a year where we get better rainfall, or certainly under irrigation.”
Heiniger says that in 2011 planting date played a big role in corn productivity:
“Early, or late was the best planting date. So, lets look quickly at what we should do in 2012, hybrid, most important, plant population, second, components, fine-tuning your system with those, some you have got other things you could add to this list, and we’ll certainly do that in the future. now is the defining moment, we’ve got to find our way forward if we’re going to expand corn production or be more productive on the good acres where we can grow corn year in and year out.”
As parts of the Carolinas showed us in 2011, corn can be grown profitably in drought conditions, but Heiniger says at least one timely rain is necessary to make a crop:
“We know corn’s ability to tolerate a lot of stress now days. I had a lot of farmers in 2010 and 2011 tell me ‘gosh I don’t know how I made that corn…we didn’t have any rain until finally I about gave up and had a rain or two, and I made 180 or 200 bushel corn. We don’t’ need much rain to make corn anymore, but we do need rain at some point and that point is about five days before tassling. If we could get rain then, your corn crop, in spit of all the bad it’s looked like can make some corn here.”
As always, Heiniger’s weather forecast is a fan favorite, and this is what he predicted for the 2012 growing season:
“I think in early year, we’re in La Nina, we’re going to repeat…it’s all de ja vu, we’re going to repeat 2010 or 2011 all over again….mild…why, I’m about to sweat out of this suit right now. Mild, it’s going to be a little dry all the way through February, into March and April, dry and mild. Very similar situation, we’re going to nip and tuck on rain. Then, we’re going to see a change, I think we’re going to end this La Nina period and come out of it with a bang, and that bang’s going to be colder weather, and it’s going to be wetter, and we’re going to continue that wet period in June on into July.
So, what’s this tell me about planting corn? This is a different year from last year, don’t plant late, plant early, because it’s going to turn warm and dry in late July and August. So, plant earlier this year, April corn is going to be good, May corn, less likely.”