I have been driving all across the Wheat Growers territory in the recent weeks, and as corn is drying down toward harvest, many fields look, well, a little UGLY to me. The corn in some areas looks good, but in others, it is simply not drying with the nice, light tan, almost bleached “look” that we are used to seeing. The plants have an odd “dark tan” color to them- in an odd pattern, or may even be showing a fair amount of purple color. In addition, I have found some stalk rots appearing in the area. These are interrelated factors.

So, what happened? This is simply the plant responding to the environment this year- essentially “playing the hand it was dealt”. In essence, it boils down to this: During the hot spell this summer, the very warm nights caused corn plants to reallocate sugars earlier than normal, which can potentially cause stalk problems. The plants started to “rob” the lower stalk to supply the demand for the developing ear. This reallocation happens in our plants every year, but warm nights and drought caused reallocation to start earlier than is ideal. Foliar diseases like Goss’s wilt, which appeared later in the season, only added to stresses on the corn plants. All of this adds together to raise the potential for a secondary disease like a stalk rots to appear…. and they have.

Why should you pay attention to this? Simply this: I believe it is absolutely imperative that we monitor fields very closely as harvest approaches. The primary reason is STALK QUALITY and to a lesser extent ear shank quality and the potential to 1) Drop ears- this is the obvious reason, but also 2) Lodge and affect harvestability. Slowing a combine down 10% (or more) reduces harvest efficiency, which is an added cost we want to avoid if we can.

This year was a different on in terms of how our corn allocated its resources. I do believe there are some decent corn yields out there. Watch those odd looking corn fields closely, assess your risk for stalk damage, keep an eye in the weather, put a pencil to operating costs and drying costs, and plan your harvest appropriately. Lastly, ALWAYS keep SAFETY in mind, especially as harvest gets rolling along!