COLUMBUS, Ohio - Despite early season wet weather, late season drought and stalk lodging issues caused by diseases, Ohio's corn crop is producing better-than-expected yields.
Peter Thomison, an Ohio State University agronomist, said preliminary reports of yields throughout parts of the state place average yields behind last year's record-breaking harvest of 147 bushels per acre (bu/A), but ahead of the five-year average of 132 bu/A. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting Ohio's yield average at 139 bu/A.
"Given some of the extreme weather conditions in parts of the state, we are surprised that the corn crop has held up and that yields in some areas are really good," said Thomison. "I think that points to the improvements that have been made in hybrids that maintain good stalk quality and yield stability. That may not sound very comforting for the farmer whose crop is face down on the field right now, but the stalk quality that hybrids provide today is still much better than it has been in the past." Sixty-one percent of the crop has been harvested so far, with the USDA reporting 54 percent of the crop in good to excellent condition. Early yield reports from farmers throughout the state have been all over the board, from a mere 38 bu/A in parts of one field in north central Ohio to 150-226 bu/A being reported throughout west and northwest Ohio.
"We've been hearing very good yields in parts of the state that received adequate moisture even though the north and northeast parts of the state are seeing below-average numbers," said Thomison. "Where in the past lodging problems were more or less localized, I think this year those problems are more common across the state." It seems everything but the proverbial kitchen sink has been thrown at this year's corn crop. Though the south and southwest regions of the state received ample rainfall - 10 inches more than northern Ohio and 5 inches above the normal regional average - an early-season cool, damp period did its best to damage roots, cause nitrogen deficiencies and prevent the plants from fully recovering when it came time to supply the needed carbohydrates to fill the grain. "At the end of the season there were some big ears on the plants, but not much there to support them," said Thomison.
The north and northeast regions of the state didn't fare any better. The early-season cool snap was immediately followed by long spells of dry, hot conditions. The result was the same - poor root systems, followed by nitrogen deficiencies and lack of sufficient grain filling. "When you've got those kinds of environmental stresses, it's not surprising that the crop is in a weakened condition." Such a weakened state does little for a crop that is also facing severe stalk lodging problems created by diseases, like anthracnose, brought about by the variable environmental conditions. "I don't think we've had lodging problems of this magnitude in recent years," said Thomison. "The focus of our attention this fall has been stalk quality issues." Stalk lodging basically causes the plant to fall down since the disease causes rotting inside of the stalk making it difficult for the plant to support itself. Stalk lodging has been associated with yield losses since farmers are unable to harvest corn ears that have fallen on the ground.
Recent heavy winds throughout parts of the state have made stalk lodging a more serious problem. "The best thing a farmer can probably do right now is harvest his corn as quickly as possible," said Thomison. "Get out there and prioritize fields. Pinch stalks near the soil and see how much lodging potential there is. Don't leave corn out in the field any longer than you have to."