Dan Steward

Observations from the Field

Black cutworm numbers are high

Black cutworm numbers are high. There continue to be reports of high catch numbers of black cutworm (BCW) moths in pheromone traps throughout early May in the northeast. Early scouting of corn by WNYCMA staff confirm these warnings, as the larvae are around and actively feeding. Although cutworm can be present in any field, not all are at the same risk. The following are traits of fields that are at highest risk and should receive the most attention from farmers and agronomists:

  • Fields with a lot of trash, pack manure, winter annual weeds, or cover crops: As BCW moths arrive on the winds, they prefer to lay their eggs in fields where their offspring will have the best chance for success. High organic matter fields that are “dirty” with vegetation or trash are particularly susceptible.
  • No-till or minimum-till fields: Mold-board plowing buries the eggs deeper and when the larvae hatch, fewer survive to feed on corn plants.
  • Fields without a high rate of Poncho or Cruiser: One of the overlooked benefits of neonicotinoid seed treatments is that they suppress black cutworm. Although not foolproof, corn seed treated with the 500 or 1250 (0.5 to 1.25 mg/kernel) rates often see less severe feeding.
  • Fields without the Bt trait for BCW: Many GMO hybrids have a gene that produces a Bt trait that protects the young seedling against BCW. Your corn seed may have that trait even if you didn’t specifically ask for it. For example, hybrids with the suffix SS, AMXT or VT3, among others, express the trait. If you are not sure about a hybrid, google “Handy Bt Trait Table 2022” for an extensive list.
  • Fields without planter box insecticide: Force insecticide banded for rootworm control also helps to protect against black cutworm. Conversely, my experience has shown that In-furrow treatments of capture are not effective.

It will be especially important to scout for cutworms this year because of the seemingly high numbers of moths that have landed in the area. Responsive treatments of BCW with insecticides are highly effective, but it is important to catch the problem early, before stands are greatly reduced.

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Observations from the Field

Alfalfa weevil numbers are higher than normal.

Alfalfa weevil numbers are higher than normal. Areas that typically see a lot of weevils in the alfalfa are reporting numbers that need to be monitored as the second cutting starts to grow back. After harvest, check stubble and regrowth for signs of weevil feeding. If 50 percent of regrowth shows signs of weevil feeding, larvae are <3/8 inch long, and there are few or no weevil cocoons, the field may need to be treated with an insecticide.

Last fall’s management of alfalfa and grass had a large effect on stands this spring. If a farm took a late (October) cutting from their grass or alfalfa stands, they likely paid for it this spring. Although not limited to late cut fields, there was a lot of winter kill of alfalfa (root rot and heaving) which was exacerbated by aggressive cutting in the fall. Alfalfa builds carbohydrate root reserves in the fall. A cutting between mid-September and early October allows the alfalfa to start regrowing, sapping energy from the root. It is better to leave that last cutting or wait until after a frost so that alfalfa doesn’t start to regrow.

Late fall cut and poorly fertilized grass fields are lacking in density. October is an essential time for grass. It initiates the growth of new tillers for the following year. If a stand was not growing actively in the fall because a late cutting was taken or it was under-fertilized (especially with Potash), we can see it this spring.

A lot of farmers have been disappointed with their hay fields, especially when they compare them to what corn silage will yield. Taking care of stands correctly in the fall will help tremendously.

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Dos and Don’ts to coping with this year’s weather

Dos and Don’ts to coping with this year’s weather:

Time to Change Plans?

By, Dan Steward

Here we are well into May with a great deal of spring fieldwork yet to be done. Since things rarely seem to go as planned in farming, here are a few pointers to consider as you dodge raindrops to get the crops in.

Dos and Don’ts to coping with this year’s weather:

  • Don’t be inflexible. Your cropping plans for the year are just that: plans. Plans can always be changed based on new information. Here is some new information: rain seems to keep coming and the date on the calendar keeps getting later and later. This past winter was very hard on alfalfa stands on marginal ground. This was likely due to the wet weather starting in the fall and assisted by the freezing and thawing leading to heaving March. Now is a good time to evaluate your stands.

  • Do consider delaying seeding fields until the summer or next year. With very few seedings planted, this is a very viable option to consider. If you have not already fall-killed or rutted up the hay fields you planned on putting to corn, you may want to leave them in hay and not seed any fields. The other option is to summer seed fields. Fall-killed wet, heavy ground fields are also candidates for seeding instead of corn. The advantage to picking this strategy is that you decrease your spring fieldwork by a significant amount and likely keep the same hay yield potential on your farm. The disadvantage? It will set your rotation schedule back another year.

  • Do plan on applying nitrogen on grass stands. Many farmers were able to get nitrogen out on their grass fields without rutting up the fields too badly. Many did not. Assuming it gets dry enough to get across the fields in the next week, it will still pay to spread nitrogen. It is likely that some yield has already been lost due to the shortage of N. However, grass puts on the majority of its yields as it approaches maturity and will still respond to N. Keep your planned N rates the same. If the nitrogen is not taken up on this cutting, it will be available for the second cutting. If fields get dry enough, plan on applying N up to approximately May 10th. (Maybe even later if you are at a high elevation on wetter soils.)

  • Don’t put in your haylage too wet. Since this is not the first wet spring in the northeast, we can learn from the past. A similar year in the mid-90’s, the grass grew like you would expect in a wet year, but when it came time to harvest, it was still wet and overcast and the cut hay just didn’t dry. By feel it seemed dry, but the koster tester didn’t lie; it was still wet. Those who ignored the tester put up a lot of wet, butyric haylage that year. Coupled with the low sugars due to lack of sunshine, and the high lignin due to the cold, wet weather, not much milk was made on that haylage. You are better off having high NDF forage that cows will eat than a bunk of unpalatable slop.

  • Don’t mud in your corn. The harm caused by plow or a tillage layer and/or sidewall compaction is irreparable. You are better off putting in corn 10 days late, then mudding it in.

  • Do try to trade in your long season grain hybrids for shorter season corn. It’s not too early to consider switching to shorter season hybrids for grain. The decision for silage or high moisture corn fields can probably wait until the end of May. If the seed is not already in the ground when you receive this newsletter, grain growers should probably back off by five days in hybrid maturity, and another five if planting is delayed until early June. Also, consider switching from corn to soybeans. If your silage or high moisture corn planting is delayed until early June, consider reducing the maturity. As previous years’ data shows, there is usually no yield hit to staying with long-season hybrids right up until June, but often harvest has to be delayed by 2-3 weeks, or grain moisture will be much higher.

  • Don’t miss this great opportunity to get your equipment ready. In other words, try to find something positive out this frustrating spring.

It has been frustrating, but we have to do the best with the hand we are dealt. In 2011, patience was aptly rewarded. That year had an exceedingly wet May allowing only 24% of the corn to be planted in NY by the 22nd and 43% by the 29th. But then conditions turned exceedingly dry from mid-June through July before the drought was relieved in August. That year, the long-season corn planted in late May or early June yielded by far the best because it wasn’t mudded in. As a bonus, it didn’t silk until the first week of August when the drought was relieved. The earlier planted corn silked in the middle of the drought and had pollination issues.

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Will New York Reopen in Time for First Cutting?

It has certainly been a perplexing year in every way. As I write this article on May 8th I look out the window and see snowflakes falling. Not more than ten minutes ago I answered questions from a farmer as he planted corn into 45 degree soils. I am afraid we are going to see a lot of chilling injury on corn that was planted this past week. I have also fielded calls asking when first cutting is going to be ready. I looked online for answers from Albany, but found none. Guess I will have to rely on the best information I have and my own experience.

Alfalfa and grass must be confused. March started out fairly warm and dry. Alfalfa, which very much develops according to heat, took off. Then April was cold and quite wet and things quit growing. May has been dryer but still cold with a few warmer days. Growth has been by stops and starts.

When will first cutting be ready? It depends. The variability from year to year on maturity for alfalfa can be considerable. Maturity depends on Growing Degree Days, micro-climate (elevation, closeness to lake), soil drainage, what grass is planted with it and to a lesser extent variety. Calendar date at 40 NDF can sometimes vary by two weeks between years and micro-climates.

Grasses don’t tend to fluctuate from the calendar date from year to year quite as much as alfalfa. However, maturity will depend on all of the above and also fall cutting management and fertilization. Grass cut late last fall will be later maturing than fields last cut in September. Fields with nitrogen applied in early April will likely mature quicker. Of course, orchard grass will be ahead of most fescues, Reed Canarygrass and Timothy.

When to mow is obviously a complex question with many variables. But don’t wait for your governor to tell you when to mow. It will be best for you and your crop advisor to monitor fields and consult the following table from Dr. Jerry Cherney of Cornell. From my experience, it is the best place to start in determining your window to mow.

Use this table by evaluating the height of the tallest alfalfa in different areas of the field and the percentage of grass in the stand.

TableEstimated NDF of a mixed alfalfa-grass stand based on alfalfa height and the percent grass in the stand. Target NDF for each mixture is highlighted. Using the table below, a field with 40% grass and 60% alfalfa will be ready to mow when the tallest alfalfa stems in the field are 26” tall. For straight grass fields, look at the stage of maturity on the grass (boot stage is ideal) and the height of the tallest alfalfa in the area.

PEAQ table

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What are the Risks of Planting Corn Now?

Cold Soils & Risk of Imbibitional Chilling Injury in Corn

It's May 1st. The forecast shows some unseasonably cool temperatures this coming week. By the calendar we should be safe to plant corn now, right? Indiana growers were asking the same question about two weeks ago. The following are some excerpts from an article on imbibitional chilling injury by Dr. Bob Nielson from Purdue that may help you make a decision:

While farmers are free to plant corn whenever they choose to do do, there are risks associated with "early" planting (Nielsen, 2020). The primary risk is that associated with "cold" soil temperatures. Soils that hover around 50 degrees (F) for days or longer after planting delay germination and slow emergence of the young seedlings. More importantly, soil temperatures lower than about 50F increase the risk of "imbibitional chilling" injury to germinating seeds.

"Imbibition" refers to the initial uptake of water by seed during the first 24 to 48 hours after being planted into moist soil. The resulting rehydration causes the seed to swell and the germination process to begin. Imbibition occurs naturally, with no physiological processes involved (e.g., dry wood will imbibe water). It also occurs whether soils are cold or warm and therein lies the potential for "imbibitional chilling" injury.

When the seed swells as it rehydrates, its internal cell membrane structure is damaged. When seeds (and soil) are warm, the membrane damage is quickly repaired by the physiological activity associated with germination and "life goes on" normally. When seeds (and soil) are cold, their cell membranes are less elastic, the cell membrane damage due to swelling is more severe, and the physiological repair of the damage is slowed or stopped. Left unrepaired, this damage to cell membranes and the subsequent leakage of cell contents can result in death of the seed.

Past research on the nature and causes of imbibitional chilling injury to seed does not clearly identify the environmental conditions "in the real world" that result in a high probability of the problem. The literature implies that soil temperatures simply lower than 50F are a key factor. It is not clear from past research whether the injury can occur with only a few hours of exposure to sub-50F soil temperatures or whether it requires lengthier exposure to cold temperatures. What is known is that this type of chilling injury is most likely to occur during the first 24 to 48 hours after planting seed into moist soil because that is when imbibition (and corresponding seed swelling) occurs.

Identifying and Diagnosing the Problem in the Field

Identifying and the diagnosing the problem in the field is often challenging for several reasons. First of all, germination and emergence of corn in cold soils will naturally be slow. The first visual indicator of germination (other than the seed swelling) is the appearance of the radicle root between 35 and 60 Growing Degree Days (GDD) after planting (Nielsen, 2019).

Tip: Calculating GDDs using soil temperatures is preferred over air temperatures for predicting corn development progress prior to about the 6-leaf growth stage (V6). The reason is that the seed & young seedling responds more directly to soil temperature as long as the main growing point of the corn plant (apical meristem) remains below ground (until about V5-V6).

When soil temperatures hover around 50F for days or longer after planting, accumulating 35 to 60 GDD may take 1 to 2 weeks. Initially, dead seed due to imbibitional chilling injury do not look much different than live seed taking their normal "sweet time" to germinate in cold soils. However, once 60 GDD or more have accumulated, then seed that seems to be "dormant" compared to others that exhibit radicle roots, coleoptiles, and lateral seminal roots may well be the result of imbibitional chilling injury. Sometimes, instead of immediate cessation of the germination process (i.e., "dormant" seed symptom), the radicle root and coleoptile emerge from the seed coat before ceasing further development (Fig. 2).

Another challenge in diagnosing imbibitional chilling injury as the cause of poor stands of corn is that eventually the dead seed or seed that germinated but simply ceased further development will naturally begin to decompose. Consequently, if you wait too long to investigate a problem field, you might be tempted to diagnose seed or seedling disease as the cause of the poor stand.

Daily, or hourly, soil temperature records coupled with knowledge of a field's planting date are useful for "pointing the finger" at imbibitional chilling injury. Because imbibition occurs within the first 24 to 48 hours after planting into moist soil, one can imagine that timing of planting relative to the onset of several days of cold soil temperatures influences the risk of imbibitional chilling injury. Anecdotal stories abound in the coffeeshops about fields planted 3 days ahead of a cold snap emerging just fine... fields planted 2 days ahead of the cold snap experiencing some emergence problems... fields planted 1 day ahead of the cold snap having more problems... and fields planted the day of the cold snap having major problems.

Factors Influencing Risk of Imbibitional Chilling Injury

  • Intensity and Duration of Cold Soils. Obviously, 40F soil temperatures represent a higher risk than 50F temperatures. A single day of cold soils is likely less risky than multiple, consecutive, days of cold soils.
  • Soil Moisture. Daily soil temperature fluctuation is more dramatic in dry soils than in moist soils. That means higher daily maximums and lower daily minimums.
  • Plant Residue Cover. Daily soil temperatures fluctuate less in no-till fields that have a lot of surface residue from previous crops or current cover crops. In particular, soil temperatures in such fields will not drop as rapidly or dramatically in response to a cold snap as will bare fields. That's the good news. The bad news is that soil temperatures in fields with heavy surface residues are generally lower to begin with than bare soils early in the season and so early planting of corn in no-till fields is somewhat more risky in general.
  • Seed Quality? One can speculate that seed lots with lower than desirable cold germination ratings might be more susceptible to imbibitional chilling injury.

Here is the link to the full article. https://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/timeless/ImbibitionalChilling.html

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