The one bright spot in North Carolina agriculture may get brighter still. At the beginning of November, North Carolina Extension Corn Specialist Ron Neiniger said he believed the average yield across the state could set a state record, or at least come very close to the previous record.
“It looks now that our average will be 140 bushels per acre, which would be a state record,” he said. USDA had estimated 132 bushels per acre in its most recent crop report. “Our production appears to be close to 126 million bushels, rather than the 116 million the USDA projected.”
One farming family that enjoyed the good fortune on corn was the Gardners at Macclesfield, N.C., in the eastern part of the state. Brothers Edward, John and Joe Gardner, along with John’s son, Adam, and Joe’s son, Kevin, grow corn, along with soybeans, cotton, tobacco and some wheat.
Of those crops, corn fared by far the best in 2013.
“This was the best corn crop we’ve ever had,” says Kevin. “I don’t think I ever entered a yield contest before, but we had a field with chicken litter under it that did very well, yielding 215 bushels per acre.”
The entire crop didn’t average that much, he says, “But it will be well over the 110 to 120 bushels we normally expect to average. That is very good for Wilson County. This was just a very good year for corn.
“We got a lot of water at the right times and our corn was never stressed. It seemed to give some protection from the bugs too.” The farm’s corn land gets a good rotation.The Gardners like to plant each of their main crops for one year of a four-year rotation, with one wheat crop added in. But individual fields might get different treatments, they say.
Their fertility program on corn starts with nine gallons of 17-17-0 pop-up fertilizer, followed by 0-0-40 preplant incorporated, then a split application of 24S, the first behind the planter and the other with the lay-by rig.
“We shoot for a total of 135 pounds per acre of nitrogen,” Kevin says.
Looking at the 2013 season, he says he is reminded of an old saying: “A dry year will scare you, but a wet year will ruin you. We almost got both this year.”
In most years, the Gardners beg for rain at one point or another. ”But this year, I almost found myself begging for it to quit,” Kevin says.
One unusual thing he noticed this year: The low spots where he plants soybeans are usually the best places because water tends to stay in them. But that wasn’t the case this time. “Some of our beans flat out drowned,” he says.
And they were forced to consider a cotton practice they rarely use: scrapping. “It isn’t usually a profitable practice, but this season there were problems with boll opening that might make it worthwhile to pick it again.”
As much as the North Carolina crop yielded, it could have been even bigger, except for three events, says Extension specialist Heiniger.
“We had cool temperatures in May, which slowed early growth and seemed to affect plant height. Then there were leaching losses of potash and some nitrogen. And there were incidences of corn rust and some other diseases favored by wet conditions. If it hadn’t been for those factors, our yield would have knocked your socks off.”
Three last thoughts from Heiniger about the rainy summer:
- Make sure you have good drainage. “We are bound to get more dry summers in the years to come,” he says.
- Get a good early start if you can. “It lets you take advantage of the cool early weather that’s likely in May.”
- In a year like 2013, stand uniformity is especially important.
Which of the crops the Gardners grow sustained the most damage from the rains? That would probably be tobacco, says Kevin.
“It never developed a root system; it had no body. Yield was off, and nicotine levels were astronomically low.”
What to do after a flood
David Holshouser, Virginia Extension soybean agronomist, offers some suggestions about what to do when you get flooding of the type that so many southern farmers experienced in 2013.
“While it may seem that there is little to do to help a flooded crop, it is very important to minimize any other stress on the soybean crop that can prevent recovery.”
- First, try to stay off of the field. “Wet fields compact easily,” he says. “Compaction will further stress the crop and slow its recovery. Make sure the field is dry enough before taking equipment back on it.”
- Evaluate the stand. “If a stand reduction occurred, determine if it’s worthwhile to replant. Remember that after mid-June, every day’s delay in planting will cost you about a half bushel in yield.”
- Avoid herbicide injury because it can slow the crop further. “Still, weeds need controlling. But you may want to select herbicides (usually as tank-mix partners to glyphosate) that don’t cause a significant amount of burning.”
- Cultivation is an option for conventionally-tilled fields to help aerate the soil. However, cultivating wet soil can do more damage than good by causing additional compaction, which in turn would further stress the crop.”