Probably the toughest thing about writing this weekly article isn’t the sneaking suspicion that no one is reading. It’s much worse than that actually. It’s having to come up with topics. Topics are hard. Hard hard. Sometimes, the ideas are so many that I can barely choose, but other times, it’s a total blank. And this week, much like our weather, has been a fat dryspell.But then it hit me. Palm meet forehead. Dry land growers. Hello, friends.
As we begin to wind down another dry July, you feel the challenges especially (not that we have to remind you) and I can’t think of a better topic than one that might help you make it to the next rain, to push on and push through the obstacle at hand. (You growers with the ability to irrigate: there is much for you here, too, as the dryness of the month highlights for us all the blessing that is rain.)
Last week, I talked about reducing plant stress at pollination, and I offered a fungicide application as one option to do so. Much of the article focused on irrigation though. So this week, with our southern growers squarely in mind, let’s delve a little deeper into fungicide at tassel as a way to help corn through to its next big drink.
There are two thought processes about applying a fungicide at tasseling: you can apply it to preempt disease and ameliorate stresses in order to help your plants make the most efficient use of water, or you can apply it as a strategic strike against disease and pests. Both approaches have their advantages.
The advantages of applying a fungicide as a preventative measure apply to all growers, regardless of region. Applying in the absence of apparent disease will reduce stress, allowing your plants to churn like the busy sugar machines we want them to be. Most significant to dry land growers is the reduction in nighttime respiration that a fungicide promotes. Reducing nighttime respiration will not only help your plants to conserve the sugars they generated during the day, but will also help them use water effectively and efficiently, reducing their overall water usage and thus preserving water in the soil for future use.
This is effectively buying your plants time until the next rain. Consider the growing season as a marathon. Your plants are the runners. There’s a time around Mile 18 when the going gets ugly, and it’s here that good runners slow their pace and check their form to ensure that each movement is efficient and functional. Then at Mile 20, someone hands them a banana or a strawberry, and they’re back up and pushing to the finish. This dry July is Mile 18 for your corn. A fungicide application will help it through to that glorious banana or strawberry somewhere in its future. And yes, that banana or strawberry is a metaphor for rain.
Perhaps you’re wondering why you should invest a fungicide into a crop whose success is questionable this year at best. It’s a valid concern for sure. One answer is the potential payoff. Data shows that investing the equivalent of 5-6 bushels per acre on a fungicide now can payoff in an additional 15-20 bushels per acre yield at harvest. Another answer is that though you cannot control the weather to deliver the best conditions to your crop, you can create the best possible conditions through smart and deliberate decisions, such as applying a fungicide at tassel.
But there is yet the other approach. Whereas Approach A applies a fungicide regardless of disease conditions, Approach B applies a fungicide when pest-driven. This approach requires attention on your part: you must scout your fields and you must be alert to signs of disease and insects. Here you are looking for Stink Bugs, Spider Mites, Western Bean Cut Worm, and Rootworm Beetles, as well as, Gray Leaf Spot and Southern Rust. Approach B is one of diligence. You look and look and look, then decide.
And if you decide that you must act, act swiftly. Without the preventative application of a fungicide, your corn is under stress, making it susceptible to disease and insects. Quick action on your part will deliver intervention before the stress and damage become irreversible.
One final note on insecticides: Those of you embracing the strategic second approach are only acting when the pressure to act mounts, and the particular pressure that you observe will guide your choice and application of an insecticide. Those of you embracing the preemptive approach must think carefully before adding an insecticide to your fungicide application. Though it may be helpful, you must deliberate first, especially in dry land, to ensure that spider mites will not take over after your insecticide application has killed off their predators. Carefully considering the timing of an insecticide application can have additional payoffs, especially if you can find the sweet spot to spray when you will affect the most pest populations. Perhaps this means applying an insecticide separately than the fungicide, but well-considered timing will make it worth the effort and investment.
Ultimately, regardless of the approach or philosophy you espouse most comfortably, a fungicide application allows you to exert some control in a situation (here, drought) where you seem to have very little control. The fate of your crop is not entirely out of your hands, though the going is difficult at times. This is when we trudge, when we carefully and purposefully move forward, friends, until the next rain.