Share Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest Thank God for the rains in August — farmers in Ohio who have not done this yet, should consider doing so promptly. Those incredibly valuable rains in mid- to late-August were the thin thread saving many fields from a total yield disaster.By early August nearly all of Ohio was suffering from varying degrees of hot and dry conditions. On the week ending Aug. 7, the growing degree day accumulation was well ahead of normal for nearly every location in Ohio monitored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, with locations in eastern Ohio leading the charge. New Philadelphia was plus 574 GDDs and Cambridge had a whopping 653 GDDs more than normal. As temperatures soared, rainfall really dropped off. The Aug. 7 NASS report reflected this trend clearly with nearly every Ohio location in a rainfall deficit compared to normal. Sydney was over nine inches of rain behind and Ashtabula was at 9.99 inches below normal, according to NASS.The situation was nearly the complete opposite of the previous year for Mike Heffelfinger in Van Wert County. In the 2015 growing season, by mid-August Heffelfinger’s farm had gotten close to 40 inches of rain. In 2016, he had gotten 2.3 inches inches of rain from the third week of May through mid-August. The conditions on either extreme in the last two years produced dismally similar tough yield situations for the farm.This year, early corn harvest reflected the tough conditions of 2016 for Heffelfinger, though it was not a total disaster.“We are seeing 140-bushel corn. I wouldn’t have guessed that a month or two ago. We are just really getting a good start with corn but in the fields we have harvested, 140 has hit it pretty close,” Heffelfinger said. “That 2.3 inches this summer gave us something. It is not anything to brag about but it is better than anticipated.”The saving grace was the soybean yield on the farm thanks in large part to the 11.5 inches of rain that fell in the area from Aug. 12 through late October.“We got two inches on Oct. 21 and we were back out in the fields four days later. It usually takes longer to get back out on the fields after a rain like that at that time of year. Because of that I think we are still shy on subsoil moisture,” Heffelfinger said. “We could run into some very poor yielding corn yet but we have had some pleasant surprises so far. The soybeans were excellent and corn could be better, but we are not going to complain after the heat and dry weather this summer. I saw a range on the yield monitor from 211 to 67 bushels in one corn field. It is amazing to watch.”It was not even in the areas of the worst stress in the state where dramatic differences in corn yields were evident. By any measure, many parts of Fairfield County were comparatively low stress in 2016 for corn production in Ohio.“We were only probably stressed for two weeks, and some of our varieties handled that little bit of stress better than others,” said Jon Miller, who farms in eastern Fairfield County. “It was not in adjoining fields, but they were close on the same farm, where we had some of our best corn averaging 239 bushels and some of our worst corn averaging in the 180s. The one field had some drainage issues, but it was still a big difference. You are talking about a 40- or 50-bushel difference on the same farm.”A couple of hybrids really stood out for the Millers.“If we would have had the right hybrid on all of our acres we would have probably had at least another 15-bushel average increase over everything. We had another hybrid that didn’t do as well for us last year and we didn’t go gangbusters planting it this year,” Miller said. “The guys that had good luck with it last year planted quite a bit this year and it did really well for them again. There are always subtle differences between hybrids but there were a couple that were pretty major on yield difference.”Even the short stretch of very hot, dry conditions for the Miller farm were enough to take the top end off of what would have otherwise been a bumper crop year for corn in 2016.“A second variety that did really well for us is more of a workhorse variety that you put in your tougher conditions. It handled the stress and tougher conditions this year and out-yielded what is considered a racehorse hybrid, even on the good ground,” Miller said. “You could pay a lot of bills if you had the right varieties planted this year.”Similar yield gaps were not uncommon in corn fields around the state, said Peter Thomison, Ohio State University corn specialist.“These are the types of years that really magnify differences among hybrids. The boring years are the ones you like because we don’t see this as much, but when you have these stressed conditions you really can magnify the variability that exists between hybrids and fields. How much of that difference is due to genetics, maturity or plant architecture? Slight differences in maturity and planting dates can make a big difference,” Thomison said. “It is possible under different growing conditions next year you could see no yield difference between those same hybrids or even a flip-flop because the way the hybrids respond to the conditions.“It was kind of the worst-case scenario this year. It was cold and wet early and then we had a frost in mid-May and had some replanting because of that. Then corn was vulnerable when the heat and dry conditions came along abruptly. I think we had 44 counties that were in moderate drought stress on the Drought Monitor for a week or two this summer. In northern Ohio there were some places looking pretty bad and in the southeast and southwest things were looking pretty good in many areas.”The details of the duration of the hot and dry conditions varied significantly but much-needed relief came statewide with August rains. The timing of these rains allowed them to have variable impacts on Ohio crops, depending on their maturity at the time.“It was remarkable that the crops did as well as they did. When the rainfall came in August, some of the later planted corn actually benefitted from those rains,” Thomison said. “In some cases you could see that it affected ear development. Sometimes it appeared that the lower half of the ear was at the dough stage and the upper half was at the milk stage. You could see different patterns of colors and starch development because that rain in August really saved the upper part of those ears. We could have otherwise had big tip dieback on a lot of these ears. Yields could have been a lot worse.”In some cases, there is speculation that the use of fungicides this year (even with little to no disease pressure in the fields) helped plant health just enough to allow the corn plants to better capitalize on the valuable August rains.“I have heard from some growers and field agronomists about the plant health benefits of fungicides this year. They didn’t have the disease pressure and they are seeing higher yields, but they are also seeing much higher moisture corn,” Thomison said. “Plant health and fungicides are a touchy issue. I have done work with this, along with plant pathologists, and it is frustrating. We have done the work for several years and not seen any benefits. Then, lo and behold, we have a year like this and we see a response. It would be nice if we knew under what conditions it worked. It is like shooting dice. You never know the year you’re going to see the benefits of these fungicides. When corn is $7 or $8 you can put it on as a risk management tool, but when corn is $3.50 it is a different story. The speculation is that the longer you keep that corn green, the more opportunity you have to extend the filling period for corn. If you kept that canopy alive longer this year it may have translated into higher yields with the rains.”Unfortunately, along with salvaging many otherwise disastrous yields, the rains in August brought with them a new set of challenges that would show up in the following weeks as harvest got started. The nearly dead corn plants that found new life were subject to a number of problems due to the unique conditions, including ear molds, sprouting and stalk quality concerns.“We had a whole range of molds. We started off thinking it was Diplodia, but some of the fields I saw had more Gibberella and some fields had Trichoderma. In all of my time here I have never seen Trichoderma as severe as it was this year in some fields.I think the ear rots are widespread around the state but they are also fairly localized,” Thomison said. “These problems have the potential to get much worse as harvest is delayed. In some fields with fairly mild problems, they could be showing more mold as we progress if harvest delays occur. Moldy ear problems just get worse until they are stored below 14%. The longer corn is out there the more it will lodge and deteriorate and contribute to the mold problems. Grain moisture is the biggest issue until it gets below freezing. With the temperature swings we have been seeing this fall we could see mold growth continue.”A number of factors contributed to the fairly widespread issue of ear molds in 2016.“Moldy ear problems were in some cases associated with the earliest planted corn. Often it was in early hybrids with early planting dates. It was hit with high temperatures during pollination and was under stress and then it was a combination of the hybrid susceptibility, maturity, the stress it received, and planting date. That is not black and white, but it is a pattern we have been seeing,” Thomison said. “A lot of the corn in our performance trials was planted after May 23. The earlier planted locations had more mold and it was more prevalent in the early hybrids. The pollination period was just a little earlier — before mid-May — and those earlier planted hybrids were more stressed. We’ve only seen mold present at one out of seven locations in our yield trials so far and lodging has been nearly absent from our fields.”Of course, with ear molds, mycotoxins can be a concern, especially when being fed to livestock.“Some of the corn that has no mold in it still can actually have elevated levels of mycotoxins too, according to OSU plant pathologists. If you are in fields with mold present you certainly want to take a second look at it before feeding,” Thomison said. “Some of the elevators and ethanol plants are looking for this right now in the counties where this has been the biggest problem.”Along with the molds, sprouting corn was more of an issue than normal this year.“We saw much more sprouting than we have in recent years. The fungi that infected the ears actuallyDiplodia. Photo by OSU Extension.stimulate the sprouting in the ear,” he said. “In some cases there were loose husks that allowed rainfall to get in while the ear was still upright and accumulate at the butt of the ear and we saw the sprouting at the butt if the ear. When we had molds at the tip of the ear sometimes we’d see the sprouting at the tip.”Another challenge that surfaced in 2016 corn was the surprising amount of damage from the western bean cutworm in supposedly resistant corn hybrids, particularly in northwest Ohio.“Western bean cutworm issues will be a major consideration because there really are not many hybrids out there with the trait that controls them and OSU entomologists are telling us we may have to consider insecticide applications in some situations to control them,” Thomison said.In terms of soybeans, the August rains made a tremendous difference with many farms statewide seeing some of their best average yields ever. Along with strong yields, though, were green stems and uneven maturation slowing harvest, splitting pods encouraging a faster harvest, and a growing concern about stink bug damage and other insect issues that showed up this year.