Stressed: Western High Plains corn, sorghum crops feel the heat

A Syngenta agronomist has watched the tale of two growing seasons for the western High Plains where timely moisture has been elusive for dryland producers in the three states in his territory.

TJ Binns, an agronomic service representative, works with corn and sorghum producers. He said the dryland corn really tells the picture because where it has been extremely dry the crop has been extremely short. His territory includes western Kansas, northeast Colorado, and southwest Nebraska.

“Early in the season we were super cool and then it turned hot,” Binns said about corn growers who plant their crops from late April to about May 10. In late July, beneficial rain fell on quite a bit of his territory and those that did receive it will have an opportunity for improved yet limited yield increases.

Unfortunately, he said, it was the first meaningful round of rain since July 2021, which meant the soil profile was moisture deficient heading into the 2022 growing season.

Even irrigators face challenges because some may have restrictions on how much water they can apply and with higher temperatures at night the corn “could not breathe” and that lowers yield potential.

Mother Nature’s rains provide moisture and cool the temperature for several days, Binns said, and that benefits the crop.

“At this point we pretty much have done what we can do,” Binns said. “Be thinking of your next step.”

Dryland producers may want to use the residue or bale stalks for livestock production, he said, because with the ongoing drought it might make economical sense to use it for feed.

Also, Binns said producers might want to chronicle the challenges this year so they can prepare for next year. He said weed control is a nemesis growers contend with annually and with shorter corn plants, weeds have an opportunity to flourish, steal water and ultimately reduce production.

They also need to review their fungicide application schedule. Cutting back, he said, has unintended consequences because a fungicide helps keep the plant healthy and reduces stress. A healthy plant retains more moisture and that helps with photosynthesis, and a healthier plant adds grain production.

Sorghum, which is planted later in the spring, has an opportunity, with more rains, to add bushels if more timely rain fall, Binns said. Sorghum matures later than corn and can benefit from a longer growing season.

Kansas State University Research and Extension has noted sugar cane aphids have been found in some Kansas fields, and growers need to be scouting their fields, Binns said. Overall disease pressure has been low this year. Sorghum and corn both need to have healthy stalks because if they break and fall to the ground growers will be unable to harvest with a combine.

Binns said farmers in his region have a resilient attitude about production challenges.

“We’ve been through this before,” he said. “We do what you can do. If you haven’t, you will know what to do for next year. Out here, one more (winter) blizzard and you are good to go.”

The late July rains will be helpful for growers as they look to plant their wheat crop in September and into fall, he said, as he said producers turn their focus to 2023.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].