Drought, heat cut into Plains’ row crop production

For many High Plains farmers 2022 will be remembered as one of the most difficult years for growing corn, sorghum and soybeans.

Holly Thrasher, a DEKALB Asgrow technical agronomist based in Stafford, Kansas, works with growers in the central Plains and said the lack of timely moisture and above normal heat in the summer and fall sliced dryland yields for corn, sorghum and soybeans. Some farmers chose to bale the crops for forage to feed cattle.

Even irrigators had bushels shaved from their yields, she said, as the heat hurt plant efficiency plus they may have had less water to work with this year. “It put guys into a tough position because of well capacity. We had lots of fields that were cut off earlier because they were out the allotments.”

As July continued to stay above normal in heat, farmers had to make decisions on whether to hope for more rain or look at alternatives that included baling the spring-planted crops.

One positive was that insect and disease pressures were lower because of the heat and drought—with the exception of spider mites—and while there is an insecticide available it was limited in many regions.

“The overarching theme was the incredible amount of heat and lack of moisture,” she said.

In one stretch there were 20 nights in July and August when the overnight low was still above 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scouting experts told Thrasher this past growing season was one of the worst they had ever witnessed.

As producers start looking ahead to 2023 there are reasons to have a positive mindset and she believes that rain will again fall.

“Take this past year for what it was but hopefully we learned from it,” she said.

Considerations need to be made based on past performance, Thrasher said. For example, there were reports of 300 bushels to the acre irrigated corn in 2021 on fields that were much lower in 2022 because of the heat.

“We had two years with two very different outcomes.”

One of the agronomist’s most important bits of advice is the importance of a regular soil test. With the high production of the 2021 cycle a lot of nutrients were consumed and in this past year if farmers baled corn, sorghum and soybeans that removed nutrients, too.

“With input costs and commodity prices we need to set ourselves up for success,” Thrasher said.

She says while much is made about the yield challenges for the 2022 season for corn growers she said several DEKALB lines were impressive. The corn hybrid DKC6269 with SmartStax PRO technology along with DKC6270 seed lines, which were high yielders in 2021, showed remarkable stress tolerance in 2022.

As an agronomist it shows the Bayer DEKALB breeding pipeline is bringing products forward that can handle different scenarios.

“It is easy to get kind of get bogged down in the negativity in a tough year. It weighs on you but finding those type of wins and there are wins out there (is important),” Trasher said. “I have been pleasantly surprised with some of the customers who called me to say this did better on this field with your spring hybrid than they would have imagined.”

The SmartStax PRO technology was also released to growers in 2022 and agronomists were able to see how they fared under less than ideal conditions and she liked its potential as the product is geared toward rootworm control.

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In 2023, producers will need to watch for increased insect activity and weed pressure because on dryland crops where water did not activate weeds the Palmer amaranth and other weeds are relentless.

“Palmer can go and go,” Thrasher said. “Looking ahead to next year—be on top of your herbicide program, be vigilant and don’t shortchange it.”

Trusting in a good herbicide program will also help pay dividends particularly for soybean growers as they evaluate plant population rates.

She encouraged growers to continue to look for ways to maximize yield in all their crops. In the western High Plains, particularly southwest Kansas where dairies are relocating to, it provides growers with some opportunities to look at the silage market and the Bayer DEKALB researchers are continuing to do more testing and find ways so that growers can have excellent tonnage and high-quality feed for dairy and beef cattle feed yards.

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