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Low commodity prices have encouraged some farmers to evaluate input costs and consider alternative seed product choices, fertility and pesticide inputs, and other variable costs to offset lower margins. Some farmers are considering planting conventional seed products, Roundup Ready® Corn 2, or glyphosate-tolerant products without insect traits. Careful consideration should be given to assessing the risks of planting non-traited seed products, associated with grain price premiums getting harder to find and contract.
During tough economic times, reviewing the proven practices that support optimum corn yield potential can help avoid costly errors. Consider the potential impact of cutting input costs on corn yield potential. Understanding the additional risks and complexities that can be associated with conventional corn are essential to maximizing returns. Focus on potential return/acre, not just costs. A period of low commodity prices is not the time to make dramatic changes in your production practices and take risks that can lower yield potential.
The most important variable with the least management control in corn is the weather. The most important management decision is corn product selection.1 Product selection determines management decisions farmers make during a growing season. The main management objective is to reduce stress on corn plants during the growing season. Conventional corn may cost less per bag but may result in higher management intensity and more timely application of products or practices to control weeds, insects, and diseases for products or practices that are normally controlled by insect and herbicide resistant traits.
Figure 1. European corn borer life stages. Egg mass (top left), larva, adult moth, pupa.
The best defense against diseases is selecting corn products with disease resistance. Pay close attention to Northern corn leaf blight, Goss’s wilt, Gray leaf spot, and Anthracnose, Diplodia, Fusarium, and Gibberella stalk rots, Southern rust, or any other specific disease that occurred in the previous corn crop in that field.
Set realistic yield goals for your fertility program.
Conventional corn may have reduced yield potential due to insect damage, even if insecticide treatments are used. Depending on weed pressure and management strategy, conventional corn may have higher weed control costs. Corn products with biotech traits have been shown to protect yield potential and help manage downside risks from insects, weeds, and diseases.
Matching the right corn products for different fields within an operation is the most critical management decision a farmer can make. Once that decision has been made, management revolves around managing stress to capture as much corn yield potential as possible. Individual corn products have different inherent yield potential. Each farmer must select the corn products with the best potential production for each field and then manage input costs accordingly to optimize production.
Some growers are looking for a premium for conventional corn and must be diligent in managing grain purity.
1 Lauer, J. 2015. Do we grow another bushel or save a buck? Agronomy Advice. University of Wisconsin. 2 Smith, D. 2015. 9 ways to cut input costs without sacrificing yield. Farm Journal, Agweb online. 3 Ostlie, K.R., Hutchison, W.D., and Hellmich, R.L. Bt corn and European corn borer, long-term success through resistance management. University of Minnesota. 4 Lauer, J. 2000. Proven corn management practices and practical tips when prices are down. Agronomy Advice. University of Wisconsin. 5 Managing Corn Rootworm E-series 49-W. Purdue University. Web sources verified 2/23/16. 160126134701