As you prepare for the next corn season, consider these reminders to help in planning for a healthy crop this year.
Many think the biggest limiting factor for a corn crop in North Florida is nutrients, but in reality it is rainfall/climate. The lack of water during key stages of growth, overabundant water during periods the plant doesn’t require as much, or both, during a growing season can be problematic.
Attempt to use some method of optimizing irrigation scheduling. The use of volumetric soil moisture probes is becoming popular in the Suwanee River Basin. These tools are not inexpensive, but they can help growers optimize the water their corn needs. Talk to your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent about the loaner soil moisture sensor program or contact Suwannee River Water Management District for cost share information on probes.
Double check to make sure irrigation systems are applying water uniformly from one end to the other. This is especially important since pivot irrigation systems are being used in most cases to apply the Nitrogen budgeted for the crop. More uniformity of nitrogen application will increase overall crop health and ultimately better consistency in yield outcomes. Take advantage of agency cost share programs to get Mobile Irrigation Lab Evaluations done and plan to retrofit systems showing less than 80% distribution uniformity.
Select optimum plant populations for Florida sands, and for the amount of irrigation you can reasonably apply during peak corn water use. In many cases in North Florida, corn may still be planted too thick. There is the potential to yield profitable 250 (plus) bushel per acre corn with around 32,000 plants per acre as a field average. Think carefully about variety selection with your situation in mind, but also remember severe thunderstorms later in the season. High plant populations and certain varieties are at risk to lodge from common high winds that often occur during that time.
If you are applying poultry litter or cow manure, get it tested by the UF Waste Testing Lab or one of our area private labs. Make sure you know what you are getting from the litter source. This will be helpful to account for the expected nutrient content within the litter when developing your target rates of each nutrient.
Apply starter by the row to get the corn plants growing quickly and develop a good, deep root system. Healthy, deep roots should use all nutrients that have been applied more efficiently. Too much water while the plants are young will limit root expansion and impact plant health later on.
Conduct frequent tissue sampling to determine the status of all nutrients in the corn as it moves through vegetative stages and early reproductive stages. This will aid you in making the best nutrient management decisions for your crop throughout the season.
Apply a nematicide to control root knot, stubby root and sting nematodes. With our short rotation, or in some cases – no rotation and sandy soils, this should be a priority. Because of these factors, one should assume the nematode species mentioned have high potential to hurt root development, which reduces fertilizer and water uptake within the plant. Try to keep corn healthy all the way to black layer. This means optimizing irrigation (watch sensors on soil moisture probes, they will show declining moisture use of corn plant), and scout for plant diseases. Monitor the crop regularly for disease occurrence and apply fungicides if needed, from before tassel to brown silk. Later planted corn will be at higher risk for disease and insect damage.
Good luck with this year’s upcoming season and please contact your local county agriculture extension agent with questions.
De Broughton, UF/IFAS Regional Specialized Extension Agent, Row Crops
Joel Love, UF/IFAS BMP Coordinator
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.