The sun has been welcomed and crops are rapidly growing in South Central Nebraska! Corn right now is between V6-V8 (6-8 leaf) for the most part. Quite a few farmers were side-dressing and hilling corn the past two weeks. It never fails that corn looks a little stressed after this as moisture is released from the soil and roots aren’t quite down to deeper moisture.
Installing watermark sensors for irrigation scheduling, we’re finding good moisture to 3 feet in all fields in the area. The driest fields are those which were converted from pasture last year and we want to be watching the third foot especially in those fields. Pivots are running in some fields because corn looks stressed, but there’s plenty of moisture in the soil based on the watermark sensor readings I’m receiving for the entire area. So we would recommend to allow your crops to continue to root down to uptake deeper moisture and nitrogen.
The last few weeks we observed many patterns from fertilizer applications in fields but as corn and root systems are developing, they are growing out of it. We’ve also observed some rapid growth syndrome in plants. This can result from the quick transition we had from cooler temperatures to warmer temperatures, which leads to rapid leaf growth faster than they can emerge from the whorl. Plants may have some twisted whorls and/or lighter discoloration of these leaves, but they will green up upon unfurling and receiving sunlight. This shouldn’t affect yield.
Damping off has been a problem in areas where we had water ponded or saturated conditions for periods of time. We’ve also observed some uneven emergence in various fields from potentially a combination of factors including some cold shock to germinating seedlings.
We began applying sugar to our on-farm research sugar vs. check studies in corn. We will continue to monitor disease and insect pressure in these plots and determine percent stalk rot and yield at the end of the season.
Leaf and stripe rust can be observed in wheat fields in the area and wheat is beginning to turn. We had some problems with wheat streak mosaic virus in the area again affecting producers’ neighboring fields when volunteer wheat wasn’t killed last fall. Alfalfa is beginning to regrow after first cutting and we’re encouraging producers to look for alfalfa weevils. All our crops could really use a nice slow rain right now!
It’s wonderful receiving the rain we did, seeing how quickly planting progress came along, and how quickly corn is popping out of the ground! Being mid-May, it’s time to get our Evapotranspiration (ET) gages out. A reminder to only use distilled water in the gages, make sure to fill up the ceramic top portion of the gage before inserting the stopper, and gently dust off the ceramic top and replace the white membrane and green canvas cover. We recommend replacing those membranes and covers each year so if you need a new one, please let the Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) or me know and we’ll get you a new one! For those of you recording ET information online, please be sure to do so consistently each week to help your neighbors and crop consultants.
Early after crop emergence is the best time to install watermark sensors. For those of you with watermark sensors, read them to ensure they read 199 kpa (dry). Then “prime” them first by soaking them for 24 hours in water to ensure all the air bubbles have been released. The sensors should have a reading of 10 kpa or below to be considered good. If they read higher than that, either continue soaking them another 24 hours and read them again, or plan that they no longer are reading correctly and replace them with others from the NRDs. Remember after soaking sensors that water moves up into the PVC pipe via capillary action, so be sure to dump the water out of the pipe as well.
When installing the sensors, be sure to install them wet, drain excess water, and look for areas that are not compacted, avoid tractor wheel tracks, and look for even spacing of plants. Carefully install without breaking off any plants (thus easier when plants are small!). It’s also important not to install sensors into extremely wet fields. What we have found is that a thin soil layer can cover the sensor when pushing it into the soil of very wet fields. When that soil layer dries, it can provide a reading of 199 saying the sensor is dry when it truly isn’t. If this happens to you, simply remove the sensor, rewet for one minute and re-install. It should be acclimated to field conditions within 48 hours. If you have any questions regarding the installation process, please let the NRDs or your local Extension Educator know. You can also view videos of the installation process and receive additional information to answer your questions.
While farmers may be tired of irrigating right now, I think all who have irrigation are thankful for it in such a dry year. Honestly, thankfully with our irrigation we have some of the best looking crops in the Corn Belt right now. Even so, with corn that hasn’t been replanted nearing dent or stages of starch fill, you may be wondering how to schedule for your last irrigation.
For those of you in our Nebraska Ag Water Management Network using watermark sensors, the goal is to use them to determine when the soil profile reaches 60% depletion (for silty-clay soils in our area aim for an average of 160 kpa of all your sensors). You may be thinking, “An average of 90kpa was hard enough!” but as Daryl Andersen from the Little Blue Natural Resources District points out, you’re only taking an additional 0.30 inches out of each foot. So if you’re averaging 90kpa on your three sensors, you have depleted 2.34 inches in the top three feet so you still have 0.96 inches left (see the Soil Moisture Depletion Chart). If you add the fourth foot (using a similar number from the third foot), it would bring the water available to the plant up to 1.28”.
At beginning dent corn you need 24 days or 5 inches of water to finish the crop to maturity. If you subtract 1.28 from 5 you will need 3.72” to finish out the crop. Corn at ½ milk line needs 13 days or 2.25” to finish the crop to maturity-so subtracting it from 1.28 would be only 0.97”.
Soybeans at the beginning of seed enlargement (R5) need 6.5”. Soybeans in R6 or full seed which needs 3.5 inches yet for maturity. Subtracting off the 1.28” in the four foot profile would lead to 2.22”. The UNL NebGuide Predicting the Last Irrigation of the Season provides good information on how determine your last irrigation in addition to showing charts on how much water the crop still needs at various growth stages.
Several people I’ve talked to who have been irrigating using watermark sensors aren’t replenishing the second foot, so you may have a few rounds yet to go on corn and beans. For a quick way to know where you’re at, think about irrigating this way as explained by Daryl Andersen at the Little Blue Natural Resources District:
One way to look at this is by the numbers of days left. At 1/4 starch, there are about 19 days before maturity so you can let your sensors average 130kpa on the first week and 150kpa on the next week. If these targets are met during the week, you would put on about 1 inch of water. By going to these numbers, it might give you a higher probability for rain in the next couple of weeks. I’m hoping for many answered prayers that we will see rain in August!
Drought conditions have affected much of Nebraska. In our area in south-central Nebraska particularly in our southern tier of counties, we’re seeing brown pastures and alfalfa that stopped growing. Wheat was harvested nearly a month early and yields range from 0-50 bu/acre depending on if it was hit by the hail storm Memorial Day weekend which totaled it out.
I’m unsure how many planting dates we currently have in Clay County! The spring planting season went so well with corn and many beans being planted in April. Soybeans planted in April that haven’t received hail are forming a nice canopy. Corn that hasn’t received hail should be tasseling by beginning of July. One Clay Co. field planted in March was only 3 leaves from tasseling when I took this picture this week and looks great (it’s probably 2 leaves by now!). Adding another picture from a farmer friend Bob Huttes near Sprague, NE showing his field currently tasseled out and love the smiley face barn 🙂
But then there’s the hail damaged fields. The hail pattern has been fairly similar all year for this area of the State with some producers receiving four consecutive hail events on their fields. Every week of May was spent helping our producers determine replant decisions, particularly for soybeans…leaving irrigated stands of 85K and dryland stands of 60-65K when beans were smaller before stem bruising was so severe later. We would leave a stand one week and end up needed to replant after the hail hit again the following week. Some farmers got through the first two hail storms but the Memorial Day weekend storm did them in. I never saw hail like where ground zero of this storm occurred. After replanting after that weekend, they received yet another hail storm last week with the wonderful, much needed deluge of rain we received in the county. My heart hurts for these farmers yet for the most part they have good attitudes and are making the most of it. That’s the way farming is…lots of risk, thus an abundance of faith and prayer is necessary too. One farmer I talked to has had hail on his house seven times this year (including prior to planting).
Pivots have also been running like crazy prior to the rain last Thursday night where we received 3.30-4.40 inches in the county. Installing watermark sensors for irrigation scheduling, we were able to show the farmers that there was truly moisture deeper in the soil profile and attempted to convince them to hold off. It’s a hard thing to hold off on water when the neighbors are irrigating, but several farmers who didn’t irrigate told me they were able to let the rain soak in and their plants weren’t leaning after that rain because the ground wasn’t saturated prior to the rain event.