Harvest is Near – Be a Good Scout

I love September. It’s an exciting time to look at corn.  This year is no exception. With the wide diversity of planting and growing conditions that we had across the corn belt, I am anxious to see the results that these corn plants have produced.  roughout the season we have seen too much water, too cool temperatures, too little water, too hot temperatures, and sometimes these all occurred in the same area.  e one thing that appears obvious across much of the corn belt is that the growing season is moving along at a very fast rate. Our warmer than average temperatures and larger than average number of bright sunny days in July and August have resulted in faster than average grain accumulation and a hastened approach to crop maturity relative to “normal” years. This leads to my title and being a good scout.

The word “scout” in this article is taking on two meanings. The scout motto in Boy Scouts is two “Be Prepared”. And the field scout motto is to “Walk Your Fields”. I encourage acting on both these mottos as we approach the harvest season.

Being prepared will require anticipation, information, and commitment to action. Based on fields I have seen in the past few weeks, I think we can anticipate the corn crop moving toward maturity at an alarmingly fast rate.  This year much of the corn in the northern corn belt was planted 10 days to 2 weeks later than normal. Thanks to a relatively warm summer, that corn has for most parts of the corn belt caught up to where it normally is this time of year. But the haste to maturity is not going to stop.  The chart below provides a rough guide as to normal time lines for grain maturity. Interestingly, later planted corn tends to respond at a faster rate to get to the same stages as early planted corn; thereby requiring fewer days/heat units to get to each stage than its earlier planted counterpart. As corn plants “hurry” to finish making grain, especially if days get cooler and/or cloudier, they tend to pull nutrients out of the stalks and cannibalize themselves.  This could lead to weakened plant health, vulnerability to stalk diseases, and lodging. Being prepared for this would be the “safe” approach in prioritizing your harvest plans.

Normal time lines for grain maturity
Silk 50-55 1100-1200 0
Blister 40-45 875-975 0-10
Dough 30-35 650-750 30-50
Early Dent 20-25 425-525 60-75
Fully Dented 10-15 200-300 90-95
Black Layered 0 0 100

Field scouting is also an integral part of being prepared. Whether you do it or you have someone else do it for you, it is essential in the decision making process. Checking for leaf disease pressure can give you insight as to what to expect from increased stalk weakness.  The two usually go hand in hand. Looking for nutrient deciency signs on the leaves may also forewarn of the plant’s need for cannibalizing itself. It can also give you an indication of fertility adjustments you will want to consider for next year. As harvest gets closer, a check for stalk weaknesses will help you prioritize your harvest plans. Pinching several random stalks 3-4 internodes above the ground will give you an idea of the plants vulnerability to lodging. An easy, effortless pinch between the thumb and fore nger will indicate that you should think about harvesting that field ahead of ones that have plants that are not as easily crushed.

In closing, safety is always on my mind during the harvest season. Make it a priority for you too. Be certain to anticipate the unexpected. I wish you a very safe and successful harvest season.