Ont. crop tour uncovers variability in corn and soybeans

For most of the 2012 growing season, the term "variability" has been the subject of conversations between growers and agronomists, almost as much as "near-drought conditions."

During the recent Great Lakes Grain Crop Assessment tour, a group of agronomists with Agris Co-operative and FS Partners saw first-hand the effects of an early spring and lower-than normal rainfall, with widespread variability in corn and soybean crops. But the good news that emerged from this tour? Corn and soybeans, despite being stressed, appear to be faring better than expected.

This is the third annual tour for Agris and FS Partners, and the group visited 31 different corn and soybean sites located throughout the Great Lakes Grain trading area.

The visits were conducted at various stops in Simcoe County, at the group’s northern-most point, Perth, Waterloo, Brant and Norfolk counties a little further south, and Essex, Kent, Elgin and Middlesex counties in the extreme southwest.

"It seems every year, we talk about variability and this year is no different, except for the very clear magnitude of the variability experienced between three very distinct areas," says Dale Cowan, senior agronomist for Southern Co-operative Services, part of the Agris group.

Variability was also the key factor when viewing the effects of rainfall and excessive heat; some regions received sufficient amounts of precipitation — and at timely intervals — while others suffered drought-stress. The corn crops in most regions benefited from an early planting date, and all sites, it was stated, had adequate populations and high row counts on the cobs.

The difference could be seen in the low-yielding areas, where cob length was generally less than four inches. In the high yield areas, the length ranged from 5.6 to six inches. The drought-stressed regions also displayed nitrogen and potash deficiencies.

In very general terms, Cowan says, he believes the corn harvest may occur a week ahead of historical norms, and that that is not as early as the two- to three-week advance that was previously expected.

The same can be said, both in terms of variability and expected maturity dates, for soybeans in those three regions. According to Cowan, soybean production will depend on continued timely rains and an "open" late summer period.

"Surprisingly, the beans seem to have weathered the dry weather much better than the corn crop," says Cowan. "We are still looking at a reasonable soybean yield. The late rains that have come have indeed helped the soybeans, but they still have a long way to go. We started this tour thinking we would have an early harvest, but that is not the case — we’re going back to a normal time frame."

Most of the soybeans viewed were well into the R5 to R6 stages — known as the bean filling stages. At 150,000 plants per acre, a single soybean node with three pods and three beans per pod has the potential to add seven bushels per acre. But again, that added yield potential will depend on the weather conditions through the remainder of August and well into September.

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