In many areas of North Carolina corn literally burned up before it ever made it to tassel in 2011. That’s highly unusual for the state, but a direct response to the La Niña weather pattern that has been in place the last two years.

The La Niña weather pattern took control of the weather in the Upper Southeast in May and June of 2010, thus late-planted corn and other crops never made it to maturity, because there was little or no rainfall and extremely hot and humid conditions.

In 2011, the La Niña continued, producing the early season conditions that devastated early-planted crops in the region. “By the late summer, the pattern weakened and growers got enough rain to get late-planted crops the moisture needed to produce a fairly good crop,” Heiniger says.

Typically La Niña weather patterns last 10-12 months, but strong La Niña’s lasting twice that long have been very common over the past 50 years or so.

“In the 1950s, late 1970s, early 1980s, and more recently in 1998-1999 weather in the Southeast has been dominated by double-dip La Niña weather patterns,” Heiniger says.

In a double-dip La Niña, which impacts crops over two growing seasons, growers need to take very different planting strategies and match these planting dates with varieties that will perform well when planted early and produce adequate yields.

Looking at yield results from variety tests tells a very different story. Clearly, later planted, later maturing varieties produced top yields in 2011. However, variety tests from 2010 provided growers with completely different high yielding varietal results, because best results came from varieties planted in late March and April.

In North Carolina in 2011 the best planting dates for corn yields were from mid to late May — totally different from a variety selection standpoint from 2010.

“Going into 2012, we should be at the end of the double-dip La Niña — triple La Niña’s are very rare,” Heiniger says.

“Growers are looking for more chances of rainfall later in the summer when the La Niña subsides. Therefore later planting dates are likely to produce the best results,” he adds.

Fortunately, the North Carolina specialist says, growers have some excellent corn hybrid varieties that can adapt well to later planting.

“What you want is a late-season hybrid with good early growth. You want to get corn out of the ground quickly, so it can compete for light and produce good growth,” he says.

Even though growing conditions are warmer and growing conditions are better, he says his research indicates starter fertilizer is a good kick-start for later planted varieties.

“And, the invention of Bt-containing corn hybrids is essential for later planted corn. Prior to Bt corn, we couldn’t even think about planting corn in late May, Heiniger adds.

“I want to stress that I’m not advocating planting corn late every year — it all depends on the weather. Even with La Niña, there are some growers who plant on good organic soils who should continue to plant early.

“Growers on sandy soils are a different story, and they need to pay special attention to weather patterns,” Heiniger says.