Just as in other areas of the Southeast, north Florida’s corn acreage was expected to increase significantly this year, and as growers entered June, the results were mixed.

In the Suwannee Valley of Florida, on both sides of the Suwannee River through north Florida and including Columbia County, farmers grew 25,000 acres of corn in 2012. This year, corn acres are expected to be up by about 30 percent over this eight-county area, with a significant amount of irrigated peanuts shifting to corn.

As May ended and June began, Columbia County Extension Agent Mace Bauer says his growers have what he would characterize as an “average” corn crop, with a shot at making good yields.

“I did my first yield estimates the other day, and it was 202-bushel corn. Overall, I’d say we have an average crop. It’s certainly not an above-average crop. We started planting on March 3, and the last planting that I’m aware of was April 20,” he says.

Very little corn acreage in the area is dryland, says Bauer.

“We like to see our irrigated corn planted by April 1. We usually schedule our limited dryland acres to be planted by April 20, because we’re trying to shoot for rainfall around June 15. We try to target our dryland corn to tassel in late June when rainfall is more consistent. This is contrary to what they do in Alabama, where the farmers try to get it in early before the heat comes on. We just don’t have any water-holding capacity that would give us the soil moisture needed for early dryland corn. We need that reliable rainfall window of late June.”

While Bauer doesn’t want to dampen the enthusiasm for high-yielding corn, he knows much of corn’s yield potential is determined early, and many of the fields went through stress from the cool spring and excessive rainfall.

“One area farmer likes to say, ‘250 bushel corn doesn’t have a bad day,’” Bauer says. “At this point, we have fields that have had bad weeks.”

He’s sure there will be a significant number of farmers who make good yields, but he’s afraid they may be overspending on their crop in an attempt to make top corn yields. In fact, some farmers have mentioned to him they don’t like growing corn because of the high dollar inputs per acre.

“The fact is that many are delivering $5.70 corn that wasn’t contracted. We can’t deny that there’s an impact from our soil types. One farmer can do the same thing on two different fields, and one will yield better. It will happen year in and year out. We can’t overcome that, or I haven’t observed it yet. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan for doing this,” he says.

Many farmers in Columbia County couldn’t get their desired hybrid this year due to short seed supply, he says.

“In a lot of cases, we don’t know much about what we’ve planted because locally, we’ve never seen some of the hybrids that are planted. They may be great, but we don’t know for sure at this point. Many growers haven’t been pleased with what they’ve seen. One of our farmers wanted one specific triple stack hybrid, plus a straight Roundup Ready hybrid. He ended up with eight different numbered seeds to plant 2,800 acres,” says Bauer.

Some hybrids have not delivered

Farmers know what they want to see in a corn crop, and some of the hybrids planted this year just haven’t delivered, he says.

Also, many farmers need to upgrade planters for top-yielding corn, says Bauer. “It isn’t as easy as dropping 36,000 to 38,000 seeds, but some have done that with what I call ‘peanut planters.’ As a result, we’ve seen skips, doubles and non-uniform emergence. I’m seeing more in-row variability this year. They don’t have good placement, but they’re shooting for the stars on corn yield. It’s something we in Extension need to be talking more about – high-quality corn planters, precision planting and seed firmers,” he says.

Weed control has been good in Columbia County this season, says Bauer, but he fears that growers are relying too heavily on the use of atrazine.

“We shouldn’t be abusing atrazine, and as Extension agents we should be doing more to encourage growers to look at other things. We know there is atrazine-resistant Palmer amaranth in Georgia and atrazine-resistant tall waterhemp (a close relative to Palmer amaranth) throughout the Midwest, so that is a little concerning. The programs being used now offer good control, but I don’t know how long they’ll be sustainable, I’m hearing about off-label rates to get sufficient control.”

One of Bauer’s main concerns about nutrient management this year has been nitrogen deficiencies. The University of Florida’s recommendation calls for 210 pounds of total nitrogen on corn and 30 pounds additional per leaching rainfall.

“The challenge is that when you have your leaching rainfall event early in the season, you can’t overcome it.  Some of our corn had 200 pounds of nitrogen applied, and we received 3 ½ inches of rain on May 1. The corn was waist-high, and we can’t recover from that very well. We need it early, but we need some in the bank available to the crop. We may have lost much more than 30 pounds with that amount of rainfall.”

Much of the corn in the area is showing nitrogen deficiency on the lower leaves as the tassel emerges, he adds.

Bauer says many farmers are calling him to ask about low magnesium levels in their tissue tests. This is something that has been consistent in his seven years of working in this area.

“I don’t know the impact of this on yield, but when people ask about it, I recommend they learn from it and move on if there is no observable deficiency in the lower leaves. Often, the magnesium will come back to the sufficient level after the root system has expanded and acquired more nutrients. That plant will have gone through a period of nutrient stress, but there is little reported on successfully foliar feeding macronutrients. Magnesium is needed in the plant in large quantities.

“On some farms, where we have been working to address low magnesium levels based on tissue sampling from past years, we have been successful using 300 pounds of K-Mag preplant, and it has rectified the early season low magnesium levels. However, I’m not sure if the economic return is there for such an expensive application.”

Headed into June, corn fields in Columbia County were dry, says Bauer, and some growers were already getting behind with their irrigation.

“A half-inch rain just doesn’t charge us back up. We’re definitely dry here now, going on 14 days without rain. One day of water stress can take 8 percent off the crop yield at this time. We can lose up to 50 percent of the yield to a poorly timed pump or pivot breakdown.”

Producers should continually watch for gyrations in the market, he says. “Many of our growers contracted corn at $7 in July 2012 for July 2013 delivery. But they didn’t contract all of their acres or all of their yield. They used their average yield number. Much of the corn was planted as a last-minute decision while waiting on peanut contracts that never came. Locally, farmers can put corn in their bins and sell it for $5.68 between September and January. They can contract corn for July 2014 Delivery at $5.92. Neither are very attractive after two years of selling $7 corn without any marketing plan at all. However both are well above the $4 range that many have been predicting.”

So far, the market hasn’t cooperated in taking the sting out of high input costs, he says

Western Panhandle crop is mixed bag

Meanwhile, on the western end of the Florida Panhandle, the corn crop is a mixed bag, says Libbie Johnson, Escambia County Extension agent.

“We have some corn that looks like it’s ready to start tasseling, and some that’s just over knee high,” said Johnson in early June. “Our corn crop is all over the board. I won’t say that the crop is above-average at this early stage, but our irrigated corn looks really good. Other fields don’t look as good.”

Escambia County had 3,200 acres of corn in 2012, and Johnson estimates that number will be closer to 4,200 acres this year.

Some of the county’s corn was slowed by lingering cool springtime temperatures, says Johnson, but it appears to be growing out of early season problems. Dry weather conditions affect growers in Escambia County because only about one-fourth of the corn acres are irrigated, she says.

Some farmers in the county are growing corn for the first time this year, she says.

“Our new growers are approaching it cautiously. They’re doing their research and not throwing everything at it. They’re putting corn on their best ground to give it the best chance. Most of the new corn acreage has shifted from peanuts, and farmers here will grow cotton regardless of what happens,” says Johnson.

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