As drought conditions continue to affect much of the upper Midwest, row crop farmers are evaluating their corn and making nutrient decisions to prepare for this fall’s harvest. While the actions of Mother Nature are out of our control, there are positives to the current crop conditions that producers can manage throughout the summer months.
First and foremost, while the conditions are starting to affect yield, it often takes a severe drought to drastically hamper yield numbers. At the V12 stage, corn uses about .26” of water each day, making it very resilient even in dry conditions. And according to drought maps in early June, much of the upper Midwest is in the lower drought ranking.
Early Signs of Water Stress
As you watch your corn throughout the day, you’ll likely see rolled leaves during the heat of the day. While it doesn’t look the best, rolled leaves are actually a good sign that the plant is protecting itself.
During the day, the top inches of soil dry out under the sun’s pressure, and water is lost from the root area of the plant. This lack of moisture causes the leaves to roll as the crop works to conserve moisture. Early in the morning and later in the evening, though, you should see a more normal leaf structure. In these cooler portions of the day (and overnight), moisture returns from high density areas to low areas, and the plant is able to absorb the water back into its roots to stay healthy, and from there the leaves will unroll.
Supporting Corn through Drought
So, how can you help your corn battle dry conditions and still grow a successful crop?
The number one management tip is ensuring the plant has adequate potassium levels available. As potassium regulates movement of water in the plant, keeping this nutrient at a desirable level will help the plant to absorb whatever water is available.
Potassium deficiencies often start in the lower leaves of the plant and work their way up. And the higher in a plant the deficiency exists, the more impact it has on yield. Monitor your fields for potassium deficiency, which shows up in a “burned” appearance on the edges of leaves, starting at lower canopies in plants.
Staying vigilant against pests and disease that attack the root system is also important. As water absorption becomes even more crucial in dry conditions, ensuring the plant has healthy, adequate root structures will keep available water flowing and improve overall plant performance.
We can’t control the weather, but we can control our response to it. Contact us to discuss what options are available to ensure your crops have the nutrients they need year-round.
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