A corn crop keeps records, says Collin County, Texas, farmer Butch Aycock, “and when you make a mistake it puts down a little black mark. You have to keep enough nitrogen on. You have to get enough water. If you don’t, the crop jots down a black mark and will show you later everything you did wrong.
“Corn is an unforgiving crop.”
In late June, Aycock was hoping he’d need little forgiveness for a crop that, for the most part, got off to a good start, thanks to decent spring and early summer rainfall in Northeast Texas.
“Corn varies a lot, though,” he said. “From Melissa north, the crop is in good shape. East of highway 75 is good, but west of 75 it’s very light, and south of Melissa some will make about half of what the better corn will make.”
He says the crop may have recorded some missed rain events. “We missed some key showers to the west in late May,” he said. “We got two or three inches to the east and about a half-inch to the west. Luckily, only about 25 percent of the crop was hurt; about 15 percent was hurt pretty bad.”
He had about 300 acres with hail damage, as well.
Aycock said he used to consider himself a corn farmer, “until it didn’t rain for about five years. If you cut the water off even the best stand will not make much.”
Aycock farms dryland and says farmers in his area have to be realistic about yield prospects. “You have to know the field,” he said, “but if you don’t think you can make 100 bushels per acre you probably need to find another occupation.”
That yield goal doesn’t always pan out, but it’s a target. “We got hurt last year, but we had a good price and made more corn than we initially expected. And with Afla-Guard, we made good quality.”
Applying Afla-Guard and AF-36, atoxigenic forms of aspergillus flavus, has become a routine production practice in Northeast Texas for the past few years. “If corn buyers are not in the dairy business, they are interested in our corn now,” Aycock said. “If we used it, buyers don’t have to worry about aflatoxin-contaminated corn. It’s not bullet proof, but I think a 90 percent reduction is typical. I think we can get below 20 parts per billion with perfect timing and maybe adjusted rate.”
Aycock uses Afla-Guard on 100 percent of his acreage. He said a fungicide application, along with an insecticide for spider mites applied with the Afla-Guard, may have been a good idea this year. “We tend to see more spider mites in dry years.”
By late June, much of Aycock’s corn was close to being made. “But I don’t think corn ever gets to the point that it doesn’t benefit from another rain,” he said. “Even corn that has already been dinged by dry weather responds to rain.”
He said corn needed moisture earlier than normal this year because of unusually warm early growing conditions. “We started wheat harvest early and were done by the first of June,” he said. “That’s normally early for corn to need much moisture, but it was two to five weeks early.”
He said timely rain turned some fields around. “They were already burning up but after the rain were greening up again.”
In some areas “a lot of potential rainfall fizzled out. We missed a few, and the worst fields that started missing rain just kept on missing it.”
Aycock says technology has helped corn farmers. He plants all Roundup Ready corn hybrids. “I’ve been planting Roundup Ready for years and made 120 bushels per acre the first time I planted it. I plant a lot of Pioneer and Terral hybrids.”
Technology has allowed him to cut back on tillage over the past few years. “Most people plow more than I do,” he said. “I don’t plow anything in the spring.”
Aycock just sold his last 12-row cultivator, left over from 10 years ago.
He likes to rotate but said he’s gotten away from his ideal program “when we got into a dry cycle. I plant wheat on my lighter land and keep corn on the better soil. I got everything rotated in 2010. With a wet spring I couldn’t plant, so I fallowed some land and that helped the rotation.”
More technology would be appreciated. Aycock would like to see drought-tolerant hybrids developed for his area. “I think they would help. We might look back at old-time genetics and develop hybrids that put on two ears per stalk and then plant fewer seed per acre. With precision planters, we get pretty much every seed up.”
Even with high fertilizer prices he hasn’t cut back on nutrients for his corn. “We have to have fertilizer available to corn early and also in-season.”
Cutting back gives the crop another opportunity to add a black mark to the record book, he said.
He hopes that record book is fairly clean after corn harvest and says Northeast Texas farmers have an opportunity to make two good crops this year—wheat and corn or milo.
“Our wheat averaged close to 80 bushels per acre,” Aycock said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
He said adequate rainfall through the season was a critical factor. “But fungicides also made a difference.We didn’t see much variation between the four varieties we planted, but fungicide made more wheat.”
He said yields across Northeast Texas were exceptional. “We’ve never seen a better crop. This is the best wheat we’ve ever made. Yields were eight to 10 bushels better than most of us had ever seen.”
He’s thankful for the favorable weather that made that good wheat possible and makes a decent corn yield a distinct possibility. He’s dealt with all kinds of bad weather—rain that prevented planting, hail that destroyed crops and drought that withered plants in the field. He prefers excess moisture to drought.
“Wet is easier to deal with, especially with the equipment we have now,” he said.
“We can’t cure dry.”