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Challenges plague early corn plants

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Freezing temperatures, slugs and crawfish sound more like biblical plagues than problems for Mississippi's early corn. Nevertheless, those are among the challenges growers are reporting to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Erick Larson, Extension small grains specialist, said although a mid-April frost likely will cause little damage across much of the state, many other problems are being reported.

“Growers are replanting more March-planted corn fields than normal because frequent rainfall kept soils saturated and caused seedlings to die in poorly drained areas of fields,” Larson said. “Rainfall also has delayed planting progress.”

Slugs have been reported in isolated areas of the Delta, and crawfish are destroying crops in portions of east Mississippi. Growers' biggest test of faith still may be purchasing expensive fertilizer to produce their 2008 corn crop. The state is predicted to plant 670,000 acres of corn, down 30 percent from last year's  940,000 acres.

Larson said corn is one of the more expensive crops to produce, and growers have few cost-cutting options available.

“Corn requires more nitrogen than other crops, and nitrogen is the most expensive input,” Larson said. “Our management recommendations are always based on crop profitability, so growers may not have much leeway to minimize inputs, or they likely will lose money.”

Larson said growers often try to combine inputs when making an application to reduce fuel costs. Combining fertilizer and pesticide applications may or may not be practical. The crop response to this method will depend on timing and other factors. Combining inputs may diminish pest control and promote pest resistance, which ultimately will reduce profitability and create more problems in the future.

“Timing is everything, especially with nitrogen. Because Mississippi springs are often very wet, we suggest growers apply nitrogen fertilizer at different times according to crop need,” Larson said. “This split application method reduces the likelihood of considerable nitrogen loss due to wet weather before crop use.”

Larson said although cold temperatures on April 15 extended farther south than last year's damaging Easter freeze, the temperatures were considerably warmer and much shorter in duration.

“The freezing temperatures probably will not produce significant damage to most of the corn crop,” he said. “Corn recovery from freeze damage is very dependent on favorable temperatures and growing conditions following the freeze, and those conditions appear to be close to ideal this year.”

Dennis Reginelli, Extension area agronomics agent based in Noxubee County, said crawfish damage to crops has been increasing each year.

“The crawfish are strong and very aggressive,” he said. “They're not the edible kind -- just troublemakers.”

Reginelli said in recent years, crawfish have been known to destroy an 80-acre soybean field in Lowndes County. They appear to be most active in the black prairie soil of east Mississippi.

“Crawfish are giving us fits this year. They will come out at night and clip young corn, cotton or soybean plants. It's frustrating because you don't know when they are going to come out and feed,” he said. “They can cut through 6-inch-tall corn and then pull the plants into their holes, leaving big gaps in fields overnight. They don't care if it's cotton, corn or soybeans.”

Reginelli said control is difficult because the crawfish can escape into the ground. MSU is monitoring how granular insecticides for early corn insects might also help control crawfish.

Chris Daves, entomologist at MSU's Central Research and Extension Center in Raymond, said he has received calls from Delta farmers regarding slugs in their corn fields. Cool, wet weather favors slug activity.

“Slugs generally are more of a problem in no-till fields with a lot of organic matter on the ground,” Daves said. “It's hard to justify treating for them. Corn will generally outgrow damage.”

Growers should watch next for stink bugs moving from wheat into corn and other crops. 

John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist, said corn prices give farmers good reasons to persevere. Prices are running about $2 per bushel more than last year's average.

“Midwest planting conditions will remain front-and-center in the market for the next few weeks at least. Weather aside, corn market fundamentals remain strong, featuring positive demand, low stocks and prospects for relatively low plantings,” Anderson said. “Prices are unlikely to relax significantly until some evidence begins to show up that consumers have begun to reduce their demand.”

Released: April 18, 2008
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Associate Agronomist/Specialist - Corn, Grain Sorghum and Small Grains

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