Come Rain or Shine

Take the guesswork out of maximizing corn yields, even under extreme weather conditions.
Formulation Team Has Good Chemistry
Unfortunately for growers, there is no exact science when it comes to long-term weather predictions. Wide swings in temperatures and rainfall amounts are common from one year to the next. But what if a tool that corn growers are already using to fight disease can also be part of an overall strategy to reduce plant stress, no matter what the weather? (See "An Integrated Strategy")

As part of its longstanding commitment to water optimization in corn, Syngenta has conducted research studies that show Quilt Xcel® fungicide is such a crop management tool. Its ability to help corn plants withstand stress on both ends of the moisture spectrum was put to the test in 2012 and again in 2013 - two back-to-back seasons that posed markedly different challenges for growers.

A Tale of Two Seasons

While "drought" best sums up 2012, conditions in 2013 were more complex. A wet, cold early spring delayed planting and, in some cases, negatively affected germination, which led to replanting. Too much rainfall throughout the season increased the risks for poor root and disease development as well as lodging.

"We've had a lot of weather stress in my area the last couple of years," says Rich Lee, Syngenta agronomic service representative in Walford, Iowa. "It has been too wet, too cold, too dry and too hot, all in the same year. We can't control the weather, but we can help limit its impact by using the right fungicide."

Lee notes that the traditional practice of waiting until R1 to scout and make a fungicide application decision may not be the best approach. "We are trying to help growers get ahead of the curve," he says. "Problems like weather-related stress will be there every year. I think it's time we adjust to that and say, ‘I'm going to apply a fungicide because I know to some degree this will be an issue.' In my opinion that's management, and that's what puts some folks on top."

Matt LaFont from Brookport, Ill., is a grower who knows that going outside the lines of what he's always done can lead to higher yields. "In the 2012 drought, we applied Quilt Xcel on one strip of corn for disease protection. We thought it was too dry to see any real benefit," he says. "But where we did use Quilt Xcel, we saw a pretty good yield bump and were kicking ourselves for not using it on all of our corn acres."

The following season, LaFont acted on the lessons he had learned by applying the fungicide on 600 acres of corn. "In 2013, we received lots of rain," he says. "We already have big fogs and dews in this area, so we had a lot of disease. Quilt Xcel kept that under wraps and kept our plants healthy as they matured."

"In the 2012 drought, we applied Quilt Xcel on one strip of corn for disease protection. We thought it was too dry to see any real benefit. But where we did use Quilt Xcel, we saw a pretty good yield bump and were kicking ourselves for not using it on all of our corn acres."

—Matt LaFont
Dry Run

Using a fungicide during wet seasons makes sense to most people. After all, excessive moisture creates ideal breeding grounds for fungal plant pathogens to develop and multiply. However, applying fungicides during dry weather may seem counterintuitive. The 2012 drought showed growers that when the rain isn't falling enough, it's important for plants to use the water they do receive to maximize yields.

Fungicides, like Quilt Xcel, can help. Corn plants treated with Quilt Xcel stay greener longer, leading to extended periods of photosynthesis as well as more growth and grain fill. When it only takes 2.5 additional kernels per ear to increase yields by 1 bushel per acre, larger ears with more kernels can have a significant impact on yield. The fungicide also slows water loss, improving water-use efficiency and leading to stronger stalks and healthier plants.

"Under dry conditions, Quilt Xcel keeps plants healthy and helps them utilize the moisture that is there," says Shannon McCoy, a retailer with Crop Rite in Marshalltown, Iowa. "This stops the plant from completely shutting down and enables it to continue growing and producing good yields."

Water in Excess

In 2013, too much water was the problem for many areas - at least during portions of the growing season. Wet conditions throughout much of the Midwest in the spring led to delayed planting. With a late-developing crop, disease pressure became a concern sooner than usual. On many farms, diseases emerged during early grain fill, negatively impacting yields more than they would if infection occurred later in the season. Humidity also set in by midsummer, leaving corn plants vulnerable to disease.

According to Lee, fungicide applications can become more complex in a year with uneven emergence, like 2013. "A lot of fungicides have to be applied with an adjuvant, which really limits their crop safety and application timing options," he says. "A fungicide, such as Quilt Xcel, that can be applied with straight water keeps growers from worrying that they'll damage pollination on a year of uneven tasseling."

Quilt Xcel provides excellent disease control but also provides benefits that relieve water-related stresses. Wet weather can lead to underdeveloped roots, so an application of the fungicide helps corn develop stronger, deeper root systems for maximum nutrient uptake.

"In wet conditions, Quilt Xcel has definitely helped plants stay healthier and better tolerate the negative effects of too much rain," says Mark Nofziger, a grower in Wauseon, Ohio. "It keeps stalks healthier and plants standing straight to minimize lodging at harvest."

2014 Preparedness

With the price of corn estimated to be around $4 per bushel in 2014, many growers may hesitate to invest in a fungicide. But Andrew Fisher, commercial product lead for fungicides at Syngenta, argues that getting a good return on investment becomes even more important during a year with lower corn prices.

"We have seen a range of extreme weather conditions over the past few years, and growers need to be prepared for anything," he says. "Since weather put their bottom lines in jeopardy in 2012 and again in 2013, growers understand that to increase their crop's yield potential, they must improve its handling of weather-related stress. A fungicide with stress-management benefits can do just that."