We often talk about a “farmer’s intuition” and it took me awhile to realize maybe intuition is not the right word, but there is clearly a pattern to the history and experience of each individual farmer. A few years ago, one area farmer shared that his goal was to put out his last nitrogen fertilizer application to the corn crop on Mother’s day. Studying the calendar, Mother’s Day is always the second Sunday of May, generally speaking between the 8th-15th of May. When you think about our corn planting dates, we hope to have our corn crops in the ground around March 7th-20th under most circumstances. So the “intuition” of this farmers was to get the last nitrogen application out prior to, or at tassel which occurs at about 65 days after planting. You guessed it, the tassel usually emerges just after Mother’s Day for his typical planting dates. Farmers know that nitrogen demand by corn is high at this stage and a last application prior to tassel provides a large dose of confidence that it will be available to meet the crop needs.
I mention all this because, WOW, the old Rule of Thumb was way off this year. The local corn crop had as tough of a start as I have seen here, with 17.7″ of rain in the months of March and April. This was from nine events with greater than 1″ in a 24 hour period. The first consequence of this was that corn was planted about a month behind schedule in many cases. The second consequence was significant nitrogen loss where corn was planted, and in many cases farmers were hesitant to make applications because heavy rainfall was expected. They felt the fertilizer was safer in the truck than on the soil.
In most of my farm visits this week we are looking at knee high corn. With the high temperatures and rapid growth, most farmers were able to rapidly respond with fertigation to make much needed improvements. These suffering corn crops have really turned around recently. It looks like much of our corn will be tasseling the first week of June instead of the second Sunday of May this year. Hopefully that is matched with a nice rain and cooler temperatures.