Preventative Measures Pay Off For Corn

An image taken by a drone of corn harvest at Greg Alber's farm in Northeast Iowa. Photo courtesy of Greg Alber.
An image taken by a drone of corn harvest at Greg Alber's farm in Northeast Iowa. Photo courtesy of Greg Alber.

It was a good, dry harvest season for Greg Alber on his family’s Iowa farm. With ideal weather conditions, harvest finished the first week of November, two weeks ahead of the 2014 harvest. Additionally, most of the crop dried down to desired moisture levels for storage, and the corn quality is good, Alber said. This year, the farm’s corn recorded test weights of 62 pounds per bushel (79.8 kilograms per hectoliter).

Now that harvest is complete, Alber is beginning to comb through data to see which management decisions worked best. Initial review indicated that spraying all of his corn acres with a fungicide to fight off Northern Corn Leaf Blight (NCLB) was a good decision, resulting in higher yields.

“I haven’t fully crunched the numbers yet, but it looks like spraying fungicide gave us a 30 to 40 bushel (approximately 0.8 to 1 metric ton) advantage, especially with certain corn varieties,” Alber said. “It also helped with stalk quality.”

New for this year, Alber began using an unmanned aerial drone to fly over his fields and observe crop progress. During harvest time, he used it see the tops of the corn, or tassels, and help decide which fields to harvest. He also scouted his fields for stalk strength, which contributes to an efficient and easier harvest.

“We try to be responsible with the drone and obey all the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules,” Alber said. “The drone helped us make decisions, but we also got some really neat photos of our crew in action during harvest.”

Alber said the 2015 crop was one of his best ever. He had about 50 percent of his crop sold before harvest, with half of that delivered to the local ethanol plant right out of the field. He will hold the remainder in on-farm storage bins until scheduled delivery.

“We’ll leave it in the bins for a while and begin transporting some in December and January,” Alber said. “As for the rest of the crop, we’re going to wait out the market a bit since the basis, or difference between futures price and cash price, around here is still high.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Agricultural Summary released Nov. 16, 2015, 96 percent of the corn crop for grain has been harvested in the United States. This is 8 percent ahead of 2014, and 2 percent ahead of the five-year average.

Since completing their harvest, Alber and his family have been doing some fall tillage work, applying nitrogen to the soil and contemplating their crop rotation for next year.

“There is always something to do until the ground is totally frozen,” Alber said.