Think About This: Pollination Patrol

Whenever I head into town, I drive by a neighbor’s field that usually looks picture-perfect this time of year. Unfortunately, that’s not the case this summer. Heavy rains kept him out of the field in early May, so corn planting was delayed. Continued cool temperatures and excess rainfall have slowed growth and development, and his crop probably won’t pollinate until late July or early August—when temperatures are typically high and moisture is low.

Delayed pollination often creates some agronomic challenges that farmers, including my neighbor, need to tune into, notes Missy Bauer, Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist. One of those issues now is increased pest problems. “The uneven crop we have out there in a lot of fields means farmers may see more silk clippers,” she says. “When the crop silks unevenly, it extends the amount of time pests have to feed on fresh silks. Also, instead of the pest being scattered across the field, they concentrate on the newly emerged silks.”

Adult corn rootworm beetles, Japanese beetles and aphids can interfere with tasseling and pollen drop. Plus, Japanese beetles are pheromone feeders. That means when they find a corn plant that they like, they give off a chemical that draws more insects to the feeding site.

In uneven corn crops, the pollination window is often extended from three days or four days in a field to seven days or more. Those longer pollination periods encourage insect populations to continue building and feeding.

Bauer says if silk clipping is occurring, then encourage your growers to check ears of corn to see if they have at least ½'' of silk for the pollen to catch on to. You can also check whether silks have already pollinated. Carefully cut the husk off an ear while leaving the silks intact. Then, shake the ear. Any silks that pollinated in the past 24 hours to 48 hours will fall. If all of the silks fall, then the ear is already pollinated, and there’s no need to spray.

Bauer recommends checking 10 ears to 15 ears per field to evaluate pollination. If the silks don’t fall off most of the ears checked, then continue watching for silk clippers, and be prepared to act quickly and spray if conditions warrant.

If pollination is late in your area, then you may see other issues, including disease and weed pressure, affecting growers’ corn. Bauer notes that keeping boots in the field now can go a long way toward heading off problems in farmers’ fields and protecting their crops.

AgPro Retailer Day. On Aug. 1, join Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie and team for hands-on, cutting-edge agronomic training. This one-day-only, information-packed event features classroom and in-field instruction designed to help you protect bushels and boost yields for farmer-customers. More information is online at I hope you’ll join us.


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