It’s too soon to call it a bin buster, but Manitoba’s corn crop is poised to be one of the best in a decade.
Barring an early frost and with continued good weather the crop could top the 10-year average of 117 bushels per acre, corn experts say. Breaking the record 133 bushels an acre set in 2013 isn’t out of reach either.
“For sure Manitoba’s corn is looking good,” Dale Alderson of Intel Seed in Oakville said during an interview here Aug. 26. “We had a pretty warm summer — pretty warm nights. These are all good for growth and development and we’re not lacking moisture so this is a bunch of events that should lead to pretty top yields. The (online) corn predictor yield suggests it’s going to be a really strong yield this year.”
Corn yields can be estimated by counting the number of kernels around the cob from bottom to top, then plugging that, along with plant populations, into a web-based calculator. Based on random samples collected from cornfields in the Oakville-Portage la Prairie area, Alderson is seeing potential yields of 130 to 200 bushels an acre.
“That’s a very good yield if it maintains itself through the season,” he said. “It’s not in the bin yet, but we’ve got pretty good moisture. Maybe another rain in mid-September would help finish filling things up. Barring a frost I think we’re set for a very good yield.
It has been a great year for corn in Manitoba so far, agrees Michael Weir, DuPont Pioneer’s area agronomist for southeast Manitoba. Spring was early and a lot of corn was seeded early too.
“We had such a gorgeous June and July with high temperatures and timely rains,” he said. “Things really got going. You think of that old rule of thumb ‘knee-high by the first of July’ and in some cases we were shoulder-high by then.
“We’ve got moisture now and next week is supposed to be warm again — above-normal temperatures — and I think that will move things along quite quickly as well. With corn you still have to hope for that open fall, but I think as far as the average, I think we’re a little bit ahead of the game as far as the staging of the corn.
“It’s not hard to find 160- (bushel-an-acre) estimates on the conservative side. Having talked to some guys earlier they figured there was 200-bushel corn out there. There still might be, but some of those areas might have lost some of that top end due to a lack of moisture. Just taking a guess I don’t think it will be unheard of for a lot of people to be getting that 160 to 180 and then an average of 130 to 150.”
Manitoba farmers planted 225,197 acres of grain corn covered by crop insurance, Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation records show, down slightly from 2014, but well above the 10-year average of 182,158.
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development’s (MAFRD) weather data shows much of central Manitoba — the province’s core corn-growing area — has received average to above-average rainfall and heat. But not everyone has received perfect conditions. Hailstorms pounded some crops making them more vulnerable to disease, including Goss’s Wilt. While some areas including the Morris to Steinbach areas have been too wet, other pockets, including south of Morden, turned dry, Weir said.
Some early-maturing hybrids are denting — a sign of increasing maturity, Weir said. Given normal growing conditions corn will reach physiological maturity 20 to 25 days later. That would be about mid-September. Maturity will vary based on the hybrid, when it was planted and the local growing conditions. Fully mature corn will not be harmed by a killing frost.
According to MAFRD data the average 0 C temperature for much of central Manitoba occurs Sept. 16 to 21. However, it usually takes colder temperatures than 0 C to kill a nearly mature corn plant. Last year light frost hurt some cornfields around Sept. 12. Many plants continued to mature. Ideally Manitoba’s corn region will be frost free until the end of September this year.
European corn borers were probably more prevalent this year than last, Weir said. The insect, which bores into cornstalks and cobs, prevents plants from taking up nutrients resulting in lower yields and/or causing stalks to break before or during harvest, also reducing yields.
Blackbirds are feeding in some cornfields. Certain hybrids are more susceptible than others, said Morgan Cott, field agronomist with the Manitoba Corn Growers Association.
Once birds start feeding on corn that can attract the four-spotted sap beetle, said MAFRD entomologist John Gavloski. However, the insect doesn’t cause economic damage, he said.
Corn borers, which overwinter in Manitoba, show up most years, but outbreaks are scattered. Bt corn is resistant to corn borers, but costs more. Farmers don’t know at planting time whether their corn will be attacked by borer or not. History can be a guide. If borer numbers were high this year the farmer should consider planting Bt corn next year, Gavloski said.
The insect can be controlled with several insecticides, but applying at the right time is important.