By TIM ALEXANDER
LANARK, Ill. — In their 25th year of conducting corn and soybean seed hybrid trials in farmers’ test plots, F.I.R.S.T. (Farmers’ Independent Research of Seed Technologies) field managers recorded record corn and soybean yields in 2021. However, corn yields would have been even greater in the upper Midwest if not for the increasing presence of black tar spot in fields.
This is according to F.I.R.S.T. field managers Jason Beyers and Matt Turner, who both reported tar spot is beginning to suppress corn yields in their respective research areas.
“Most areas saw a record year for yield,” said Beyers, referring to 2021 F.I.R.S.T. seed trials conducted throughout the Midwest and in some eastern states. Beyers’ territory includes northern Illinois and Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, F.I.R.S.T. field trial yield data closely mirrored yield estimates issued by the USDA for corn and soybean yield in Beyers’ management region.
“In the northeastern corner of Illinois, from I-39 over to the Chicago area, they had a record year. West of 39 we were short of rainfall. Near Lanark in the northwest corner, they were 9.5 inches short of rainfall for the growing season. You didn’t have to go much south of there, down to Dixon, where they were about 13 inches short,” Beyers reported.
The F.I.R.S.T. field manager credited hybrid technology for preserving decent harvests for farmers in northwestern Illinois. “In the NW corner corn yields averaged 20 to 25 bushels less than the 10-year average. But that is actually phenomenal, when you consider the amount of rainfall,” Beyers said. “All of the companies’ traits we tested seemed to work well on the corn.”
Beyers classified soybean yield in his testing region as “average,” crediting mid-to-late August rains with finishing off soybean growth. However, “Central Illinois had a phenomenal soybean year-- we had some of the highest yielding soybean plots we’ve ever had there,” he said.
Of the more than 100 corn hybrid field trials overseen by Beyers, most faced pressure from black tar spot. Green leaf spot was also present on corn, but not as severe as in years past.
“Tar spot limited yield, especially in the north. Tar spot needs the moist conditions in the mornings like we get in northern Illinois and Wisconsin, and it becomes more persistent due to the moisture that stays in the leaf tissue,” said Beyers.
Highly favorable planting conditions led to crops getting in the ground early in the season, Beyers reported. “All soil conditions were perfect when we planted, but then came the rainfall. Central Illinois dried out well during harvest, but bean cutting was horrible this year due to rains during the first two weeks of October,” he said, adding that the late storms led to a “lot of green stems” on soybean plants.
“The beans were dry, but the plants didn’t seem to mature properly. This made it very difficult to put through a combine,” Beyers said.
As in Illinois and Wisconsin, planting conditions during the beginning of the 2021 F.I.R.S.T. seed trials in Michigan were also favorable, according to Turner, whose field management region includes southern Michigan, northern Indiana and northwestern Ohio. He also manages a few plots in the “thumb” region of Michigan.
“Oddly enough, last year Michigan was dry early, and we started up in the thumb first, with a couple of planting dates in early April. Then we worked our way south,” said Turner. “We had tremendous yields this year, probably the best averages the region has ever had.”
After early planting and emergence, Turner’s Michigan corn plots started showing signs of tar spot during development. “This caused a decrease in yields,” he noted. “However, northern Indiana and western Ohio corn yields were probably our best ever. Beans were excellent as well. Early planted beans did better, as did corn that was sprayed with a fungicide. Excellent yields.”
Some areas boasted corn yields of more than 80 bushels per acre above their ten year production averages, according to Turner.
Turner speculated that his southern Michigan corn plots suffered more tar spot damage than in his other regions due to farmers’ greater usage of irrigation to water crops. “I think the irrigation brought the tar spot in and caused it to spread quickly under the pivots,” he said.
Soybean maturity was “very healthy” throughout his field management region, with no problems (other than some lodging in Michigan) reported at harvest, Turner said.
Readers can find a summary of Turner’s season on the cover of the F.I.R.S.T. 2021 Performance Summary (Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan Edition) here:
To read the summary of Beyers and Nathan Roux’s Illinois, Wisconsin and tri-state region, visit: 2021-FIRST-IL-WI-NCTS-Performance-Summary-web.pdf (firstseedtests.com).
In addition, the F.I.R.S.T. December newsletter included some information on the overall F.I.R.S.T 2021 season, including yield leading companies and brands: https://conta.cc/3FG4sNa.