No. 24 Article 4/November 7, 2008

Observations from the Unusual 2008 Season

Soybean harvest is nearing an end for 2008 in Illinois, and corn harvest is finally making rapid progress, with some two-thirds or more of the crop harvested by now. To call this an unusual year seems like quite an understatement. The 2008 season in a nutshell:

After a season of on-and-off, unevenly distributed poor conditions, yields of both corn and soybean will be among the highest on record, with soybean yield predicted at 45 and corn at 177 bushels per acre in the October estimate. There have been reports of very high yields of both crops in some areas, especially in parts of western, northwestern, and central Illinois. Soybeans and corn replanted in mid- to late June in south-central Illinois yielded in some cases 60 and 180 bushels per acre or more. The only reasonable explanation for such yields is that the season was much extended, with maturity occurring weeks to a month or more later than average, and a great deal of grain filling after September 1, during the weeks before maturity.

I had predicted back in the "troubled" days of May and June that a good September could bale us out of trouble, but the hope was that yields would not be less than normal for such late planting, and few were thinking about the possibility of above-average yields. Without doubt, the recovery from a late and poor start to the season was beyond anyone's hope.

The predictions I made in June about how crops would respond to late planting were completely inaccurate as a result of the unusual season. Averaged across plant populations, the last planting, on May 30, yielded more at Perry than did any of the earlier plantings, which ranged in date from April 7 to May 10. Such results represent a dilemma: if such a season will never happen again, then including it in the database means less accuracy in future predictions of planting date effects.

While yields in many fields are good to outstanding in many areas, problems in ear development, similar to those I discussed earlier in the season, became noticeable in some fields only during harvest, often only after yields were lower than expected. Some of these symptoms may be related to later-than-normal herbicide application and may in some cases be related to the use of certain additives, if not to the herbicides themselves. One symptom that has been reported from a number of fields is the presence of "empty" kernels, present only as the seedcoat, scattered on the ear among normal-sized kernels. We will study these cases and try to see if they have a cause in common. But it is possible that such unusual symptoms came about because of unusual interactions between practices and crop development as affected by unusual weather. If that's the case, we may never see such symptoms again.--Emerson Nafziger

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