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Published January 13, 2014, 09:50 AM

McGillicuddy speaks on plant nutrition

Plant nutrition is more important than ever to corn farmers who want to raise yields, a prominent agronomist said.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Plant nutrition is more important than ever to corn farmers who want to raise yields, a prominent agronomist said.

“Master the skill of delivering what the crop needs when it needs it,” said John McGillicuddy, an Iowa-based agronomist and regular speaker at farm shows and conferences.

McGillicuddy spoke Jan. 8 at the annual Lake Region Extension Service Roundup in Devils Lake, N.D. The two-day event, which began Jan. 7, drew about 700 people. Speakers, primarily from the extension service, commodity groups and private companies, addressed a wide range of topics, including corn.

When McGillicuddy began his agronomy career in 1978 in central Illinois, farmers there considered a corn harvest of 100 bushels per acre to be good and 150 bushels per acre to be great. Now, 200 bushels per acre is considered good and 250 is considered great, he said.

It’s only a matter of time until yields in central Illinois rise by another 100 bushels per acre, with 300 bushels considered good and 350 considered great, he said.

Gaining the additional yields, however, will require even greater attention to plant nutrition, with the proper use of potassium particularly important, he said.

Soil testing alone may not reveal if a field has the right amount of potassium. Factors such as cold soils and lack of oxygen could complicate the issue, McGillicuddy said.

Potassium is most important from the V6 growth stage to tasseling,” he said.

“I think you need to verify you have enough. If you don’t, and you don’t fix it, it will cost you a lot of money,” he said.

Micronutrients’ role

The quest to continue raising corn yields has intensified interest in micronutrients, McGillicuddy said.

Multiple years of heavy rain, earlier planting and cooler soils also have contributed to greater interest in micronutrients, he said.

But he advised corn farmers to be cautious.

“They (micronutrients) could be an opportunity. But do your homework first,” he said.

Before using micronutrients, farmers need to answer several questions, including, “Are you deficient? (The answer) isn’t as easy as you think,” he said.

Nonetheless, McGillicuddy encouraged farmers to think unconventionally.

“If some of your neighbors think you’re losing it, you’re probably headed in the right direction,” he said. “The definition of a good grower is, they’re never satisfied.”