Proper diagnoses of crop problems are important steps in determining corrective measures in the current cropping season or in developing appropriate management strategies to prevent or avoid the problems in years to come. One of the keys to a successful crop problem diagnosis is to be timely in troubleshooting the problem in the first place. Attempting to conduct a post-mortem diagnosis during harvest in mid-October for a problem that occurred in early June is often impossible.
Walking Your Fields. There is no substitute for walking your fields when it comes to successfully diagnosing crop problems. Stand establishment (germination, emergence, seedling growth) is critical for ensuring maximum yield potential for most agronomic crops. Failure to successfully establish a vigorous, uniform stand of plants almost always limits yield from the very beginning of the season.
Timely Diagnoses. Because stand establishment is so important, don't wait to walk your fields until it's knee-high or taller. Get out there often during the first thirty days after planting. The important thing is to diagnose the problem as soon as possible because the "evidence" often disappears as seeds or plants rot away. For example, wireworm damage to a corn kernel is impossible to diagnose after the kernel has rotted away.
"Hired Gun" Expertise. Don't hesitate to call in "hired guns" to help you diagnose crop problems when you first notice them. Use the expertise of your local county Extension educator, private crop consultant, industry agronomist, or university Extension specialist. Send samples to Purdue's Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory or other diagnostic clinics for diagnoses and recommendations.
Keep Good Records. Invariably, the factor that most limits a good crop problem diagnosis is inadequate cropping records. So many times when I am in the middle of a field scratching my head (or other body parts) about a crop problem, I have the feeling that I am missing a critical piece of the puzzle that would solve the problem in an instant. The list of important records to keep is admittedly long. Tillage operations this year and last year, pesticide applications this year and last year, soil sample analyses, rainfall this year and last year, previous crop, planting dates, which varieties were planted where, seed quality of the varieties planted, planting depth, soil moisture before, at, and after planting, soil temperature at planting, temperatures in general after planting, pesticides applied to an adjoining field, your mother's maiden name, .............you get the picture.
Bottom Line. Walk your fields often. Diagnose crop problems as soon as you notice them. Call in the "calvary" if necessary to assist in the diagnosis.
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The Corn Growers Guidebook , a WWW resource for corn management systems in Indiana and the eastern CornBelt.
Purdue University Agronomy Extension WWW Home Page.
Purdue Agronomy On-Line! , Purdue's Agronomy Department WWW Home Page.