With a rapidly multiplying human population, maximizing output is a necessity in farms across the world. In the U.S., the most important and popular crop grown is corn. With more than 200 varieties of corn in the world, individualizing a plan for your fields to maximize output is necessary.

On June 29, Stuart Farm in Stratham, NH, invited farmers to attend a hands-on pest scouting session in the corn fields. The session was run by Carl Majewski, who works at UNH Cooperative Extension as a field specialist as well as a livestock and forage crops field specialist.

The main purpose of the event was to educate attendees on several main topics including how to determine the proper planting depth of the crop and learn about successful pest management.

One popular method of handling pests is integrated pest management (IPM). This method focuses on the long-term prevention of pests. When looking to prevent infestation, it’s important not to stack on pesticides for any potential organisms in the area. The downfalls of stacking on various pesticides before monitoring your field include the risk of the pests gaining resistance, harming the beneficial/neutral insects in the field and it can be extremely expensive.

Instead, Majewski recommended a three-step process of pest management. First, monitor to determine if a pest is a problem and take action – then revisit your fields. The final step is to re-strategize.

Monitoring is the key first step to making sure you apply the correct pesticides. Not only should you determine what types of pests are in the field, but also the amount of each pest in the field. In simpler terms, is there enough of the pest to cause a problem? If there is a potential problem, consider the ways you can treat the infestation. Pesticides and herbicides are options, but you can also consider cultivating and using crop rotation.

Monitoring your corn: Pest management and nitrogen supply

Carl Majewski said monitoring is the key first step to making sure you apply the correct pesticides. Photo by Kelsi Devolve

Revisiting the fields allows you to see if your pest management method worked. If it did, you can use it again in the future, but if it didn’t, you’ll have to try another method.

Besides pest management, monitoring your crop’s nitrogen supply is essential for its growth. Nitrogen is essential for corn, as every bushel of corn requires roughly one pound of nitrogen. The nitrogen requirement is not stable throughout the growing stages of corn, and also varies with moisture, temperature, soil quality and fertilizer quality.

There are various ways to measure the nitrogen available to the crop, such as routine soil testing, lab-run soil tests and using a chlorophyll meter. When it comes to the routine soil test, the nitrogen will not appear in the soil until it is released from organic forms such as crop residue and manure. You can also send a one-foot-tall plant to a lab to test for the amount of nitrogen in the plant, but this requires special handling to prevent the loss of nitrogen during transport, and there is a longer turnaround time for results.

One of the easiest and most accurate tests for nitrogen is using a chlorophyll meter. If the corn has enough nitrogen, it will appear as dark green using the chlorophyll meter. This method provides instant results and can be used to test the field multiple times a season.

Overall, growing corn is an extensive process that relies on many inputs. It is even thought that integrating plant diversity into your fields will help prevent pest infestation. The thought is plant diversity allows for a wide number of natural pests to be present and protect the corn from harmful insects. Whichever methods are used to grow your crop, make sure to monitor for pests as well as ensure they have adequate nitrogen for growth.

by Kelsi Devolve