28 Mar 2024

Disease, Weather, and Genetics: Lessons from 2023 and What They Mean for 2024

Farmers are constantly growing — growing their crops and growing their knowledge within their vocation.

Each season comes with its own challenges. But with each setback comes opportunities to learn.

The 2023 growing season certainly contained its fair share of lessons. However, it’s what we do with that knowledge that makes the difference. From weather and diseases to genetics and hybrid diversity, the last growing season offered farmers plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.

So what did we learn in 2023 — and what does this mean for the upcoming growing season? Let’s take a look.

Tar Spot Expansion

Warmer average temperatures largely kept tar spot at bay in 2023. Although the impact of the disease was lower across the country, the disease increased its geographic footprint.

The disease showed up in Delaware for the first time last year, and multiple counties in Maryland also got their first dose in 2023. 

Furthermore, cases of tar spot were confirmed relatively early in the growing season in Northeast Kansas, the South, and parts of Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. 

Tar spot prefers cooler temperatures and wet corn leaves overnight. How did this disease spread during a growing season that started out so dry?

It found the water.

Corn ipmPIPE - August 2023

As noted, the overall economic impact was nothing to write home about. But its expansive footprint showed us that, even in not-so-great conditions, tar spot will still find a way to make its mark—even if it has to travel.

What does this mean for 2024? 

Farmers and agronomists should look for tar spot in areas with excess moisture. The map may expand again this year, and the disease may be more prevalent in regions that were spared in 2023. But based on what we learned, tar spot will definitely follow the water.

Weather Patterns

Predicting the weather can be difficult for the weatherman—but a farmer usually knows what to expect. Farmers base many of their decisions on past experiences, and they know that weather patterns are cyclical.

2023 was hot. Early on, it was very dry. Precipitation showed up for the Plains as the Eastern Cornbelt dried up, and eventually, these eastern growing areas finally got a drink. 

What could farmers expect for 2024? 

The 2010 growing season was cool and wet across the Corn Belt. Two years later, the Corn Belt experienced a devastating drought.

Farmers know that weather patterns are cyclical, and if history and experience have taught us anything, we could expect a wetter, cooler growing season in 2024. 

Of course, we don’t know for sure what to expect until it arrives. However, being prepared for a cooler season and more precipitation can help farmers make better disease-mitigation decisions early on before wet fungal disease can really take hold.

Drought and Genetics

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: 2023 was really dry. When the growing season began, much of the Great Plains was under severe drought conditions. The dry weather lingered, and when the rains finally came, water was nowhere to be found further east.

UNL Drought Monitor

Things looked bad. Then, in the nick of time, Mother Nature straightened up and turned on the faucet, bringing much-needed water just as the corn was ready to pollinate.

Uncertainty on the level of impact this would have on yields cast a shadow on the entire growing season. Yet, throughout this experience, we learned a valuable lesson: modern genetics are even better than we thought.

Agronomic research has made giant leaps over the past few decades, and last year we found out just how good our genetics really are.

Hybridization has raised the yield floor and allowed farmers to mitigate risks brought on by Mother Nature. 2023 proved that modern corn genetics can fight through the toughest conditions and still produce a respectable yield in the fall.

As we move into the 2024 planting season, proper planning and looking ahead to forecasted weather patterns will be important when making preparations. Drought resistance will likely be a high-impact trait to consider when finalizing your hybrid selection.

Corn Rootworm Expansion

Similar to tar spot, the corn rootworm map also expanded last year, largely because of drier weather. 

The Bayer Crop Science corn rootworm study collected data from more than 900 fields across the Corn Belt, and the results were sobering. Fifty-three percent of the fields sampled had beetle counts that exceeded the economic threshold—up 38% from 2021 data.

The results were worse in continuous corn situations and better in first-year corn fields, with 71% and 14% above the economic threshold, respectively.

These numbers had a rather profound effect on yield. Losses averaged in the 15% range, but some fields experienced a 45% yield loss.

What does this mean for 2024? Historically, a rough year for corn rootworm is usually not an isolated event. Farmers could expect more issues in 2024 and beyond.

Location is important when determining your corn rootworm risk. In 2023, the majority of extreme issues were concentrated in Iowa, Eastern Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Southern Wisconsin, and Southern Minnesota. These areas will likely face the greatest risk of corn rootworm pressure in 2024, while Indiana, Central Illinois, and Missouri could be largely spared, as they were in 2023.

Bayer Crop Science

Scouting early and preparing for corn rootworm pressure, especially in those high-pressure areas, will help you mitigate risk in 2024. Understand the projected pressure on your farm, and work with your LG Seeds agronomist to decide what you can do to prevent a major impact on your yield.

Bayer Crop Science

Hybrid Diversity

Despite unfavorable weather conditions last year, overall corn and soybean yields across the Corn Belt were impressive.

What happened? How did average yields turn out to be much higher than expected?

To be sure, getting some rain at just the right time had a massive effect on yield. But according to our agronomists, another important factor was hybrid diversity.

Planting multiple top-performing hybrids across your acres helps mitigate risk. When the weather or disease factors don’t cooperate in a given growing season, growing multiple hybrids allows you to take advantage of each one’s specific strengths. Some hybrids may not perform at their peak—but it’s likely another hybrid will perform well and raise your overall average yield.

According to our agronomists’ conversations with farmers, those who planted three to five different hybrids saw higher yields and more grain sold at the end of the season.

Genetic diversity paid dividends in a challenging year. Farmers can implement that lesson in 2024 and beyond.

2023 was a challenging year, but as always, farmers persevered through the tough times and learned lessons along the way. Implementing those lessons will be crucial to a successful 2024 season. 

As the 2024 planting season draws near, LG Seeds will continue to be a reliable partner, helping farmers prepare for the growing season's inevitable challenges. Reach out to your LG Seeds agronomist, and let us help you make the most of 2024.