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While many Northern Plains residents lost their homes and possessions to flooding during the spring of 2011, cereal growers also experienced devastating crop losses, and the effects of last year’s unusual weather will continue to be felt during planting this spring. Brian Jenks, weed scientist at North Dakota State University (NDSU), says 2011 was one of the toughest years anyone has ever experienced, especially in the northwest corner of North Dakota.
“Many growers weren’t able to get anything planted," Jenks said. “On average, only about 20 percent of the acres were planted in a few of the counties."
In Minnesota, Jochum Wiersma, associate professor and extension agronomist for the University of Minnesota, notes that 2011 spring wheat yields suffered due to late planting and extreme heat and humidity during grainfill.
Soil conditions and fertility management
The poor growing conditions in spring 2011 have lent themselves to a variety of soil, weed and pest problems growers should prepare to face when this spring rolls around.
“Last spring’s flooding likely washed away a good amount of the Northern Plains’ soil fertility," explains Joel Ransom, extension agronomist at NDSU. “When soils become waterlogged, a good amount of fertilizer, particularly nitrogen, ends up being lost."
Many growers planted winter wheat or cover crops as a way to help absorb some of the excess soil moisture, which may provide some relief. Ransom recommends growers implement a thorough soil sampling program to gauge soil fertility, as there is a fairly high potential for nitrogen loss in heavier soils and leaching in sandy soils. This way, growers can compare current soil fertility levels to those of last year and reassess fertility needs based on current soil conditions. Precipitation levels in the remaining winter months will also factor into field conditions this spring.
“We need a lot of luck from Mother Nature this winter—less moisture is going to be key to many growers’ success with spring planting," Jenks adds. Jenks also suggested that in extremely waterlogged and potentially otherwise unusable fields, growers may want to consider planting deeply-rooted crops, such as safflower or sunflower, to absorb some of the excess subsurface moisture.
Not only do wet soils wash away fertility, they also provide conditions conducive to several soilborne disease pathogens. If wet conditions continue, growers should expect to see more root rot this year, according to Ransom, so using fungicide seed treatments would definitely make sense in many areas.
“CruiserMaxx® Cereals seed treatment insecticide/fungicide from Syngenta contains the power of three proven chemistries to deliver insect and disease protection in one product," says Chad Shelton, Seedcare brand asset lead, Syngenta. “Specially formulated for cereal crops and on-farm applications, it serves as a strong defense against seedborne and soilborne diseases like common root rot and Pythium, which tend to thrive in wet soil conditions, as well as provides excellent protection against Rhizoctonia."
Be prepared with proven weed management tools
In addition to fertility problems and challenges posed by soilborne pathogens, excessively wet soils also provide ideal growing conditions for several yield-robbing weeds. In particular, Jenks reports that growers in the Northern Plains have seen an increase in Canada thistle and wild buckwheat due to wet soil conditions. He also lists pigweed, lambsquarters, wild oat, foxtails, quackgrass and barnyardgrass as others that thrive in wet conditions.
Shane Taylor, herbicide brand asset lead, Syngenta, recommends growers apply Axial® brand herbicides such as Axial XL or Axial Star to manage tough grass weeds like foxtails, wild oat and barnyardgrass. “Axial Star was added to our top-performing arsenal of cereal herbicides in 2011 and has shown great results in its first year," Taylor reports. “Axial Star combines the proven performance of pinoxaden against grass weeds with fluroxypyr against kochia, while maintaining the flexibility to tank mix with other herbicides to address the local weed spectrum."
For growers dealing with broadleaf weed pressure, Pulsar® herbicide can help provide control of several yield-robbers, including wild buckwheat, lambsquarters, Canada thistle and redroot pigweed.
Pest and Disease Control
In addition to weed pressure, growers should also anticipate insect and foliar disease presence in their fields.
It is expected that wheat midge will again be an issue for growers in North Dakota. Researchers recommend growers scout diligently for wheat midge, as well as other insects in winter wheat, hard red spring wheat and durum fields, and be prepared to apply an insecticide, if necessary.
While scouting for insects, it’s also important that growers also monitor for leaf diseases such as tan spot and Septoria. It is important to time fungicide applications to match the climate and growth stages and closely monitor for diseases during the pre-heading stages as early-season diseases can cause devastating yield loss.
An application of Tilt® fungicide at herbicide timing can help protect cereal crops from early diseases such as tan spot, Septoria and powdery mildew. Tilt is an easy tank-mix partner with herbicides like Axial XL and Axial Star, as well as insecticides and/or fertilizers.
To safeguard the flag leaf, Syngenta recommends Quilt Xcel® fungicide to defend cereal crops against diseases and enhance Plant Performance™. Applied between Feekes Growth Stages 8 and 10.5, Quilt Xcel offers protection against threatening yield-robbers like rusts, powdery mildew, tan spot and Septoria, helping to ensure maximum grain fill and grower profit.
Wiersma also noted the importance of protection against Fusarium head blight to stave off economic losses. Growers will want to select varieties with the best possible crop genetics while also being prepared to manage the disease with a fungicide, if necessary.
“I try to have a hedging approach to variety selection, meaning I have some of the higher-yielding varieties on a portion of the acres, and have varieties that are more of a balance between grain protein and grain yield in the others," Wiersma explains. “We also ensure that all varieties we plant have a good disease resistance package, with a special focus on Fusarium head blight."
Experts hopeful for a successful spring planting season
While spring planting will bring its fair share of challenges, experts are optimistic that growers equipped with the proper planting date and fertility recommendations, as well as sound pest management plans, will be successful in 2012.
“The data from last year confirmed the importance of planting early for maximum yield," Ransom concludes. “Growers should plan to be prepared for windows of opportunity in the spring that would allow for early planting."
Be sure to check with your extension office or your Syngenta representative for the proper recommendations in your area. Thorough planning combined with seed-to-head pest protection will help maximize yield and profit potential in 2012.

Plant Performance assumes the presence of disease pressure.
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