Fall stand counts lead to valuable observations

Corn Corner: Learn from various observations in the field while you take stand counts.
Aug 15, 2018
My crop consultant insists that we take stand counts on all our cornfields before harvest. Do you agree? Why is it important to take stand counts when we will have yield maps showing actual yield?
The Indiana certified crop adviser panel answering this question includes Betsy Bower, agronomist, Ceres Solutions Cooperative, Lafayette; Steve Gauck, sales agronomist, Beck’s, Greensburg; and Dan Ritter, agronomist, Dairyland Seed, Wabash.
Bower: Taking stand counts on all cornfields before harvest is a great idea, and I would suppose not too many people are doing these stand counts consistently. It really allows you to understand what you had for a stand and the corresponding yield associated with it.
Stand counts at the beginning of the season don’t allow you to see even or uneven ear placement, stalk integrity and size near harvest, stalk integrity at harvest itself, and several other factors which can only be evaluated at or near harvest.
Understanding what you have for harvestable ears and quality at harvest may be the result of some early-season issues or planting issues that you may be able to correct for next year. Once you harvest the crop, the evidence is gone.
Gauck: I like having harvest stand counts, as they help tell the yield story. Yield maps tell you the yield, but not why you harvested that yield in that area. Stand counts let you know if there was a stand establishment issue, or if the stand is there, possibly there was a soil fertility concern.
If you want to fix problem areas, you need to know why they’re a low-yield area. Walking the field right prior to harvest lets you see many other things, such as pollination effectiveness, plant diseases, insect damage and standability of each hybrid in each field. Yield maps only give you the result of what happened — not a report of what actually happened.
Ritter: Yes, stand counts are important and can be taken any time after the crop is solidly established. The only exception would be stand loss due to late-season green-snap events. In that case you wouldn’t find evidence unless you make the stand count trip close to harvest. If green snap occurred, you may find stubs left behind when you’re doing stand counts.
Yield maps are great. However, we need to determine why yields came out the way they did. If a yield is off or below normal, it very well could have been due to low plant count — basically less ears per acre. That is the primary reason for taking a stand count.
The next step is to determine why the difference in plant population occurred. Was it seedling disease, perhaps a planter issue or problem with seed germination, insects, or even seedbed preparation? The yield information has limited utility if we don’t use it to fix issues in our production systems for the next year.