Farmers who concentrated on irrigating corn crops this growing season should reap the benefits in yields, according to a Delta corn specialist.

Erick Larson, Extension agent with Mississippi State University, told the audience at the Delta Council conference on rice, small grains, soybeans, wheat and feed grains, that various destructive factors that affected last year’s crop were not as severe in 2005.

The meeting was held at the Delta Research and Extension Center, Stoneville, Miss.

“Last year we had extremely wet conditions during June and July. The cloudy wet weather during that time period — having excessive soil moisture — reduced nitrogen availability to the plants. Those conditions stunted plant development and promoted a lot of leaf blight,” Larson said.

“If folks did a good job of watering their irrigated corn, the sunny conditions we had this year should promote a lot more yield potential in irrigated corn than what we had last year.”

Larson said higher fertilizer cost, especially for nitrogen, was the No. 1 reason the state reduced acreage devoted to corn in 2005. Yet, favorable growing conditions overall should net higher yield averages for Mississippi farmers who did plant it, he predicted.

“Yield potential for this year’s crop is wide and variable, depending on drought in various regions of the state,” he said. “The corn just cannot withstand drought stress, especially if it’s in early reproductive stages. The north Delta and north central areas are going to have reduced yield because of that.

“In south Delta, we’re in relatively good shape. The north Delta, though, was hit hard with dry conditions from late April until late July. Obviously, corn yield is going to take it on the noggin in those areas.”

He observed that while total corn acreage is down, yield averages should be higher than last year. “Corn is being produced on only the best acreage. That probably will help move the average yield a little bit higher than if we had 450,000 acres to 500,000 acres this year.”

Larson said cool temperatures during May have delayed corn maturing. Only now, he said, is dryland corn beginning to mature.

Larson also noted that a higher percentage — between 20 percent and 50 percent — of Roundup Ready corn was planted this year compared to 2004.

“A lot of you in the Delta probably are well aware why that is occurring, just for drift protection if for no other reason,” he said.

Not since the 1960s, Larson said, have there been tests evaluating nitrogen rate applications on Mississippi corn. But now that fertilizer costs have spiked, he said, a new wave of research should be conducted.

Currently, other major research areas relative to corn are under way, including studies on more than 120 new varieties.

“Corn yield varieties are rapidly increasing,” he said. “In the last 10 years our state average has grown 40 percent. Our hybrid genetics is one of the major factors that have produced higher yields. That is an important tool.”

Three other research areas for corn have begun, including corn grazing, soil insecticide and seed treatments, and planting Roundup Ready corn in fescue pastures.

Larson said that “due to the fact there is no corn checkoff program in Mississippi, there is little money available for research compared to other crops. (A checkoff program) is one important thing that would help us in the future.”

e-mail: abell@primediabusiness.com