• Plant Health

Tips For Managing Drought-Stressed Fields

Drought-stressed corn displaying leaf rolling.
You can purchase the right equipment, seed and inputs to set your season up for success, but you can’t control the weather. Navigating the challenges of Mother Nature is one of the trickiest parts of farming. This is especially true when it comes to managing crops through drought stress.
Lack of moisture impacts plant performance during all growth stages. Crops tend to be more resilient when conditions are dry in the early vegetative stages. Fields experiencing prolonged drought conditions during tassel, pollination and grain fill have a much more difficult time recovering yield potential once it’s lost.
Fortunately, the latest seed genetics are bred to withstand warmer, drier conditions and are more adaptable to stress. And new products and technologies offer more opportunities to manage drought-stressed fields to help curb yield losses and maintain plant health between rainfalls.

Watch for signs of stress.

One way to tell if corn is severely stressed is leaf rolling. This response is typical during the hottest part of the day when temperatures are high. Leaf rolling is the plant’s natural response to slow moisture transpiration and is initially beneficial to the crop. However, prolonged periods of leaf-rolling reduce carbon dioxide intake, which reduces photosynthesis. Ultimately that could stunt plant development, limit ear size potential or even kill the plant. If leaves are rolled in the morning or during cool times, you may need to take action.
Drought-stressed soybean symptoms may not be as visually dramatic as corn, but there are still things to watch for. When drought stressed, soybeans will often flip their leaves over to show the silvery-green undersides. This defense response helps the plant reflect more sunlight, but it also reduces photosynthesis. You may also see plants folding in their leaves to conserve water. Under severe drought stress, soybeans may flower earlier than usual to produce seed.    

Consider applying a biostimulant fertilizer.

Products like Voyagro® biostimulant fertilizer use amino acids and other naturally occurring ingredients to enhance plant performance by triggering favorable physiological responses in a variety of crops, including corn and soybeans. Biostimulants can signal the plant to keep growing through dry weather to help minimize yield losses. The ideal time to apply biostimulants is slightly ahead of prolonged dry weather, so crops are prepared, but they can still be effective after some drought conditions have set in.

Weigh the benefits of a strobilurin fungicide.

Strobilurin fungicides are proven to positively impact plant health outside of disease control. Plants naturally produce a hormone called ethylene that can reduce photosynthesis and growth, increase kernel abortion and drive fast maturation. Strobilurin fungicides slow the release of ethylene to help protect yield. Even if disease pressure is low, applying a strobilurin fungicide at tassel can encourage optimum pollination when moisture stress is high.
Based on three years of field trials at multiple WinField® United Answer Plot® locations, data show an average return on investment of six to eight bushels per acre in corn with this type of fungicide application when disease prevalence is very low.
Adding a product like MasterLock® adjuvant to the tank with a fungicide will help you make the most of your fungicide application. MasterLock adjuvant optimizes droplet size to reduce drift potential and helps ensure more fungicide penetration into the canopy. It also contains a surfactant to help cover more leaf surface area.

Protect against spider mites.

Spider mite populations typically explode during periods of hot, dry weather. They move out of ditches quickly and can severely impact crops. Be sure to have an insecticide on hand that’s labeled for spider mites, and be prepared to use a higher application rate for complete pest control.

Use data to make decisions.

While fungicides and biostimulant fertilizers encourage crop resilience, they do not replace the need for rainfall. If yield potential is already degraded and forecasts look bleak, applying products may not make financial sense. This tool, along with conversations with your retailer and agronomist, can help you determine the right decision for your situation.
To learn more, talk to your trusted WinField United retailer.
All photos are either the property of WinField United or used with permission.

© 2022 WinField United. Important: Before use always read and follow label instructions. Crop performance is dependent on several factors many of which are beyond the control of WinField United, including without limitation, soil type, pest pressures, agronomic practices and weather conditions. Growers are encouraged to consider data from multiple locations, over multiple years and to be mindful of how such agronomic conditions could impact results. Answer Plot, MasterLock, R7, Voyagro and WinField are trademarks of WinField United. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.