Innovations in the Field

Sponsored by BASF

Welcome to the 2019 BASF Innovations in the Field. This yearlong program is designed to showcase four progressive farmers and their use of technology and agronomic practices to enhance their return on investment and profit potential. Check back each week as the farmers share their experiences and crop management decisions throughout the growing season.

Cool Corn

Careful monitoring of canopy temperature helps gauge plant stress and management decisions.

Mike Lawyer, Nick Robinson and Ryan Robinson with BASF Innovation Specialist Melanie Burk.
Progressive Farmer image by Dave Charrlin

Mike Lawyer has the coolest corn -- 2 degrees cooler than the corn around it. That's according to Melanie Burk, who carries thermometers into the cornfield as part of her job. Burk is a BASF Innovation Specialist for the area where the Lawyer/Robinson farm sits near Pendleton, in central Indiana.

So, what's the big deal about corn canopy temperature? "It's a way to gauge plant stress," says Burk. She explains that corn plants under less stress recover faster after a hot, challenging day than higher stressed corn. And, often, the lower stressed corn will have a lower canopy temperature.


It's well-known that heat and plant diseases, such as Gray Leaf Spot, cause stress in corn. So, Burk and the Lawyers ran two trials on early fungicide application, one being applied at V5 and one at V8. Burk thought this would be a great year for this type of trial.

Though wet conditions early were a challenge, heat and lack of rain became a mid-season concern. With the challenges shifting, Burk thought an early application of fungicide for plant health would reduce plant stress and have positive results on the family's corn crop. Lawyer noticed the visual differences each morning when he would drive by the treated field.

Burk, later, worked with Lawyer and his nephews Ryan and Nick Robinson to run a field trial comparing the effectiveness of two different fungicide treatments (compared to untreated) sprayed at tasseling (VT) to control disease and maintain plant health. The fungicides applied were BASF products Headline Amp® and Veltyma.

Burk monitored the field trial, documenting the results with a camera, a thermal camera, a thermometer and NDVI imagery. Canopy temperatures for the Veltyma and Headline Amp treated corn were slightly cooler than the untreated (75.6°F and 76.2°F compared to 77.3°F). The fungicide-treated corn's leaves also showed fewer signs of leaf disease. As of this writing, field trials' yield results were not yet available.


Lawyer and the Robinsons had also planned to run field trials this past crop season on early planting soybeans -- hoping to plant as early as late March if conditions looked favorable. Unfortunately, this past spring's rainy weather didn't allow them to finish planting corn until June 4 and soybeans June 14.

Two days later, they were pummeled with 4.4 inches of rain, forcing the family to replant 650 acres of soybeans after the ground dried out in late June.

Unlike many of their neighbors, they were able to plant all their fields. "That's if you don't count the 2- or 3-acre wet spots here and there; wet spots we had to go around," says Lawyer.

They had to keep adapting as planting season drug on. "We got some full-season corn planted around May 4," recalls Lawyer. "The rains came, and we dropped back to some 114-day corn. We kept getting delayed but got out one field of 110-day corn -- the rest was planted to 105- and 99-day hybrids. This was by far the roughest planting season I've ever experienced in my farming career.

"It was a year of having to keep adapting your plan to whatever the conditions were," sums up Lawyer. "We had to keep on top of it. If a situation developed, we had to make a change -- and that's just what we kept doing."