Ontario Field Crop Report
2006 Corn Seasonal Summary

Table of Contents

  1. Growing Season
  2. Ear Moulds and Mycotoxins
  3. Harvest and Yield
  4. Expectations and Challenges for 2007

Technical information can be obtained at the OMAFRA Field Crops Webpage and Crop Pest Ontario. Referenced OMAFRA Publications include the Agronomy Guide for Field Crops (Publication 811), the Field Crop Protection Guide (Publication 812), Guide to Weed Control (Publication 75), and Ontario Weeds (Publication 505). These can be obtained from your OMAFRA Resource Centre, or by calling 1-800-668-9938.

Growing Season

Pessimism surrounding the 2006 corn crop was fuelled by high energy prices and low grain prices during much of the pre-planting period. A slight rally in corn prices in late April and early May combined with good planting conditions resulted in an Ontario crop of approximately 1.6 million acres of grain corn. Corn producers chased early planting opportunities hard in 2006 with most planting completed by May 12.

Favourable planting conditions diminished for much of the mid-May period, and some later planted corn went into the ground as May ended. Interestingly, and unlike the several years prior to 2006, a combination of excellent rainfall distribution and above average heat unit accumulation resulted in the late planted corn fairing quite well compared to earlier planted fields. Planting date trials at Elora, Exeter and Ridgetown resulted in end-of-May planted corn yielding 14, 1 and 8 bushels lower than late-April/early May plantings respectively.

The early crop suffered from some moisture and low temperature stress. Growers reported slow early growth in many fields with corn discolouration ranging from brown (frozen leaves), to yellow (excessive moisture), to purple (restricted root growth). However, ideal conditions in July and August resulted in good pollination, uniform ears and high kernel counts in most fields across the province.

Northern Leaf blight was the dominant leaf disease in 2006 and became quite significant in many areas. Some premature senescence occurred in 2006 which was attributed to a large sink (yield potential) and limited source (due to leaf diseases) relationship. Concerns in September about plant cannibalization leading to weakened stalks and lodging did not materialize. A corn leaf disease survey was conducted again in 2006 by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and of note was the increased presence of Gray Leaf Spot which, up until a few years ago, had not been detected.

Ear Moulds and Mycotoxins

Ear moulds (predominantly Gibberella zeae) and the resulting mycotoxins (predominantly DON) became the black eye on what might have been a Cinderella year for corn. Weather conditions which occurred in the pre-silk and pollination period contributed to ear mould infection via the silk channel. Humid conditions and frequent rainfall in September, promoted the development of the mould and the production of mycotoxins. DON levels were quite low - to undetectable in the areas east of Toronto, while the situation worsened as you moved towards the extreme southwest. University of Guelph - Ridgetown Campus and OMAFRA field sampling indicated that nearly 50% of the fields in the Chatham-Kent, Essex, and Elgin regions had DON levels higher than 6 PPM. A significant portion of the corn harvested in the southwest was Grade 2 (visual grade and test weight) but may have had DON levels exceeding 2 PPM. Agricorp to date is reporting very few claims being paid for mouldy corn as the industry continues to blend and market the effected crop. The fact that the ethanol plants are accepting corn at DON levels in the 4 and 5 PPM range has provided an outlet for the trade to move corn that is not suitable for feed, especially hogs. Hog producers and feed companies supplying the hog industry, have had to be very diligent in testing and sorting corn in order to meet the low vomitoxin levels required for hog feed (0-2 PPM).

Harvest and Yield

Harvest was frustrated by excessive rainfall and cloudy weather during most of the October through December period. The 2006 harvest season was the wettest and cloudiest in recent memory. As of December 13th, approximately 5% of the crop has still not been harvested provincially due to wet conditions. In isolated areas with heavy soils this unharvested area may spike up to 25-30 percent.

The favourable growing conditions in 2006 also favoured the selection of full season hybrids. At some of the OCC Hybrid Performance trials in 2006, the yield advantage for selecting longer season hybrids was as high as 8 bu/ac per single point of increased moisture content. This testing was done within the range of adapted hybrids test in an area.

As of December 13th, with approximately 50% of the yield reports received by Agricorp, the provincial average yield stands at an incredible 164 bu/ac! Compare this to 2004 at 131 bu/ac (new record) or to 2005 at 145 bu/ac (new record) and one can sense the reason for renewed optimism for corn production in Ontario.

Expectations and Challenges for 2007

Wet conditions in the fall prevented the seeding of perhaps 500,000 acres of winter wheat. Much of this land was in soybeans in 2006 and hence from a rotation perspective corn is a very attractive option. The high yields of the past several years, coupled with significantly stronger prices, have also solidified the base acreage of corn. In addition, this has boosted the intentions for corn to be grown after corn in rotations. These factors may generate corn acreage in the province up to, or over the 2 million acre mark for the first time since 1985.

Many fields were harvested under wet soil conditions this fall resulting in ruts, smearing and soil compaction damage. Producers turned to tillage to level ruts and help reduce compaction where possible, but in many cases soils have been so wet that tillage of any sort has been impossible. Tough soil conditions and a large intended corn acreage in 2007 will stress the planting time window, especially since most growers are no longer content to delay soybean planting into late May. Growers will need to review management options and time saving techniques carefully in preparation for 2007.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca