Knee-high by the Fourth of July – I’ve heard that since I was a kid and always equated it to a very good corn crop developing right before our eyes. But nowadays corn that isn’t knee-high by the Fourth of July is very disappointing and probably not going to be the bumper grain crop we are hoping for.

Much of the corn in our area is approaching waist-high; some might even be taller. Weed control in all crops and especially in corn is looking good; insect pressure has been light. Nitrogen side-dressing applications have brought the corn around to a healthy-looking dark-green color. Yield expectations are truly optimistic.

My good friend Chuck from Feider Farms near New Holstein is optimistic for a bumper crop. Chuck and I enjoy our conversations because we always spend most of our time dwelling on the positive things happening in our lives. We agree there is just too much negativity in our society.

Most of the world and national news seems to be dominated by the terrible and scary happenings that 2020 has brought to us. At times it’s difficult to be optimistic and stay positive. But if we focus on our family and how lucky we are to be working in agriculture, things look bright.

Chuck tells me his planting season went as smoothly as any in his memory. Seeds went into the ground on all his crop land, spring manure-hauling went off without a hitch, and even first-cutting hay was cut and chopped without being rained on.

The growing season is progressing well for Feider Farms. Crops are looking good. The annual blessing of the seeds at the local church truly payed dividends this year. Chuck and Julie have raised three wonderful children. Their 10 grandchildren now enjoy coming to the farm to help out whenever they can. The Feider farm has many reasons to be optimistic.

In my previous column I related that the first-ever tropical depression to visit the entire state of Wisconsin may have brought some hitchhikers along with it. During this past full week of June some of the local agricultural experts are speculating that Cristobal may have brought true armyworm moths to the northwest part of the state.

Indeed there were reports of fields under siege from those caterpillars in the Spooner area. I’ve concentrated my scouting to edges of fields and areas where corn was no-till planted into sod because I know the moths like to deposit eggs in the grassy areas. On my scouting trips to corn and small-grain fields near Spooner I did find armyworms but have yet to see any at an economic-threshold level. But armyworm populations can increase quickly; I saw many early instar stages of the pest so scouting diligence will be necessary.

Many years ago I read that armyworms are one of the most heavily parasitized crop pests that we deal with in Wisconsin. Several times I have found what I thought were populations that were nearing economic spray-treatment-threshold level. But on closer examination I noticed parasitic eggs attached to the bodies of many of the armyworms. So we delayed an insecticide treatment.

On a subsequent scouting trip to the same field, I was hard-pressed to find any live armyworms in the field. Biologic pest control is a wonderful thing and is an important part of Integrated Pest Management.

How’s that for optimism Chuck?

Tim Boerner is a career agronomist who has worked in many regions of Wisconsin. Currently serving farmers in northwest Wisconsin, he's advising growers on Integrated Pest Management techniques, writes Nutrient Management Plans, works on composting projects, and employs GPS soil and data collection for precision-ag implementation. He has a passion for clean-water advocacy.