The planting season is mostly complete and we can see the big differences in growth stages as we drive down the roads.
Corn plants range from V6, or about 15 inches tall, in the first-planted fields, and at V1 to V2, or about 2 to 3 inches tall, in the later-planted fields.
The earliest planted bean fields contain plants that are just beginning to form the first or second set of trifoliate leaves while the later-planted beans show development that ranges from just planted or waiting for rain in order to sprout.
We are all looking toward the horizon and listening to the meteorologists to hear if they expect a high percentage chance of rain later in the week.
Rain makes grain, drought doesn't. Getting 2.5 inches of rain doesn't do squat for farmers in the rest of the state. With the moisture demand now increasing as the plant size grows larger it's only going to increase our daily and weekly plant demand for moisture.
We saw the similar trend back in 1992 and 1994 when the spring started out quite dry and it began to rain in early June. Can we expect a similar occurrence in 2012, an even-numbered year, or will it be more like an odd-numbered drier season?
Stay tuned, as every forecaster seems to have a drastically different take on this season's weather.
In the past week it became evident that there will not be many average fields. Many of the first-planted fields in central Iowa out into Nebraska actually look very good. They seemed to have hit the nitrogen and are approaching the V5 to V6 growth stage and increasing in height rapidly.
On the other hand, the fields that had water running across them, or clay hills that prevented deeper planter penetration, had water sitting in them, or where packing rains compacted the soil aren't looking so good.
There are places where replanting occurred on a larger-than-expected number of acres. Thus the just-emerged corn, or where stands are only in the low 20s, will have a tougher time meeting hoped-for yields.
Problem-free fields seem to be less numerous than in previous seasons.
The current USDA national average corn yield guess is 166 bushels per acre. It has a number of crop watchers, with statistician backgrounds, examining their methods. They acknowledge that averages are just the average of the different years including the all-high and all-low years. But they reserve the right to throw out the corn yields from 2011 because it was in the mid-140s, or about 25 bpa less than had been predicted, and gave no explanation for doing so.
Anyone who drove across Illinois in August could see a disaster in the making due to disease, but is the threat of a repeat still present or not?
To those travelers diseases can never do enough damage to lower national yields. One other big point is that a large portion of the new acres that came into corn production are in the Northwest Corn Belt states of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
Don't they have an early frost once in a while? When are the new and full moons this coming September?
They are finally admitting that the mid-September frost that nipped much of Iowa and blasted Minnesota and the Dakotas hurt bean yields by 5 to 12 bpa and corn was also hurt. The greener corn fields got hurt, with the variance between individual fields being quite wide. Why did this truth take so long to become evident to them?
So are the grain traders and growers supposed to believe once again that Lucy will not pull the football away from Charlie Brown, or that rosy projected production numbers are not meant to push the price of grain downwards.
A number of experts are writing about the new disease called rootless corn. Can it actually be termed a new disease or should it be called a growth malfunction?
Based on how widely spread the dry conditions are and how many places got hit with packing rains in early May, quite a few fields are affected. By now many of the soil and growing conditions have been analyzed as to their influence on plants in the fields not having the normal brace root structure.
Planting depth plays a role as there are studies showing that planting depth helps determine brace root number.
Dry and compacted top soils physically prevent roots from penetrating the soil and gaining a foothold in their quest to grow deeper into the soil. We saw a fair amount of this problem during the drier years of the early 1980s. Growers who cultivated saw a benefit from performing that operation that braced the plants up and allowed the moisture front to move up towards the root crown.
I had the chance to talk to a retired professor from Purdue who wrote the book on mineral nutrition of plants and has a great working knowledge of what minerals are needed with the plant to form parts and function properly.
My question was, what role does the lack of proper mineral supply playing in this rootless corn problem? His explanation was that manganese and copper are mineral precursors, or important building blocks of cytokinins, which are hormones that when produced and transported in the plant promote the formation of brace roots.
If the plants are deficient in those minerals it can lead to a lack of brace root initiation. Our tissue tests results from 2011 showed that a high percentage of the fields showed deficiencies in those two micronutrients.
The plants showing the problem are likely being hit with the triple whammy of bone dry soil, compacted top soil and low root initiation possibly caused by lack of sufficient nutrition. Can a person remediate the problem by eliminating one, two, or three of those factors? Can an application of a micronutrient and hormone mix help? We should find out shortly. Can the use of plant hormones make a sizeable difference in how corn plants develop and grow? Darn right.
Back in the mid- and late-1980s, Rhone Poulenc was experimenting with a growth regulator known as cerone. It was an ethylene-based product in a phosphate fertilizer base. It was and is being used widely on wheat today to eliminate lodging problems.
When experimented with corn we saw that it shortened the plants, caused the plants to grow a thicker rind to eliminate lodging, increased drought tolerance, promoted brace root formation - all of which could combine to increase yields substantially.
We saw up to a 70 bpa yield increase and found out that we could grow brace root up to the ear on plants.
Nest question: Could a product that reduced the formation or dominance of the auxins let cytokines rule and grow more roots now when we need them?
What is the greatest threat to profitable corn production in 2010, 2011 and now 2012? How many of you would say that the answer is Goss' wilt?
Based on visiting with quite a few farmers who flew around the Midwest during these years to take get an aerial view that answer would be the undisputed winner.
If that is the case and, if corn is an important crop, shouldn't a few research dollars be devoted to studying the disease to better understand it so we can better develop management strategies to control it?
At this point no dollars from the farmer's mandatory check-off fund went toward studying the disease at our Land Grant University through 2012.
If you are one of the many farmers who lost money to the disease and were left with more questions than answers after last season there may be something that you could do about it.
It may be time to call the corn growers office at (515) 225-9242 and voice your opinion on the topic.
Make sure the money you are already donating goes to a worthy cause, which is funding plant pathology research. It is time for you to be heard on this issue.
There was a very interesting survey performed in Illinois dealing with quantifying the percentage of fields that held resistant weeds.
The survey was done by weed researchers at the University in Champaign with observations being made in 408 different and separate fields.
This was done to see how widespread the occurrence of weeds resistant to the main herbicide families was and how often multiple modes of resistance were occurring.
This was meant to quantify the percentage of fields where the problem with resistance weeds was occurring and to give guidance to growers on what tactics and products to use when they were getting ready to combat weed infestations in 2012 and years beyond.
What they found was that only 4 percent of the fields held no resistant weeds, 25 percent held PPO resistant weeds, 84 percent contained ALS resistant types and 68 percent were growing glyphosate resistant plants.
Their next step is to see how many of those weeds were resistant to multiple families or modes of action.
The result of this survey is far different from the assurances from several herbicide companies gave just a few years ago that resistance to their herbicides was not going to happen or the chances of resistance developing was low to none.
Now the trick is to find the correct mix of products over a one or two year time period that would allow rotation between MOAs so as to stay ahead of weeds developing tolerance.
New MOAs are difficult and costly to develop. Maximum product stewardship is important.
May it rain on your parade this week, we need it.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.