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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Apr 3, 2009

The weather forecasters predict that it is going to snow several times this week in Iowa. April Fools! What a cruel joke it is for us who have been waiting since last October for a warm spring and easy-to-manage planting season. As of Tuesday night it is snowing across much of Iowa and in surrounding states. This is typical of our late-winter season.

At least we don’t have to live in danger of being in a serious flood situation and a blizzard at the same time like the poor inhabitants of the Red River Valley of the Dakotas and Minnesota. That doesn’t seem fair to any of them, but that happens when your region’s rivers flow north.

Wish them a lot of luck and remember your Red Cross workers when they call for help and donations.

The important Intended Acreage report was released Tuesday morning and once it was out everyone was punching holes in it. In a year when many farmers still are not sure when their fields will be dry enough for field work, if the fertilizer they need and the equipment to apply it will be available, and what crop will be closest to profitable prices, everyone knows that the USDA figures were constructed using still-shifting data.

The fog that has enveloped most of the 2009 crop planning season is slowly lifting, but has still not left. If grain prices keep rising, things will change. In the end the grain markets and supplies exist on a global scale, while most hedge funds have gone broke. Many of the bushel estimates coming from South American countries are being lowered on a regular basis. As their harvest progresses they will continue to be adjusted and prices will move again as a consequence. What we saw in the fields we visited was what any of you would expect with a 50-year drought in Argentina and other challenges on many Brazilian acres.

Field work

The spring fieldwork season is getting closer. It is now easy to see the first tiling crews completing drainage work in certain fields. Fresh dug gopher mounds are appearing in the ditches, indicating the frost is now gone. Anhydrous is being applied in fields now in the western part of the state where drainage is better.

On days where the strong winds speeds surface drying a few tractors are venturing out pulling chisels or other tillage tools. In some cases it looks like they are not making ruts while in others it looks like more time is needed before they can avoid causing compaction.

Economic advice

About a month ago international investor Jim Rogers sat for a media interview, which was the best interview and opinion about the economy we’ve ever heard. Rogers has been a serious commodity investor and traveler across many parts of the globe since the 1980s. Rogers’ view is that for years we have been running two economies, one that grows, builds, produces, or mines products that serve a useful purpose and has value.

At the same time there was a second economy built on shuffling paper and paying themselves handsomely. That second economy screwed up severely and we are seeing the ramifications now.

Meanwhile, he is bullish on commodities including grains and food products. He is expecting the producers in the Midwest and U.S. to benefit from those needs for food. Since many countries that have lots of cash still need food produced from countries with good soils and producing ability.

Fertilizer questions

The infamous fertilizer standoff is still in place. Many people outside of agriculture are amazed at the 250 percent price inflation over the past two to three years. Those 2008 prices by the wholesale suppliers were based on the assumption that everyone was selling their corn for $7 and beans for $13 per bushel.

Those high fertilizer prices have ended up not fitting into many producers’ cropping budgets for the 2009 season, thus many producers are looking at the current season and date on the calendar and realizing that many things they normally do are not going to get done.

Now that April is here and planting time is near, affected growers will have to carefully look at their most current soil tests and make a few decisions. Recently our Extension soil fertility specialists released their analyses concerning P and K levels and expected response from continued fertilizer applications.

In cases where test levels are low the greatest danger might not be spending money on fertilizer, but on the risk that yields could be lowered if no product is applied.

Making field-by-field comparisons using the Extension guidance rules would be the best course of action for such growers. Once that is done and a determination is made, they could then look at deep banding, applying starters, using foliar applications, or fertilizer aids such as Avail/NSN to deliver the efficiencies they need.

Nitrogen programs

It currently looks like the chances of having an early and dry spring season are disappearing. In many areas only a low percentage of the nitrogen fertilizer that normally gets applied in the fall was applied. Thus the demand for product supplies and equipment to apply it will likely exceed what will be available. Growers will have to develop plans B and C to get through the crunch without slowing or delaying planting. In many cases growers are bound to try to apply their residual herbicides with 30 to 50 pounds of N and hope to apply the remaining amount either as UAN, or 82 percent, with side dress rigs.

Those who have either self-propelled or big-pull type sprayers may want to look up an article in the Progressive Farmers magazine where several growers have designed a plumbed, metal, triangle to hang from a spray bar called a ‘Dead on Dribbler’ that lays the UAN right next to the base of the plant.

What trials have shown is that dews that form on the plants’ leaves trickle down the stalk and take the material into the root zone. The developers knew they needed to avoid having dry weather and soils make their in season nitrogen applications becoming positionally unavailable. The Dribblers have solved such problems at a minimal cost.

Seed treatments

During this waiting period producers should visit with their seed suppliers to verify the products they want applied to their seed. In the past few seasons the value of seed-applied fungicides and adding one of the newer inoculates has been demonstrated in many field and research trials. If higher soybean yields are desired, they will be achieved by managing the seed and crop in the fashion that promotes that best health and early growth. Some of that needs to be planned now and implemented during the next month.

If one peers into what we might see for problems in May and June, the chance that we will see slow growth due to cool soils and slow P and K mineralization is quite high.

Be thinking if there is any way that you could speed plant development if this occurs. Starter fertilizer, the use of Avail, or early P foliars could pay dividends. Best of luck in getting the sun to shine and the temperatures to warm up.

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