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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Apr 10, 2009

After the big snowstorm that was forecast for much of Iowa delivered a reduced snow load into central Iowa, rather than the huge blast we expected, growers have to remain somewhat optimistic.

What was evident in the snowfall totals and field inspections was that much of northern Iowa, or much of the territory north of U.S. Highways 3 and 20, missed the snow so that field work could commence sooner than expected.

When the big flakes started to come down in waves Sunday morning it was easy to remember walking out of Church back in 1973 in mid April and hearing people recall the old wives’ tale of “big flakes, small snow.” In the end that axiom was inaccurate when about 15 inches swept across much of the state and shut things down for a few days.

As it looks now, if we receive the 55 degree temps predicted for later this week there could be significant progress being made in the next two weeks in preparing for the 2009 crop.

There are still many riddles that need to solved and unwrapped for the upcoming season. Last year the big point of discussion was how many acres would be pulled from other crops and planted to corn.

That ended up happening, but the best cure for high corn prices was high corn prices if you were on the user end, and the worst development if you were on the growing end. Now the number of acres that will be planted to beans in 2009 is the big question mark. Unlike last year the quest over the past months was how to lose fewer dollars rather than how to maximize profit.

As growers we have to remain optimistic and do what we do best, which is to produce and be ready to market wisely. Now we have to hope that new crop bean prices narrow the gap with old crop.

Most farmers have been waiting for a few warm and sunny days when they can line up their machinery in their yard and on the concrete pads to make final preparations.

Those with large heated sheds might be done with machinery prep, but the majority without big heated shops still need additional days to get ready.

Whose side are they on?

Many articles have been written about the unelected members of the proposed rules of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Environmental Protection Commission for the livestock producers within Iowa. To this point few of the members seem to have any experience with animals, the management required to raise them, and the difficulties that weather can have on the entire system.

They keep trying to set concrete rules with no leeway using engineering rather than a biological approach to cropping. That demonstrates their inexperience and lack of working knowledge.

Schedules can’t be completely rigid and exceptions are the rule. Time and time again they dismiss soil scientists and farmers who better understand the soil and how legumes and grasses grow.

Buying decision

What seems confounding is how decisions that have been right one year end up being the wrong decisions the next year. That holds true with market timing over the last two years versus the previous five years. Purchasing inputs such as herbicides and fertilizer early had always been the right thing to do. This year it hasn’t been true for both farmers and retailers. A pertinent question is how would you manage the supply business if you were on the other side of the desk? You can bet that changes will be made throughout the retailing channels to pass ownership and risk onto parties in a more shared fashion.

Hindsight is much easier to base judgment on than having to guess the future and this past season has been a perfect example of how things can go wrong. With a $4 to $5 swing in corn prices and an even larger one in soybeans, plus the cost of locking in grain prices ,we were in unexplored territory. Last season when commodity prices were skyrocketing the intuitive growers remarked that any prices above $4.25 for corn and $10 for beans were going to come back to haunt them.

Remember that the big movement into commodity investment by hedge funds was precipitated by poor federal reserve and governmental policy that forced inflation then tried to hide it.

NASA news

The biggest under-reported news of the week was in an article from astronomers at NASA’s Goddard space center, verifying what several noted meteorologists have been documenting. For the past three years the amount of sunspot activity has been on a rapid decline.

While that happens the amount of energy being dispersed throughout the solar system decreases and the earth cools off. This 11-year cycle was first noted by a German physicist, Heinrich Schwabe, back in the mid-1800s. Last year the growing season ended up being the fourth coolest growing year in the past 50 years.

Parts of East Central Iowa ended up nearly 400 growing degree units behind normal with the other parts of the state falling 100 to 200 heat units behind.

As a result the size of the crop and moisture at harvest was highly dependent on favorable September weather and a later-than-normal frost.

At this point a few growers are speculating what might happen if the trend to cooler weather continues and any more volcanoes throw particulate matter into the upper atmosphere. Cooler weather relates to cooler soils and delayed mineralization of soil nutrients such as phosphorous. P is vital to the rate of plant growth and rate of reactions.

Other elements will also be affected by cooler soils. Will foliar nutrition be doubly important to good growth in 2009? Does that mean that slot-placed, starter fertilizer, and any method or product used to enhance the availability of specific nutrients will be of increased value in 2009?

At this point a solid guess would be to say, “yes.” You may want to study up on what to do if the season starts to play out in that manner. You can log onto ISU’s soil temp maps this spring and early summer to check various locations across the state and manage your crops as needed.

Residual herbicides

More growers are relating that they are now moving to the use of a residual herbicide, even in front of an herbicide-tolerant crop. The increased cost of glyphosate applications and the desire to not have to stand at the edge of a too-wet-to-spray field wishing that they could spray must have finally hit home. The release of several new herbicides or safteners to improve older ones will likely continue that trend or even move growers back to traditional weed control programs.

Soybean seed management

How many soybean growers were well satisfied with their bean yields in 2007 and 2008? If you weren’t, what are you going to do in a proactive manner to reach your yield goals? Now is the time to continue that quest for better bean yields and a good place to start is to finalize what products will be used to treat your seed.

To me, using a good seed-applied fungicide and a premium inoculant are givens. After that the use of a seed-applied insecticide can be justified on early planted fields located within two to four miles of an over-wintering beetle site.

After that the best growers constantly monitor their crop and use other tricks like foliar fertilizer, micro-mixes, and hormonal products to force the plant to form more branches, flowers and seeds.

What do you have planned for your fields? There is still time to initiate and follow through on such work.

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