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CROP WATCH

By Staff | May 1, 2009

It’s a long season and many things will transpire over the next six months. What is now in place for much of the Iowan corn crop is that it was planted very early and had a full moisture profile available to it to supply the needed moisture during the season.

Those growers who still have half or more of their corn crop to plant still have the opportunity to get it planted within the optimum window if conditions reverse themselves and it turns warm and sunny once again.

A 1-inch rain was needed this past weekend to wet the top few inches and help seeds that were planted into spring-tilled fields soak up moisture. Most areas caught much more than 1 inch and now have to wait for the newly formed waterholes to drain away. In central and northern Iowa growers have completed their corn planting and are going to concentrate on soybeans.

Nearly all operators were telling that their soils were as soft and mellow and easy to work as they could ever remember. Cold temperatures and freezing weather does have its benefits and one it to fracture shallow compaction that exists within the top six-inch profile.

If past experience with insects follow the same trend we may be lucky enough to learn that the numerous sub-zero temperatures were as tough on them as it was on us.

In all the recent ag shows in both North and South America the hottest items were those GPS-related products that help guide tractors, sprayers, and other machinery through today’s fields.

Defense technology had to find a home and the plan to develop them for transportation and application uses took a few years and it is now easy to see how much it can help producers to perform many tasks. Many of those producers sold at least part of their grain for decent prices and finally felt they could afford to add those navigational aids to their tractors. Those who did so a few years ago typically moved to more accurate equipment such as RTK or automatic seed shutoffs. Those who were first timers got the opportunity to enter the market and make their decisions based on what their friends and neighbors recommended.

Speaking about livestock, what does everyone think of the latest news on swine flu? It will be interesting to keep updated on this infectious disease and specifics with it. Will it continue to follow certain demographics or not?

Any livestock farmer or those who have studied infectious diseases have to be wondering why it is affecting 20- to 40-year-olds and not younger or older people that have weaker immune systems.

GDUs

You have likely heard or learned that most hybrids require between 100 and 150 heat units from the time the seeds are planted to when the small plants emerge. In early spring that normally requires from 10 to 14 days to happen as the typical heat unit accumulation rate is five to eight per day in late April and early May. Last week’s accumulation of 20 to 25 GDUs per day was much higher than normal. Dry soils tend to warm more quickly, which helped the rapid warm up or soil temperatures.

If things had continued as warm this week we would have been seeing the first sprouts coming up this week. Currently we will just have to see how warm the days are the rest of this week.

What became apparent was that broadleaf weeds were emerging at a rapid pace in any unsprayed fields were a big seed bank still existed.

Those included ragweed species, pigweed and smartweed.

It is always nice to get a portion of those emerged and growing early to be able to have any burndown application or tillage pass eliminate them so they no longer compete with the growing crops during the early part of the growing season.

Planter adjustments

One decision that can be tough to make is how much down pressure to put on the planter closing wheels. With the loose soils and the acknowledgement that excessive closing wheel pressure was partially responsible for causing sidewall compaction last year most planter operators ran with only minimal spring or air pillow pressure.

The perfect closing wheels have not been invented yet. If there were one it would like be a set that could be adjusted for different soil textures and moisture levels as the fields dried and soil types or topography changed.

Strip-till

Strip-till now seems to be the hot new thing to follow. This tillage or cropping regime carries some similarities with ridge tillage, but there are several differences. The machinery has improved dramatically and the costs for many of the inputs have increased.

When viewing the fields that were strip-tilled, it was nice to see fields that had the soft ridges or mounds standing 2 to 3 inches above flat ground, which were going to offer quicker drainage and faster soil warm-up to the small plants and their root systems.

In some of the fields fertilizer had been placed 5 to 8 inches deep and the soil down to the injection zone was very soft and is going to allow faster growth of the roots into the fertilizer zone.

Most farmers who are using strip-till are reducing their fertilizer rates and have noted yields that are either as good as, or higher than their traditional programs. The available GPS equipment makes lining up deep fertilizer placement with the seed placement much easier.

New soybean products

There are several new products that people will be experimenting with or using on a limited scale on their soybean acres this season.

One is a bacterium (pseudomonas infloresens) that is currently used in Argentina that releases an organic acid to dissolve soil phosphorous making it available to the growing plants.

Where we have seen it used the plants in those low testing P fields show excellent growth and no sign of P shortage. It also may offer benefit in keeping fusarium infestations away from the roots.

I am putting it in several plots to see if it offers similar benefits here on our soils.

The second is a hormone producing bacteria that can be applied early to the seed and later as a foliar to help the plant perform several tasks. We are typically adding it in with liquid inoculants.

Those effects of the produced hormones include helping the plant form more nodules, additional branches, and later boost pod retention. Those are all traits that should boost seed count.

Mixed into a proven systems management scheme yields should be increased. What we saw last year in limited trials was promising and we hope to test it in more plots and farmer fields this season.

Hopefully the fields will dry again and let us continue with corn and bean planting.

It sounds like wet conditions rule in all areas east of the Mississippi River.

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