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CROP WATCH

By Staff | May 8, 2009

Nearly all the farmers in Iowa got an unexpected and unwanted break from fieldwork last week and it looks like those in parts of the state will get more of the same during part of this week.

Such delays are why a farmer never says that they will do things tomorrow what they could do today. You just don’t know when and if a dry week is in the cards anytime in the near future.

As it is we have to be thankful for the two weeks of nice weather in mid to late April that allowed us to get 65 percent of the state’s corn crop planted and even a portion of the bean crop in the ground. Growers in states east and south of Iowa are now seeing a repeat of 2008 as their fields remain too wet to do any sort of field work.

When you check the various state online Crop Management Newsletters the topics consist nearly entirely of how to manage delayed planting and weed control programs, such as how to alter spray mixes to manage taller broadleaves and the benefits of planting late-season beans in narrow rows. They have to be saying “Not again!”

Already the big non-event of the “Mexican Human” flu seems to be fading to the back pages and whatever strain of H1N1 it was, it didn’t seem as virulent as initially expected. News stations must have needed something to talk about during a normally dull time and this seemed a good event to publicize. Now one of the main issues seems to be the issue of how to keep humans from transmitting it to the swine herds with which they work.

On the state scene budget issues and how it is causing a further paring of the county Extension network staff is an ongoing problem as ISU deals with cuts in its funding. And in state regulatory issues the governor continues to try to place people on the EPC and environmental boards who seem to want to shut the livestock and power industries down.

It makes you wonder who he is trying to serve.

Weather issues

After having a few 90-degree days in mid April, our daily high temperatures have cooled off and the rate of growing degree units accumulation has slowed. It looks like the frontal boundaries are still setting up over Oklahoma and the area through Tennessee as those are the areas getting severe storms and twisters.

Iowa is still on the cold side of that boundary. Thus mid to high 60s are more common than temps at 75 degrees. Because corn requires from 100 to 150 heat units to break the surface, emergence is slow and it is taking from 12 to 14 days for that April-planted corn to emerge.

In the past week the first corn seedlings could be seen sending the spikes above ground or you could find those spikes just beginning to push through the light crust that was present.

Many have asked if crusting could be a major problem. At this point what agronomists have been finding is a light crust that resulted from several hard rains, but not a real thick one as we have not had the hot baking temperatures needed to form a concrete layer. In the areas of eastern Iowa where 5 to 7 inches of rain fell, growers should be checking their fields often to see if their particular area has a solid crust that could cause emergence problems.

Where I checked in the Fort Dodge area this week the crust was light and the spikes were either just reaching the soil surface or just below it.

A slight wetting of the soil was going to soften the thin and minor crust that was present. In Marshall and neighboring counties where the heavy rains fell, growers will have to be vigilant and possibly be ready to take their rotary hoes to the field to break any crust.

In eastern Iowa corn planting is reported to be from 10 to 50 percent complete depending on the area. They need to have dry weather this week to make progress in completing planting within the optimum planting window.

A much higher percentage of those growers are no-tillers and they farm more river bottoms where the soil surfaces need to be drier. Hopefully they will get the drier and sunny weather.

Bean planting progress

A moderate percentage of growers in western Iowa got started on bean planting last week with many being hesitant to go full bore because of the cool soils. It would have been nicer to see the soil temp readings in the high 50s rather than low 50s. This week they can feel confident that they are doing the right thing in proceeding.

The extra time should have allowed them to make sure they were doing everything they could to produce as many bushels per acre. That means using inoculants, applying seed treatments, and looking to see if there were any new products that could boost yields or set the stage for more pods and more seeds per plant later in the season.

At this time it looks like the Chinese buying trend is continuing and the smaller Argentine crop that I saw has become a reality. So prices are rallying again on both old and new crop, pushing prices into a range where profits can be generated by raising soybeans.

There are a few new products on the market this year, some that have been extensively tested and some that may have great benefits, but still need more testing done with them.

One of them is soy soap, which is a colloidal surfactant that is said to boost uptake of different nutrients. We are having two big research plots where we are testing a multitude of products that are either seed or foliar applied. Soy soap is in the mix of foliar products to see if it gives a yield or nutrient boost when used alone or in combination with other products or integrated programs.

In our plots we have multiple locations with four reps per location, so things should get sorted out. What has become evident from soil testing is that an N-P-K only fertility program is leaving more fields deficient in one or more micronutrients. In these plots we are also testing several microbials that are looking good in other crops or areas. Besides yield we plan to have testing done for protein and oil to meet specialty market needs.

If things are wet in your area and you have some downtime, be proactive yet and determine if there is anything you can do now or during the season to improve your corn and bean yields. Then implement the steps that seem the most likely to give a return.

Specialty crops

Several people have asked about specialty crops within Iowa. The Kittleson Brothers near St. Ansgar still grow between 80 and 120 acres of potatoes on peat ground near Fertile. Last year was tough for that crop as some of the white varieties didn’t take the flooding very well and acres were lost. If you have never made hash browns or fried spuds from Kittleson potatoes, you will have to treat yourselves this fall after the first ones are dug. They are excellent.

We finally had soils dry enough and warm enough to plant our Yukon Golds this week. They have a buttery flavor that is tough to beat, and are fun to raise. Yields aren’t as high with them, so it is tougher to find anyone growing them commercially.

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