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CROP WATCH

By Staff | May 15, 2009

What can we say? Wet weather is again slowing down our ability to plant much more of the 2009 corn and bean crop, but we are in a much better position than the growers in the states east and south of Iowa.

A high percentage of the farmers in the Farm News distribution area are done with corn with much of it already emerged. Many also have a third to half or more of their soybeans already in the ground

While it is slowly becoming a frustrating start to the new season we have to be appreciative for the dry days we have had in which to complete fieldwork. It is still in the first half of May so this has not become a late-planting season yet.

However any more rain fronts that would move across Nebraska, Iowa, and southern Minnesota and points east would slowly and surely make a lot of farmers anxious, especially after the trying 2008 season.

Remember that growers in northern South Dakota and North Dakota had their last snowfall only three weeks ago. Temperatures thus far have remained cool with lots of cold nights across the Midwest.

One noted meteorologist, if there are any who have gained that title, earlier commented and wrote about the lack of sunspot activity. In his columns he translated that event into his prediction that we were going to have a cool growing season. Less sunspot activity generates fewer photons of sun energy traveling 93 million miles to heat our landmass and provide sunlight to the plants.

Less sunlight means slower growth and fewer GDUs to provide the energy for plant development. This does not fit into the mold that global warming activists preach about, but this spring most people are still wearing jackets during most of the afternoons when they are doing fieldwork and other chores. If we continue to have a cool season, each grower will have to research and decide if there is anything they can do to speed the development of the crop up by seven to fourteen days between now and the expected frost date.

Remember that cool soils slow microbial mineralization and plant availability of many important nutrients.

What we are all watching now are the grain markets and the potential to make some money on what is undoubtedly the most expensive crop we have ever planted. It is anyone’s guess what events will unfold over the growing months and where prices will be at harvest.

An unknown is when livestock herds will be trimmed, which will decrease feed consumption. An event that is interesting to watch is how each country is positioning itself with food producing countries so their population will have an adequate supply of food.

This list includes China, Japan, Europeans, India to some degree, and others. This movement is all long term and will have huge effects.

Planting progress

From Sunday through Tuesday it seemed that every planter was out and running. In many cases the soils were still either tacky or too wet a few inches down, but with the realization that ideal conditions may not exist during May, it was time to proceed anyhow.

Soil temps were slowly increasing, but not as fast as normal. 25 through 40 degree nights just were not conducive to raising soil temps rapidly. In most cases the use of a good metalaxyl containing seed treatment mix should be enough protection to allow the seed to survive and produce a healthy seedling.

In most of eastern Iowa and in wetter fields in west central and north central Iowa getting the final round of fields planted to corn was the top priority.

What was seen in 2008 was that the late planting of full season varieties during a season short on heat units shifted the grain fill period to August and September rather than July and August. That left many fields and varieties short of photosynthates and more prone to stalk and root weaknesses manifested by collapsed stalks. A partial solution this season would be to make a quicker switch to earlier maturity hybrids that flower earlier in their life cycle.

Fields planted now should still have high yield potential and will do well planted in any row width. If and when soybean planting takes place after May 25 yield potentials will be traditionally be higher if row widths are narrowed.

Crop growth

Corn that has been planted for two or three or more weeks has emerged decently with only minor crusting problems. The stage was set in areas that caught heavy rains two weeks ago for plants to have a tough time getting through the soil surface. Two things happened.

First we have had few hot days that would have baked the wet soils to form a heavy crust. In a number of areas fields that were set to experience minor problems caught rains that served to soften the soil allowing spikes to force their ways above the soil surface.

Soil microbe activity

Soil scientists and insightful growers are still trying to observe, analyze, and figure out which microbes are at work constructively to help their crops grow and prosper each year. There are currently a number of scientists working with land grant universities, the National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames, and in their own fields to figure out which bugs are helping them grow profitable crops each year.

What is known is that microbial activity is responsible for freeing up or “mineralizing” the nutrients from the soil that their plants then pull in by their roots. Currently it has been estimated that there are more species of organisms living below the soil than above, so everyone on the teams has much work to do yet.

Bug activity

About the only insect activity seen or expected in the near term is minor cutworm activity in the last two weeks of May.

Fields that held a growth of winter annuals are typically the ones most attractive to the egg-laying moths that blew in during April and early May.

Cool weather is slowing down their appearance and any activity.

Good luck with planting.

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