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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Sep 25, 2009

The early fall season is speeding by us and all the signs of the growing season coming to an end are now present. Many trees have been showing a color change for several weeks. They will soon exhibit the brilliant reds and yellows that make the landscapes so colorful.

Any existing weeds have developed the seed heads or pods that will allow each to survive into a future season. Various animals are reacting to the season by beginning to fatten up in preparation for a longer winter.

In recognition of those signs harvest has begun in select early varieties that were planted early around the state. During this time it is interesting to hear of the first harvest reports to either confirm producers’ suspicions or create a sense of optimism as to how their fields might produce.

On the national scene much was written about the passing of Dr. Norman Borlaug. Most of the famous people who grew up in Cresco were wrestlers who went on to star in their college careers. Dr. Borlaug was always very humble whenever one heard him speak and he just believed he was doing the right thing when he devoted his life to efforts to improving the food supply in many of the third world countries around the globe. He never sought fame. Instead he was great at organizing competent teams of hard working ag people who went about their jobs and valued results.

That philosophy made it interesting to hear about the accomplishments of the people who won the annual World Food Prize. He realized that it was most important to teach people how to fish and that those cultures had to develop the initiative to grow their food supplies themselves.

I had the memorable chance a few years ago to shake his hand and visit with him for a short while at one of those award ceremonies.

Weather outlook

The latest Iowa State University IPM Newsletter detailed how the seasonal growing degree unit accumulation was between 310 and 390 heat units behind normal. That represents about 2.5 to 3.0 weeks of growth given a May 1 planting date. Much of northern Iowa and southern Minnesota corn needs about two to three weeks yet to reach physiological maturity. Will those growers be lucky enough to receive that reprieve?

One further index that needs to be measured, and likely will be in the future, is the amount of sunlight in the frequency needed for photosynthesis to occur. At one of our field days Mike Thurow, from Spectrum Technologies of Plainfield, Ill., attended.

He described the use of a new light meter they were introducing to the U.S. market after it was used extensively in many greenhouses in Denmark and Holland. The meters measured and tracked the hours of PAR light of the specific frequency that the plants needed to grow and photosynthesize.

Using the meters in limited testing this summer they found the Midwestern states we were even further behind in sunlight units than the GDU shortages suggested. It will be interesting to get more of those meters in place and begin to track PAR light on a seasonal basis.

Previously I mentioned that a meteorological friend from Illinois had told us last October to expect the coldest growing season in over 100 years in 2009. Now how correct was he? With the acknowledgement that God created meteorologists to make economists look good, he also said that based on lack of sunspot activity and long term cycles, we dropped into a 58 year long, cold Dalton Cycle beginning last October.

Thus this cooler season might be the new normal for most of us for the next 57 years. Does that mean that a prudent corn farmer will plant the same maturity of hybrids in 2010, or change the percentage of their hybrid maturity mix? A grower who has corn that has not black-layered by Sept. 20 or 24 may need to make changes. Traditionally, growers are advised to choose hybrids that reach BL 10 to 12 days before the normal frost date. Assuming grain moisture at BL will be around 33 percent, the drydown rate is .5 percent per day, and desired harvest moisture should be 20 percent or lower, an earlier projected BL date would be desired. One way to speed the entire process up is to start drydown early by opening the husk cover before BL occurs. If the Dalton theory is correct growers will have to react. Time will tell, but the learning curve could be steep for some.

Harvest outlook

There are a small percentage of growers who planted early maturity hybrids in mid April who now have grain dry enough to harvest. Early indications from their results seem to show that yields could be good, but will not reach expectations that once existed.

Current reports tell of some 170 bushels per acre yields and some up and over 200 Bu/A. Test weights on some of those fields have been in the low 50-pound range, indicating that the ears did not fill decently later in the season.

The development and maturity steps of this corn crop have been difficult to categorize. Different agronomists are discussing the drydown/diedown trying to figure things out. There were multiple stresses during the season that subtracted from the plants’ ability to retain green tissue and maximize grain fill through the entire season. It was common to see fields that were yellowing up in early August, turned very yellow by late August, and browned by early September.

The ears in many of those fields did not or still have not reached BL and the kernels still hold lots of moisture. It is like those plants belong to the undead and should be referred to as zombie fields.

The stalk quality in those fields should be checked on a regular basis. Some stalks still feel rigid and should stand for a few more weeks. Others have gotten quite soft and have turned brown or black at the first or second internodes. Such fields will need to be harvested before any strong winds hit. Though the winds have been strangely calm for the last half of the summer, there is no guarantee that this will continue and corn growers don’t need another Oct. 26 calamity. While you are checking stalks and fields spend time dissecting plants by cutting them lengthwise with a sharp knife.

A browned crown region typically shows that a pathogen invaded one of the first formed roots early in the growing season.

A common discussion point at gathering points is how fungicide treated fields are faring. This should be the year when the right mix of products applied at the proper stage of growth and the appearance of a leaf disease gives a very good return. There is still quite a bit of educating about fungicides, their strengths and weaknesses, and proper timing that needs to be done. Growers have also been noting which varieties were the first or last to show problems with diseases. It should lead to many interesting discussions at winter meetings.

Early bean yields

The first reports of bean yields tell of surprisingly good results. Let’s see if that continues. It they do, great. If they don’t then think back and wonder if there were any other steps that could have been done to tease a few more bushels out of an acre at a low cost.

Using seed applied fungicides and inoculants as well as spraying for aphids are now givens. Over the course of the coming winter listen to see what other top-yielding practices could be adopted into your cropping program.

What are others using or doing to compensate for cool springtime soils and root zones? Is a foliar program the way to go after soil biology is stimulated? One big item is likely to be utilizing products that will help fight white mold or SDS. On the SDS scene will be to break up any compacted areas and use the form of biological product called Rhizoshield, which is out of Cornell University.

The presence of high levels of corn residue hindered the growth of this year’s corn and soybean crops. Be sure to be proactive in helping the microbes break the residue down and recapture the nutrients contained in it. In most cases a mix of 20 to 30 pounds of N and 10 pounds of sulfur applied to the stalks will help. In fields where decomposition has been slow make plans to add two quarts of Z-hume and 3 to 5 pounds of sugar. Get this on as soon as possible when the soils are still warm. Any applied N or S will be recaptured by the 2010 crops, so it is not added expense.

Those will all be things to think about as you get to spend many hours during harvest. Good luck as you prepare.

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