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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Oct 9, 2009

Thus far the harvest season is beginning to look a lot like that of 2008.

Hopefully, that changes as last year’s mud, wet grain, and freezing ending were too tortuous for everyone involved in crop production. As it is, most people were able to run the combines last Tuesday and Wednesday and again early this week to get a start on soybeans before most switched to corn this week.

Cross your fingers and plead with the weathermen to order up a good dose of Indian summer. Then we can get the soybeans out and then make a good run on the corn while the weather is still warm. You’ve got to be an optimist.

After last year’s late harvest and this year’s cool start it became doubly apparent that a poor ending to one year’s crop was capable to messing up the next year’s cropping plans and progress. Lots of compaction busting tillage, which was planned and needed, never got done last fall. That played a role in several disease problems that showed up this year as the nitrogen management problems that occurred. The lack of fall tillage coupled with wet combing conditions played a major role in the amount of SDS that showed up in this year’s beans as fusarium likes to invade first in saturated, compacted areas.

At least growers should now understand the correlation between nitrogen immobilization and intact residue plus that of intact, diseased residue and this season’s corn disease problems, allowing them to recognize what is going on and be more proactive in future years.

Grain markets, surveys

The grain markets are beginning to move again. Sparking it is the news circulating among commodity advisors from combine operators that the huge corn yields that many armchair analysts and surveyors were expecting and predicting are not there.

We will be more knowledgeable about yields in a week or two when trends clarify, but right now the numerous stresses and deficiencies that developed during the season seem to have taken their toll.

I attended the Pro Farmer summary meeting held in Spencer last August and got to visit with a number of the crop scouts that made the tour. A few things became apparent by visiting with them.

First, the corn was late in developing and it was too early to tell if the blister stage kernels were going to develop into full kernels. Then when you asked them what power of lens they were using to diagnose the various leaf diseases it was apparent there were no agronomists with plant pathology training to recognize the potentially damaging infections.

Surprisingly the bean pod counts were below last year’s tallies and below normal. The further north their routes were, the later the crop was in development. Thus when their prognostications were made the chickens had not hatched yet.

Soybean news

It would be nice to comment more on bean harvest, but not much progress has been made since last week to see more results. The yields appear to be best where it was drier this spring or where the soils drained better during the wet May and June.

Several major genetic firms are hoping their newly introduced line of soybean genetics live up to their sales claim. Will they do it or not? In a year when commodity prices are low, any seed priced too high will likely be left in the warehouse at the end of the planting season.

The corn harvest

Last year’s wet grain left many corn growers amazed at how they were able to spend $100 per acre on drying costs. This year holds the potential to have grain that is just as wet, with the only salvation being that propane is about half the cost it was in 2008. Most of the state ended up about 350 GDUs behind normal and another amount behind in photosynthetic active radiation. As a result we saw that hybrids took forever to tassel, dent, and reach black layer.

The fields that yellowed and then browned early never did form a natural black layer and seemed to take extra days to start drying. Now the grain is drying very slowly as temps have been very cold and there was so little wind during September. There is danger with winter getting closer, the grain is typically wet, and stalk quality is declining.

Many crop scouts have been checking the stalk quality in fields they have been watching. The normal purpose is to diagnose the fields that could develop a stalk lodging problem and then alert the growers about the need to harvest early. That strategy isn’t going to work this year as a very high percentage of the corn fields that turned brown early have a high level of rotten stalks.

I checked fields near Nevada this week and found out by doing the push test that 95 percent of the stalks were soft. A colleague cut stalks from near Jefferson for the late stalk N testing and found that 80 percent were rotted. At this point all anyone can do is hope that we can avoid getting any strong winds this fall. It makes recognizing foliar diseases in July and taking corrective action that much more important.

Many fields and hybrids appear to be “test weight challenged” with weights of 49 to 51 pounds being reported. Extremes of 46 up to 53 are also appearing. That indicates that kernel fill wasn’t completed in a natural manner. When you inspect the kernels they are pointed at the cob end, the germ portion has shrunken, and the dent end is dented deeper than normal. That is not good news.

Several eastern Iowa ethanol plants are already discounting lightweight grain, which produces less ethanol. Lot of people are nervous about how the season is developing, but hoping the nice month of fall weather arrives.

If lots of stalk lodging occurs there may be lots of farmers asking questions about the many reasons for such disease problems this season.

Fertility plans

Once more acres of beans are combined it will be time to get the soil sampling crews busy. The correct plan is typically to sample half the bean acres every year if you have a 50/50 rotation. Getting results back and then formulating fertility plans for 2010 and 2011 is the best way to start the planning process.

More growers are moving to sampling by management zones, or grid sampling, while being cognizant of soil types. In the past most growers and fertilizer retailers have only asked for the basic analysis to be run.

With the acknowledgement that more samples are showing low levels of several major micronutrients more growers will be or should be testing for S, Zn, Mn, Cu and Bo. A good plan might be to have every fourth or sixth sample tested for micros. If any flags are raised for a field, then the rest of the samples from the flagged field could be run before the samples are tossed away.

Here’s hoping that the sun shines the rest of the month until all of the crops are harvested.

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