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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Oct 16, 2009

Old Man Winter seems to have given us a brief preview of what may be in store for us the rest of this season. The problem is that the snow and cold season seems to have arrived a month or two early in a year when the crops are running three to five weeks behind in development.

All summer temperatures were running 10 to 20 degrees below normal and now that same trend seems to be continuing.

Keeping things in perspective, we are just lucky we had the burst of heat in late June and that in September to push the crops along. Without those growing degree units we would have much lower yields than are currently being reported.

Predictions of global warming aside, we have to ask the pertinent question of “Was this just an aberrant weather year, or is this the weather that we can expect in future seasons? Has something happened globally to create this change or has the jet stream shifted to the north to give the Midwest such cool weather for most of the summer?”

If we have a similar year to look forward to in 2010, then what changes do growers and agronomists need to adopt to continue to be productive in future years? Now that the growing season has ended climatologists will be able to summarize the heat unit and PAR light accumulations and work towards analyzing 2009 and make their predictions for future seasons.

Even without such thoughts, growers were already poised to end up with the most questions ever. Now add a complex set of new ones to the list. And who is in a position to answer those questions?

If one of the recommended things to do during a long winter is read several good books, then one that I have just ordered is one by Dr. Lawrence Datnoff, Mineral Nutrition and Plant Diseases. While I have several recent books on soil fertility, plus the recent one by Agrios on plant pathology, there was no text that tied together plant nutrition and the plant diseases that have become very common in recent years.

For much of the summer crop scouts, growers and seed people have been scouting for and trying to understand why we have had such an explosion in plant diseases. There have been many credible and sound explanations, but no underlying theme that tied it all together.

Early recommendations for the book suggest that the many contributing authors have proposed ideas and facts that have done so. All corn and bean producers may want to put the book on their reading lists.

The harvest

Every grower in the Midwest is facing about the same task of having to decide if and when they can focus on harvest corn or beans on an almost daily basis. Suitable days in which to do beans have been few, but because they are less able to tolerate snow, every operator would like to finish combining them first.

Not many acres have been done across the state in the past two weeks and we will have to have sunny weather to dry the top inch of two of soil before most operators can resume the task.

Hopefully that will be sometime this week and everyone can get this task finalized.

Yields so far have been reflective of the amount of rain that fell in each area during August and how much moisture was in the soil going into the pod fill stage. Most yields have been eight to 10 bushels per acre better than expected, but I am hearing of some first-hand reports from extreme northern Iowa where no rain fell in August and those growers have been disappointed. Yields under 25 Bu/A don’t pay many bills.

The other trend we expect to be seeing yet is that the later varieties should be better as they seemed to have flowered longer. That isn’t always the case, but this year the cool nights in July were thought to have eliminated about 25 percent of the flowering days.

Corn harvest is progressing slowly as field dry-down has almost stopped. Very few on-farm and even commercial drying setups aren’t geared to handling such high moisture grain and their daily volumes are much less than normal.

In a regular year most operators will slow their pace of harvest or sit idle for a week to let the corn get down closer to 20 percent. This year most are recognizing the reality that the grain likely won’t dry much more and due to the soft stalks they might as well keep the combines rolling.

As a result, a lot of corn will be harvested at moistures of 25 percent or above because the chances of it getting any drier are slim and none. There is a reason the grain markets have found a slim measure of support in recent days.

After squeezing lots of stalks the past few weeks most agronomists would have to agree that many of this year’s fields are at a great risk of significant stalk lodging and are urging growers to get as much done as possible before any strong winds hit. If last year’s early snows repeat themselves in the next few weeks, then moving forward with harvest as quickly as possible would be prudent. There is still a certain percentage of the fields where stalks are still strong and intact. These should be studied to see what might be different management-wise and what went right weather-wise.

Overall yields have been tough to generalize. Fields planted early on well-drained fields where moisture never was short are yielding very well. The range we will see across the state is likely to be huge. The best fields are bound to be in the southwest and northwest Iowa and be in the 275 Bu/A range. The poorest might well be in southeast and southcentral Iowa where delayed planting, wet root zones, and disease destroyed the yield potential. Take note that very few growers are currently bragging about their corn yields.

That is a very bad sign. Being analytical, what should we expect when 75 to 80 percent of the corn turns yellow three to five weeks early and the plants died two to three week before black layering?

Soil sampling

Once the beans are harvested, be sure to get the soil sampling crews into the appropriate fields to get soil tests taken. A suggestion would be to get a percentage of the samples analyzed for several micronutrients as we are detecting more are now deficient in several of the major ones.

If the results from that percentage of fields raise a red flag then call the testing lab immediately and have the rest of the samples from that field or fields analyzed.

The question then is, if you want to apply the particular nutrient to the soil or as a foliar. In making fertilizer recommendations recognize that phosphate is as cheap as it might be for the next few years. Thus it might be the time to build the test levels in low-testing fields depending on the lease terms or ownership situation with each field.

Residue management

Even when it’s too wet to combine on tilled fields, most growers seem to be getting their stalks worked as soon as they can. This should help the degradation process versus waiting until the soils get close to freezing. All growers who are planning on raising second- year corn will have to do as much as possible to facilitate stalk breakdown.

Tillage can be good, but what has to be recognized is the biological component to stalk degradation.

Those bugs that degrade stalks are doing so to feed themselves. They require nitrogen and sulfur, plus a source of sugar if the temps have cooled.

Good luck with harvest and may the sun shine and temperatures warm.

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