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By Staff | Oct 30, 2009

Slowly this harvest season is beginning to unfold and be reminiscent of last year, where fieldwork is possible for two to three days per week and there are many delays. All we can do is watch the weather forecasts and the maps to see if the coming days will be dry and sunny, or wet, cool and cloudy.

Unfortunately, over the past two weeks more of the latter has been the rule. The combines ran strong from Sunday through Tuesday night until the light rain or drizzle returned early Wednesday. Now it looks like it will be another waiting game until the weekend. The urgency for most operators is to at least get the beans done by November so any white stuff that falls after that date won’t destroy their yield potential.

Past experience has shown that nothing good happens to soybeans standing in the field after it snows.

The commodities seem to be showing signs of strength as the dollar drops in value and the crude oil prices climb, some of the same parameters that led to the big grain price boom of 16 months ago. In addition some of the demand signals are showing positive signs that weren’t present a few months ago.

Going into harvest the ratings for the percentage of the crops rated good to excellent didn’t seem to reflect the early death of much of the corn crop or the delayed maturity of the crops as one moved north in the Corn Belt. When the killing freeze finally came there wasn’t much to kill in much of central Iowa, but there was in northern Iowa, and most of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Now with the slow harvest pace most updates on the size of the crops will now be no better than a swag by a person who may not take poor test weights and poor fill into account.

Harvest progress

Most growers have had to be versatile and be willing to switch from corn to beans on a frequent basis as the soybeans dry down and the ground dries enough. Across Iowa it has been common to find guys who have soybeans still testing over 20 percent moisture and still in the lima bean stage.

Corn moistures are under 20 percent for the earlier hybrids planted in mid-April, the mid 20s for middle season hybrids planted around May 1, and close to or over 28 percent for full season hybrids planted in mid-May. There are many cornfields from southeast Iowa and clear into Ohio where the moistures were still at 30 percent or higher in mid-week.

A few optimists are still hoping for an Indian summer and dry-down rates of one-half point per day or good enough stalk quality that they can let it field dry as much as possible and still stand until they get to it.

Most drying systems, both on farm and with commercial grain handlers, have been built to remove three to five points of moisture and not the 10 to 15 points that might be needed. Thus most operators can see that drier capacity will be the bottle neck of their pace of combining. Growers typically see such a wet harvest as one where they give a lot of money to the elevators, the propane delivery man, or the equipment repair person, while elevator employees can envision the extra hours baby-sitting the grain driers, the added overtime hours and costs, and not getting any good sleep for weeks.

Based on the fact that one climatologist predicted perfectly the coolest growing season in over 120 years, and he is calling for a repeat of the cool conditions in 2010, just how much should a corn growers early-up his hybrid choices?

He earlied-up his hybrid package for his Rockford, Ill., acres in 2009 by 7 to 9 days. One would hate to overact, yet not act if the cool weather continues. A prudent operator may want to pay attention to how the hybrid performance was in the cropping district to the north.

Test weights continue to be very light, with many samples falling into the 51- to 52-pound range. One anomaly appearing is that some grain samples are actually dropping one to two pounds after they are dried instead of picking up a pound for every three to four points of moisture lost. Several ethanol plants in eastern Iowa are imposing major penalties as they know their ethanol production-per-bushel declines with lightweight grain. A close examination of the grain shows a kernel that collapsed in at the tip connected with the cob. The plants that produced those kernels typically didn’t have enough green leaf tissue left during August and September to produce the photosynthates to finish filling the tip and cavities.


Some people perform tillage in the fall while others continue with no-till. Residue management was a challenge for both groups of people this past season as it was too cool last fall and it looks like it might be too cool this fall for great decomposition of crop residue.

A number of forward-thinking retailers and operators who applied dry fertilizer grade AMS last fall saw great results from the N and S application in helping the microbes decompose the residue and cycle the nutrients back to the new crop quicker and add to soil OM.

With the cost for AMS being much lower than it was a year ago more operators should be looking at such a program even if they don’t do any fall tillage.

During last year’s constant ponding rains, last fall’s wet harvest, and this year’s wet spring for some, there is likely a lot of compaction in fields where drainage is not perfect. Those spots often showed up this summer as SDS symptoms appeared in those areas.

Those locations should be probed to check for high soil density readings. If levels in excess of 300 psi are detected, then a deep ripping might be required.

Lime, micronutrients

Over the years the limestone marketing groups have done a good job of informing the farming public of the value of a sound pH management program. Based on their long-term studies they typically recommended that growers try to keep their soil pH levels in the 6.3 or 6.5 range if they had acid pHs.

Newer studies have shown a benefit to nutrient availability by applying gypsum, AMS, or other sulfur containing fertilizer product if they had soil pHs over 7.4. Often high magnesium levels play a role in causing the higher pHs and limit the amount of Ca and K and other nutrients that are held in the soil matrix and their availability for plant growth.

The only way to know what path to follow and what your situation is, is to maintain a good soil-testing program and test a portion of the soil samples for the important micros.

The tissue tests that were taken across the Midwest also told a story that most growers and fertilizer people are still unaware of. Such micro shortages can cause problems with crop performance and plant health.

As corn yields have marched past 200 BPA and even up into the 250 range, not enough growers are keeping up with removal or properly gauging in-plant levels. Hopefully there will be training sessions this winter covering such information as it is going to be very important.

Good luck with harvest and be safe.

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