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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Nov 13, 2009

Miracle of miracles, we got a week of Indian Summer at the last possible moment. Just when many people had lost hope of having sunny and warmer weather arrive, it took the arrival of November to have it happen.

The negative with its arriving now is that the days are now much shorter than they were earlier, thus there is less total heat each day to help dry the grain remaining in the fields.

This delayed and wet harvest is the rule across most of the Corn Belt with only parts of southwest Iowa and Nebraska operating at a near normal schedule.

The inevitable shoe that was bound to drop was the spot shortages of propane normally used to dry grain and heat buildings.

Reports of this event began to appear in parts of the state late last week and have become more common across Iowa and other states earlier this week. It’s no surprise since the LP used per bushel is several times higher than normal and the pipeline doesn’t have enough capacity to handle that demand.

Expect growers to be asking for clarification and reasons for the increased charges to dry their grain.

A few years ago proponents of global warming were telling us of the monster hurricanes that were bound to be blasting the U.S. coastal areas in the future. During the summer months we had zero storms make it into the Gulf of Mexico. It finally looked like we might have the first named storm hit the Gulf states and as of Monday night it looks like it will deliver two to four inches of rain to those states. Looks like Big Al may have to take a day job.

Field conditions for harvest

On our return back to Iowa last Wednesday from Pennsylvania we saw no combines operating until we got about 40 miles east of Davenport. From that point on the combines were rolling in large numbers to squeak out the last acres of soybeans by the weekend before they went after the remaining corn acres.

Across the state there is a wide range in grain moistures. There is a little 15 to 17 percent moisture corn in central and southwest Iowa where it was planted early.

On the other end there is a lot of corn that is still testing 23 to 25 and even 30 percent. Some is where the corn was planted on time and some where planting was delayed but heat unit accumulation was very slow and short.

The tales from several growers was that they were measuring nil to about 2 percent moisture drydown during the three-week period in late October. The main cause had to be the near complete loss of growing degree units.

Remember that the official weather stations in Chicago recorded exactly zero days in October that reached 70 degrees.

On top of that, the same type stations at many points in the Midwest measured 230 to 320 percent of normal during the same month. The rate of drydown has been good the past 10 days and is now getting a portion of the corn grain into the levels where producers normally like to harvest. That means there is still a large portion still in the mid to upper 20s.

A review of the articles on the “Chat n Chew Cafe” tells that corn and even bean growers in nearly every state are suffering from wet harvest moistures.

Dr. Charlie Hurburgh was in charge of writing a major advisory message to all people in charge of running drying systems. He first gave advice to those who were dealing with wet soybeans.

What he advised was trying to get the beans into the bin at moistures no higher than 20 percent. At that point ambient air could be used to dry the grain to safe harvest moistures.

He said that heat and stirators could be used, but only with extreme caution and vigilance. Without the later he cautioned that a major fire could result. It’s a good bet that two weeks ago most growers were going to rely on air only.

When scouting corn fields this past July and August, it was surprising how the corn leaves were cool to the touch by 5 p.m. rather than warm. Now we know what happens because of the lack of heat.

Grain quality

The same news network relates how the corn in a number of eastern states and even eastern Iowa is showing up with detectable levels of one or more mycotoxins.

In the worst cases those levels are up to six times the levels at which they can cause feeding problems. Thus the growers and grain delivery points will have to deal with wet grain that won’t store well and may have serious levels of mycotoxins and cost a lot to dry.

In a normal year grain handlers try to blend themselves out of a problem. This year that will be tougher to do.

In eastern Iowa it is now possible to see grain that has grown a fuzzy coat that ranges in color from reddish to greenish to bluish. This can indicate that there might be a problem. The only way to document which, if any, toxin is present is to have it lab tested.

Soybean problems

The continual rains of October may have a long tail for growers. The first would be for growers in the states to our south. In parts of Missouri, Arkansas, and clear to the Gulf, the wet and warm conditions caused a high percentage of the beans still in the field and in the pods to begin decaying.

In cases it was reported that there was nothing solid left to combine. I know in Brazil when it is 85 degrees and has rained for 30 straight days all that may be left is brown mush or growing seedlings when there is supposed to be round, yellow seeds inside the pods.

At least when it was wet in Iowa it remained cold, lessening the amount of decay.

The same harvest delays are likely to have a major effect on the supply of high quality seed beans for 2010 planting. Based on industry interviews they expect the late Group 3 through Group 4 supply to be the most affected, especially if they were planted on time and matured early.

Yield results

At this time it is tough to get a firm handle on what varieties did well and which ones need to be discarded. Those that bombed will likely not be planted again, but if none of the new ones shined, what does a grower replace them with.

Every year a hybrid’s performance is the interaction of “genetics by environment.” If the weather is the same, then the performance should be the same. If the weather is noticeably different, then the end results will likely be different.

So the pertinent question is, is this weather the new norm and what corn and how should corn and bean farmers cope in 2010 and beyond? Do we have to switch to a high percentage of hybrids to an earlier maturity package? How do we compensate with cooler soils that have less microbial activity and are slower to release nutrients to the plants?

Atop my article last week was the quote noting that Nov. 23 was a date holding significance to Iowa growers and any remaining harvest and fieldwork. This date was the one that the software programs used by a climatologist had identified as to when moisture would arrive either as ice or snow in a sizeable amount.

Will that prediction be accurate and worth knowing about? Your guess is as good as anyone’s, so we will all find out on that date. Thanksgiving is just three days later and bad weather usually happens close to that date.

In the meanwhile good luck combining and getting your fall fieldwork done.

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