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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Nov 20, 2009

Thanks to the Good Lord delivering decent weather for about two weeks and the hard work of farmers, mechanics, people connected with the tasks of drying the wet grain, and the people in charge of keeping everybody fed, farmers in Iowa have made tremendous progress during that time period.

Now there is a wide range of status updates that report every stage of progress across the state. Those range from being completely done to still having half of their corn still in the field.

During that time period the grain dried down five or more points of moisture after we were thinking that a late Indian summer was no longer possible. There are still corn growers who have a substantial number of acres that are still sitting at 25 percent or wetter and are handicapped by the lack of available propane to run their dryers. Ever since the corn took about three weeks to tassel one could surmise what may happen, but had to hope that a miracle would occur and make things turn out alright.

The markets are showing a bit of life, which is very unusual. The USDA yield estimate for corn was finally lowered, but that may not mean much.

It would take King Solomon, or a person with a perfectly accurate crystal ball, to predict how much of the grain will get harvested this fall, how much might have to stand (or attempt to) through part of the winter, and still be acceptable by the grain channels after harvest.

Already part of the rally in soybeans is due to the acknowledgement that a portion of the DDGs will not be acceptable protein sources for poultry and hogs.

The current progress

Several of us have gotten the opportunity this week to see the degree of harvest progress from in eastern Iowa through all of Illinois clear to Indianapolis. What we saw was that their late planted corn remains about 70 percent or more unharvested on our I-80/74 route.

In Indiana there has been more progress made, but they have had two solid weeks of wet weather and the equipment sits idle. During that trip we noted that we rarely saw any steam coming from a drying bin or drying setup. A few phone calls verified that LP was difficult or impossible to get.

Further north and west near Fergus Falls, Minn., a farmer related last Friday that the majority of his corn and that of his neighbors is still at 30 to 38 percent and they can’t afford to dry.

Spending $150-plus per acre more doesn’t make sense to them. Thus leaving it sit in the fields is the last thing they want to do, but they can’t see doing anything else.

Grain quality

A huge issue is now the quality of the grain still left. During my three-day-swing last week riding in quite a few combines from Pocahontas to Cherokee I had to chance to walk into quite a few fields to pull ears and see if any mold was present.

What was evident is that on a high percentage of the softer-starch, fuller-season RM hybrids there was from light to moderate levels of mold on and in between the kernels.

One had to hope that the mold had not penetrated the pericarp and would disappear in the combining process. Growers who had noticed this problem planned to dry the crop to 14 percent and market it prior to the spring warm-up.

They realized that keeping grain in condition overwinter can be a challenge, especially when it is out of condition when going into storage.

In the Illinois fields it was possible to find 60 percent of the ears heavily affected or destroyed by mold. There will likely be growers who may have to call their insurance adjuster to see if the fields may have to be declared a complete loss due to mold problems.

I visited with ISU’s Dr. Charlie Hurburgh to see what the proper protocol might be for growers who were facing mold problems. He thought that PCR strip tests would be good to use to qualify if mycotoxins were present.

Growers can use the strips to verify that toxins are present.

One question to testing sources was if any reports included information as to which varieties or product lines were showing the most fungal problems.

But that information was not being collected. What was noted was that hybrids advertised as being easily fermentable are fermenting on the stalk.

Who would have predicted that a desirable trait could end up being a negative? The best development for grain quality now would be to have freezing weather arrive soon.

Tillage considerations

Whether or not to till and how much to do is always a question that draws varied responses. Much depends on the amount of residue and soil types present.

Soybean growers who are now summarizing their yields are noting that having heavy corn residue on untilled bean fields proved to large drag on those beans if residue managers were not set aggressively to that material from the row.

The mat of residue kept the soil much cooler during the first part of the season, slowing root growth and phosphate release. In season soil temp readings showed that most soils north of I-80 in central and eastern Iowa didn’t get much above the mid-60s.

Those temps are when soil microbes such as trichoderma and pseudomonas produce and release their P mineralizing acids.

Fertility issues

Last fall was the first time in many years that many growers decided to skip their dry fertilizer applications. This fall the dry spreaders have been much more active.

There were also applications of lime and gypsum that were skipped in 2008. By now most farmers should have had a chance to study their soil test reports and decide if fall/winter CaCO3 or CaSO3 applications were needed. People know the role of lime in correcting low pH situations.

More growers need to learn that CaSO3 can help to loosen soils and supply the sulfur now generally found to be very low in an increasing number of soil tests.

Lessons learned

So what will we have learned from this season? First might be that getting the corn planted as early as the soils were ready is always important in starting the GDU accumulation process. One suggestion in this column was that the upcoming season may well be cool and that growers who boosted the rate of plant development via foliar application of hormones and foliar phosphate would benefit.

Those two things occurred and could be of big benefit in 2010 as well. Continued cool seasons will require added management skills and practices that growers will have to adapt.

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