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Seamless seasonsCROP WATCH

By Staff | Nov 27, 2009

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. The growing season is finally close to wrapping up for more farmers and ag personnel across the Midwest.

As predicted it was the coolest and perhaps the cloudiest growing season in over 120 years. Thus many growers have been amazed at how many bushels they have or are hauling out of their fields. Those not in that group are those who got blasted during the July 24 or Aug. 9 hail storms.

Decent yields are nice, but dollars generated per acre are the key. Now, when it was least expected by those who believed official reports, prices are better than we expected several months ago for grains. They still have not improved for meat and milk producers with all the work and expenses involved. Hopefully the economics will improve for them in the near future.

Most consumers outside of agriculture don’t realize that seasons are almost seamless. Concurrent with the harvesting tasks is the start of preparations for the next season. In many fields the combines are closely followed by the operators fertilizing and using tillage equipment to get the fields ready for the next year’s crops.

In reviewing the 2009 growing season every task seemed to have its hurdles. Many corn growers in northwest Iowa began the cropping season in February by harvested their 2008 corn crop.

Winter hung around longer than expected and planting was a hit or miss affair across the state. Those in extreme north central and northwest Iowa maintained a pace that put them ahead of those in central Iowa as their season began and ended up drier than normal.

Growers across the rest of the state either had too much or too little rain, not enough heat and too little sun. The heat that did arrive came in 7- to 10-day bursts in June, August and September. We were all thankful for it not freezing in early or mid-September though it came close.

Except for the soybean and corn aphids insect populations were minimal. It’s a wonder what a brutal winter can do to them. In analyzing the growing season we would have to conclude that it definitely was not perfect, but could have been worse.

We still live in a great country where our founding fathers appreciated the great, productive and expansive land. We can still travel and operate freely, though we find a lot of fault with those who have little common sense that try to make the rules.

Harvesting progress

In the past two years both the planting and harvest seasons have been spread out over two months worth of time. Frequent and heavy rains kept farmers out of the fields during both spring and fall seasons.

In the previous decade or two it seemed common to have busy seasons where rain delays were infrequent and getting fall work completed by early November was normal. This season many growers in the northern and eastern parts of the Corn Belt are now hoping to get done by Christmas and if not then, by New Year’s, and if not then by Easter.

The lack of liquified petroleum and the inability to meet the huge demand across the Midwest seems to be the bottleneck along with not enough dryer capacity in many regions.

This situation has got to be throwing a wrench into the finely tuned plans of everyone involved in the food producing system.

From bankers, to fertilizer retailers, to seed dealers, it is tough to make firm crop-raising plans for 2010 when the last season is not yet, or just barely, completed. Being delayed, either literally or mentally, screws up the sequence of preparations that all have to take place before next season. Last year the high fertilizer and other input prices altered the planning process.

The USDA’s current report tells that the Iowa corn harvest is about 80 percent completed. This is behind normal, but still puts us ahead of the pace in surrounding states.

During the last week a percentage of growers in central and northwest Iowa completed their harvest and concentrated on any tilling or fertilizing tasks needed to be done before winter arrived.

Those still harvesting generally had a higher-than-normal number of acres or were handicapped by a slow drying pace or lack of LP.


In previous years a late harvest would have meant a delayed fertilizer season. In driving through many areas one can see that a high percentage of the soybean stubble has already received a nitrogen application.

More of the fertilizer retailers did their homework and had customer applicators and equipment lined up with rigs ready to apply nitrogen to customers’ fields as soon as it was possible.

Last week there was a big national conference in Indianapolis connecting producers of flue-produced gypsum and the growers who use it. Many of the presenters were from Ohio State University where the intricate studies on soil erosion are conducted.

Those researchers presented information collected over the past two decades telling of the benefits of applying calcium and sulfur to their soils. Where that information comes in handy is in diagnosing today’s soil structural, ponding and erosion problems.

They also confirmed that one of their major fertility problems is the widespread deficiency of sulfur on many soils and the crops being raised on those soils. Most Iowa growers could eliminate such problems using the CaSO4 or fertilizer grade AMS as a partial N source. Now is the time to book that product so suppliers can lock it in at an acceptable price.

Crop management

In another week growers and CCAs could focus on and attend the Iowa Crop Management Conference held at the Iowa State University, sponsored by the ISU Extension Service. This annual event is typically well attended and provides educational updates to all certified crop advisors.

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