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By Staff | Dec 25, 2009

What a relief that fall is finally over with. Now we can get on with the start of winter, a season that we are already tired of. A little bit of freezing weather, ice and snow always goes a long way.

At least the bright part of having zero-degree weather this early is that it makes 20-degree temps feel relatively balmy. Break out the umbrellas and T-shirts.

Though there is a bit of tiling and dirt work still being done in the area, most operators are done with field work for the winter. Deep drifts and frozen topsoil signaled the end to an more work getting done until next spring.

That means lots of December and January hours will have to be devoted to studying reams of data and to preparing for the 2010 growing season. That brain work is never easy, but it seems more complex than in past years due to the hybrid/herbicide combinations and the uncertainty that develops when trying to figure out if 2009 results are the new norm or an aberration resulting from the strange season.

It seems like Thanksgiving was just here and now Christmas is upon us. Through all of the holiday festivities and vigils we have to keep in mind what the true meaning of the holidays is about. In a nation founded on religious beliefs, much of the political culture seems to be trying to destroy that heritage. Hopefully each of you will be able to spend time with your families and relatives enjoying the visiting and seeing how each of your years went.

This weekend we get to help a colleague and friend celebrate his son’s wedding up in West Bend. That should be a happy time and will be. Then on Sunday we have to travel to Humboldt for a wake and prayer hour for an outstanding young farmer who died this past week after a truck accident. His funeral is on Monday. Our thoughts go out to his wife, kids, family and entire community. Too often good people seem to go before their time.

Psychology 301 seminar

I took part in an educational seminar last week held near the Amana colonies. It was called plant psychology 301 and followed PS101 and PS201. A few people have asked why it was named that. The other main culprit and I were discussing names and what the focus of the coming session should be called. In that discussion the idea we brought out was that medical doctors are able to ask their medical patients what hurts, how long they have had the problem, and how long the malady has existed. In most cases they get a verbal answer.

By comparison veterinarians have the opportunity to watch animal patients walk around breath, and notice other symptomology in the hopes of making a diagnosis and prescribing curative treatment.

In our analysis of the difficulty that farmers and agronomists have in figuring out what might be wrong with plants we agreed that it would be great if we could have plant psychologists around that could tell us exactly what was wrong with them.

The tools that are available to us consist of looking at symptoms, perhaps examining soil tests and tissue test results, and finally looking at pictorial guides. Those might do the job, but often coming up with the 100 percent diagnosis can be difficult.

We had the seminar on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with a good crowd of growers, including animal vets who were seeking information and wanting to build their knowledge bases. Those attendees were amazed at the quality and scope of speakers we were able to assemble at a private grower based conference.

Topics included mineral nutrition of plants and how deficiencies in those nutrients contributed greatly to the increase in plant disease the past few seasons as well as the light test weights and molds now problematic in the 2009 stored grain; growing conditions expected in the coming seasons and how growers needed to adjust their management program to compensate for the lack in GDUs and sunshine; how to boost soil microbial activity to increase mineralization increase the rate and speed of plant development; the importance of sulfur in crop production; new instrumentation now available for use in growing crops; and the principles involved in growing nutrient dense grain.

Mike Thurow was there representing Spectrum Technologies. Mike and his brother engineer and market gadgets and gauges that growers and researchers use to monitor all things that happen in and around crop growing.

Because of the accuracy of the axiom that you can’t manage what you can’t measure, the brothers are always on the lookout for new devices that will prove valuable for crop and food growers.

Larry Acker gave his calculated prognostication about what the 2010 season would look like. After being very accurate about the 2009 season everyone in the audience was attentive.

The gist of his 2010 outlook was that it would be a year with delayed planting, and early frost, and a wet and cool harvest season. Thus even though the growing season would be warmer and drier it would be squeezed on both ends. Looks like guerilla farming would be the rule again.

Those who attended agreed that the information they gathered will have a great dollar value in their operation over the next few growing seasons and will be making remedial changes already in the planning process for the 2010 season.

Grain quality

In the later half of the harvest season a major point of discussion involved the molds that were appearing on the ears of corn and possible production of mycotoxins. It was a problem from the Dakotas through the eastern Corn Belt as most states received rain on 75 percent of the October days.

As the harvest grew later, the mold on the grain increased in incidence and severity. Toward the end, more than a few growers found that the grain they were dumping into their bins and trucks either contained a lot more fines than normal or was off-colored or held a musty odor.

A portion of that grain was delivered to their local elevator or was put into the storage bins.

Over the coming months cash grain farmers will have to remain vigilant with their grain and watch it very closely. Already farmers are seeing grain begin to heat up with some of it actually sprouting in the bin. Livestock farmers who use their own grain will have to be watchful and having their grain tested for possible mycotoxins contamination.

In the recent Florida conference that focused on head smut problems in small grains, researchers from within the U.S. and Europe announced they have been finding high levels of Fusarium mycotoxins in small grains and stems even when foliar symptoms are minor.

I have visited with growers who had taken loads of grain to different outlets and got turned away at several places before one outlet took it with no discounts. Poor quality was the issue.

One large animal vet who attended plant psych 301 related the story of delegation of Japanese buyers visiting several grain terminals in the state to look at the grain they might be buying in the coming marketing year. Already they could project that the slightly off color and musty grain would be black by the time it would arrive at their port.

They said it was within possibilities that they would refuse to buy any such grain and would look elsewhere for their purchases if better quality sources existed. That vet had a ream of grain lab reports showing the mycotoxins content in grain samples that had been sent in.

Samples from Iowa were also compared to those that had been sent in from several European countries that had similarly cool seasons. Wouldn’t that be something if that edict came out in mid-spring? Within this country the meat and milk produced using that grain will be hitting the consumer market in a short few months.

What will happen to those animals and people consuming it? Why should we be concerned about the food your kids and relatives get to eat? Right?

One question that a number of cropping people had as they were watching the final months of the growing season was if the different leaf diseases could move from the leaves and stalks into the grain. Referenced studies have shown that fungal mycelium does move through the plants’ plumbing tissue from the leaves and stalks into the grain.

It looks like that is what happened. Many of the problems from the 2008 crop jumped to the 2009 crop and looks like it will happen again in 2010.

Enjoy the holidays. It looks like it will be a white Christmas.

Stay warm and safe.

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