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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Jan 16, 2010

Wow, it still seems strange to write or type 2010. We got so used to the ‘ought’ decade after 10 years that anything else still seems strange.

Ten is supposed tobe a strong and lucky year. Hopefully it will work out that way. With good planning and help from Mother Nature and the good Lord it will turn out that way.

Making plans this year for the 2010 crops has seemed easier this year as the input prices are more in line with what seemed normal.

Grain prices were at levels that worked and offered a profit. Unfortunately, the crop production forecast for 2009 and 2010 was released by the USDA and you had to wonder what they were smoking.

What a hatchet job to keep commodity and food prices low. Anyone in their right mind and travels across the Corn Belt can see that there are still many acres of corn left standing in two- to four-feet of snow and won’t be harvested until late spring if it stands that long.

In addition anyone with their ear to the ground or stands next to some of the big grain piles knows that a lot of the 2009 grain may not be marketable.

And how many farmers did you hear bragging about their yields last fall? Not many outside of southwest and northwest Iowa.

They also had problems with wet grain and instances of mold. From northwest Iowa to Ohio we are continuing to hear stories of animals refusing to eat grain put in front of them.

Most producers expected to have buyers from a foreign nation put a kibosh to decent grain prices, not our own government agencies. What do they say about enemies?

Hopefully prices will bounce back after fundamentals come into play and foreign demand continues.

It sounds like South American growing conditions have been good, but history shows their weather can change so quickly down there and ruin many acres.

The winter season

Where oh where are Al Gore and his gang of flat earth people these days? If they were trying to hang out in northern Florida it didn’t work.

That area registered 19- degree temperatures early this week. Ice was hanging from almost everything including lots of fruit still on the trees.

Citrus growers have had tough conditions the past years due to diseases and cold weather. That $3 to $6 billion bushel crop is a significant portion of the economy and they don’t wish to lose it.

In the Midwest we expect frigid temperatures to be the rule during the December through March time period. Having those cold temperatures all during the growing season represents a greater threat to our food supply over the near future than periods of heat does.

Subtracting 570 GSUs from the normal accumulation along U.S. Highways 18 and 30, and Interstate 80, changes corn culture dramatically and threatens normal corn and soybean cropping to our north.

So far the amount of snow on the ground in the Midwest reminds me of the winter of 1969. Those in my high school got to attend one day of classes in January as the rest of were all snow days.

Snowbanks on both sides of the road were 5 or more feet over the tops of the buses for miles. It was possible to walk up the drifts right onto the roofs of two-story farm houses which we did at my grandparents’ place.

Right now the conditions are getting close to that in western Iowa. When one sees the depth of the snow across the upper Midwest and combines the amount of moisture it contains with the saturated profiles it is easy to envision fields draining and drying slowly, as well as major floods in the Dakotas. Better buy prevented planting insurance.

I was able to visit with a number of agronomists from central Minnesota and Wisconsin this fall. One question for them was what percent of the corn acres reached black layer before their killing frost.

The common answer was 5 to 10 percent. When asked what their recommendations would be to growers if they expected a similar season in 2010 the seasoned ones mentioned they would have to look closely at spring small grains.

If this is the new norm we will have to learn new tricks with fertilizing crops to speed their development and compensate for not getting enough heat as well as for having cooler soils and lower levels of microbial- controlled nutrient release.

One crops person I visited with was optimistic about bringing in a sugar producing chemotrophic bacteria that would help plants compensate for lack of normal photosynthesis during cool and cloudy seasons.

It is a novel idea in production ag, but has already been used on other applications. Photon energy that is normally used to produce plant growth can be captured in other manners.

We will see how it works out. Remember that success sometimes comes to those willing to think outside the box.

Upcoming shows

In a short while we will be wondering where the days of January went to. Typically if we can survive to February without freezing to death we are looking forward to going to the big Iowa Power Show that is again scheduled for early February.

It is the current largest winter ag show in the state and has been well attended by growers and industry people.

Another large show that is being held in Iowa this week is the National No-Till Conference.

There is a list of good sessions and speakers that will be telling their tales of how they have been successful on their path to produce crops while minimizing their tillage trips.

It will be interesting to see how strip-till practices will be combined with no-till techniques to provide cultural techniques that can be used on the heavier glacial soils in the upper Midwest.

One welcome theme is the awareness that most no-tillers have for the importance of soil microbiology life.

They better realize that plants can only grow as well as the microbes living in their root zone, on the roots, on their leaves, and even inside the plants do.

If those living creatures can be better understood and tweaked, then cropping and productivity can be improved.

Buying decisions

Growers are continuing to make input decisions for 2010. Since the decision making process typically begins with locking in fertilizer purchases, the cheaper NPK prices are speeding up the entire process.

Many growers are moving back to using more residual herbicides due to the multiple wet spells during the 2008 and 2009 growing seasons when many attempt to spray non-residual herbicides were thwarted.

The seed-buying process continues with more questions being asked by farmers. It was mentioned earlier that all growers needed to ask their suppliers more questions about disease resistance ratings, flowering dates and any other traits.

This year might be remembered as the season of discontent when many farmers asked tough questions as they realized they had been too trusting in past seasons.

They realized they were the proverbial frogs in the pot with the heat being turned higher and higher.

There was a still time to jump out of the pot if they reacted. The frogs in that fairy tale ever climbed back into the boiling water either.

The hot varieties growers seem to be ordering are the early non- or lightly-traited hybrids. The profit potential they offer is recognized.

One piece of advice is that area-specific insect problems have to be recognized and managed.

One thing hampering most growers is that there have not been many new weed control products commercialized during the last 10 years.

Keeping corn clean conventionally is easier than with soybeans. There are quite a few products for both grass and broadleaf control. Laying out a foolproof weed control for soybeans can be tougher depending on weed breaks and seed bank pressure.

It can be nice to have an “out” if weeds break through.

Good luck with your planning season.

I will likely see you at the booth at the Iowa Power Show or at the Iowa Central evening classes with Gary Willet.

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