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By Staff | Mar 19, 2010

It sounds like winter back in Iowa is slowly losing its grasp on everyone living there. This was just in time as everyone was sincerely hoping for warmer temperatures and sunshine to return to what we consider habitable.

There are already questions about what has been going on underneath all of the deep snow cover. Did it get cold enough with enough freeze and thaw cycles to break up last fall’s compaction? Did the plant residue continue to degrade with the reported 34 degree temperatures or did any rotting come to a halt when it got cold?

How did all of the insects fare in the deep freeze conditions that have existed since last November and will the cold temperatures have affected the bad and good insects? There are lots of questions that we will eventually have answered for us.

Sorry about being absent for two of the last three weeks. While I bought a brand new IBM computer for use on the trip, so my three-year-old Asus would not let me down, the new one burned a hard drive by day one. That made computer connecting next to impossible.

Through the looking glass

I am now down in Argentina after having survived my journey through Brazil.

In the northern part of my Brazilian visit I stayed in Mato Grosso, which is their largest grain producing state. It could be compared in size to the western half of the Corn Belt.

The locations of their grain-producing regions are scattered, based on topographical and soil type considerations. Other people could give a better description of the varied climates within the states and country and what natural features influence how and where the rain and cool temperatures happen.

Throughout the country are very flat regions where the elevations are less than 300 meters above sea levels. Close to the equator those areas are quite warm and don’t permit great plant pollination and high yields.

In other spots, including some in Mato Grosso, Goias, and Bahia, there are plateaus where there is an abrupt increase to 800 to 1,100 meters in elevation. That increases the rainfall amounts and cools the temperatures off at night. Such a change in weather can help dramatically improve crop growing conditions and yield potentials, but also increase disease threats.

In one favorite area around a town called Primovera do Leste much of the crop ground sits quite a bit higher than the flat plains. It rains almost every afternoon and many days the mists last all afternoon. This increases the yield potential and ability to raise high-germinating soybean seed, but it also increases the potential for having rust problems.

Prior to three years ago growers raised a lot of seed during the dry winter months using center pivot irrigation. They also raised two crops during the other four months. In visiting with some of the growers they recounted that they were making 21 fungicide applications per year to keep the soybeans healthy.

Since that time they have quit the winter beans and tried to kill all volunteer plants to halt the green bridge disease survival.

Sugar cane

It is interesting to learn more about the sugar cane business. Right now there are about 9 million hectares of cane that goes to either making dry sugar or ethanol. Because the price of sugar is up on world prices and the fact that all cars in Brazil are flex fueled and can burn on 100 percent ethanol, having lots of cane acres makes sense.

Let’s see if Tom Vilsack can get anything done to equalize that situation. Too bad Saab was never allowed to bring its Bio-Plus engine into the country. That engine maintained miles per gallon with any ethanol content in the fuel. Good old backyard oil politics at work.

The new cane will be planted starting in April and May, knock off for June through August and resume in September. When they plant they put stalk segments with eyes in a trench where dry fertilizer and composted crop has been placed.

Those stalks grow and form the new plants that could be harvested for between 5 and 12 seasons.

Management of the crop has improved with better fertility and insect management programs being utilized. I had the chance to visit with more of the field agronomists that manage the fields and they can quote the active ingredients on any insecticide they use and the scientific names of the insects they scout for. In other words they know their stuff.

Top-dressing takes place once a year. In addition, a bulk application is made of P and K that is placed in the rooting trench. There are savings that take place due to it being a perennial crop, but fertilizer costs have been high the last few seasons.

The annual amounts of rainfall being in the 80 to 100 inches per year make fertilizer retention a challenge.

More next week on what else I saw and learned during my visit.

Bob Streit is a private, agronomy crop consultant in Humboldt.. He can be reached at bstreit@signatureblue.com.

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