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By Staff | Sep 24, 2010

Late September is now here and the start of fall is upon us. This is another time of year when the weather absolutely has to be favorable to ensure that things flow smoothly.

Will that happen or will everything connected with harvest be challenging? Four or five years ago we had a fall where there were two half-day breaks when it drizzled a bit. Then the last two years have been harvests from hell.

So let’s all cross our fingers, say lots of prayers, and turn the rain machines off so we can get all the grain into the bins before monsoons or the winter hits.

The row cropsA saying of a certain Bayer employee that I know is that “A man who had lots to eat has lots of problems, while a man who has nothing to eat has one problem.” With drought being a big issue in Russia and China, and a La Nina in place in South America, a short crop here could force issues on us if U.S. grain exports are supposed to be everyone’s answer.

The big question among growers, agronomists, and eventually every one that eats, is how could all of the commodity and government reports not see the partial disaster that is coming into focus?

The yield reports have been coming in from across the country for about three weeks. There are a few good areas where yields are equal or even a bit above levels set in 2008 and 2009, but the general trend is for corn yields to be 15 to 80 bushels per acre under levels set those two years.

Even attaining a national yield above 150 Bu/A may be a challenge. A number of farmers already in Iowa are now hoping that they can hit the 150 Bu/A mark with corn.

Beans could be a different story. Those who have been combining beans are finding fields that might be doing 50 to 55 or 60 Bu/A, but they are also combining in beans that are hitting 28 to 35 Bu/A for whole fields and spots in those fields clicking the yield monitor at 7 to 9 Bu/A.

So the optimistic farmer who kept healthy beans for the entire season and avoided water holes may achieve a 60-plus farm average. I know a few who are thinking more like 65-plus and should make it. It was a good bean growing year if diseases were not an issue or were controlled.

Thus a subject for debate is how the surveying groups could screw up so bad and look so ridiculous. First of all they always assume that weather is the main thing that can affect crop yields.

They failed to recognize what was learned in 1970/71 and what should have been apparent in 2010, which was that yields can fail to materialize due to the plants dying early from diseases. In corn this year we were already apprehensive about fusarium, northern corn leaf blight, anthracnose and eyespot before we even saw and learned about widespread Goss’s wilt.

When the surveying groups were in the fields they counted kernels without regard as to how deep they might fill and whether those kernels would be shaped more like footballs or bricks.

Which of those two pack tighter and what do we now have more of? The second qualifier is the depth of grain fill. Warm nights and lack of plant health took their toll.

In soybeans the teams counted pods, without regard as to whether the pod was on a healthy or dying plant. A sudden death syndrome-affected plant no longer had the ability to produce a 2,300 bean per pound crop.

At 4,500 seeds per pound the 50 Bu/A yield turns into a 25 Bu/A yield.

A plant only uses sunlight, water, CO2, and minerals to form chlorophyll to produce sugars and proteins to make grain. When it becomes deficient in any of those grain fill will be compromised.

Thinking back those who were watching the plants very closely were seeing root rots show up in corn that was only in the seedling stage.

Later on the corn plants began their visual decline in early July. In soybeans the first sudden death syndrome-related yellowing could be seen around July 24 in central Iowa.

The statement that to do the same thing two or three times in a row and getting the same result should teach us something.

Doing the same thing the next year and expecting different results means we haven’t learned the lessons yet. If we have failed to produce a crop that can stay green and healthy until mid-September (or even late-August) how can we expect different results?

Pondering those thoughts are what most growers will and should be doing as they are working on fall harvest and field work. Every farmer I know is thinking a mile a minute while they are running their machinery.

Categorizing growers

In winter meetings I tend to group the farming operators into three categories. First and likely more numerous are those that think like engineers. They think in terms of acres per hour, feet per horsepower, bushels per minute and day, and so forth.

The second group is the ones who think chemically. Soil tests are in parts per million; herbicides and fungicides have their modes of action; and fertilizers have their function.

The third group is those who have a handle on the first two and often feed livestock, therefore they grasp the role that biology plays in their animals, plants and in the soil.

Everything on the field operates on a biological level and is often inter-related.

That means that how well the plants produce depends on how well the root functioned, which depends on the little squiggly creatures that live in the root-soil interface area, and how the cells within the plant were supplied with what they needed.

It is said that we know more about life in outer space than life in the soil, so that information base needs to be increased among farmers, crop advisors and academia.

In my estimation it is that knowledge that must be gathered, dispersed, and understood in order to change things in 2011.

Meanwhile be safe with harvest.

I’ve got to head out to make it to several genetic field days to see what hybrids and inbreds look good and are those to recommend for next season and beyond.

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