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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Oct 8, 2010

The good weather continued into the week and every crop farmer is trying to turn every daylight hour and then some into productive work.

Getting as many bushels harvested and into the bins before they fall over, are lost to flooding, or are covered with snow is always the goal at this time of year.

Our counterparts in South America never get to face that prospect as most have only seen snow once or never in their life times.

Instead we hear of or remember the big snows or season-ending weather that can creep up on us anytime in November. So instead there are no hours or days to lose. There may be in the end, but we can’t be certain of that.

What happened to the grain markets last week? Technicals have an influence on the markets and its timing, but fundamentals and demand are the major forces. But we have a certain organization that seems to be able to pull more bushels of corn out of their hat than either Bugs Bunny or Bullwinkle J Moose.

In a season when most of the growers across the Midwest are seeing their yields being down 15 to 20 percent over last season, seeing the prices drop in the time period when insurance claim amounts are established seems like a cruel and expensive joke. Any interested farmer or livestock feeder who either has to sell or lock in grain supplies may want to read the column of a John MacIntosh.

This insightful trader documents where there were 1.5 million tons of 2009 corn still sitting on barges that needed nine times as many tons of good 2010 corn with which to be blended. Rather than pay the continuing demurrage charges the early harvested 2010 corn was pulled into the 2009 usage period and added to the stocks supply.

If his calculations of a much smaller-sized 2010 corn crop based on thousands of test plot summaries and 600 on-farm inspections prove true again one may want to be prepared for fireworks yet this season.

Crop yields

How are corn yields across the state so far? Most summaries concur that yields remain highly variable. They are still in the 60 to 220-bushel per acre range with most sections of the state being down at least 15 percent. Certain fields and many growers are telling of yield declines versus the last two years of 40 to 65 percent.

When the latter happens and less than half the normal number of trucks or wagons are pulled out of the problem fields each grower is left trying to figure out how to tell the landlord or banker what has happened.

Even if the decline is only that 20 percent but an expected 50 to 70 percent of the bushels were sold at the lower early-summer price, there aren’t enough bushels left on which to recover from the revenue shortfall.

There are a few spots within the state, typically on well-drained ground where little N was lost, and where plant health was maintained where growers are feeling good about their results, but hate to tell their neighbors or friends for fear of looking like braggarts.

The best yields seem to be on the better drained Tama and Galva Primghar soils where water didn’t sit, compaction was not a major problem and little nitrogen was lost.

No sections of the state were able to avoid the warm nights, which physiologists explain causes sugars formed during the day to be consumed at night rather than contribute to yield. Old wives’ tales speak of warm nights being good corn growing weather. It is, but is harmful to grain fill.

The grain traders were collecting lots of data which looked at previous years with warm nights and the resulting lower ear weights. Many of the intuitive ones were cautiously doubting the tales of huge yields, but didn’t have enough experience or data points to stick their necks out too far.

They also were slow to realize that plant diseases and not just weather was as big of a determining factor of crop size.

Soybean yields are again variable. I am seeing and hearing of whole field yields from the low 20s to low 80s. If a field was decently drained with water not sitting in it, sudden death didn’t cause the leaves to fall off early, it was planted on time, and the growers spent time and money into executing a few special management steps, it was a good year for growing beans.

That doesn’t make the guys or ladies who got pounded or flooded during June or July feel any better, but being able to see what path proved profitable is a valuable tool for future seasons.

If you have been staying in tune with what the high yielding bean disciples across the state have been doing to their crop and how they have been managing them, you may not be surprised that a number of them will be harvesting fields that will crack the 80, 90, or even 100 Bu/A barrier.

Each of the steps they used this year proved in past years to work, so one or more practices was/were added onto the list of other things they thought should be tried.

Kip has proven than bean yields ought to be over 100 Bu/A. They realize that each incremental step could add another 5 Bu onto the total and just keep adding such things onto their total program. In a recent column I mentioned that such growers have expanded their thought pattern so they consider what the plants are thinking and what is going on within the soil, root zone, and cells within the plant.

Those extra bushels at $10/Bu are adding to this year’s to total revenue.

Tillage

No type of tillage or lack thereof is perfect for everyone. The presence of a residue cover helps to absorb the kinetic energy held in rain drops, thus reducing erosion. Too much residue can keep a seed bed too cool, slowing germination and early growth.

Strip tillage seemed to be the perfect way to raise corn on corn while still maintaining the residue cover, yet avoiding slow warming soils.

So what do we do now with Goss’s wilt being here in 2010 and expected to be here again in 2011? At this point I don’t think anyone has the perfect or correct answer since the bacterial disease has never been a problem this far east, where there are higher humidity levels throughout the growing season.

At this point it may be best to play it safe and go back to a 50/50 rotation. The alternative course on flat soils is to use a moldboard plow, as stated in the Corn Disease Compendium, and no-tillers won’t like that.

Other management steps will likely help in such a situation. First would be to utilize a good residue reducing program this fall, one where a mix of N, S, and possibly sugar plus a biological bug mix would be sprayed on the stalks to start the degradation process. The second might be to perform a residue chopping pass and get some dirt mixed in with the residue to speed decomposition.

The ready availability of good moisture plus the rotten nature of the stalks should help this. In many cases the stalks have already rotted prior to harvest.

One thing noticeable when combining beans this fall was that there were lots of 2009 stalks left intact in the bean fields. Those should have been clean of Goss’s.

Those clean stalks may not exist next fall since the 2010 crop was infected. We may just have to wait and see how many pounds of stalks exist next fall and perhaps perform such plating tests to check for the bacteria.

Stalk quality

We have passed the calendar date by which many of the corn plants still in the field have now been dead for 6 plus weeks. After this time interval the plants typically show serious signs of degradation, even when Goss’s is not present.

Nebraska farmers have relayed their warning and told us that the sooner we can get the crop harvested the better. Luckily this fall our drying systems are better able to keep up with corn moistures often being in the teens.

Soil testing

This is the busiest time for soil sampling and when up-to-date growers like to get half of the bean ground sampled.

Be sure to coordinate this work with your fertilizer supplier or contracted sampler.

Have you already discussed getting more complete analyses run as well as a portion of the samples tested for both base saturation and micro-nutrients?

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