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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Dec 10, 2010

Where are the month and the year going? We must be having lots of fun based on how fast the calendar is going.

Seeing the size of the crowd and how energetic the attendees at the Farm News Ag Show were last week the citizens of north central Iowa seem excited about the coming season and the opportunities it presents.

From the time they got there on the first day to hear Dave Kruse give his interpretation of the markets and prices to when the event was over, people were asking lots of questions and seemed to be enjoying the sights.

Maybe the upbeat tone compared to the tone of early December last year was that this year they have only had to endure a few days of winter-like weather while last year we were two months into tough, snowy conditions.

The people who attended the ISU Crop Management Conference also reported that the crowd at that event was quite large and the individuals seemed to be enjoying visiting and soaking up the new information that was presented.

Because most of them are active ag practitioners, and it has been a near-perfect season with little let up since the end of the growing season, it may have been the first break they have had in months.

Another meeting that took place in the past week was the annual fall tech update for Iowa crop consultants.

During that day-long session many of the input and seed supply companies had their tech people present information on their new products or new uses of older products that had been dreamt up or released in the past season, or being readied for the 2011 season. Through all of these the participants showed a “lets get the work done attitude” and assembled the information and answers needed.

The week was quite refreshing.

Weed control for 2011

One big item in production ag is always weed control. That is the term we have used for years where we talks about how to get rid of weeds.

One of the speakers corrected us in that he had learned from a very good teacher that we never get to control weeds, instead we gradually learn how to manage them.

I had never quite heard it or learned it that way. The analogy that he used was in how he learned as a parent when raising teenagers was that they never did exactly what he and his wife instructed.

Instead he learned after a few trial and errors that the peace was best kept when he taught the teens what the boundaries and rules were, and then shepherded them within the rule channel they had set.

In other words, some things can not be controlled, they are best managed. In 2011 a number of us see an era where weed control is changing again and a paradigm is shifting us back a decade or more.

Rather than hearing about how we were going to be controlling weeds, we learned how and what the new rules on managing weed populations might eventually consist of.

One of the speakers told of how he accompanied a group of crop protection people this summer to the Delta country and got to see cotton and soybean fields that were now populated with weeds that had developed resistance to the most popular herbicide in use.

Those growers had discovered this fact after applying two 50-ounce treatments and noticed that not many weeds were being affected.

By this time the only recourse was to determine which fields were salvageable and which ones were not. They hired migrant labor where it could be found, pulled hayracks into the fields, and had the laborers pull each tall waterhemp by the roots from the soil and pile the racks eight feet high with the weeds.

Their estimate was that they spent about $250 per acre to clean up those fields. Over the years I have noticed that anyone who has ever pulled weeks soon loses their appetite for growing food organically and they did the same.

The weed control experts from that area warned the visitors that the weed disaster situation took only three years to develop.

In 2008 there were a few survivors. In 2009 more survived and they were very noticeable.

Then last fall the combines ended up spreading the 300 to 750 thousand seeds from each plant across the fields where they grew into the horrendous problem that required mechanical or manual weeding.

Based on what the agronomists in the groups and growers were seeing in parts of Iowa, a number of our fields seem to be in year one or two of that situation.

The take home message was that being proactive and using different tactics and different modes of action products once again may let us avoid more serious and costly problems next season.

Herbicide retailers are reporting that a much higher percentage of growers are marching into their offices and discussing residual products that should be effective and are candidates to use next season.

Part of the change must have come from the hopeless feeling that the “naked” farmers had last spring and early summer when the monsoons kept them from making timely applications of weed control products.

Couple that with what has happened and even the hardest headed German or Norwegian farmer can take a hint that it is time to do something different.

I had a chance last September to visit with friends that work in the research departments of the major herbicide companies and ask them what new products were working their way through research and had a chance of commercialization.

They related that brand new families were very rare and no great new one was on the horizon.

With the estimated $600 to $750 million price tag of a new mode-of-action family, few companies have the financial ability to develop and commercialize a new family.

That is why when producers hear of a major weed in a neighboring state that is now resistant to four of the major herbicide families, they hope it doesn’t move into their state and neighborhoods.

Seed buying

It sounds like all the time spent by growers in their combines during harvesting, then in tractors doing tillage and applying fertilizer, they were thinking about the season and its challenges.

That reflective time seemed to lead to early decision-making about what varieties to plant next season.

Because a number of companies may have to drop about half of their varietal offerings due to exposed genetic and performance shortfalls, growers must have realized that getting the proper and short-in-supply products ordered early was the right thing to do.

Many seed dealers are already reporting that varieties showing superior performance under Goss’s wilt or sudden death syndrome pressure were being ordered by those able to identify them for that quality.

In what might be considered a turn-about in seed corn orders, many of the lowe- priced offerings are some of those first to sell out.

It looks like the grain scale and pocketbook have spoken. It’s not quite what was predicted by the experts or in all the farm press.

Other factors

Through the 2010 growing season there were several minor to slightly major things that showed up with insects and crop development that would have been more noticeable if the incessant rains and huge disease problems not taken center stage.

Thus, if things revert to normal, what ever that is, the best operators will have to be observant and proactive to rise to the top versus their competition.

What we see is that more growers will look at their soil test results and recognize the deficiencies in major or micro-nutrient deficiencies that were identified.

Then they will, or will have to learn, the ramifications of being deficient in one or more of them.

Tissue testing will become more normal as the issue will become more publicized.

Growers will recognize that the process can be very valuable and inexpensive.

In terms of expense and rewards, it might be the cropping work involving the greatest payback.

The data we saw in 2009 and 2010, plus learning how to respond and with which products, was both surprising and valuable.

In time everyone’s experience and ability to anticipate will grow. Dave Kruse talked a lot about foreign demand and how cultures that lasted valued food and the ability to produce and/or procure it.

We don’t want to lose that due to inattention or laziness, or because we forgot how to think.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.

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