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By Staff | Mar 18, 2011

The late-winter period is slowly disappearing as the days get warmer and signs of spring begin to appear.

Before long we will start to see more sprouts poke above ground and begin to turn the landscape into cascades of color again.

Normally that occurs about Easter time, but with the latest holiday than most people can remember, the occurrences could be weeks apart.

With the approach of warmer weather we can also hope for the nice 55- to 60-degree weather where farmers without heated shops can pull their machinery onto the concrete pads to finish updates and maintenance work.

When grain prices began to reach record high price levels, one of the big questions is if they still have room and impetus to move higher.

We had to conclude that the potential was there, but in past booms there were often one or two things that popped the balloon.

First, was that high commodity prices are great to grain farmers, but don’t help consumers and industrial users.

Second, is that high food prices are not perceived well by the consumers and their vote.

Third, as has often happened, is that some major event occurred completely outside of agriculture, but had a major effect on food demand. Will that outside event be the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which happens to be the world’s No. 3 economy, No. 1 importer of pork, and No. 1 corn importer of U.S. corn?

Throw in the disruption of so many industries and other industries moving to the sideline during the time of uncertainty.

In a few weeks we will begin to see seasoned food industry veterans dissect the disruption to Japan’s food production system and announce how they will cope with the disruption and how they will compensate.

As of Tuesday night the attention was turned to the nuclear plant problems. If you look to history for answers the late 1970 Chernobyl event and how it caused a roller coaster ride in the commodity (especially wheat) markets for a few weeks creates an interesting parallel.

In that case the uncertainty of whether the third reactor had blown raised and then lowered grain prices. It sure has taken the focus off of North Africa.

The main ominous note that has been raised was one by a fellow named Simon Winchester, a bestselling British author who wrote a book dissecting the San Francisco earthquake and what happened after and during its cleanup.

Why he has credibility is because his college studies were in geology and how the earth and mountains were formed and functioned.

Prior to being an author he tromped the mountain ranges in Africa for petroleum firms seeking clues as to the presence of oil and other minerals. Where he fits in was that he appeared on a television early morning show and told of his observations.

He also visited the Iowa State University campus about five years ago and gave an interesting presentation about geologic catastrophes.

He noted this morning that three of the four corners making up the “Ring of Fire Pacific Rim” tectonic plates had now experienced major earthquake in the past 13 months.

The fourth corner of the plate that had been missed was on the U.S. West Coast. Will he prove to be right in that observation and quasi prediction? It might be food for thought.

Now, will be the time to drop a bit more in the collection plate or Red Cross buckets when the time comes.

Crop insurance anyone?

Wednesday marked the deadline to sign up for any 2011 crop insurance.

Though the cost of such insurance was higher than ever, depending on one’s level of coverage, the prospect of locking in some previously unheard of gross dollars per acre forced most growers to sign up for some level of coverage.

The 80 percent figure seemed to be the common figure being discussed. Talk of drier conditions and possible lower yields due to drought has more growers thinking that it might be very tough to ignore 600 to 800 years of tree rings.

None of us has a fail-proof crystal ball, so having the coverage will let more farmers sleep better. Then they can follow through on getting the seeds in the ground in the best manner possible and hope the in-season rains come on time and they get the early post emerge applications completed in a timely manner.

The acreage battle

Much has been written about the acreage battle, and there could well be a few more acres of corn grown in the state this season, but most growers have realized that they seem to have fewer problems if they continue using close to the same ration of corn-to-beans as they have used in the past.

Three years ago the corn-on-corn yield penalty was nil. Two years ago the penalty was roughly 20 bushels per acre.

Then last year the amount was close to 40 bpa for quite a few growers.

Anyone who is suggesting that recently planted alfalfa fields will be plowed up to be planted to corn has to recognize that alfalfa prices are at very high levels.

Spring prep

It is now time to make progress on getting any tillage and planter adjustments or attachments installed.

With the higher grain prices more growers seem willing to use planting time in-furrow fertilizer applications or biologicals to boost yields.

Potential yield-boosting items that will be tried might include starter fertilizer that could boost phosphorous availability on low- and medium-testing fields.

Biological mixes that include beneficial bacteria such as pseudomonas that solubilize P boosting its plant availability have shown good returns.

Since soybeans customers are lining up inputs that dealers will be applying to their seed, premium inoculants might be first on the list to be applied, as well as Apron-type fungicidal products.

One obscure item that might need to be included would be a hormone-producing bacteria that would increase branch numbers on the plant.

Those are available at an inexpensive cost and have shown a nice 3- to 9-bpa yield boost.

The neo-nics are also proven and will be available. It is time when we watch for the entomologists to predict, based on growing degree unit calculations, if they expect bean leaf beetles to be a problem.

The right approach might be to use it based on what fields you farm that either will be planted before the neighbors are, or located closer to an overwintering site.

It should be about five to six weeks until the traditional start of the planting season. Those 35 to 42 days can pass by rather quickly.

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

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