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By Staff | Apr 1, 2011

Three weeks ago when the weather was warming up and many of the thermometers were touching the mid 50s and 60s the weather prognosticators who have been calling for a later, cooler and wetter spring looked wrong.

Surely we will not have another challenging year since so many of the recent ones have been of that type. Now slowly and surely, with snow falling this past week it appears that having corn in the ground in Iowa by the second week in April may not be in the cards.

But having that happen may not be a bad thing. Quite a few Iowa farmers in in 2010 discovered it was not the best thing to do as the late freeze that spring caused problems with stands and the creation of indecisions on what to do.

The markets went up, then they went down, and now they are back up. With the powers that be wanting cheaper commodity prices and willing to put out suspicious acreage numbers, how will that desire battle the worldwide need for more acres of production? Supposedly the cotton acres will be up by 4 million acres this year, which is a huge amount.

Corn acres are supposed to be up, but are those figures accurate and will those be prime acres or will they be those tucked into a poorer corner of the Midwest or Southern Plains? With all the expected high demand, uncertainty in the Mideast, and suspect economic gauges, making marketing decisions is tougher than we have ever seen it.

Spring is here …

… but it just doesn’t feel like it yet. Based on USGS snow cover surveys there will be a few big rivers in the upper Midwest that will be covering farmed acres this spring.

Looking at the predictions for possible dry weather this summer and knowing that western Nebraska and all points west and south are very dry with the Palmer drought index ratings getting redder each week, having a full profile going into the season looks like a potential benefit.

Last spring was just about perfect for getting crops in the ground and, in many cases, growers in the upper Midwest discovered that having corn 4 inches tall before May 1 was not beneficial. Some of the best looking fields that were well on their way to fantastic yields ended up being some of those needing to be replanted.

At this time a big factor in what happens to acres will depend on how the wheat develops after going into the winter with some of the worst condition ratings in recent years.

Wheat prices are good and if there is hope of getting close to a normal crop they will likely harvest those acres for grain. Being too dry will put a damper on the enthusiasm for planting row crops that might end up under moisture stress later this summer.

I had the chance to see the grain trade’s acreage estimate of acres of all grain, oil seed and fiber crops expected to be planted this coming year. If the government estimate is anywhere close to the trade estimate there will have to be a whole lot of explaining.

If there will be total of nearly 13 million acres grown this season, minus double crop soybean acres, and CRP acres are projected to be decreased about 200,000, where are those acres going to come from?

Would anyone care to guess, especially with calf and beef prices being so attractive and those pasture acres not being ideal?

All growers can do is have their own preparations complete, be getting any weed control products and seed in the shed and get any other loose ends tied down before the weather shapes up.

A quick trip

I was weighing how the season was shaping up and how close planting looked, versus the need to get a few things done in another location, so I happen to be down in Brazil last week.

The crops are in all stages of development. The spring rains that normally begin in mid-September began a few weeks late. When they did start it stayed too wet and quite a few acres were planted three to six weeks late.

Too much rain has been the rule most of the growing season. Much of the territory we have been in has tallied between 80 and 100 inches of rain.

They could have gotten by with quite a bit less. Now with the middle part of bean harvest being reached, the constant delays has those growers jumpy as the popcorn showers that can drop a significant amount of rain in a short time keep putting them further behind.

This is threatening both bushels and quality, especially for the seed producers.

Fall harvest needs to be timed differently when beans are harvested at moistures up to 25 percent and they need to be dried with wood-fired furnaces.

Then many of the beans will need to be trucked from 100 to 1,200 miles for delivery.

Crop development

With their longer growing season and ability to double crop and need to spread harvest out to match harvesting and hauling capacity, the stages of growth of the crops vary greatly.

The corn crop ranged from being just-planted to already harvested. Most of the second crop was from V2 to V10. The risk to later-planted corn closer to the equator is from drought conditions during grain fill. Further south frost is added as a risk.

The maturity of the beans varied from north to south. In the north, the range is from a late-group 7 to a mid-group 10; while in the south the range is from a late 5 to an early 7.

I asked an ISU-trained geneticist if they had decoupled flowering date from day length in new beans. They had, he said, and he expressed interest in how we have been manipulating flowering and branching physiology with foliar-applied products.

The rice and seed genetics firm we visited and toured was up near Sinop, which is at 11.5 degrees south latitude.

Bananas, coffee, palms and pineapple grew perfectly there. The region is one where there are lots of huge acreages. If you wish to view it click into Google earth and plug in ‘Sinop to Cuiaba.”It is an area where fields may stretch three to five miles in each direction.

All in all, the growers are much like those in the U.S. They are enjoying the current higher prices, but are busy paying off previous debts and getting ready for the challenges of the expected higher prices of inputs.

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

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