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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Apr 14, 2011

The starting flag has been dropped for the 2011 growing season as the week started out warm and dry. how it ends up is still anyone’s guess. If by Saturday or Sunday there is a layer of snow on the ground or saturated fields, progress may grind to a halt. Deep down lots of us were looking at the latest Easter we can remember and wondered if age old sayings may prove to be true.

If we get a wet weather break it may be a good time to head to one of the smaller towns in northwest Iowa and help the inhabitants and farmers pick up after the Saturday night of wild weather.

Weather and Spring Time Planting

Looking at weather predictions and weather predictors, one new person who is now appearing on the scene is Joe Bastardi of Bell Weather Analytics. what a perfect name for a weather guru. His predictions for this spring and season tie in with the presence of La Nina and the general cooling of the Pacific waters.

What he expects for this spring and summer is a cooler spring with the chance of late freezes through May and a longer than normal period where the frontal boundaries are trying to get established.

How this enters into our current plan is that we typically like to get corn planted early to get it emerged as early as possible. This typically leads to earlier growth and flowering, producing higher yields and drier grain at harvest.

But with the forecasters predicting a wet and cold weekend it may be prudent to put on the brakes as of Wednesday night. Why that may be worth heeding is we better recognize that corn seeds that have just been put in the ground begin to absorb (or imbibe) water quickly.

If that first water that is absorbed is cold there can be serious tissue damage that results. We have seen in several of the last five years this has affected many fields that were planted a day or so just before a cold rain.

In certain of those years it seemed to be variety, family, or seed size specific. It wasn’t possible to develop all of the perfect answers, but the large trends were discernable. That is the reason that by the time this column is published the planter crews are likely to have been rained out. That may not be a bad thing if by planting a few days later the ground should be warmer and the seedlings are able to emerge quicker and stay healthy,

As to earlier planting and the benefits of doing so, there are several.

Corn seeds begin the germination process by imbibing water right after they planted. If the soil temps are at 50 degrees Fahrenheit or above, the enzymatic and physiologic process of growing the shoots and roots begin. The normal number of GDUs to get this process going and to get the spike above ground is 100 to 125.

In cold years, this can take as long as three weeks. In the late planting, warm soil years like 1991, stands were rowable in three to four, soils were fit and compacted plants with limited root systems resulted. Warmer days and more hours of heat per day can speed corn seedling development.

If the ground temps are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the seeds can swell, but the starch has the potential to ferment into alcohol and begin to decay.

Thus we are at the start of a season where the grain prices are at the highest beginning prices we have ever seen, and the world is closely watching the crop’s development.

Can we keep the crops healthy enough to get them to maximize yields this season?

We have to do so.

The markets still tell us that they question where all of the extra row crop acres might come from. Now we get to go through the April through November sprint marathon hoping for good growing conditions and good moisture conditions with nothing being in excess.

We still have to be cognizant of the fact that we are not the only area in the world where they can raise a good corn crop and the livestock to feed it to.

My Brazil Trip

I made it home a week ago Sunday after spending two weeks in Brazil.

Making the final decision to travel there again was tough, due to timing and work load here, but based on how much new information I have learned each time down there, and how it typically lets me view things that will happen here in a the next five to ten years, it was time to go.

There is always a lot to see and learn about crop rotations, new crops, innovative ideas on fertilizer placement, and seeing pest/insect problems that are very likely to develop in this country.

The price of ground has gotten expensive due to the same factors as here.

They are paying about the same cost as in the U.S. to buy land, and they have the added cost of leaving the conservation acres of 20 percent to 80 percent.

Input costs, especially fertilizer and machinery prices have risen rapidly and not expected to back off anytime soon due to strong international demand. The big difference for them, depending on location, is that they can typically double crop to boost cash flow and gross returns.

They take advantage of the longer seasons by trying to plant soybeans in the first season that starts in mid-September, which is when the rains start. By planting earlier, maturity beans, like an early Group 7, from mid-September through November, they space out maturity and harvest time.

That can penalize them since the earlier harvest ends up being during one of their wetter months. That was the situation this year as growers were not able to operate during many of the days that I was there. This situation was especially troubling to those who grew seed beans. Quality was declining.

I spent most of my time in three states, Mato Grosso and Goias, which are both in the northern part of the country’s central region, and Parana, which is in the southern portion.

Our time in the north was spent near Rondonopolis, Primovera do Leste, Cuiaba, and Sinop.

With their longer fall season the major crops were cotton and corn. Cotton acres are up dramatically, but the ability to raise the crop always hinges on their ability to burrow the 4X amount of what SBs require in inputs versus beans. What wasn’t planted to cotton was planted to corn. .

To the south in Parana the landscape looks a lot like in eastern Iowa, except the horizon is about five times further off.

We visited several large coops that have built large complexes of chicken or pork slaughter plants where the outputs, ranging from 350 to 500,000 birds per day, are exported privately to 28 foreign countries including Europe and China. All of these seem to be expanding now. The members were making decent money and able to capture the fertilizer value of the manure. In some places the integration has created what they term ‘cluster farming’.

In all areas controlling erosion is a major issue.

Due to the fact they don’t see freezing weather, their insect and disease pressures multiply much more rapidly to become extreme issues.

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

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