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CROP WATCH

By Staff | May 6, 2011

The late-winter weather has been taking its sweet time disappearing this spring. At least now that May has arrived things seem to be straightening out and lots of field progress is being made.

While it had quit raining as of late last week and it is expected to remain dry until Thursday, the temperatures have stayed cool due to the flow of air from the north. Until now the hooded sweatshirt and jacket have been the appropriate attire most days until about 2 p.m., especially if one is out in the wind.

Last week one could start to hear whispers about another late and wet spring. In a year when it seems that every heavily populated and importing nation is either covertly or overtly lining up their food supplies for the coming season and prices are at the top end of the historical ranges, we all want to produce as many bushels and as large of a gross return as possible.

We didn’t need any of those late-planting problems as we have seen in quite a few of the years since 1991. So now it appears that a crisis was averted as of this week as the planters are rolling and many growers are expecting to have a major portion of their corn acres planted by sometime this week.

Then it will be on to soybeans as the time has arrived for that task to begin.

Food politics

A very good article on food security was printed in the latest issue of the Corn and Soybean Digest. It stated that most countries’ leaders recognized that they would only remain in power as long as they made sure their citizens had a reasonably guaranteed food supply.

In the article, the author told of the efforts by many of the heavily populated or wealthier countries without a decent supply of arable land to either buy tracts of land in developing countries or work with producers in those countries to procure the needed bushels that could be shipped home.

Writer and commodity broker David Kruse has written about this quite often in his column. We will have to see if this current escalation in price is due to recent crop failures in quite a few major countries, or increase demand by more middle class populations with a desire for more protein in the diet, or the start of the 25 year inflation super-cycle. We have to keep in mind that the dollar has declined in value by 40 percent in the past year versus the Brazilian Real, and has also dropped against other currencies.

Warmer temperatures

Where nature has to cooperate is to send us warmer days and nights to speed the germination and seedling growth. Some of this seed that was planted at mid-month has now been in the ground 2.5 weeks and still has produced only a very small sprout.

I have had some sweetcorn in the ground in a protected spot for 3-plus weeks and have been checking weekly for the growth of the hypocotyls.

Last week the growth was nil and the sprouts remained about a quarter inch long. So far the seeds remain firm and healthy. The field corn seedlings that I have checked on are in about the same situation, germination has occurred and the first roots are out, but no top growth has appeared yet.

The fear among the earlier planting growers was that the kernels might turn to mush. This fear is based on fact in that with soil temps remaining below 50 F and the seeds having imbibed water, the semi-anaerobic conditions could cause the seedlings to rot. So far I have not personally seen or heard of anyone finding this problem in any fields. With the 70 F temps arriving later this week most farmers will feel better about the early part of this season. Eventually the corn plantings will have accumulated the 100 to 125 GDUs needed for the seedling to reach the emergence stage. Any published GDU tally for this spring will be falsely high in that it does not track the hours of heat each day, only the extremes, and it does not tabulate the sunlight hours, or Langleys. In the past three weeks when it did creep over 50F it was only for a few hours each day. Sunlight was minimal during the same time.

Soybean planting

Last year many farmers completed their corn planting at record early dates. The big decision was whether it was time or too early to start with soybeans.

A percentage went right to planting those beans and in many cases they ended up with disease problems that were accentuated by such earliness.

Thus, if there is a silver lining in the late spring it might be that now the soybeans will be planted at a more correct date and closer to when they would normally be put into the ground. It’s tough when extra ambition gets penalized.

Once the beans are planted and have emerged most of us will be waiting for the hammer to drop, hoping that there will be no problems with a late freeze.

A few of those who watch weather signs say that the May 15 date and the moon phase carries a threat of colder weather.

We have to hope no actual problems occur. Typically beans are more cold weather tolerant down to about 28 degrees, but below that their above-ground growing point becomes a negative.

Weed control advice

ISU’s Dr. Mike Owen wrote a piece giving guidance on weed control matters in the university’s latest publication.

In it he stressed that anyone who planned to no-till and expected to get any early pre down to control weeds may have missed the window of opportunity to apply the pre-herbicide or mix that was originally planned.

Thus growers may have to change plans and perhaps either add in a tillage pass to eliminate already emerged grasses and weeds, or has to construct a different product mix that offered post-emerge activity.

This may be more complicated than first thought if any of the emerged weeds are progeny of plants that had developed resistance to one or more of the major families that we currently use for residual control.

His advice mirrored that of other seasoned extension weed specialists, who typically warned that complete reliance on a single product for weed control in both corn and beans was going to come to an end sooner rather than later.

When that time came there were going to be products that should have been developed and commercialized, but never made it that far due to poor projected returns.

Guesses on insect pests

What insects should we be scouting for in two to three weeks based on knowing how insects migrate and act?

The first expected one might be the black cutworm in the eastern half of the state. There were days in April with a southerly wind where moths were being caught in Illinois. Most don’t expect the threat to be severe due to most of the winds were from the north during the month.

Rootworms could show up, but only after 625 growing degree units have accumulated. The use of soil-applied insecticides or the use of CRW hybrids are normally our management tactics to control them.

Remember that aphids and aphid spraying did not happen in 2010, so the migrating egg laying rootworm beetles did not get controlled as in previous summers.

In soybeans the main threat will be from the bean leaf beetle. Watch for them on the earliest emerging fields downwind two to four miles of a major woodlot or a tall grass prairie.

This year the southern counties face a threat in that their winter time temps were conductive to beetle survival. We can typically get a clue as to their populations by watching for feeding on volunteer bean plants in the corn fields.

Good luck with planting and be safe.

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

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