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By Staff | Jun 17, 2011

What is normal anymore? While we keep waiting for the drought to start we have water standing in the fields again.

Most farmers would place a higher value on flood tolerant varieties than on drought tolerant hybrid on their own acres. Long term averages being what they are composed of – the midpoint of two extremes – we just have to hang on for the rest of the season and hope that we get decent rains from late July and through mid-August when it really counts.

In a number of recent seasons we have had both warmer and cooler than optimum, as well as much wetter and drier conditions than optimum.

The news out of eastern Indiana and Ohio is that they got a majority of the expected corn acres planted, but a substantial number of acres will just have prevented acre claims filed on them.

The growers figured, “Why fight the battle and risk more of their own money, rather than just take the insurance check?” Commodity realists are asking about how well or how poorly those acres planted the second week of June might yield if they were mudded in and the weather turns hot and dry.

So far it seems that the 2011 growing season is going to involve one battle after another.

An interesting article that details what a noted societal observer sees about the food supply is now circulating.

Lester Brown wrote an article titled, “The New Politics of Food Scarcity.”

In it he notes that much of the social unrest and efforts to usher out old time governments in the Middle East is based on their inability to develop a job-creating economy and supply adequate amounts of affordable food.

He mentions the efforts by a number of countries that are either buying land in other countries to grow food on or are lining up to buy grain supplies through long term relationships direct from producers or producer groups.

He does ask how long is it before we see countries such as China offer a higher price for grain than our marketplaces do, trumping local end users.

Acres versus usage

Acres, acres, where are the acres? That sounds like an old childhood game. Now that the corn-planting season is over. the market is trying to get a handle on how many corn acres ended up being planted in the U.S.

After making a few rounds around Iowa and in some of the surrounding states it is easy to see that there are more second-year corn acres.

Each of those acres could be very important come August when the livestock feeders anywhere in the country that need to buy corn are searching for their supply. Having it on paper won’t be good enough.

We have heard some otherwise very knowledgeable commodities people give their opinion about ethanol usage, grain stockpiles, carryout supplies and what may happen if those supplies drop to or below zero without realizing that the surviving ethanol companies have finally assembled their teams of seasoned grain buyers.

Those buyers have purchased their grain quite a few months ago and don’t have to buy in a day-to-day fashion as many did in 2008.

The same prognosticators seem to not want to acknowledge that DDGs make up a large portion of most cattle feeding rations, so having plant shutdowns would really screw up the cattle feeding industry.

And a public that can’t buy hamburgers would not be friendly to any incumbent office holders.

Crop conditions

The condition of the corn and bean crops varies tremendously by what region of the state is being considered, how much moisture each region has received, and what rotation is being followed.

The crops all looked great two to three weeks ago, or just before Memorial Day. That is about when the different warts began to appear.

First, the stands were lower in population than set for and many plants seemed to struggle in reaching the soil surface.

Secondly, a high percentage of the second-year corn acres seemed to decline in condition as many of the stands became uneven in height and color. The factors that were most often blamed were seedbed condition, residue management and nitrogen placement.

Just lately, more fields are showing a decline in appearance as areas on side hills or rolling sections in each field have turned a yellowish green to bronze color.

Thus the question of the week in many farming circles was, “Have you figured out what is going on in those corn fields?” or “Do you think applying a sidedressed application of nitrogen would make my corn green up?”

Some of the same questions have been asked about the beans. In the eastern part of the state the very wet conditions seem to have created a great environment for various soilborne root disease that can subtract from plant health and overall yields.

Typically seed treatments do a great job keeping diseases from becoming a problem and affecting stand.

This year Phyto, Pythium and Fusarium seem to be causing problems even on treated seed.

Are the problems due to the creation of new races, abnormally high populations of pathogens in the soil or crop plants that are highly susceptible to pathogen attack?

When we hear about fields being planted two to three times for such causes it should sound an alarm.

We saw some last season in SE Iowa, more in Southern Illinois this spring, and many cases in Brazil in their most recent cropping seasons.

A major question going into the season was if anyone expected major problems with SDS in 2011. What happened last year, according to established prognosticators, was that the extraordinarily wet weather combined with early planting became a problem on millions of acres.

Growers did not plant nearly as early and we have had drier weather this season, but the saturated conditions that have ruled lately have to be viewed as negative towards keeping the plants perfectly healthy.

Last season several crop scouts during June were turning in soybean seedling samples that were diagnosed as being infected with fusarium, phyto, pythium, and even diplodia.

Those stunted plants sitting in saturated fields took on a bronzed look and were never healthy after that point.

One would have to surmise that those scouts and farmers were watching Fusarium infect more and more plants in each field as the weeks progressed.

Without any curative product to fight the disease the fate of each variety and each field was sealed.

One of the biggest differences that can be seen in the fields is that the soils this year are in so much better shape than last season.

The roots are growing deeper, conditions are much more aerobic, and microbial activity seems to be at a higher level.

Yellowed corn

The first thought of most Midwestern farmers if they have the plants in a field turn yellow is that the crop either needs to root deeper to hit the nitrogen zone or needs additional nitrogen on order to green up.

Based on what different agronomists have been seeing in their scouting and in their tissue test results is that loss of nitrogen is not the causal factor.

Thus different guidebooks need to be written and different levels of awareness need to be built among crop advisors who are helping to raise crops.

When traveling down the roads the past two weeks lots of corn fields have that same bronzed look rather than a dark green appearance.

Different agronomists and growers are seeing that look in their fields and are responding by gathering leaf and plant samples to send into the labs.

The first results have been returned and what is showing up in most of them is either a low levels three to eight different nutrients.

Such a development and public acknowledgement is gaining widespread recognition as evidenced by another article in this month’s issue of “The Furrow.”

It discusses the program fostered by one of the largest fertilizer groups in the Midwest and the progress and knowledge base they have built during more than 10 years of work. That work is described on the net at a site that can be accessed at www.backtobasics.net.

What they say is that tissue testing is a dynamic process that should be done in a comprehensive program that monitors nutrient levels during the entire season.

Levels change based on crop growth and peak demands. They also change with soil and climatic differences, so small changes must be accepted as being normal.

Taking samples every two weeks might be what growers aiming for the top yields will have to do. Such sampling will have to be coordinated along with a plan to apply nutrients found to be in short supply. Such practices are used in other crops worldwide.

I have more samples that I have gathered for the fourth week that is destined to be delivered to a lab later this week.

By doing that work we should have a better understanding on how to turn the plants back to a dark green color that stay healthier through the summer to produce the big yields this fall.

It is not rocket science and doesn’t take too much time for each field.

I was reading about a German philosopher from 200 years ago and he was talking about science and paradigm shifts.

He said that when major changes occur, the first people who diagnose and attempt to solve a problem are castigated and are told that they are crazy.

In time all of society recognizes that they were right.

It does seem to many people that nothing this season is coming easy. Just maintain the course you planned and don’t be afraid to try something new if it many help your crops.

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

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