The harvest of 2011 in the Midwest has begun.
The progress so far on corn depends on when the fields were planted, how much moisture each received during the season, the maturity of the varieties, and how much moisture each grower is willing to pay to dry the grain.
In soybeans, some of the early group have gotten mature and dry enough to allow whole fields to be combined.
More fields still have to dry for a few more days or a week longer to drop the final leaves or get to acceptable moisture levels.
In areas where whole ear harvest happens or where storm damage made earlier harvest necessary, acres of crops are either in the bin or silage pile.
This time of year is always rushed as there is so much work to complete before nature calls a halt to field work. It is a season of expectations where every grower gets to see if all of his planning and efforts were aided enough by Mother Nature that hoped for yields are achieved.
This fall we would have to conclude that the expected yield for each field is as much of an unknown as it has been in the last decade. We know that it was too wet in April, May and June. Then it was too hot in July and too dry over most of the Midwest in July and August.
Interspersed with those events were several strange windstorms of extreme strengths.
Then, as the crops’ final challenge, a high percentage of the plants in most cornfields had to face a severe infestation of a disease that we are still learning about.
Through all of this remember that just a few years ago we used to go into harvest wondering who would ever consume all of those bushels of grain and calculating when to file for the LDP. How times have changed.
Prices are better and the peaks are higher. Still there is good reason to remain cautious and try to manage the crops and business of farming as precisely as possible as there will always be a downside to those peaks.
Based on early yield checks there will be lots of variability between fields and different parts of each state. What seems to be occurring after just a few bean yields have been taken is that the early-maturity beans have been yielding better than expected.
The mid-maturity beans are performing well, but not enough have been harvested to detect the trend. If they end up yielding well, most of us will be scratching our heads wondering how the plants ever managed to fill those pods with only one rain during late pod fill and so many inches less rain than normal.
Early reports from north central Iowa where no rain fell for about eight weeks tell that low 40-bushel yields will be common. South of U.S. Highway 3 there were a few more light showers during July and August and they were just enough to help the plants to continue filling the pods.
The big explosion of SDS did not occur in the states this year, and the dry weather seemed to slow most diseases except septoria.
Nearly all fields looked green and healthy from the air, which was a far cry from the appearance and condition of the same fields in 2010. I guess it would have been nearly impossible to look any worse.
The marketplace experts seemed to have ignored the damage done to the bean crop by the freezing temps.
There were thermometers in parts of the northern bean belt that were 6 to 8 degrees below freezing for more than four hours – enough to reach deep within the canopy.
There were many acres that needed weeks more to reach maturity or begin to show signs of finishing their pod fill. Those are bushels that the unlucky growers spent the dollars on, but will not be able to market.
With the USDA corn crop ratings dropping to only 52 percent as good-to-excellent most of us have been expecting below-trend line yields.
One caution that had to be made is that those in production ag tend to see the cumulative problems that occurred during the season and tally the lost bushels.
Nowadays more hybrids have yield potential in the 240 to 250 bushel range rather than the 180 range of 10 to 15 years ago. Thus having a few problems occur and losing 40 bushels can still leave us with 200 bpa.
We are still hearing about scattered yields where major disease problems dropped the production to under 100 bps. In sum, we will learn more over the next few weeks as more of the harvest work is done and yield checks are made.
Thanks to monitoring equipment it is easier to keep track of each varietal, field and management variable.
For those still learning about this disease, it is good to know that the acknowledged expert on this topic is Dr. Anne Videvar of the University of Nebraska. She has studied different sectors of science that applied to the study of plants and the microscopic diseases that affect them.
As of 2010 and 2011, farmers in the Midwest now have to learn as much as they can about the newer bacterial disease and how to control the damage they can do to the major grain crop.
It is still surprising as to how many have not been educated that there are varying symptoms that can appear with the disease. There are still many growers who still think they don’t or didn’t have it in their fields until they are shown what it looks like.
There is still the misconception that wind or hail or other physical damage is needed for the bacteria to invade the plant.
There is one other common management step that does that job and has done so in 2011 – genetic resistance. Therefore making a plant nutritionally resistant will be just as important as picking the right variety.
What is being planned by many growers is to try to aid quick degradation of the residue in their corn stalk fields.
This will help, but with foxtail plants also serving as inoculants reservoirs in the spring and summer that will not be enough.
Remember that such residue is needed on sloped fields to help avoid soil loss via wind and water erosion.
Drying the grain down to 13 percent is recommended to help store grain from infected fields in bins safely.
Whether the grain will lose weight in the bins is still a discussion point with quite a few farmers telling that they saw such a loss with last year’s corn.
It is now time to have your agronomist or local soil sampler get busy and take samples from the fields that have not been tested since 2007 to stay on the two- or four-year rotation.
Consider having a micronutrient analysis done on a portion of those samples so you can monitor those levels as they are often at low and deficient levels once you test for them.
It is looking more like the growers who intend to stay on top of their game will have to raise their management skills to as high as those who raise veggies for a living.
With work I think we can meet that challenge.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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