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By Staff | Oct 14, 2011

We are fast approaching mid-October and have to be appreciative of the weather that has helped to dry the grain in the field.

How long will it be before such a conditions turns into a negative? We typically like to go into the winter season with less than a 3-inch moisture deficit, as that historically gives us a good chance of filling the moisture profile during May and starting the next growing season with a full supply of moisture.

That thought is on the minds of most growers as they start to think about next season. Before long some official is bound to announce that we had a drought in the Midwest.

Even when the fields were saturated it was difficult to ignore history and Farmer Benner’s 200-year old history. Many of us expected the dry late-summer weather.

The big news item of last week seemed to be the tinder dry conditions in the corn and bean fields and all of the fires and fire threats that existed in many fields during harvest activities.

Most people have never seen anything like it. During recent seasons, the main problems during harvest have centered on being too wet and muddy.

Most sections of the Midwest saw their fair share of fires and operators who were willing to park their combines for a few hours, rather than risk losing them to fire.

By the end of the week most growers were heeding their sheriffs’ advice and had a disk and tractor ready in each field if they needed to disk a fire break to avert a runaway blaze.

A few of those events gained notoriety as to their size, dollar loss or the number of combines that were sold as a result.

Sorting out liability and coverage is still a puzzle. Unfortunately, there were a few injuries that victims have to recover from. I only got to see two of those events, but that was enough for me and the other participants.

Soybean harvest

More growers completed their bean harvest in the past week and moved into their mid- and late-maturity corn hybrids.

The consensus about yields is that the early- and mid-maturity varieties seemed to outyield the full season beans in areas where the early freeze hit.

The difference was typically in the 4 to 12 bushel per acre range.

In seasons where the full season beans outyielded the earlier group varieties, there is more rain during late August through early September to fill those top pods and clusters.

This year, many spots never got those rains.

The main problem in the past week was that the very dry conditions and strong winds suck all the moisture from the seed, leaving many as dry as 7 percent or even lower.

That typically represented a measurable and significant dollar loss when those beans are delivered.

Some growers have been thinking that they may want to respond by planting more of the shorter season varieties.

As soon as they do, the timing of the rains will favor the fuller season varieties. Thus the rule is plant a range in maturity so at least two of the groups capitalize on either available moisture supplies or late rainfall.

Because many of the 2012 beans will be planted into soils that had produced bean plants with serious SDS problems in 2010, there will be a multitude of questions about the risk of having similar disease pressure.

That might be termed the $64,000 question, but with soil compaction not being a common problem during this fall’s harvest, the threat should be minimized unless next spring’s weather creates saturated soil conditions and growers compact the soil.

It will be wise to choose SDS-resistant varieties and use any proven biological inoculants that create a healthier plant.

Corn harvest

Those windy and dry conditions helped grain that was in the low 20s to drop into the mid teens.

Much of the grain was put directly the bins or into aerated bins with the fans turned on to complete the drying process.

That did cut the drying costs considerably, which was good, but the same winds caused serious stalk lodging.

By the end of the week, many of the fields holding prematurely dying corn plants contained seriously lodged corn.

Many of those plants broke off right at ground level. In a few cases, one could point to stalks that no longer held any moisture, but the primary cause seemed to be stalks that had rotted and had little strength.

We hope we don’t have to use the rolly cone heads made in Dimmit, Texas. They have a gathering chain that runs up and along each snout to pull the detached stalks into the head.

They were commonly used in areas where Southwestern corn borer were problematic and would girdle each stalk at the end of the summer.

Last year, when I was visiting with colleagues in Nebraska and Colorado, who had worked with Goss’s wilt in corn for years, they said that “you have never seen bad stalk lodging until you see the lodging that Goss’ can cause.”

While riding in combines or walking into fields with 80 to 90 percent of the stalks flat on the ground, it appeared those warnings were correct.

Most growers will be better at heeding such warnings in future years. Life is too short to have to try to combine such messes.

Determining an average corn yield is still impossible.

I have heard of low yields down in the 50 bpa range in southeast Iowa and high yields of 270 bpa in plots in north central Iowa.

This week I have ridden in combines where the monitors were clicking away at some very nice yield levels.

Where the growers did nothing special and did not manage for disease control and proper plant nutrition, the yields seemed to be in the 140 to 200 bpa range, with a mean of perhaps 160 to 170 bpa.

Those who took steps to actively manage the disease problems were seeing field yields of 195 to 225 and even better.

Anything they did to keep the plants greener and healthier longer to increase the late-grain filling capacity helped improve kernel depth.

Those who went the extra mile, plus got a timely rain or two, typically don’t want to talk about their yields publicly as they feel they will create hard feelings among neighbors.

They are very proud that they were able to think for themselves and were able to do something creative to produce such yields.

Treatment results

We are hearing from some of the growers who applied copper with foliar sprays. Even though they were asked to leave check strips many said they were in the business of maximizing corn yields on every acre in the field and not in doing research.

They did say that the treated plants stayed much greener later into the season and grain depth was much deeper.

The fields where I rode the combine where such materials had been applied showed yield increases of 25 bpa or better.

Plants in such fields often held lots of green leaves and were still filling until a few days ago. Yield monitor readings of 250-plus told that those treatments worked.

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

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