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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Oct 21, 2011

Isn’t it surprising how we can jump from the oven into the freezer in just a matter of days?

A week ago many of us were out in the fields wearing shorts and now we are bundling up to protect us against the cold winds.

This must be a foreshadowing of what we can expect in the coming winter months.

Thinking about going through another winter, especially one predicted to be cold and snowy by several good weather services, sounds less than desirable.

We just have to hope that warm weather returns and stays until Thanksgiving so everyone can get their fall work completed.

Howard Buffet

Everyone has heard about the “Oracle of Omaha,” good old Warren Buffet. Fewer are aware that his son, Howard, is a farmer operating ground that he owns in Illinois. A friend of mine, that a bunch of Iowans were able to interact with, had the chance to work as his crop advisor for several years and go over to Africa to critique the food projects.

My friend reported that Howard was a good student and observant. His observations showed up in public when his remarks shared at the World Food Prize Ceremony in Des Moines received front page coverage last weekend.

It must have sounded like heresy when he told attendees that the best course to follow, if enough food was to be raised in the future to feed hungry people, was to take steps to restore and re-establish healthy soils.

Heaping more and more traits on varieties which have a narrow genetic base, was not going to do the job in his opinion.

Soil moisture

In most parts of the Midwest the last part of July, all of August, and most of September have been very dry.

Dry enough that tiles in most or all fields quit running. Based on how the plants in many fields were showing signs of moisture stress, we have to conclude that most plant-available water in the upper profiles is nearly depleted.

That means that the moisture gap between 20 and 100 percent of soil moisture-holding capacity needs to be filled by late next spring; hopefully after the planting is completed and before the crops go into their heavy moisture use stages.

Walking on the edge two years in a row will be too stressful if this season is duplicated in 2012.

More than one person has mentioned what happened in the 1930s and 1950s due to long term cycles. Most soils in Iowa can hold 2 to 2.25 inches of moisture per inch.

Most have to now be at about a 20 percent moisture level, thus are likely to add 8 to 10 inches of moisture to give us that 80 percent chance of producing trend line yields.

In the last four to five years we have always had that late-May-through-mid-June period where 6 to 8 inches of excess rains fall that could fill the soil moisture reserve.

Our job is to have the soils ready to soak in that moisture and to hold it for use during the hotter and drier days of late-July through late-August.

If we were willing to tackle major projects, we would figure out the system whereby we could move most of those Missouri floodwaters to the southwestern U.S., where they so greatly needed it for this year’s crop and aquifer recharge.

The Chinese would likely already have that project completed.

Most of us are still wondering where the better-than-expected yields came from. Was it all the dews that trickled down on the stalks and wet the ground around the base of the plants each morning?

It must have been enough to daily replenish the plants.

Such an event is similar to what is seen by grape growers each season. Napa Valley grape vines typically need 20 to 26 inches of moisture each season.

With rainfall totaling only 14 inches each year, they have to depend on dews providing the additional 6 to 12 inches of moisture.

The rains that fell last week showed that it was possible to rain again. Our chance of getting heavy rains after mid-October is quite slim.

We will have to cross our fingers going into the next growing season.

Downed corn

Have we seen a year in recent history where as many strong winds blew across the Midwest? It seems like every week there were damaging winds, of 70 to 110 miles per hour, blasting across the Corn Belt, sometimes at very odd hours, and doing major damage to crops.

From the road, the recovery was decent. From the air, those downed rows and patches told the story that a lot of the plants did not recover as well and were still lodged by as much as 40 degrees from vertical.

Those fields are being harvested now, often at much slower-than-normal speeds, and those operators are seeing that yields in the affected spots and fields and spots are typically 30 to 50 bushels per acre lower than surrounding fields.

The loss seems to be coming from smaller ears, poor pollination and barren plants. Multiply all the acres by those loss figures and the total bushel loss begins to add up.

Is that part of the reason that there are very few outside piles showing up at this date? Add this to the fact that exports and foreign interest in U.S. corn have not slacked off, and it is beginning to look like the supply will be tight the entire marketing year.

Dropped ears

One other cropping problem that seems to be showing up in scattered fields is dropped ears in Bt hybrids.

There is no shank tunneling, but the shank seemed to have been twisted enough to let loose of the ear.

Did the bacterial diseases cause enough tissue weakening for the ears to drop off? Is any of this showing up in your neighborhood?

Residue digesters

So what is a corn grower supposed to do about stalk residue?

Lots of residue on the surface is detrimental to yields if it isn’t managed. The soils stay cooler, Goss’ wilt is more of a threat, and nutrients aren’t properly recycled.

So the recommendations are to apply a residue decomposing mix and do tillage. Now, the threat, as posed by the Environmental Protection Agency, is a ban on microbial mixes that help to begin and aid the degradation process.

This ban has been proposed, but not enacted yet. If any of you get a chance to voice your opinion, please do so as the ban would be counter productive.

Stalk quality

Stalk quality has not improved in any fields in the past week.

Lodging and difficulty in harvesting downed corn has been a moderate-to-major problem for many growers.

This was predicted by farmers and agronomists in Nebraska and Colorado who had worked with Goss’ in previous years.

Years ago, when I got to work with corn crops affected by southwestern corn borers, farmers who managed those fields, as a last resort, had to rely on using a corn head manufactured in Dimmit, Texas.

This head utilized rolly cones on the outside divider plus gathering chains that ran up and over each snout.

The combination did a good job if they could tolerate driving at 1 mph or less. Were they better and more effective than today’s corn reels? Time will tell.

Soil preparations

Now is the best time to get several jobs done.

First: Getting soil samples taken to keep your keep your soil analysis program updated.

Second: Operators with the soil types that don’t function well under no-till, have to get that task done in preparation for next season.

It would be advised to use a penetrometer to determine if, how deep, and how dense, are any compacted soil layers, before doing any tillage.

Good luck with the rest of your corn harvest.

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

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