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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Dec 2, 2011

The long Thanksgiving weekend is over and we march towards Christmas and the first half of winter.

So far we would have a tough time finding fault with the weatherman. These last three to four weeks, or since most farmers got done with harvest and fertilizer application, have been warm enough and dry enough to get most of the pressing outdoor tasks completed and even allowed some of the “put-off until we have time” items that have been delayed until now.

That meant that many of us were using a hammer, tractor and loader, drill or concrete equipment to get many jobs done before the cold shut things down.

Now that it gets dark about 5 p.m., there just aren’t enough hours each day. If I remember right in each of the two previous years we have had very wintery conditions by this time with insulated clothing and gloves being required.

Until now it has been tough to meet with growers as everybody has stayed very busy with those odd jobs or major projects that need completing before winter closes in.

You never know when a howling blizzard and subzero weather will shut things down.

This is the time and even the week for the first round of educational meetings for many of producers and crop advisers in the state. ISU has its large Intergrated Crop Management conference on Wednesday and Thursday.?Crop consultants had their fall tech update on Tuesday, and the Farm News Ag Show was on Wednesday and Thursday.

It is also time to see the tax man and get started on finalizing books in many operations. Even though the end of the year seems a long way away, there are only about three or four functional weeks left before New Year’s Day is here.

It appears that there are other countries that also have presidents with zero knowledge about how business works.

I was visiting with a farmer/business man from South America two weeks ago. He had a copy of the newspaper announcing that the president of Argentina surprised all the Argentine farmers and businesses by announcing there would be no importation of any crop protection products.

The growers would be able to use only products manufactured within their borders.

While that might be initially perceived as being great for local companies, the country has very little production capacity to manufacture those products. This has the potential to cause yield losses due to weeds or insects, eventually causing food shortages and food price increases.

We haven’t heard yet if that order has been reversed.

With corn, spring wheat and beans now in their early stages of growth such surprises would not be good. Consider what it would do here.

Grain marketing

Most years, the common joke is that every year half the people and marketing advisers are wrong. Thus by the end of two or three years everyone has taken their turn in making mistakes and has been wrong.

This year, it seems tougher than normal in that the price swings are so much wider. Those who watch fundamentals and watched their own yields don’t think the stated bushels are in anyone’s bins or were ever produced.

Those who watch the technicals see strange movements, but which of them are based on market factors and which ones are founded on overall currency values and politics?

Those who do both are not convinced that any country’s livestock herds have gone on strict diets, as the USDA report seems to suggest. Thus eventually projected carryout numbers and world economy are what we get to figure out.

Good luck with that one.

The guy who wins will still be the one who put the most bushels in the bin and either accidentally or, through staying power, was able to hold on until the price trend turned.

We saw that happened two of the last three seasons.

Weed control

By now every grower has heard or read the horror stories about the resistant weeds in the neighboring state, county or farm that seems to have won the weed battle of 2011.

In other words, the control tactic that worked like a charm from 1998 through 2010 just doesn’t work like it used to.

Many farm magazine articles have included the pictures of the hayracks stacked 8 to 10 feet high with waterhemp plants that were pulled from the field after attempts to kill them with any of several herbicides had failed.

Thus it looks like D-Day is here and every grower, especially those planting soybeans realizes that their tactics may have to change and it will stay that way.

A few new products that will help the mess are on the way. Now it appears that our good old friends at the Environmental Protection Agency are holding their breath and slowing things down, refusing to make any decisions or taking action with approving new products.

We were hoping that the new Kumei products from FMC, Valient and BASF were going to be here for the next planting season, but their people don’t expect much movement in the near future or expect much product to be available for commercial field use.

The current status of weed control in our two major crops is that many growers are being advised to be proactive and plan on applying residual products that would last through canopy closure.

It will mean a return to many products that have not been used much for about 10 years in corn and about 15 years in soybeans. That will be tolerable, but it will make many growers wonder why they are still paying full price for tech fees when that trait is only giving 50 percent or less control.

You can bet more than one grower will ask the same question at meetings this winter. That is a very valid point.

At the consultants’ meeting Tuesday, we got the chance to visit with many tech reps from major herbicide firms. Their advice is to dust off the old product guides and accept the fact that continual use of any product, especially in both major crops has never been advised. So that golden goose is limping badly.

Insects

The return of the corn rootworm and its ability to weave its way through several genetic events is also being discussed.

There are several valid reasons for the eggs and larvae to survive and cause problems in the corn crops, but speaking poetically, and ignoring the fact that in many places it never worked as advertised, is not going to satisfy the buying audience.

Differences exist among bug populations just like they exist in people populations.

In time those differences typically become greater, rather than smaller.

Classical plant breeding tells us that the greater a selection pressure is, the greater the chance of resistance occurring.

Many of the professional entomologists predicted and advised exactly what is occurring, but they were hushed up.

So the action plan will be to return to using multiple modes of action with multiple strategies.

That won’t be as easy, or as clean as hoped for, but a number of growers have been adding smart boxes or liquid attachments to their planters in recent years due to the survival of the CRW, especially since tests show a 13- to 15-bushel per acre benefit of using conventional insecticides and genetic traits.

Crop diseases

There will be discussions of the major diseases of the last few years along with recommendations on what to do to avoid problems.

Included in that category will be sudden death syndrome, Goss’ wilt, grey leaf spot and others. Most farmers have had to add many new words to their dictionary and are now wondering what new disease some mad scientist is dreaming up for 2012 or 2013.

Hopefully those attending winter meetings will pick up advice on how each disease functions and what they can do to prevent or manage it.

With each of them, the strategist can be most helpful if they can actually discern what the background and the actual cause of the problem is, and why it has appeared, rather than just what the symptoms are.

In examining Goss’ wilt and all of the tillage that has been done this fall, the lack of rain has left the residue mostly intact on the soil surface.

That increases the possibility of inoculum survival into next season, which is not a welcome thought. Depending on how the rest of the winter goes, corn growers may need to be developing their plans B and C.

Enjoy those meetings and stay warm.

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

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