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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Dec 9, 2011

Seven is always a nice lucky number, except when 7-degree temperatures are being discussed or endured.

And 7-below sounds even worse, which is what the temperatures were in parts of northern Iowa several days this week.

The only thing good about how the winter or late-fall is faring is that the cold weather stayed away until early December.

That means we may only have four months of winter, versus the normal six or seven to which we’ve become accustomed the last few years.

The major weather focus in recent weeks is the degree of dryness that exists over the middle section of the country, or what is termed the western CornBelt.

It has been acknowledged that most areas of the state will need between 4 and 8 inches of moisture to soak in before the profile is considered full.

Now that the ground has begun to freeze solid, moisture infiltration is going to stop.

We need wet snow that insulates the ground and slowly melts and soaks into the soil.

Several repeats of this process can go a long way in setting the crops up for top yields next season.

We just have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

At this point no human can influence that process, so we will just have to see how the weather progresses next March and April.

The grain price roller coaster continues its wild ride as every advisor and producer tries to analyze the fundamentals, technical charts, crop size forecast in other parts of the world and, perhaps what is hardest factor, human emotion.

If European countries and our super committees could prove they were serious about the issue and actually develop solutions, it would settle the wild gyrations substantially. Right now, the Germans are upset with the Greeks and other fragile countries because they allow retirement as age 52.

Here we see a super committee become gridlocked after the senior executive can’t balance the checkbook.

We always have to remember that they are talking about real dollars that could be better spent by those closer to the action, namely those earning the money.

The acreage battle

One large discussion point over the winter is always about the acreage battles that occur as prices for corn gets compared to the gross revenue for soybeans, and farmers make their decisions.

With projected carry-outs being the shortest on record for corn and the corn-to-bean price ratio being less than the 2:2.2 that is usually the tipping point, it is easy to see a larger percentage than normal of the corn stalk ground being prepared for corn next season.

The higher cash rents that are running from $250 to $350 or better, the chance of making the budget work is better with corn than with soybeans for most growers.

Penciling in 180 bushels per acre at $5.50, grosses quite a bit more than 60 bpa beans at $11.

One big consideration for what to grow in 2012 is what the yield penalty for second-year or third-year corn is versus what the yields would be for corn after beans.

In 2008, the penalty was close to zero. In 2009, it was about 20 bushels. In 2010 and 2011, it was closer to 30 bushels.

One big factor that is still immeasurable is how much rainfall arrives next summer and its timing.

Being dry early and receiving good rains after July 1 through early September would be the best situation.

Being dry during the season would make predictions about lower-than-trend-line yields become a reality.

Very early and very late planting may have an advantage over early and middle planting dates. This will all be measured around what beans can do if they have to endure a dry season.

The “what ifs” and “it could” makes one’s head swim.

The educational events

From what I heard and saw, the attendance at the ISU ICM conference and the Farm News Ag Show were both very good.

I think many people took it as a chance to either pick up good knowledge or learn what outside experts were able to relay to the people listening.

I had the chance to sit in on Dave Kruse’s presentation at the Farm News Ag Show. He looked at longterm and recent events that are, or will have, an effect on prices and production during the next seasons.

Two months ago, every attendee would have been in hog heaven, as commodity prices were at very high levels.

In the last months the trend has been downward as outside events and the prospect for large crops in Russia, China and South America are being discussed.

Kruse always does a good job of assembling his facts and tying the events together.

Tillage

Now that Goss’s wilt has gone from a disease where its existence in eastern Nebraska, all of Iowa and points east and north, was denied, to being the surprise disease of the summer, it has gained top status, as crop advisors expected.

From the start, recommendations were to perform tillage to bury the residue to cause the inoculum to die out. There is lots of data verifying that when the leaves and lighter plant parts are buried, the bacteria die out within two weeks.

Leaving the residue on the surface allows bacteria to remain viable for 10 months. But in the last decade, we have learned that keeping a residue cover on the soil surface is vital on sloping soils for minimizing soil loss.

Thus the two goals are not compatible. What to do? Fervent no-tillers are going to scream bloody murder, while the poor operator, who wants his corn to stay healthy, is going to try to do what is advised.

What we have been seeing during harvest is that having a portion of the residue degrade is important. What seems to be more important is to complete four or five other cultural steps to keep the crop healthy.

We can likely conclude that anyone who is going to try raising second-year corn, using high residue farming, while planting susceptible hybrids, not using effective biological seed inoculants, and micronutrients, is asking for serious problems.

This is all said in the context of being very dry this fall and seeing almost none of the worked or untouched residue decompose. That management could result in yields seen out in western Nebraska and eastern Colorado, where, in 2009, there were fields that yielded 0 bushels.

Insects

The agricultural press has been jumping on the issue of populations of rootworms in different geographical areas becoming resistant to the Bt trait.

It is surprising how much credence is given a few papers being written on the subject. while back about six years ago, when lots of fields planted to the same traited hybrids was flat on the ground by early- to mid-August.

Those corn farmers could not get anyone’s attention on their flattened corn. Since that time, they decided the trait wasn’t giving enough control and they began to apply traditional insecticide again.

They have seen yields rise by 12 to 15 bpa consistently.

The lesson here might be that insects are adaptable and, long term, there will be few silver bullets. Because the stage is set for rootworm pressure in July of the previous year when the emerged beetles mate and lay eggs, that might be when control measures are started.

We are likely lucky with CRW as they only produce one generation per year. With each female producing 250 eggs apiece, any resistant population could increase rapidly.

Biologicals

Last spring I wrote about a new biological seed treatment that had the chance to boost root growth and plant health, subsequently adding to final yield with improved standability.

Because it came from a top researcher at Cornell University, more people paid attention to it and tried it. What we have seen is that growers who used it loved the results – better plant heath, larger and more active roots, better stress tolerance and higher yields.

Trials and field work done in Europe, Africa, the Philippines and southeast Asian results were similarly good.

Consider using SabrEx on both corn and beans in 2012.

Good luck with your information gathering the next few weeks.

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

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