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By Staff | Dec 30, 2011

Here we are at the end of 2011 ready to roll in the New Year. Here’s to everyone who rode this strange rollercoaster of a year and survived the bumps and bruises.

From a distance and likely to most city dwellers farming looks easy, especially with the higher grain prices. From close up and living it, we can see the cliffs and drop offs that seem steeper and more coated with ice than they used to be. What will the coming year bring for weather, markets and other challenges? No one ever said it would be easy, so fasten your thinking caps and seat belts. Bring it on.

The weather

What was this past year in meteorological terms? Besides calling it very erratic, it was similar to about half the years in the past decade when we experienced both very wet and very dry months.

It was much warmer than normal in June and July, then cooled off considerably in August. While much of Ohio and other points east of the Mississippi experienced their wettest year on record, parts of Illinois and of western and northern Iowa had some of the driest months and quarters in many years.

Currently, many growers in north central and northwest parts of the state have had less than one inch of rain since early July. It will take about 10 inches of rain soaking into the profile to fill things up and enhance the chances of producing trend line yields in 2012.

It was a year for major tornadoes in many parts of the country, with Mapleton getting nailed on the local level.

Joplin and Tuscaloosa gained national headlines for the huge twisters that ripped through their communities. Until this year how many of us had ever heard of a derecho, which was the straight line storm that marched across Nebraska and Iowa and clear to the Atlantic ocean around July 12.

It nailed the corn crop in many of the top producing counties, typically lowering yields by 30 to 70 bushels and making harvest an eye-straining and machinery-challenging task. Those growers who had installed auto steer and cat whiskers felt very lucky for those new add-ons.

We are hearing more about conditions in South America and how LaNina has brought the return of very hot and very dry weather to many areas.

Many of the soils do not have the moisture-holding capacity that soils in our Midwest do, so their farmers will feel just like many of us did during the desert-like conditions we endured this past summer.

It may help prices up in the U.S., but those growers feel just like we did after watching the crops wither away.

Corn on corn

I spent part of last week’s column discussing the do’s and don’t’s of raising second-year corn. Based on the amount of fall-applied nitrogen there will be a measurable increase of those acres.

Smoothing out the big yield swings that we saw on a portion of those acres in both 2010 and 2011 would be beneficial to those growers and the overall corn supply.

Concerning control of volunteer corn, because Goss’ wilt was quite severe for many growers in all sections of the state – with lodging at levels of up to 95 percent – the threat of having a problem with heavy volunteer corn is likely as great as we have ever seen it.

Those growers who had severe lodging were typically estimating that they left 30 or more bushels laying on the ground, unable to get the snouts under the rotted stalks.

In many situations the shanks had rotted enough that dropped ears was again a major concern.

What is the easy answer on how to manage this “weed” problem? Outside of running row-crop cultivators again to remove those plants, most growers likely don’t have a simple and easy option, especially if they planted hybrids resistant to post-emerge non-selective herbicides.

We can hope for the best and that those ears and kernels will rot survive the winter, but that does not always happen.

Let’s see, 30 bushels per acre, times 90,000 kernels per bushel is a big number. How many of those will still be viable next spring?

My gut feel is that new sweeps will be put on the cultivators in preparation for a cultivating field crrossing.

With many of the ethanol plants situated north of I-80 on flatter ground where terraces are not as numerous and the fields have fewer point rows, row crop cultivation is more of a possibility.

One good answer for the future would be for a thoughtful seed company in cooperation with BASF to dust off the early 1990s research and begin to develop and sell Poast Tolerant hybrids again.

It was an inexpensive product, did a good job of controlling the weeds, was developed by a weed specialist at the University of Minnesota and those varieties were traditional breeding, not GMO.

The original hurdle was that one product manager demanded a 14 times level of tolerance rather than the usual four times, thus both parents had to be converted, which slowed and increased the cost of the final varieties.

I was involved with that work, and it sadly fell by the wayside. There was a cheap cost involving no tech fee, it was effective, there was a wide window of application and there was no export challenge.

Insect challenges

The issue of corn root worm resistance is still a big topic. I know the guys who had problems with the traits back about five years ago didn’t show up in magazines or write a peer reviewed paper about their problems.

They still had corn flat on the ground by mid-August and the crop was reduced in size and difficult to harvest.

Switching traits may work for a while, but it looks like long term we need to take multi-year approaches to controlling insects.

Meaning adult beetle control is the program that we may hope to achieve.

Weed control programs

In the next month, if you have not done so already, it will be time to book your weed management products from you local or regular supplier.

There is a movement back to conventional herbicides whether they are using tolerant crops or not. Many of our major weeds have adapted to the common program and we are seeing the flushes of weeds that germinate and emerge later in the season.

Applying only post-emerge products sounded easy, but now that the germination window of the weed bank seeds is much wider, we need to adapt our thinking to what the weeds are now doing.

Goss’ wilt

Most Midwest growers have now heard about it, they have seen it, have battled it, and have lost bushels to it.

So what are you doing about it on your acres? I had the chance to spend time with a top pathologist two weeks ago at a seminar and visit about it.

One question asked was if he thought Goss’ was going to reach more severe levels and appear earlier than it did in 2011.

This person believed so due to the inoculum being at higher levels and so much residue still intact during this wussy winter.

Then we discussed the battle plan that needs to be enacted. We know that fighting the bacterial disease includes genetic, cultural, biological, and nutritional battles.

Most growers know enough to choose more tolerant varieties and many have attempted to force residue degradation.

Those two things should help. Next up they also need to learn about the biological and nutritional battles and get their battle plans and products ready for the coming season.

That will mean being ready with the seed applied SabrEx Trichoderma and micronutrient mixes that have helped keep plants healthy when tissue tests and leaf symptomology indicate deficiencies exist.

Enjoy the New Year holiday and be safe. Lots of people need you.

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

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