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By Staff | Jan 6, 2012

2012 is now here and we have to wonder, “what is in store for us this year?” Can we expect a similar growing season, one that is close to that of last year, or will it be completely different?

Will the prices for the two major grains be within 20 percent of where they are now, or can we expect wider swings? Will the ag economy stay as strong as it has been, or will the uncertainty over in Europe affect our prices in the U.S?

And might we finally see a year where the crops don’t suffer through another season where diseases wipe out a fair percentage of the yield potential?

All are things that growers are wondering about and we will just see how things play out, trying to manage the things we can control and hoping for the best with those we can’t.

Getting the rest of the grain marketed is a task that many grain producers now need to get done.

It would be easy to conclude that selling the grain last summer when prices were pushing $7.50 and $13.50 were the right thing to do, the sky was the limit at that time. But with the presence of the searing temperatures and dry conditions that existed in the Midwest, going out on the limb to know how many bushels you may produce created too much uncertainty to feel secure in marketing too high of percentage of the crop.

Right now there is some strength in the prices that could escalate rapidly if usage maintains where it has been at. Being scared into selling too early last year by the “experts and commercials” is something that they remember and intend not to do this year.

The lack of soil moisture over two thirds of the state just throws an added level of uncertainty into the entire issue.

Planning schedule

Most individuals in charge of farming operations are busy in their methodical process of lining up all of the inputs for the coming season. Outsiders who see snow on the ground and sheds shut think that this is the time when grain farmers take their five-month break.

Many hog and other livestock farmers hold the same opinion, but there is sometimes nothing further from the truth. By now, most seed has been spoken for and this year many have taken delivery on a portion of the seed which was ordered last fall. Possession is nine tenths this year.

Now is when a high percentage have just been able to get herbicide prices and it is time to get products locked down.

In a lot of cases the shift in product usage, such as the return to conventional granular insecticides, is going to create shortages in 2012.

Such shortages are also likely to appear, perhaps short term, spot shortages could occur with certain herbicides due to the movement back to conventional products.

CRW concerns

About a month ago we were hearing that smart boxes were going to be essentially sold out and the predictions were being heard that granular products were next.

We are now at that point. The ‘he said , she said’ semi-public debate over the corn root worm Bt trait has been played out to some degree.

What farmers recognize is that many of their own fields have had problems with CRW for the last five to six years, but have not received any recognition of those incidents.

Those guys and ladies in those six states already acknowledge the need to manage insects through multi-year programs and will likely move their thinking and action in that direction.

Kip Culler’s yields

That tobacco-chewing, bib overall-wearing soybean-raising Missouri guru has done it again and posted winning yields again. Hats off to Kip Culler who yielded 160.6 bushels per acre.

He just loves to prove how little all the soybean experts in other Midwestern states truly understand what goes into raising such high yields. He can do it and they can’t and he is going to keep jamming that thought down their throats.

When a few of us were down at the soybean breeding conference a few years ago, two of the members of the discussion panel declared that obviously Kip was getting such high yields by having UFOs flying over the fields at night shooting energy waves down on the plants.

While visiting him I asked three questions:

  • Was it 30 or 35 milligrams of B12 foliar?
  • Two or three shots of Calcium?
  • Did he get a high cytokinin expression level?

He was quickly able to answer each and was ahead to the next question. Other growers who wish to repeat his record or even get close to it have to develop their technological knowledge to be able to incorporate ideas from such innovative growers.

There are a few of such soybean growers who are able to coach Iowa and Nebraska farmers in the quest. So if the guy or gal that you end up talking to is wearing bibs or shorts, don’t discount or ignore them. Not being able to think outside the box is a major handicap as Kip would say.

The crop updates

Be sure to check for the crop update sessions that will be held in your respective locations. They have been great meetings to attend in the past and are likely to be again in 2012.

Soil scientists

Over the past few years as a few of us growers and agronomists who have been visiting and studying the practices of a number of the high yield farming gurus and ‘outside the box’ researchers we have become more astute students of soil biology.

We have taken soil tests, dug roots and root pits, carved out root systems, smelled the soils, studied fertilizers and fertilizer application practices and learned as much as we could about soil microbiology.

The latest set of suit wearing and bib overall wearing expert are now relating that we also have to recognized that growing crops is a very complicated system that involves many different interrelated systems.

Being able to understand and manage those different systems, so they work together instead of against each other, is a challenge but something that we must do.

One good soil microbiologist that I visited with in the past weeks was Michael Melendez from New Mexico who works with, and markets, rhizosphere microbes.

He also does high level humate molecular research at Sandia National Energy Lab. What those are is the many species of small organisms that live in the carbohydrate and protein-based slime layers around the roots and work to supply the plants with needed nutrition during the growing season.

What he related is that each healthy corn plant produces a root system that weighs about a pound.

Then the microbial population that lives around, and in conjunction with, that root system weighs another 10 pounds. Thus the root mass and biological system for each plant totals about 11 pounds.

So a field planted at 36,000 population holds about 396,000 pounds of a living biological system.

Keeping that system alive and functioning at peak levels is what he has been studying and trying to teach.

In listening to Dr. Jerry Hatfield of the National Lab for Soils and the Environment, the challenge of maintaining our Midwestern cropping potential, which is supposed to produce enough grain to feed an increasing human population, is based on using our soil microbial knowledge to build the health of the soil so it functions at peak levels.

Its needs are to warm up quicker in the spring, allows greater levels of water infiltration when it needs to for plant usage during the summer months, and contains the biology that creates more nutrient release to hungry plants during their usage periods.

Enjoy any meetings you go to and learn as much as you can.

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

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