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By Staff | Jan 20, 2012

The weeks seem to be rolling along and, given the fact that we are spending very little time each day shoveling or pushing snow, are getting more done than normal.

That is great after having consecutive tough winters where livestock, humans, and wildlife had a rough time surviving. The glancing snowstorm that blew through and dropped its maximum show load in southeast Iowa was a reminder of what cold weather felt like.

Having to drive down to St. Louis through it on Thursday was more of a challenge than I thought possible as the roads were very slick in areas.

One of the larger USDA reports was released two weeks ago. It gave the latest guess on the size of each state’s corn crop along with the national carryout. It created a very negative tone, even though it left everyone really questioning its accuracy.

This seems to be borne out by elevator personnel who tell of ethanol plants pleading with them to deliver corn ASAP, as well as growers who are seeing the basis narrow given the time of year.

Another point brought out is that somehow the nation’s meat output grew 14 percent, while using 9 percent less corn. This was after it was thought that most guys were already feeding the maximum amount of DDGs.

So will we or won’t we run out of grain or will the amount of rationing needed occur? Lying on top of those figures is the fact that parts of South America are having severe drought problems, or the near opposite, that could limit their production.

2012 rainfall

The amount of moisture currently stored in the top five feet of soil is the wild card going into this year’s growing season. Having driven through the state and seeing how low some of the major streams and rivers currently are is a strong example of the droughty conditions we’re under.

It will make every grower want to file for the higher degree of coverage in case there is a short crop.

I was downloading off an old computer this week and ran across an Elwynn Taylor article written in the fall of 2003. In that article, he was telling how the just-completed statewide soil moisture survey detected some of the lowest amount of stored moisture in recent history.

The next spring turned out to be cool and dry with some of the earliest fieldwork and planting completion dates on record. Once it began to rain those ample rains continued.

The temps remained very cool and most growers in the Midwest ended up with some of their highest yields on record. The moral of the story might be that timely rains are possible and could lead to good growing conditions.

We have to plan for the best and prepare for the worst.

No-till conference

The national no-till conference was held in St Louis last weekend. The crowd for the big show numbered 900 people plus exhibitors. There were many good speakers with the majority being actual working farmers who got dirty and spent every year trying something new and often entering new cropping territory, where there weren’t many answers written in stone.

The crowd in general possessed a different look from the ones in most major ag shows where bigger was always considered better.

Here the major goal of the people attending was how to preserve the soil and how to improve it over the years.

Dr. Jerry Hatfield, who designed the scientific program for ISU’s tilth lab, told us the only way to reverse the downward trend on corn yields was to manage the soil to capture an additional 4 to 5 inches of spring time moisture for use later in the summer.

But in recent years, rains have been very scarce.


There was a major study released by a credible Purdue entomologist this week. It surprised a bunch of us that the report saw the light of day, given its implications in many areas.

The study looked at and found major amounts of one of the neo nic insecticides that had been seed-applied was being released during planting operations, often bound onto excess talc that was being expelled by the corn and bean planters.

This insecticide, which affects the neural pathways, was then proving to be picked up by foraging honeybees and severely affecting them.

They were dying, unable to navigate back to their hives, or ending up weakened enough that mites and other parasites could kill them. This has been talked about in the German press, but never here.

The other item that has been getting a bit of press and could be categorized as out of the ordinary would be the appearance of a major problem with what is called chronic botulism in beef and dairy herds in Europe.

Two weeks ago there were stories and pictures on the web that were very detailed and somewhat gruesome. By the start of this week, most of the stories and all of the pictures had been pulled.

There are two theories that I have heard that could be leading to the problem. Is anyone else hearing about middle age and previously healthy cattle either dropping over dead or suffering a quick and major decline in health?

Check this out if you wish. I have run across a few cattlemen in the state that told me of similar circumstances in their herds that sounded eerily similar.

Nutrient cycling

Plants, algae and several forms of bacteria are the only forms of life that can take sunlight energy and convert to sugars.

Besides those sugars, plants also use that sunlight energy to build plant material that is composed of other C02 and minerals extracted from the soil.

We harvest parts of those plants in the form of grain and the rest if left either laying on the soil surface or incorporated through tillage activity.

There continues to be a debate on the best way of managing that residue. We know we need decent residue cover to absorb the impact of the raindrops while we also recognize that the appearance of Goss’s wilt causes us to work towards less surviving residue.

Students of healthy soil recognize that their goal should be to foster microbial and macrobial growth that will work to degrade the residue, quickly rturning it into organic matter and humus.

This will become the soil sponge, as well as promoting quicker nutrient cycling – last year’s stored nutrients available quicker for use by this year’s this new plants.

Herbicides, safteners

Back in the mid-1990s and earlier we were using lots of herbicides that typically did their job, but carried a risk of damaging the crop if overlaps were made or certain weather conditions occurred.

More of those products are going to be used again in the next few years as we have to battle resistant weeds by using the older ones again.

In those days we saw many cases where certain genetic families were those most affected. Unfortunately, what was known about these herbicides’ mode-of-action by genetic family was a hot potato that neither the herbicide or seed companies wanted to publicize, since what was occurring involved a gray area that few understood.

At the time there were only three or four good pesticide degradation toxicologists, who had a good plant physiology understanding, who understood the relationships and could explain the problems.

To do so meant they had to be experts in knowing about the GST and Cytochrome P450 degradation systems. That knowledge base and published information may have to be dusted off again and used.

The big advantage is that information gained from their work and the work of chemists in Germany and with Rhone Poulenc/Adventis/Bayer on safteners that can be seed-applied or mixed with the herbicides, will be what we will be using once again.

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

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