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By Staff | Feb 17, 2012

Not having much winter weather through January makes tolerating these few weeks of cold temps tolerable. A few people are starting to mention how little time actually exists now before the typical time when planting begins in previous early planting seasons.

In previous seasons in the last decade we have seen planters rolling by the first week in April or actually the last few days in March. Currently it’s only six weeks away. Six weeks is not that much time in which to finalize the many preparations that are normally required.

The big Iowa Power Farming Show was held in Des Moines the last days of January and first few days of February.

What was nice at this year’s show was the sense of optimism that the farmers and ag business people displayed. Producers need to be optimists to keep planting a crop every year, expecting the best weather and growing season to be delivered every year. Decent grain prices have been a plus.

Any negative vibes that were felt were based mostly on the higher land rents and input costs for the 2012 season. Having a breakeven corn price of $6 dollars on a portion of the acres sure throws a high degree of risk in a dry year.

Soil moisture

More people in the U.S. are beginning to recognize that a significant section of the most productive part of the country has a soil moisture profile that has a gauge on it reading close to empty.

That leaves us open to three possibilities. The first is that we get enough rain this spring to fill a majority of the profile’s 10 to 12 inches of capacity. However if that happens it will likely mean that such rainfall would also make the ground wet enough that planting would be delayed, possibly long enough to hurt yield potential.

The second option is that the moisture profile never gets recharged, leaving both crops highly dependent on receiving very timely summer rains during June, July and August. If that is the case we could see a situation like 1988 where those that rushed to get planted early saw their corn yields lowered, sometimes by 50 bushels per acres less than the acres planted in late May that capitalized on the rains that arrived after Aug. 18.

In a case such as this either earlier hybrids or full-season hybrids planted later could have the advantage if rains during the early summer time period don’t meet the crop needs.

With the expected scramble for seed supply, there is little excess supply to allow any shifting of maturities. In the case of soybeans, we saw that the combination of the early freeze and completely running out of moisture did hurt yields.

The big criteria in this topic is when will the weather pattern shift from La Nina to El Nino causing moisture from the Gulf to resume flowing north into the Midwest.

The third possibility would be that rain remains scarce until crop maturity and they need to develop, pollinate and fill the grain on less than a normal moisture amount.

In that case we will see crops planted in fields that have been managed in a manner that deepened the root profile and fertilized such that minerals such as sulfur and possibly silica and calcium that have an influence on yields are adequate will outperform crops in neighboring fields.

The topic of plant population has been discussed for corn. What we saw back in 1983 and 1988 was that planting and obtaining an even and normal stand is still desired.

In fields where plant stands were erratic the sunlight hit the soils directly and pushed soil surface temps well above 130 degrees.

This was about 40 degrees higher than if the sunlight was intercepted by the standing plants. Anyone who pushes stands to the max could regret doing so.

Drought management

The other questions that are being asked often focus on how to help their crops if conditions stay dry.

Last week I mentioned work done in growth chambers in Israel where bacteria that inhabit the surface of the leaves were supplemented by select strains of bacteria that increased the drought tolerance of the treated plants.

I have pictures from those experiments on my desktop computer. The appearance of the difference in the treated versus untreated plants was dramatic. Anyone seeing them would be very interested in learning more about those bacteria.

I often mention the website called “Chat N Chew Cafe,” which is an on-line summary of each state’s IPM newsletter from the past weeks. It typically gives a clue as to what the hot topics of discussion and research are over the major cropping states. Just lately there was a senior semi-retired agronomist who gave his impression about what he called ‘foo-foo’ dust products.

Such early and uneducated evaluations about something that we are not wise enough or insightful enough to fully understand can often comeback and bite a person because there may be validity in a products usage.

The bacteria I mentioned were what are called PPFMs. Dr. Joe Polacco, the U.S. expert on urease, which is needed for plants to build proteins and his top grad student, Dr. Mark Holland, had accidentally discovered them when they were incubating leaf punches in lab experiments and were continually confounded by a pink-colored bacterial contaminant. The pair finally surmised that maybe the bacteria were there by design and needed to be researched.

The research has continued on a small scale and more of the bacteria’s usage benefits have been quantified. Within Iowa an ISU researcher has been studying them and was a contributor to a textbook called “The Phylloplane Bacteria.” We have found dedicated sources of strains selected for cytokinin and B12 overproduction.

The foo-foo Chat n Chew reader denigrates anyone who may consider the wild idea of foliar applying sugar. But Ray Rawson, he of the 9,000-plus acres of 95 bushel soybeans, applies sugar to his bean leaves.

Understanding how that works requires the mentality that permits playing chess, since the application causes a cascade of physiological processes that force flowering, side branch and root formation along with a boost in rhizosphere activity.

I was curious about the science behind it and ended up in a top level plant physiologist’s university office in northern California. He had worked on the topic for years at the PhD level, understood it very well, and his pet crop was soybeans.

He explained 14 benefits and one negative result from foliar-applying sugar to the bean crop as seen in his research trials. That knowledge has been valuable to high yield proponents and has permitted increased insight into crop production.

Micronutrient seminar

A series of local meetings will be held in North Bend, Neb. on Thursday, in Spencer on Friday and in Fort Dodge on Feb. 25.

There will be at least four presenters who have about 160 years of combines experience in raising crops and advising on how to improve plant health.

For more information, contact (515) 370-3381 or Steve Doster at (515) 351-1136. You will need to RSVP to help with meal counts.

A $25 preregistration charge will be refunded at the meeting. It should be an excellent meeting. Look for a meeting announcement in this paper.

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

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