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By Staff | Feb 24, 2012

The winter, or lack thereof, is still the big topic of discussion. When do we get to pay for getting off so easy, especially we of European descent, whose parents used to walk or ride in sleights over telephone wires that were buried by 15-foot drifts.

This year most of central and northern Iowa have accumulated less than 4 inches of snow. That makes it very close to zilch. At the present time, it appears that the full brunt of the cold and snow is being delivered to the European countries.

No one is speculating if this is the loss of the Atlantic current that global cooling advocates had predicted. Either way, the citizens of many European countries are battling the elements like they never have before.

It is interesting to read different meteorologists ‘analyses of what is causing the strange times. I do like best the data and interpretation put forth in the Browning newsletter. In it they examine the eruptions of several major volcanoes in Russia and Iceland seen the last year. They believe that the eruptions have spewed sun-blocking debris into the atmosphere to create high-pressure zones that have blocked the cold air to the north of the U.S., as well as the Gulf moisture from pushing into the Midwest.

When and where those fronts move is still a mystery, since there have been no, or few, similar events like it in history.

Making marketing decisions is tougher since there are several major considerations on each side with no guidance as to:

  • Whether a big crop or a small corn crop is in the cards for 2012.
  • Will rainfall be scarce this spring making every timely rain very precious, meaning the crop will be walking a tightrope through the summer months.
  • Will the 94 million corn acres happen or will they not?
  • What happens in the global economy and the saber rattling in Iran? Wow, weighing all of those factors makes one’s head hurt.

Corn supply/carryover

A few months ago all the price projects greatly favored raising corn over soybeans. The high cash rents pushed many growers in that direction, even though it was not their first or second choice.

Having a corn/bean price ratio over 2.0 does that and in light of ethanol and feed demand corn usage looked to support the corn price much more than it did soybeans.

But in bullish consensus fashion the pendulum has swung in beans’ favor the last weeks. Now in light of the fact that the soils are dry and seed corn supplies may be tighter than thought, several prudent-thinking growers are beginning to think that it may be wise when laying their pre-emerge herbicides down to remain flexible if they unexpectedly have to plant soybeans in a field.

Another thought I had when driving back from Chicago on Sunday and looking at the countryside and fields that looked more like they should in mid-April was that if the daily high temps climb into the 60s during late March and the fields remain dry the aggressive operators will begin to think about planting and may actually get started doing so.

And if conditions remain good and they see more guys get the planters out, more acres will get planted. Any late cold spell that cools the ground and allows fusarium seeding could cause stand losses and a need to replant corn – seed that no one may be able to deliverr. That may be a wild, yet plausible “what if.”

Such happenings will likely spur big discussions about what the actual size of the corn carryover will be.

Few growers actually think the last reports were accurate, instead believing that the reports were another attempt to induce them to sell at lower prices than they could in early summer.

Analysts with several major firms thought the same way and expect more accurate numbers to finally surface.

Recent conference

The On Farm Network conference was held last week in Ames. This was an assembly of 600-plus who wanted to hear from the group that is funded by the Iowa Soybean Board. The group’s goal is to do research on different products, input items and cropping schemes to see or prove what works and what might not.

A lot of it was the type of research that was once done at the university, but the scale of things and the fund have change. Thus interested growers can follow the framework and network that this group offers. It is good to be aware of the topics/problems they are working on and the specifics of their testing.

The advent of global positioning systems and combine monitors has made it more possible for dedicated growers to do the strip testing in an approved fashion that gives the low variability that research demands.

Then by sharing data that is generated in the different fields and farm sites, the larger number of locations and reps will gain accuracy and value.

This year they looked at different fertilizer products, different N application timing and methods, and different application practices.

Included were trials on the use of foliar micronutrients. It sounds like what they thought was going to be a non-issue turned out to be a very pertinent topic and requires more validation.

Coupled with the On Farm Network was the spring Consultants’ Tech conference. No groundbreaking information was presented. That was good as enough new challenges are already in place for growers and crop advisors.

Warm weather/insects

Quite a few experts were voicing their opinions on whether the nice weather will be conducive to insect survival and if we can expect more insect problems this spring.

Based on past experience gained in other years, we will have to conclude that theses mild days are great for insect survival.

Every critter that can survive a winter near Columbia, Mo., has likely found conditions in central Iowa very conducive so far.

So the little bugs that typically can overwinter here if we have a mild winter are good candidates for survival. This would include the small beetles such as flea beetles, bean leaf beetles and stink bugs.

Those that survive in the egg or larval stage such as corn root worms and corn borers are also more likely to survive. All of these can cause problems with newly emerged seedlings and small plants, thus early scouting will be needed with treatment recommended if ETs are met. It also better justifies the use of seed applied insecticides. We have to ask if any neo-nics will be around a year from now given the findings of the Purdue study.

This could be bad news for corn growers who are planting second-year corn or who have had problems in the past with extended diapause or western variant fields.

A second factor to consider is that last year’s dry weather caused deep cracking that would have allowed corn root worm beetles to lay their eggs deeper in the soil, which typically increases their survival rate.

Power Show thoughts

Dan and Andy Muff won the unofficial contest for best display booth at the recent Power Show.

They used the booth to display for their dead-on dribblers, which are sprayer attachments that allow growers to apply fertilizer or pest control products at the base of the plants after emergence and right at the time those products are needed

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

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