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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Mar 14, 2012

The warm weather continues as we march closer to the 2012 growing season.

Looking at the calendar now we could surmise that unless we begin to get heavy and soaking rains, planters will be at work by the first week in April with a few adventuresome types out a bit earlier.

Past experience tells that once one guy drives down the road and unfolds the markers all hell breaks loose in the neighborhood, whether that response is justified or not.

If the ground is fit and the soil temp is close to 50 degrees, how can a person not be planting?

The answer to that question would hinge on how observant that grower is of the seven-day weather forecast and of updates from his seed supplier(s).

If the next day or two contains a high probability of a cold rain and a switch to colder conditions, it may be best to wait until the danger of that cold rain is passed.

This may not be the year to push the early planting envelope due to expected low or nonexistent replant supplies.

Corn rootworm

All winter the magazines were full of stories giving the details of rootworms in different geographies surviving to feed and do damage to genetically resistant varieties.

Stories are good, but growers generally don’t spend lots of money on something they have not actually seen or have justification for purchasing. The status of planter boxes, smart boxes and granular product is that sales were brisk and all supplies were all reserved more than a month ago.

If you tried to find some now, good luck, even if you know the company people very well. Does all of that activity sound like the damage was just occurring on one tenth of one percent of the second year corn acres, or that there has been a widespread problem brewing for a while and it just got bigger in 2011?

Using those products is not something that any growers are looking forward to.

Smart boxes make it easier, but product flow varies with each batch and being around the smelly ones used to be nauseating.

But they generally worked and will have to again. People have asked which ones gave the best performance. That all seemed to vary depending on solubility ratings, amount of rain, and when the feeding occurred based on number of days after application.

One aspect that has not been mentioned and should be is that the different products could be classified by what the primary, secondary and tertiary metabolites were and how those metabolites were ranked for toxicity versus the original product.

For example, Counter, which as early as 30 years ago, is more toxic as one moves down the breakdown chain.

What is going to be tough is getting to know the many interactions between, say insecticide families, herbicide families and genetic families.

The availability of safteners included in the herbicides will make things easier and should lessen problems, but we always saw that cool weather and cloudy conditions influenced how those three parameters intersected along with the P450 Cyto-Chrome system.

What that refers to is one of the two physiological degradation pathways that plants use to detoxify herbicides. There is the P-450 system and then the GST, or glutathione S-Transferase, which refers to the system that breaks down members of the metolachlor and acetachlor family.

The last few families that have been introduced were never included in published guidelines, but have to be one or the other. Genetic families varied as to their degree of activity and this showed in the screening trials.

When a writer from Minnesota was doing a story about the new CRW problem, my response last fall was, “what new problem?” The year when triple stacks were tried as experimentals in the Williams area stalks fell over by mid-August.

There was always too much genetic variation in the hatch date for the populations around the state and Midwest to expect perfect control from a simple strategy.

Bugs have not lasted this long by not being adaptable and it appears that multi-year approaches will have to be used again.

Plant cross talk

There are few soil microbiologists around. Plus the good ones realize that there is a whole lot more they don’t know about the 80 percent of the bugs they have not identified that what they know, so they typically don’t seek or gain the limelight.

Research summaries reiterate the 80 percent figure and estimate that they know a lot about maybe 2 percent of the species. That leaves a big knowledge gap about the role of those macrobes and how they operate and how they affect plants.

Then in the next related field of science, one called “cross talk,” is the communication that takes place between plants and the microbes that live in the soil around the roots, waiting to either establish a symbiotic relationship with them or to attack them.

There have been a few products on the market that began to affect this system in plants and were an attempt to increase yields, mostly by reducing stress susceptibility.

Those were the harpenes and then the LCOs that are in certain inoculants or Torque from EMC (now Novozyme).

The hoped-for tool that such scientists who were working on cross talk was a tool or instrument that would let them detect the chemical, hormonal signal, elicitor compounds that were thought to be formed by the plants and released into the rhizosphere.

In recent months there have been advances in this science among the handful of researchers working in such a minute, yet important area of plant research.

In my visit to labs in Argentina this week I have been working and talking to some people who are involved in such work. A few in the U.S. are also on the forefront.

Chronic botulism

The problem with chronic botulism in Germany and part of the upper U.S. continues way below the radar.

A few of us are gathering reports and evidence of its existence and what it is doing to animals, people and infants.

The news sites got scrubbed clean about a month ago, but some excellent lab research has been compiled. It is astounding in its effect.

Science of epigenetics

The presence of one gene was always thought to control the expression of one trait.

Then they mapped the human and corn genomes and the biophysics PhDs concluded it was the electromagnetic relationship of four or five gene loci that determined the expression of a trait.

That work progressed and those scientists now have all the evidence that there is another complete control mechanism that combines the workings of the chromosomes with the total environmental exposures the chromosomes endure.

This is called epigenetics. Now in a very recent study that was funded by the U. S. Department of Defense and the Department of Health, a research group has completed a major project and found that environmental exposure of test mammals to several chemicals at levels thought to cause problems, caused mutations that appeared three generations later, typically manifesting themselves as chronic disease or cancer.

This could make waves in many areas.

South America

I generally like to keep track of what is going on, and it was time to visit a few friends and good scientists, so we find ourselves in South America once again.

It is my 10th trip down here. There was not as much need to escape cold weather in the U.S. as it is comfortably warm in Iowa and still hot in SA.

So far we have been in many corn and bean fields and seen how things look, but it is impossible to summarize other than to note the large variability based on planting dates.

They double crop and plant a multitude of crops over a six month time period. Things were terribly hot and dry in December, January and the first part of February.

Lately, the rains have been plentiful as evidenced by the hordes of mosquitoes. I will tell more about them next week. It may have an effect on many of you.

As a complete surprise when we were visiting two hours west of Buenos Aires, the center of the ag research world in Argentina, and got word that a contingent of Iowa State students and two agronomy professors were visiting.

We were asked to greet them and say a few words. The very inquisitive group members looked well fed and like they were greatly enjoying the sights and sounds of a new and different country.

Their parents can rest assured they are in good hands.

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

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