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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Apr 27, 2012

So far there seems to be no way to summarize the season’s weather except to say that it has been erratic. Just when we believed an early spring was in order and expected with most Midwestern farmers getting the majority of their crops planted by late April, Mother Nature reinforces the idea that she is still in charge.

Most of the soils in the area needed a major amount of moisture recharge, so no one hopes that it quits raining. We just need that seven to 10 days of warm and clear weather where all the days will be suitable for fieldwork and everything flows smoothly.

In time that will happen and hopefully that time will be within the next two weeks. Already the feed and industrial users of corn that had planned to use this fall’s new crop corn in the old crop time period have seen that supply disappear.

Not many meteorologists called it perfectly, but one from Rockford, Ill. was the one who predicted that very little corn would get planted between April 15 and 29.

So far that outlandish prediction has been accurate. We will have to see yet how much moisture falls on Wednesday to see how much planting progress gets completed this week.

Guessing when the price top will come this season seems trickier than in other recent seasons. China needs grain to feed its growing population and many of the southern hemisphere countries that normally supply the counter-seasonal grain have had their weather challenges, many of whom have not been reported on accurately to U.S. producers.

Other factors related to prices are ethanol plants still running at full speed even though the price is down, as well as more animals on feed in the countryside. Now is when prices used to take a dive, especially with all the expected corn acres. What is happening with many growers is that if they had swing acres they are trying to outguess the contrarians.

Those acres could still swing in either direction depending on planting date and borrowing costs.

Rainfall amounts

Much of the state got its first measurable rain in about seven months two weekends ago. That seemed like a good and welcome event, but not for everyone. Getting a 2- to 4-inch rain to help fill the profile eased lots of cropping minds as those amounts went a long ways towards filling the moisture deficit that existed across the Midwest.

However there were corn farmers in the state, east central, western and southwest Iowa that had just gotten done planting their first fields on their rolling ground. The rate of rain exceeded the infiltration rate on those fields and the results were not pretty.

In a number of them the erosion was severe and many seed furrows were scoured as deep as the double disk openers on the planters operated. Even though many of them had not been tilled at all the stands were lost and they will have to replant.

Complicating the situation is the fact that they hate to till the highly erodible ground and in some cases can’t due to conservation rules, yet how are they supposed to get a decent seed bed without field cultivating or using similar equipment.

In many cases there is also the problem with washed seeds germinating and emerging where they are not needed and crowding out the replanted stands. They need to kill those seeds, but only after they germinate and emerge, and then what does one do if the original seeds were resistant to glyphosate or Liberty? Then is any Liberty seed available of a newer Goss’ tolerant variety available?

This would be another case where Poast tolerant corn would fit a nice niche for a genetics firm willing to invest in it again after working with the University of Minnesota.

Early-planting woes

By now most Iowa and Nebraska corn growers have heard of the farmers in Illinois who took advantage of the 80-degree weather in March by having a high percentage of their acres planted by April 1.

Some of those first acres actually went in around March 10 through 15. Doing so sounded great and it was the thing to do in 2011. At this point it looks like it was not the thing to do, as the freezing temps of two weeks ago reached those areas and dropped into the 28-degree range and below.

Word on what has happened to those stands is now getting out and the word is not good. Apparently the dry soils allowed the cold air to penetrate the soils down into the root crown area and freeze the small plants. So those are gone.

Then Em Nafzinger, an Extension agronomist for Illinois, wrote about his observations of the corn plants and stands back in 2005 when similar damage occurred. His warning and word of advice was that when small plants have several of their leaves frozen off their sugar producing ability is compromised and they become weakened and noncompetitive with neighboring plants.

When he compared yields from damaged fields in 2005 with both non-damaged fields and replanted fields he saw a 25- to 50-bushel yield decrease. His advice was that given the current early date and expected early replant date he would tear up those fields and replant. That is what those growers expected but not what they wanted to hear. It’s just a tough love situation for Nafzinger and those farmers.

As far as what growers here should do with nice weather expected for the middle of this week, with cold and rain for the weekend, they will have their own decisions to make. It’s too nice if the ground is fit to sit idle. We have seen enough years since 1991 where if we didn’t take advantage of warm and fit soils to plant we ended up losing.

Planters will be rolling the middle through end of the week. Corn growers should plant their medium and heavier weighted seed and those varieties known to be better at emerging in cool soils.

A few companies have released information that they have seen in-bag seed germs drop since their December and January testing for reasons unknown. It could get very interesting in the next few weeks yet if those seedlings struggle. It may be good to store seed samples for later testing if needed.

Maggot threat

With the warmer winter most growers and entomologists are expecting higher-than-average insect pressures this season. This theory is bound to come true. Then with the many strong south and southwest winds that will blow cutworm moths here from their overwintering sites in Mexico and Texas, we have to be alert to the greater-than-normal threat to young corn stands, especially in fields sustaining a moderate to heavy mustard population.

Be sure to scout the stands in any cornfield containing no-till or mustards.

The other insect that seems to be here in abnormally high numbers is that of the seed corn maggot fly. Those are the lazy, slow-moving smaller bodied flies that were sitting all over every building and shed about two weeks ago. They will head to any field where decaying vegetation exists and could lay eggs that will produce small larvae ready to attack any unprotected corn, bean, or alfalfa plant.

Using a seed treatment of a neo-nic variety is the best bet against them.

On another note the feeding on volunteer bean plants by bean leaf beetles in Nebraska is heavy.

Burndown blues

Will this be “the year of the weeds that won’t die?”

Even before waterhemp has become a problem most growers who are using minimum- or no-till are fighting a heavier and earlier flush of grasses and broadleaf weeds.

An open winter and warmer soils have promoted heavier populations of a number of different broadleaf weeds. Managing them with residual and burndown products is a necessity, given the fact that many of them are not killed by glyphosate anymore. Thus we are seeing Atrazine, metribuzin, Aim, Authority and Kixor mixes being used to knock those weeds down and clean up fields.

2, 4-D is often in the mix, but supplies have been tight in places so it has not always been a possibility. Gramoxone is often used, but more guys would sooner use a product that provides a degree of residual control if they are going to spend the money. What will things be like if every crop that is genetically altered for some form of herbicide resistance aids in the creation of new resistant weed biotypes?

Then we will have even fewer tools in the toolbox of products to use.

In talking to an industry person yesterday, the discussion among fungicide and insecticide people is along the same lines. Any weed, bug or disease organism that is capable of multiple generations in a season or producing lots of offspring has the greatest chance of developing resistance in the future.

Perhaps we need an independent oversight committee of wise, contrarian-thinking growers and scientists determining if each of the new things that could be developed, whether product or variety wise, is a good thing.

It may mean that the new product, be it chemical or biological in nature that seems ‘far out” is what we will be relying on in the future.

All the GPS and traits don’t mean squat in the future if nature has already allowed newer competition to evolve.

Good luck with planting.

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

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