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By Staff | Jun 8, 2012

We all heard the admonition from our parents and our teachers as we were growing up of “If you can’t say anything good about something, don’t say anything at all.”

Thus, the best thing we can say so far about the spring’s weather and lack of rain over most of the Midwest is that the number and size of drowned out spots is minimal.

The El Nino wetter conditions we were promised don’t seem to have materialized. That leaves us watching the skies each night and morning and listening to the evening’s weather forecast hoping to hear that a major rain front is moving across the state to ease our dry conditions.

We can always hope. Actually I have never heard so many growers so early in the season say that they are ready to just let their declining crop go and take the insurance check since they took the 85 percent option.

Now, how many of the USDA forecasts have disclosed something like that when they predict this fall’s 14 billion bushel corn crop and 168 bushel per acre yield?

In much of central Iowa they don’t expect to top last year’s disappointing yields.

We lost one of Iowa agriculture’s front men, and funny men this week, when Mark Pearson died of a heart attack on Sunday. It was a shock to see such a fixture leave us so unexpectedly.

He and Bob Quinn, as well as Doug Cooper, have carried the mantle that Lee Cline and Keith Kirkpatrick carved out over the airways for the past 40 years. They let the news be generated by situations out in the fields, in the elevators, and from the local cafes that flavor our local landscape, and let the local news become just as important as any happening in Washington, D.C., or New York.

You can bet that Mark has already got something organized already in his new home over the rainbow.

Best wishes to his wife and kids and colleagues. He has left a big hole.

Field observations

By now everybody has heard about and read about rootless corn. It seems that a new analysis and perspective on it has been generated from most of the major corn growing states and their state corn expert. I mentioned in a previous article that we did see it several years in the early- and mid-1980s, but it was more of a local problem in those years.

Everyone still row-crop cultivated then, so the recommendation to row-crop cultivate and throw dirt against the stalk didn’t need any explanation. Everyone had a cultivator in their machine shed. Hooking it up and taking to the field was no big deal. This year many growers who recognized that using one was in their crops best interest often had to scout one out or even try to buy back the one they had just traded in the recent past.

The rootless corn syndrome is still with us in many parts of the state and it is getting ugly in some of those areas. Corn that is reaching 20 to 24 inches tall is tipping over without the anchoring the roots normally provide.

I heard from both Missouri and Illinois that their taller corn that is up to 36 inches tall is tipping over with the one lone root often ripping lose or rotting off. I got into a field in central Iowa Monday where the grower ran a hose in an area of rootless corn a week ago and watered several rows using about an inch of water. He was conducting a test to see if getting a rain was going to cure the problem and allow the plants to recover from the early rootless problems.

The results were not what I expected. Many of the plants grew some roots, but remained stunted by lack of proper root development. In other areas northeast of Fort Dodge, a nice 1 to 1.5 inches of moisture let the plants develop a normal size root system. In many cases growers can point to planter adjustments or closing wheels that had an influence on whether or not the problem occurred.

That malady, along with serious root rot problems with fusarium, rhizoctonia, pythium and phytophthora have been bad enough to force 15 to 25 percent of the acres to be or should have been replanted.

In some cases, the original planted seed had been supplemented with a double dose of Captan to help avoid kernel or seedling rot. Two years ago we saw fields where the entire first planting was lost to fusarium and 25 percent of the second planting was lost to the same disease. One can see the writing on the wall where better biologicals in the pseudomonas or other beneficial bacteria/fungal class will be introduced and adopted widely.

Something else that is continuing to show up is leaf yelling in the typical streaked pattern, as well as symptomology that is splotchier. We know the streaking pattern can be traced from one to eight different micronutrient deficiencies that can be tested for and diagnosed.

The splotchiness somewhat resembles sulfur deficiency, yet looks like the old SU yellow flash. So what is it? One thought that some agronomists have is that with the stressed conditions and possible low mineral conditions the plant is less able to handle stress or detoxify the herbicides that have been soil- or post-applied.

I was running my Spad meter on Saturday in one set of fields and the readings were all in the low 40s or below. Given the fact that we have had no flushing rainfall events to leach N03 downward, we had to conclude that low nitrogen conversion rates due to micro deficiencies had to be corrected to let the leaf color change back to dark green.

In this case we knew that adequate N rates had been used. Thus our conclusion was that it was not lack of N that was causing the leaf yellowing. This totally changed the farmer’s response management plan.

Tissue testing

We are now entering the time in which tissue tests can now be taken as a real time field diagnoses and a means of analyzing how well the soil-applied fertilizer is making its way into the plant.

It is surprising how many different groups and retailers have jumped onto the bandwagon and are now offering the sampling and analysis to their customers as a way of improving the management toolbox that growers can use to improve their crop-raising ability.

Over the past year, growers quietly tell us that at first they thought we were crazy for promoting the idea of tissue testing. But once they did it and found out that another 15, 20 or 25 Bu/A acre could be coaxed out of many of their fields using the information that such testing provided, they were expanding the program to all of their acres.

They liked the idea of getting a 10 or 25:1 return.

Most of the labs offering custom tissue testing will send out sampling bags if you call in and request them.

That must be working as Midwest Labs in Omaha has had to expand the size of its facility and staff to handle some of the greater work load that has been generated.

We are onto what might be the next horizon already. The country that is known for the best instrumentation in the world, the Netherlands, has a lab and group of consultants who has been doing sap testing for several seasons.

They work a lot with veggies, both in the field and in greenhouses, where fertility programs can be altered on a weekly or shorter basis and they demand up-to-the-minute fertility status updating. What this group is using is called sap testing.

In their analyses they think sap testing gives them a one- to two-week quicker indication of a fertility imbalance or shortage that can allow a quicker response to what the plants need. So my wife and I had to take a quick trip up to Fort Dodge on Sunday.

We pulled leaf samples along the entire drive that were UPS’d to the Netherlands on Monday.

If it proves valuable we could see such work find a home in a Midwest of South Eastern U.S. location.


No new bug problem to relate here except to tell that there is still black cutworm activity in many corn fields. They can still feed on and kill 24-inch tall corn. Different species of moths are still flying.

With the second week of June being the start of the traditional first generation corn borer flights, expect to see them shortly flying around in the grassy ditches and field margins.

Without regard to the effects of Bt hybrids, 2012 was predicted to be the peak year of the five-year cycle.

Anyone who planted non-Bt hybrids should be watching catch counts or running their own light traps.

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

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