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By Staff | Jul 13, 2012

Was it hot enough for everyone last week? The statistics have been finalized and the weeks will officially go on record as being the hottest week on record in the state.

However states just to our south were hotter than we were, so we have to give their inhabitants credit for surviving even tougher conditions. In the fields it was brutal on most of the afternoons, as without any breeze it was tough to breathe at times.

Comparisons with the drought of 1988, which all meteorologists have tried avoiding, are becoming more and more numerous. All we can do is suck it up, quit our whining and get on with the work that needs to be done.

From the air

I had the chance to go flying on Sunday morning in a small plane a few hundred feet above the crops. You can’t hide flaws or warts in the crop from up above. It was enlightening to see how the crops in central Iowa looked.

The first impression with the corn was how uneven the fields looked from the air. Typically, all the plants in a field will tassel within a few days of each other. This year the process seems to be happening over a week or more. Most fields were still green, but the sandy spots or where compaction was a problem such as on end rows or where a heavy four-wheeler had run, were wilting down quite a bit.

The unevenness is evident from the roads even by casual observers. Being behind with pollinating and filling may not be a bad thing this year.

The soybeans were another story. About a third of the fields had major sections with poor or no stands as it was evident that seeds were either laid in dry dirt or the soils dried out before the roots could get established. Then it looked like any overlap or nuzzling problems that led to an over-application of the herbicide left the plants very yellow and stunted. Recovering from such damage may be very slow this year.

Crop ratings

On the nationwide scene, the crop ratings continue to decline. Everyone who has taken road trips through the affected areas is verifying the national ratings. The enormity of the drought and heat problems is beginning to be heard beyond the farming community as the populace begins to recognize the ramifications of how many products they use have to be produced annually via natural rainfall. Too often they think that food is produced at the grocery stores.

Nationally the corn and bean crops are rated as about 40 percent good to excellent. In the main three “I” states plus Nebraska and Minnesota the results are very mixed. Indiana’s crops are 12 percent good to excellent. Illinois is a bit better at 20 and 19 percent, respectively, for corn and beans.

Iowa is at 48 and 46 percent. Ratings at those levels are now causing crop size forecasters to start abandoning dreams of a 14 billion bushel crop size. Sooner or later they will have to accept reality and a start wondering if a 10 billion bushel crop is possible.

Statisticians always have a tough time coming to grips with lost acres and may be more inclined to reckon with them this season.

Locally, much of the crop in Iowa still looks very good and should have very good yield potential if the rain event several meteorologists are predicting for next week materializes. Getting just a half inch of rain will not be enough. We need a good soaker to make a difference.

Given a choice I would sooner have plants trying to pollinate this week than last week. The tassels are much more likely to release fertilizer pollen for more hours than under very stressy conditions.

So far we are seeing that about three-fourths of the silks detach easily from the kernels site. Thus that last one-fourth needs to finish up yet. Now the challenge is to have the plant relieved of its stresses and produce an optimal amount of photosynthates to fill the kernels rather than have them abort.

The Goss’ dilemma

Goss’s wilt hasn’t disappeared from any fields, and we are not expecting it to. With dry conditions and the hotter weather moisture demands remain high and efficient movement of moisture up the plant is critical. With bacteria working to rot and plug the plumbing tissues allowing such damage to occur could be crippling to yields.

Concurrently thinking that no rain is coming and hope is lost and growers being willing to just accept the insurance payment makes spending additional dollars on helping the crop tough.

The disease symptomology continues to move up the plant and into the stalks. Being dry doesn’t seem to be slowing its spread. Look for the caramel-colored lesions on the stem and leaves.

There are groups of optimistic growers who are spraying any one or a combination of products that are now being university plot-tested that have demonstrated – either in research settings or in other crops beset with bacterial-caused disease – to have effectiveness in controlling the disease.

Personally I have seen as high as a 50 to 80 bpa yield benefit when sprayed and the timing was much later than optimal. So being timely should help our chances. Spraying either the week before or near brown silk would be the recommended time to apply any product.

Bug problems

The rootworm problem on Bt corn really seemed to expand this season as most growers are observing high beetle emergence on Bt acres. Thus it appears that the BMP will be a return to the old practice of trying to control the egg laying adults in the fields destined to be planted to corn in 2013.

It may require an airplane or ground rig plus some scouting to verify which fields contain the one beetle per plant population to lay enough eggs to cause a problem in 2013.

Now is the time when those beetles are feeding on the silks and their populations need to be monitored. Plants lacking an adequate moisture supply will grow and regrow silks slowly, so less silk feeding can be tolerated this year than in a wet year. Pay attention to Japanese beetles in any field located around yards or city lights.


More agronomists and farmers are realizing that the role of micros has been understated and undermanaged for years. We are still trying to unwrap and develop the rules that need to be followed to do the best job in understanding how to interpret the results.

As a way to do this we started working with a lab in the Netherlands that has advanced to sap testing. Using their protocol we can look at the tested levels for about 20 different minerals to see how the uptake and availability of one affected the utilization of another.

We also noticed that no group has published trial results where different products were compared as to tissue level effect and final yields. There will be four such trials this season and we hope to obtain that information if the sites receive rain.

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

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