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Drought talk offers bleak news

By Staff | Jul 21, 2012

Jim McDermitt, representative from DeKalb, displays ear developing process from various corn fields in Kossuth County, to show pollination success, or lack of it, based on planting dates. A total of 110 people attended a drought discussion meeting Friday morning in rural Swea City.

By LARRY KERSHNER/“mailto:kersh@farm-news.com”>kersh@farm-news.com

SWEA CITY – Even 10 inches of rain between now and corn reaching “black layer” will not make much of a difference, said Paul Kassel, an Iowa State University Extension agronomist Friday morning at a drought meeting in Swea City.

If that comment was not wholly unexpected by the 110 people who attended, it at least confirmed that trendline yields are not expected to be reached this growing season even if the drought breaks and adequate rains start falling.

Kassel was one of six speakers at the meeting, coordinated by Kossuth County Extension. Carrie Gatton, the county’s Extension program coordinator, said the meeting was called to give a view of the conditions of corn and soybeans and to give producers – grain and livestock – resources for adjusting and managing their operations as the hot, dry weather continues.

“This is the first drought meeting I’ve been to in 31 years,” Kassel said.

Russ Euken, an ISU Extension livestock specialist, applies drops of diphenylamine to the inside of a split corn stalk. The purple coloring indicates a nitrate build-up in the stalk.

Other issues included the financial logic of additional crop management if the drought persists, managing drought-related pests, crop insurance issues, feeding drought-stressed corn to livestock and alternative feed sources, options for crop insurance, including field fire coverage and options available for delivering corn under forward contracts if yields fall short.

Jim McDermitt, a representative of DeKalb, sent a murmur through the audience when he spoke of harvest starting early this year. Looking at the heat stresses experienced by row crops this growing season, and assuming the stresses will continue, he said corn could reach black layer, indicating physical maturity of the kernel, as early as Aug. 14.

“That’s the worst-case scenario,” McDermitt said. In all likelihood, he added, the hot weather stresses may break during August, but he still expects most of the area’s corn will be ready for harvest as early as Sept. 5 and certainly by Sept. 10.

Compared to 1988

Kassel said the current drought conditions, being compared to 1988, another dry and hot year, showed that corn yields around Britt, in central Hancock County, was 122-bushels-per-acre with just 9 inches of rain. Average yields a few years on each side of 1988 was around 140 bushels per acre. Kassel said 2012 drought conditions are more severe than 1988 and that farmers planted the 1988 crop into more subsoil moisture than they did in 2012.

This drought-stressed corn field, south of Algona on U.S. Highway 169, shows leaves curling with little or no ear development. Experts expect what yield has been lost thus far, cannot be regained, even with average rainfall through the remainder of the growing season.

He said the area has received less than half of the normal rainfall than usual, so the prognosis was not positive for reaching high yields in 2012.

to reach trendline yields, he said crops need 20 inches of rain spread across the growing season. Since April 23, the area has received 6 inches, including just eight-tenths during July, when there have been multiple 90- to 100-degree days.

“So any loss yields now cannot be made up,” Kassel said. He estimated that trendline yields will likely be dropped by as much as 20 percent.

Still worth saving

McDermitt showed examples of ears pulled from various fields in the region that morning, showing the progress of corn. He said corn planted in mid-April had a good start, with good pollination in June and are filling kernels. However, corn planted in early May or later suffered pollination problems in the heat and showed as much as “75 percent pollination failure, and some have no ears at all.”

McDermitt said the Swea City area has accumulated 1,671 growing degree units – a measurement of heat units corn needs to reach maturity. In Iowa, it’s generally considered corn needs 2,700 heat units to reach black layer. Last year at this time, he said, corn had 1,338 heat units, so plants are ahead of last year by 333 units. He based his early maturity date on this formula, if weather conditions continue.

Even so, he said there is a concern that plants are cannibalizing, drawing nutrients from stalks to fill ears, which may cause stalks to weaken and fall, or lodge, by harvest time.

As for soybeans, he said, there is still optimism for the bean yield. He recommended producers do what they can for crop management to save what potential is still in the fields. This includes spraying with foliar applications, pesticides against spider mites and aphids if present in heavy numbers, and fungicides if field scouting indicates the need.

Insect pressure

John Long, a representative for Mycogen, said the pests to scout against now is Japanese beetles, root worm beetles, spider mites and aphids. Both aphids and spider mites multiply quickly in sustained dry weather.

He said the presence of spider mites found today can multiply 70 times in a span of six to 10 days. “So be watching daily.”

Scouting for spider mites is difficult he said, because the pests are so small. He recommended holding a white sheet of paper under a plant and shake it vigorously. “If the paper moves,” he said, “you have spider mites.

As for silk-clipping Japanese beetles, Long said, most corn is beyond clipping worries, however, with corn root worms, he said mature beetles will lay upward to 500 eggs in the soil.

CRW beetles have been plentiful, and he said there is big concern for heavy infestation of root worm cutting in 2013, especially in fields with continuous corn.

Livestock feeding

Russ Euken, an ISU Extension livestock specialist, said supplemental feeding of pastured cattle with corn, byproducts and alternative grains will extend the life of pastures that are under heat and drought stress.

“I know it costs more,” Euken told producers, “but compared to the high price of hay …” Hay is roughly $120 per ton in Iowa, about $20 higher than last year.

He said there is concern for chopping stunted corn as silage due to the possibility of high nitrate accumulation in the stalks that are not producing ears.

There are chemical tests to show the presence of nitrates in corn, but not the level, he said. He suggests producers chop a sample from the field and end it for testing. Nitrates in ruminant animals can be changed into nitrites, which reduces the animal’s blood capability of transporting oxygen. A high concentration can be fatal.

“You need to manage the silage right,” he said, “because there will be a limited amount available.”

A hay shortage this winter is expected due to pasture forage being stressed. “Hopefully, ethanol plants will keep operating and we’ll have DDG’s available,” Euken said. DDG, or distiller’s dried grain, is a corn byproduct from ethanol production, and is a high-protein feed for most livestock.

“You need to plan (winter feed requirements) ahead,” Euken said. “It’s easier to adjust the plan, rather than run short of feed in February.”

Crop insurance

Nicole Tifft, from the Emmetsburg office of Farm Credit Services of America, explained the most common coverage is revenue protection and said those with failed crops would recover 80 percent of their crop investment based on yield history of each field. Bushels will be valued at either the projected spring price at planting or the cash price at harvest, whichever is higher.

She also cautioned producers to be sure to contact their insurance adjuster prior to doing anything with their acres, such as plow unproductive crops under or chop for silage, other than combining.

For those with old crop still in on-farm storage Tifft said they must have an adjuster measure old crops bushels, before loading new crop. Failure to do so, she said, will mean the old crop will be assumed to be new crops.

Got bushels?

Paul Nerum, from the Burt office of Stateline Cooperative, said presented a sample of paperwork producers will have to complete if they fall short of being able to deliver bushels under contracts. Stateline will then decide to accept or reject the request. If accepted, a penalty will be assessed.

“At this time,” Nerum said, you can only sell contracted corn for this marketing year. It can’t roll over to the next year.”

Nerum and Tifft both confirmed to producers that other merchandizers have different policies on adjusting contracts which cannot be filled.

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