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By Staff | Jul 27, 2012

This is the week that most of us across the state have said is when most of the dryland corn fields west of the Mississippi had to receive rain to stay alive and still produce near-normal yields. It sounds like a broken record player that has been playing the same tune almost nonstop since last July.

After another heat wave across the Midwest we will get to see if our prayers will be answered. Keep your fingers crossed.

Until now much of the corn in the state still held a good yield potential and we had high hopes. Obtaining trend line yields and selling into a very high and climbing market seemed like great news for grain producers.

It wasn’t so good for livestock producers since they would be on the wrong end of the equation for the near term.

It makes producers who have invested in high priced irrigation equipment look wise, as being able to deliver water when it is needed during the drier summer months sound like a great idea. It permits them to shoot for their high goal every year since getting water at the right time becomes feasible.

Penciling in a more guaranteed yield figure makes marketing somewhat easier, albeit it carries any annual cost and added labor.

Remember the old Oklahoma saying: “It always rains at the end of a dry spell.” We are due any day.

If we don’t receive the needed rain there will be serious effects on livestock producers and industrial users within the U.S. and many importing countries.

The corn crop

I didn’t make it flying this past weekend. My guess is that we would have observed a corn crop that has a lot more brown in it after last weekend. We would have also seen the light soils and sandy spots where plants have either perished or close to it. Even producers in western Iowa, who had gotten plentiful rainfall through May and early June, have seen their crop decline in ratings and appearance this past weekend.

The USDA has its guesstimate about the final production figures. A number of us crop types were discussing their practices and we all felt they were too slow to assign zero bushels per acre as a final yield to the worst acres and abandoned status to large acreage areas.

For example a friend recently traveled from northern Iowa and southern Minnesota and took the route through southern Wisconsin. He saw and learned that about a half million corn acres were already dead. In the next monthly report the USDA raised its nationwide estimate of non-harvestable acres by the same total. Where were the tallies from the other states and when might they be included?

Such report distortions make it doubly tough to develop a marketing plan that should be based on fact and truths.

Growers who have dug fenceposts or done dirt work have seen that in their better fields the corn roots have grown down more than five or six feet. I had mentioned earlier that plants can remove 80 percent of the water from the soil and that the final 20 percent has to be oven-dried to get the final amount out. It appears that better-drained and loess-based soils permit deep rooting, which is a benefit in such years.

The degree of pollination success seems dependent on the planting date and level of soil moisture. The earliest planted corn seems to have pollinated okay. A portion of the late April planting was affected by the extreme heat around July 4 and the missing tip or butt kernels are obvious.

The corn planted in mid-May and later looked very good early, but a number of fields seemed to lack the needed rooting depth to extract moisture from deep in the profile. Those plants curled early each day and didn’t tolerate the stress well.

Root orientation

There are a number of crops people who have spent years digging and observing roots on corn plants. What they saw this spring made them uneasy about the rest of the season. One of these people, who is very good at tying symptomology and effects on the crop together, had noted early that the rootless corn syndrome related to planting depth, fluffy soils, weaker seed and dry conditions. Many of those plants were about a third short on root number and resulting surface area. This increased their susceptibility to drought.

These same people categorize the major genetic families and seed companies’ products into groups that have deep and penetrating roots or broad shallow roots that excel in wetter years. Driving down the roads now and seeing whose field signs are in front tell us that rooting characteristics have a bearing on what root type is tolerating the dry conditions better.

Last week I may have mentioned that I had the chance to view the AquaMax and Artesian hybrids under moisture-limited conditions. It appears that the conventional breeding methods and accumulated natural genetics were helping them. Data collected from the moisture blocks in those and nearby fields should help us sort out their water uptake patterns and how they performed.

Insect problems

The heat has been tough for anyone spending much time in the fields. However there is great value in scouting all your fields. Over the last three weeks is when they should have been looking for the corn rootworm beetles and Japanese beetles and their silk feeding.

The CRW beetle numbers in many second-year field planted to traited hybrids have been very high and are still high in the later-planted fields. It is common to see all of the silks eaten off to the husk line.

When that happened becomes critical. With no scouting being done and no remedial treatments made there could be a yield loss this fall and a threat to follow crop corn in 2013.

A few of the growers who used to use a beetle control program to kill off the egg-laying beetles are expressing the desire to move back to the Invite program where a cucurbit scent that attracts the beetles at silking time is applied.

The scent entices them to devour a very light rate of an insecticide and kills them off before they laid eggs. No beetles, no egg laying, no larvae the next year to eat roots and spend money on.

It is an idea that seed companies would find very helpful in lowering the insect pressure on targeted fields at an inexpensive cost.

They technically are not insects, but spider mites are grouped into the class of little chewing and sucking critters that can seriously harm both corn and bean crops.

For years the lode of knowledge laid with two researchers at Kansas State University, Phil Sloderbock and Glenn Salisbury. What they sleuthed out and published was that with during hot, dry weather the spiders completed their life cycle in about 4.5 days instead of the normal 13 and the controlling fungus that wiped them out was not active in dry conditions.

The small pests demonstrated back in 1988 that they could easily lower bean yields by 12 to 18 bushels per acre by sucking sap that was destined to fill pods and ears. If you have not done so already it may be wise to grab your 24- to 30-power hand lens and scout your fields.

You must use a lens to see the individual insect and their eggs. You also have to be able to visualize how their reproduction rate can overwhelm an insecticide application that lacks either curative or residual properties. Saving those $16-per-bushel beans could be a large item if you first decide they would yield above the insurance level.

May you have the best of luck in receiving rain on your fields shortly.

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

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