We are nearing the end of August and approaching both the fall harvest and the biennial Farm Progress Show sponsored by the Harvest Publishing Group.
In most Augusts we are watching the green leaves waving in the breeze and watching the ears fill out and maybe start popping the ends of the husks open.
In 2012 things are very different in that several things have happened to put a damper on the enthusiasm that is normally associated with the approaching harvest.
At this time of year it is normally fun to visit the different fields to see how the potentially large yields in each compare with each other.
We count the kernels long and around to do the calculations to see if the magical 200 bushel per acre plateau will be reached or shattered. And even though we have long learned to never calculate the gross dollars to be generated before the grain is in the bin, we have all been guilty of that.
This year things are dramatically different. There are very few attractive fields in the state save for the few areas where the growers were lucky enough to be in the path of a few showers that fell. There are also growers who began the journey to improve their soils five or more years ago and have gone down a different path than most and not followed the crowds.
Some of their fields are still a darker green and show few effects of the hot and dry weather. In either case the moment of reckoning will be with us soon as the harvesting equipment will move into more fields and each grower will get to see how surprisingly good or how disappointingly poor the yields are.
As a somewhat reassuring start, as of Tuesday morning, Antonio Ivancovich, my friend from Argentina, a top plant pathologist, just wrote and said they are recovering from their worst drought in 50 years by receiving lots of El Nino-spurred rain.
During a normally 100 percent dry August they have received almost 8 inches of rain so far. Maybe that is a good omen for us yet.
The percentages given for the each state’s good to excellent ratings were released Monday. It has been almost impossible for the ratings for corn to get any worse, yet they did. In Iowa the g/e group was in the high teens. Even worse was that g/e corn crop in Illinois dropped to 5 percent.
Propping up the nation’s crop ratings among major corn producing states are Nebraska and Minnesota.
Finally, more good thinkers are asking where the corn needed to run the country and its livestock businesses is going to come from. If you look at the figures that are always published giving production and usage figures note that the carryout is always listed at 500 million bushels.
Is that a solid figure or does its use signify something different? It may mean that creative growers may look at the situation and try to capitalize on the cropping and livestock opportunities that will exist over the next one to two years.
Will more irrigated growers try to plant winter wheat followed by double crop beans next summer? Would Sudan grass planted this fall in places make decent forage yet? Will we get the rain needed to get a new crop germinated and off to a good start?
The crop from the air
I had the chance to go flying last Friday. We went west and southwest from Webster City to see how the crops looked from the air. I was shocked. Remembering how it looked in central Iowa and the territory southwest of Fort Dodge, with all the acres being so browned due to dying early from SDS? This time the corn looked even worse due to the different diseases and effects of dry weather.
There were the same circular dead zones indicative of seed-borne Goss’s wilt. The dying and dead areas due to running out of water were also visible, but those areas appeared in different patterns and followed the topography.
Other corn fields have turned extremely yellow, just as they have in past seasons, likely due to root disease such as fusarium and pythium. Of these, the former may have the most serious consequences due to the many mycotoxins that can be produced.
In addition to the browned areas there were a number of both brown and green fields that had been pushed down by the wind storm of the mid-July storm. Most had not stood up much and will be very tough and time consuming to harvest.
If you have not been up yet the next two weeks will be the optimum time to go flying.
Forming an opinion of how things will yield is just impossible. What I have heard so far are 2012 corn yields ranging from 140 down to 20 bpa with test weights of 20 to 50 pounds per bushel. Of course, it is only early dying corn that has been harvested so far and most of that activity has been in the southern corners of the state.
I expect it to be one of the quietest harvests ever with very few people bragging or even publicly speaking about their yields. Whatever you hear, be ready to verify. I remember back in 1993 when one visitor to Dayton Days was bragging about his 50-bushel beans. Inasmuch as no one else had decent bean yields, we asked him for specifics.
He then said that in reality one of his 40-acre fields had produced 50 bushels of soybeans. That puts a different slant on things.
So this is a year where lots of acres in western Iowa could produce yields in the 120 to 140 bpa corn with a few in choice spots yielding 30 to 60 bpa better.
Eastern Iowa is likely to be producing lower yields in most areas. Choice areas could be matching the highs seen in western Iowa. Rains were just spotting that catching the one timely rain could add 12 to 24 bpa.
Expect harvest to be well underway in about two weeks. Stalk quality is a main concern and most growers are being urged to not let the plants stand too long, as they simply don’t have the plant integrity to remain vertical.
This will be the year for mycotoxins. Already one grower who has sent quite a few delivery semis to town and that he has gotten docked on almost 80 percent of the loads. So far the docks have not been severe, but could be increased as the people at the delivery points find they have little clean grain to mix the bad stuff with.
This problem is bound to cause problems up the food chain. People who are highly allergic to molds may have reaction problems with foods that they eat in the coming year.
As always, and even to a greater degree this season, soybean yields will remain a mystery. I have been in fields where the plants held 15 to 17 pods and I have been in fields where the range is from 45 to 70.
If pod number translates into final bushels, a wide yield range is suggested. In most cases, the fuller season beans will have the yield advantage this year as those plants were still filling when temps cooled off and scattered showers fell.
No major rain front has marched across the Midwest since last May, so bean yields will still be spotty.
I had to be up in northeast Iowa last weekend and the early varieties we saw on the way home were already turning color.
After last year’s early frost many growers were inclined to shift to early maturity beans. Doing so appears to have been a mistake.
Soil testing, fertilizer
This is the time when growers and agronomists get to start soil sampling and constructing fertilizer plans for 2013. What has been seen long term is that when the soils get very dry many of the minerals do not go into solution very easily or they remain trapped within the crystal lattice structure in the soil.
Results are often abnormally low. So continue to sample; but if results come back abnormally low, you may want to base decisions more on what older test results we the previous cycle. P and K levels will be included in this category of what may test abnormally low.
Fertilizer rates could be shaved somewhat to reflect the lower removal rates from the lower yields of 2012. More nitrogen is going to remain in the soil, reflecting the lower leaching environment of the entire season.
At the same time some of the normal N release that should have occurred never happened due to some of the microbe activity being slowed by dry soil conditions.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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