The 2012 Farm Progress Show is history, and the corn crop looks to be ready for harvest in many areas about four weeks ahead of normal.
Categorizing the corn and bean crops on a statewide basis is impossible as the planting was grouped into three or four big batches and rainfall was generally scant and spotty during the entire season.
For many farmers in southwest and northwest Iowa, where the rains shut off in June without much since, silage chopping finished almost a month ago and grain harvest began nearly three weeks ago.
Then farmers in the rest of the state saw the weather during the FPS return to the mid 90-degree range with strong winds. What green tissue remained in scattered fields disappeared and only brown stalks are now left.
With the acknowledgement of the weakened stalks that exist in the fields that died early, a high percentage of corn growers are out with their combines trying to harvest as many bushels as possible before any additional problems occur that could subtract from standability.
As of Monday morning, there were quite a few combines through central and northern Iowa that were harvesting.
This could be the first year when we could see many growers complete much or all of the corn harvest before they get start on beans. With the latter there is always the threat of a late hailstorm that could knock the beans out of the pods.
It has happened before in recent history. In some cases, growers are wishing for a major hailstorm that would destroy their bean fields as their yield potentials are way below their insurance yields.
This year the risk to delaying corn harvest lies more with expectations of field loss due to lodged corn plants molding or continued stalk degradation.
Over the summer, we all let the piles of unread farm magazines grow until we found idle time during the winter to tackle them. I find myself in the air this afternoon to speak at a conference and hold a number of small meetings out west with a variety of ag-related businessmen.
I happened to grab my wheeled business briefcase and found my stack from last summer. My, how out of date all of those marketing and forecasting experts were when they were making their 2012 price and crop size predictions.
Anyone who bet the farm on those forecasts in doing their grain marketing missed last winter’s “worst in 50 years” drought in South America and perhaps the worst drought since the 1950s here.
If there is any lesson here it is that anyone who puts complete faith in trends and predictions is bound to get tripped up by unforeseen circumstances out of their control.
Plan for the worst, but strive for the best outcome. And many cycles exist and do occur if we study their history long enough.
Based on the yield reports that have come in so far it appears that areas and fields will not have averages this year, only ranges in extremes.
One regional crop Extension specialist in North Central Iowa reported on Monday categorizing yields he was hearing about as to whether the harvested field had died early or stayed green; whether it was on light, heavy or rolling ground; whether it was standing, blew down or had snapped; or if it was very early or just early-planted.
How does one learn from yield summaries when there are so many variables that had major effects on performance?
One thing we did learn was which genetic families were able to grow roots deeper into the soil and harvest deep subsoil moisture. This trait produced benefits such as tolerating long rainless periods during the summer. Though we may assume that drought and heat tolerance are closely linked, there was evidence in the field that suggested the relationship was not as close as we may have assumed.
Looking at next year and making hybrid decisions for 2013, if we don’t get substantial rain this fall to replenish moisture supplies, every corn grower may place a lot of weight on drought-tolerance ratings.
The ‘depth-of-rooting’ characteristic, as well as good soil tilth, are huge items because every bit of moisture and nutrition have to come through the roots and up the vascular tissue in the plants.
Having compaction present is a big problem as are low-fertility levels. Soil biology is also important as nutrients are only made available after a microbe produces and releases an organic acid to reduce it.
If you hear of a high- yielding field or have a neighbor who had some of the healthiest corn in the neighborhood, visit with him or her to see what they are doing on their acres.
One thing we did learn is that the one way to get nutrition into a corn plant growing on very dry soil is to use a strong foliar program. It takes a leap of faith and an aggressive attitude to keep spending money on what looks like a losing crop, but it should pay off well this year where rains fell during August.
While there will be countless stories of fields that were disappointing in yield, there will also be reports of fields that still yielded well. At times the good and bad fields will be in the same neighborhood or even right next to each other. Then it will be for all growers to evaluate what is working or what isn’t.
For the growers I consulting for, we felt that doing five or six things to drought-proof the corn crop while trying to manage Goss’s wilt was going to be important.
Given a second chance the only thing I would do different would be to insist on applying more acres of the copper product mixes to improve plant health to keep that bacterial disease from getting so bad.
Because the corn held on so much longer than we expected it to, keeping water conductive tissue in the stalk healthy allowed the plants to stay greener longer and increase kernel depth. That was the case where the pre-tassel applications were made.
The mid 90-degree temps of two weeks ago seemed to push many bean fields to yellow and finalize the maturation process. While we like the crop to finally reach maturity, having it happen too early and before the top pods have filled out is a bad thing.
It would be safe to say that most fields lost potential yield when they never received that 2 or 3 inches of Hurricane Isaac rain that could have fallen. So far only a few fields of Group 1 beans have been harvested. Some yields have been lower-than-expected, while some beat the guesses by 5 to 10 bushels. Rain in August helped.
With many acres of crops being harvested weeks earlier than normal, and guessing that there are many pounds of nitrogen left in the profile, this may be the fall to experiment with cover crops. That could mean planting rye that could trap and fix residual N, tillage radishes that could open tight soil, a fall legume that could fix N, or a combination of all three.
Quite a few operators have been reading about cover crops and seeing them in local field demos and think that it would be the time to try them to find out if it would improve the soil or boost yields. If we get rain to germinate the seed those crops could provide several benefits to your operation.
Don’t be surprised if there would be more winter wheat appearing in several Midwestern states. Wheat commands a good price now and offers the possibility of allowing double-cropped beans to be planted next June.
One thought is that of using a relay cropping program where a person would plant the beans into the standing wheat a month before the wheat is harvested. That creates a few questions, but may be worth exploring. Wheat is known as a dry weather crop that tolerates heat well.
With the right high yield management program it could be a money-maker teamed with beans and corn.
With many hog buildings sitting idle these days we should be asking if there are other crops or animals that could be raised in them. There are several being used for fish farms, which will be great for those of us who love eating fresh fish.
A former resident of Iowa works with an illumination company that has partnered with a greenhouse management company. Their innovations include stacked decks and revolving LED equipment to boost output.
They have quite a few contained buildings that are producing lots of veggies, greens and other plants that command a premium in the fresh food market.
We will see how such an enterprise would succeed in Iowa.
We currently import most of our winter greens from many miles and sometimes countries away. Maybe that could be changed.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.