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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Sep 21, 2012

It looks like the 2012 harvest season will now reach all corners of the state. Of course it began for the corn crop as silage chopping season in early August.

Corn for grain began about three weeks ago. Soybean harvest began in earnest last week and more growers moved to that crop once they had any windblown or lodged corn acres combined.

With the excess in heat units and early death of many acres of corn this early harvest was expected. A few years ago the organizers of the Farm Progress Show moved their show up a month so no growers would be pinched for time and have to decide if they would spend time on their combines versus attending the FPS.

This year many growers either missed the show or cut their time short as machinery prep was more on their mind than seeing the newest machines.

The challenge

The challenge for quite a few corn growers was deciding what to do first. There were fields that blew over in the July 25 wind and required harvesting before the weather turned wet.

Then there were other fields that were hit with the double whammy of dry soils and heavy Goss’ wilt and its stalk melting abilities. In some neighborhoods, seed dealers put out an APB about getting the corn harvested with no regard to what the moistures were. In other areas, root feeding from corn rootworms clobbered even genetically resistant hybrids making early harvest necessary.

And this was all in a season where getting an accurate handle on what yields is important for making marketing decisions.

Current yields

So far there are huge yield ranges being found in fields and even in the same round. I said last week that there would not be any yield averages this year, just these big ranges for 90 percent of the growers.

Most growers could live with that as long as final bushel tallies combine with current grain prices to make finances work out. Of course, in many areas the better fields that stayed greener and filling longer have not been combined yet. These fields should be better yielding.

At the same time the same trends signal major problems for livestock farmers who now face high feed prices for the foreseeable future. Where the supplies are elastic there is some hope in that prices should rise. Where inelasticity is the rule it could get nasty.

Rootworms

We have seen it before where a major crop pest makes its presence known over a wide area and ends up being costly for those affected. All the experts and pseudo-experts get to put in their two cents worth in proposing solutions for the coming season.

This year, summer and fall, the beetles and their larval feeding is costing growers quite a bit of money and the focus is now on what to use to control their populations next year. So far most affected growers are focusing on getting their smart boxes ordered and deciding what insecticide to use in 2013.

I hate to rain on any parade, but about 20 years ago, when Counter was king of the granular insecticides, there started out being scattered reports of it not giving good control. Within a few more seasons the problem was occurring in much larger areas.

So we will have to rely on the new old standbys and really get serious about developing these multi-year, sustainable programs that are environmentally benign. I am excited to see the Invite program return. It worked very well and could be used to lower numbers such that the genetic traits would not get overwhelmed by sheer numbers.

Residue management

Typically after a bad crop year and when the weather permits, a lot of farmers rely on something they used to see on Gilligan’s Island, whereby they do lots of recreational tillage to kill the evil spirits in the ground. This became more of an issue when Goss’ wilt came on the scene, though it took one to two seasons before many people recognized that tilling to destroy the residue was going to be the common recommendation – even though it may be unsustainable long term.

Remember that saving the soil and getting the soil microbes to process the residue into humus and organic matter should be paramount in maintaining or improving higher yields. Then our soils could act as a bigger sponge holding those excess inches of May and June rains until needed in August.

Because we should have a long fall it may be best to develop and apply a residue digesting program in any field destined for second-year corn. Ones that I have dealt with and learned about have been the Z-Hume and BioCat mixes that are blended with nitrogen and sulfur and sometimes sugar.

I learned of another one out of Utah that proved to be excellent in dry conditions in 2011. I have to visit with the developer yet and see if he can ship supplies to Iowa for this fall.

Other biologicals

A number of us crop advisor types have plots out where we are testing several biologicals that have looked very good either in experimental trials or in field in other countries. The sources vary from Alaska to South America to Israel and Cornell. Early results suggest that 8 to 10 to as much as 30 bushels per acre yield bumps will be commonplace.

Though talking about such things may seem abstract, there is a major group of professionals who feel this is the next horizon that will boost yields and plant health in the near future. The plant health boost is really a necessity given the fact that this is the fourth year in a row of serious and widespread disease problems.

Results from coupling seed or in-furrow applied biologicals with foliar micros looked very good this summer. What are an extra 20 bpa worth at $8 each?

Look for an interesting article on biologicals in an upcoming issue of Seed World.

Goss’ wilt

Are there any doubters now who don’t think that the bacterial disease completely changes corn famers’ cropping plans on how to achieve high yields? Getting to visit with sincere crop advisors and growers from Nebraska and Colorado, who have lived with it for years, how it ate them and their corn crops up if they did not manage it at every turn was a learning experience.

It got worse for them in 2009 when it morphed into a chimera disease and became more virulent. They have somewhat learned to manage it and have been able to sustain yields, but they are dedicated to not letting it beat them.

It may sound heretical to say it, but the dry conditions may have saved the corn crop from a serious GW problem. It was everywhere again and was very visible from the air.

Seeing the circular spots that were spreading in the direction of the prevailing winds does nothing but re-enforce the idea that infected seed is a bigger contributor than is generally recognized. It may be time for seed companies to spend time learning more about what and how the disease acts in the modern era and then manage their seed fields in the optimum manner

Fertilizer plans

It is now time to both soil sample and get your fertility plan for 2013 in place. Lots of articles have been written giving guidance as to how to sample and give credit for less than optimum uptake and production in 2012.

Most of the opinions focus on the facts that there will be a bit more carryover effect than where yields are high and that soil test levels are both built and depleted slowly.

With the recent rains more farmers will be comfortable with applying a portion of their N as 82 percent. Yield comparisons from the last few seasons have verified that the top programs use two or three different forms with different timings or make good use of stabilizers to minimize infield losses.

Good luck with harvesting.

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

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