The year is now 75 percent over and what a year it has been. Now we half-ways understand what old timers were talking about when they reminisced about the big droughts of the mid 1930s and 1950s.
Considering those weather events were both three years in duration it’s no wonder the memories of the stressed crops and tough times stayed with them through the rest of their lives.
There have been many advances made in irrigation equipment, varieties, tillage practices, equipment and weed/insect control products, but we still need moisture stored in the soil and rainfall to grow crops in dryland fields.
Thus at the end of the 2012 growing season the big question is: What will 2013 bring?
Harvest is progressing very rapidly, which was expected given the fact that a high percentage of the corn crop had been brown for nearly two months and that no rainfall interruptions have happened so far in the western Corn Belt. Beginning last week, growers in different areas were finishing up with harvesting their acres. Not having to dry the corn greatly sped up the process of handling the grain.
With so many grain delivery points offering attractive drying charges and pricing programs a high percentage of the crop was delivered right out of the fields.
Another factor in place was the federal crop insurance policy covering aflatoxin problems with grain. No one wanted to get stuck with a problem and no coverage for a problem they could be accused of creating.
The markets are bouncing around a lot and mostly in the downward direction. Isn’t it surprising how they can still adjust production figures from a few years ago?
Maybe we will soon hear that there is a higher level of carryover because Granny Clampett used less corn to brew her moonshine back in the 1970s.
The grain trade still has major questions about the size of the major crops. For any story about better-than-expected crops, there seem to be matching ones on the negative side.
The dryness and excessive heat received most of the publicity this summer and fall, but a few other things need to be recognized.
In the midst of the wilted and brown corn fields there were still corn fields that stayed green until late and never showed much sign of moisture problems.
These fields would all be good subjects for a case study where we all need to figure out what those growers did that allowed the plants to withstand the extreme conditions.
Such fields have been the exception since 2009, or when the slug of leaf and stalk diseases became such a problem. The same thing appeared in 2010 when sudden death syndrome was such a problem in soybeans in much of central and eastern Iowa.
This brings up the topic of yields. They remain highly variable. I have seen lows of 0 and highs of 315 on the yield monitors. Soil OM, rooting depth, moisture infiltration, as well as soil health, greatly influenced how well both corn and soybeans yielded in each field.
What was evident this week when I traveled through extreme western Iowa and eastern Nebraska was rain shut off completely in late June or early July. There were no passing showers that helped the crops to limp along another few days.
Thus those growers have been harvesting fields that have major areas with beans yielding in the single digit range and corn yielding under its test weight.
Arid climate farming
For a majority of the years in the past two decades we have fought too much moisture. Few growers east of Lincoln, Neb., have had to learn how to farm like Nebraska, Kansas and Coloradeo farmers.
We may have to learn from them when deciding how to operate in 2013. That means doing what we can to catch any scattered showers or blowing snow that falls. Minimizing soil evaporation through keeping a mulch on the soil surface could also be very critical. How we do that and yet minimize problems with Goss’ wilt becomes a conundrum.
As an aside it is still surprising the number of growers and crop advisers who didn’t recognize the amount of Goss’ wilt that was present this season. It is still here as stalk quality was adversely affected.
Most guys that are out in the fields now recognize that there is little to no moisture in the soil profile now. It is too dry to get a cover crop established. Any fall-seeded legume is also at risk, both for not germinating and then drying out if it does germinate and sprout.
What should we think if we get as little moisture this fall as we have gotten since June 1? Do we plant corn or soybeans next spring? Several Extension articles have suggested planting more grain sorghum due to its better drought tolerance. Tillage trips will have to be minimized as each turning over of the soil is thought to cause .25 to 1 inch of moisture.
Stalks could be left longer to stop rainfall run off or hold any blowing snow that could melt into the soil.
Further west there is more rye being planted to serve as a greenchop crop for cattle feeders that will be followed by double-cropped beans. The system has been utilized by a number of western Iowa cattle feeders in recent years with good success.
Last spring many of us were overjoyed that La Nina was expected to continue fading and surely El Nino, the wet cycle, was due to start.
What happened? Even now the forecasters vacillate between which one is strengthening and which one is fading.
An Extension newsletter from Wisconsin focused on the risk of herbicide carryover and subsequent damage to many follow crops. This thought process really opens up a Pandora’s box, but one that was opened in dramatic fashion back in the 1987 to 1989 era. This was when the carryover damage from Scepter and a bit of Classic occurred on a large scale.
We learned many variables and soil properties affected when, where and how big any problems became. We are currently set up for a partial repeat depending on what products were used, when they were applied and at what rates.
The related factors are going to be the amount of tillage if any, when and how much rain has fallen since application, along with soil types and pH levels.