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By Staff | Oct 19, 2012

By now the harvest is mostly complete. The days are getting shorter, but staying reasonably warm.

We all know what comes next in this progression of seasons, thus any day that is 60 degrees or warmer is welcome. After this summer’s ever-present 95-plus degree days, the conditions we are getting now seem just fine. What was disappointing for most farmers in the state was the small amount of rain that fell this past weekend when a much larger amount was forecast.

Everyone knows that the time window during which two-inch or better rains fall is soon closing. Where is the rain that is needed for raising next year’s crops going to come from?

Living on the edge and depending on timely rainfall is too grueling if we have to do it again in 2013. Maybe one more tropical storm will intensify enough to shove Gulf moisture up into the upper Midwest and provide the major shot of rain that we have been waiting for.

The grain has been stored away either in on-farm bins or at commercial elevators. The prices have now dropped off their highs and moved lower as fears of a short crop now get converted into response to the actual supply shortfall by livestock producers, importing countries and commercial users. Given the fact that it was a very quiet harvest with very few actual producers calling into the local radio stations during the noon hours to brag about yields, and those lower yields are seen in all plot reports, overall production was lower in the state.

The state-by-state yield figures have been published and they list both the comparison of 2012 versus 2011 and October yields versus what was forecast for previous months.

Brazilian counterparts

In last week’s column I alluded to the fact that my wife and I had to make a quick trip to Brazil to visit with officers of a nutrient company that is making waves within the crop world in that country and a few neighboring ones. It was a long flight into Brasilia, the east centrally located capital, to start and then on to the eastern port cities of Recife and Maceio.

They are both right on the Atlantic, so cooled by sea breezes to a balmy 83 degrees most days. But inland 800 kilometers, near a city called Petrolina, temps were in the upper 80s. We spent the first two days in meetings and educational sessions and the third and fourth days we toured farms where they raised a variety of fruit crops such as mangos, grapes, melons, cane, figs, citrus, coconuts, acai, pitanga, pineapple and papaya.

All except the cane were irrigated out of the Francisco River, which flows northward out of Mineral Gerais. The scale of and management requirements of some of the operations was astoundingly good. We witnessed a grape operation with fields that hung very heavy with fruit capable of supplying a quarter million tons of grapes a day being shipped to Canada, Mexico and all of Europe.

Or another one that owned and flew a small fleet of 747s every day filled with fruit to markets in Europe several times each week. Most of them were family owned and operated, supplying many workers with the ability to earn a salary. They were all carved out of sandy, low-orghanic materialsoils in an area that is arid, by Spanish, Portuguese, German and Italian immigrants over the past 40 years, as the country was settled as so many hardy souls did in both South America and North America during the 1800s and 1900s.

What I was able to study was how this company was working with growers in dry climates to build fertility programs with different crops that used foliars to supplement, bolster or replace soil-applied fertilizer programs. We got to see the fields, view the production figures, and taste the fruit and produce that came from the trees or vines.

I had been searching for the old research data that was generated by fertilizer research done at Michigan State University and in the nuclear synchrotron at Brookhaven Lab on Long Island in the 1950s and 1960s that gave the efficiency factors for ‘soil versus foliar nutrients’ applied for a few years and no one could find them for me.

That group had the data and they had been included in their textbooks with credit given to MSU. In view of the fact that we have been through two dry summers and a third is possible in 2013, seeing how such programs are being used successfully on different crops to maximize yields may be important to know how to respond with foliars on our crops.

In other words Midwest farmers may have been too quick to give up on some fields this summer when they could have added bushels.

2012 yields

Yield reports, both overt and covert, are still coming in. Soil types and depth of healthy versus insect- or disease-compromised root systems remain as perhaps the biggest influencing factor in how they turned out.

The low yields that occurred in places are issues none wants to discuss with their bankers. Yet there are growers who are telling me that they had fields with surprisingly good yields, good enough that they don’t want to tell neighbors or landlords for fear of being labeled a liar or having their rents raised.

So they are wondering what one thing they did to contribute to those results. As an answer we have to conclude no one thing made things turn out well, it was a systems approach of growing a deep and healthy root system into biologically active soil and maintaining good plant heath with high nutrient and micronutrient levels through the entire season.

Also having a soil surface that had a good rating for moisture infiltration with a mulched surface to insulate it from the summer’s heat created a more favorable soil environment for the plant and moisture uptake. There is a reason for a person being able to produce 220 to 230 b ushel-per-acre corn or 65-plus bpa soybeans this season, just as there are reasons for very poor yields.

When you tie in plant genetic packages along with fertility programs and weed control issues, one has to conclude that blaming the results all on dry weather, lack of rain was not the sole cause of these low yield results.

Fertility programs

If you have not done so yet, there is still time to get someone into your fields to maintain your sampling program so no records are more than four years old. Most sampling people have been busy lately as those late-August and early-September rains softened the top 6 inches of the soil just enough to permit samples to be taken.

More sample submitters are asking for micros to be run on those samples, which can give clues as to what should be added to any fertilizer mix. Of those mid- and micro-nutrients that are most often identified as being needed are sulfur, zinc and boron. Those showing up on tissue tests indicate a need for manganesen, cooper and molybdenum.

Some of the plant health issues that showed up in 2011 and 2012 seem to relate to the amount of salts that were applied to different fields. Hog-manured fields are those most often mentioned as observed as experiencing problems, especially if planted to hybrids with poor disease ratings.

This seems to be somewhat correlated with the root types of the hybrids planted and how well they did in reaching moisture reserves.

Microbial mixes

A big question among top crop advisors (when analyzing field results along with their observations) is where all of these fields rank for soil health and is there a product that can be in-furrow applied in 2013 to help remedy the situation? That topic will be discussed at a few different meetings. If you have been watching the marketplace and seen Bayer and BASF, both bought biological companies in the past six months, you can see that there is recognition among major companies that solutions may lay beyond genetics.

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

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