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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Nov 23, 2012

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is here and the official start of winter is still about a month away.

These 50- and 60-degree days are welcome and it’s nice to get jobs done when only a light jacket or sweatshirt is needed, and there are no snow banks to fight.

One has to remember that it was similarly nice last year and the warm temps stayed around for most of the winter, and we paid the price with 20 degree warmer-than-normal days during the summer.

Time will tell, but for us that grew up battling snow, ice and cold temps, it does seem nice.

Remember that thanks to the investment and chores being done by famers in Iowa and other states nearly everyone gets to sit down to a tasty dinner of turkey, potatoes with gravy the rest of the fixings.

Without those efforts, and those who were all in the grain supply chain, this would not be happening. So one of the big thank yous should go to the many producers and workers who provide the things that we often take for granted.

In the case of turkeys, it was a network of growers in central and eastern Iowa who all mortgaged their farms to buy the plant a few years ago when it was ready to close down. Now, with their efforts they have secured contracts with many end user markets that have turned turkey into an everyday meat.

Being thankful

How many things can we all put on the list of what we should say thanks for? First of all, we have to be grateful for the luck or timing to be born in this country and the chance to benefit to an economic system where efforts get rewarded. We have to say thanks for the freedoms to choose a career or work that we feel fulfilled with and for the health and energy to get up and invest the hours every day.

On a national level we have to say thanks for having perhaps the worst group of politicians assembled that money can buy. Most of us have to hope that we can survive the next four years intact.

Remember that the holiday was of religious origin where the first settlers were thanking their maker for not having starved during the previous season.

They were still surviving after having fled Europe and the poor economic conditions in those countries thanks to their own sweat and ability to grow enough food.

Optimist? Pessimist?

What category do you or your neighboring farmers fall into? Driving along the roads it is still possible to see lots of ammonia being applied to corn stalk ground.

High cash rents and nematode or soil problems caused lots of growers to plant second year corn in 2011 and 2012. This past year a high percentage of growers realized a major yield penalty due to insect damage, dry conditions or disease.

That is all in the past, but assuming two or three of those factors could cause problems in 2013 is the best course of action to plant corn again or move to soybeans or a small grain?

Lack of fall rains to boost soil moisture reserves has some growers spooked enough that they will postpone final acre plans until mid-March, when they will decide what crop to plant. That could mean that Informa’s prediction of 97.7 million acres planted to corn will be way too high.

When there were areas in the Midwest where aoybean yields exceeded corn yields, the growers can push pencils and will have long memories.

On a related note, officials in the tri-state irrigation compact regulating the water from the Republican river in Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado announced they will likely limit water withdrawal within that groundwater district during the 2013 season.

They appear to be proactive and are letting growers be made aware of the problem before all the inputs would be purchased. This dry spell is hurting groundwater recharge more areas.

Bug news

Based on working the technical side of the seed industry for 20 years and following trait development, it is interesting to see how the different traits are faring years later.

With my first job out of ISU, having moved out to Southwest Kansas, I got to meet a young KSU entomologist named Marshall Johnson. He became famous for having found strains of Diamondback moth in pineapple fields that became resistant to Bt.

Later he moved to the University of Arizona where he worked with Bruce Tabashnik, who heads a research department that specializes in understanding the biology and genetics with how insects develop resistance to Bt strains.

Tabashnik is now collaborating with the Chinese entomology team that found that Bt resistance is a dominant trait, which can render all rules on refuge as useless. Between him and johnson, they found there were typically two methods of building resistance.

This was all after Jerry Caulder founded Mycogen and helped build a library of Bt strains such as thurigensis, kurstaki, and tenebrionis.

With DeKalb there were three of us agronomists who listened to Peter Carlson, a cell biologist and biotecher, who used the Clavibacter endophytic bacteria from tall fescue to insert the genes into corn plants, and followed up by forwarding the idea on to company officials backing it with our due diligence and financial evaluations.

Jim Bing and Paul Bystrak with Mycogen followed all of this by developing a different Bt stains that ended up being called Herculex. There was news released this week announcing that entomologists in Florida had found fall armyworms that appear to be resistant to the Herculex Bt trait.

Work will have to be done to determine the biology of this escape, but it shows that critters that are very numerous and multiply quickly have the ability to mutate against strong selective pressure. We now have to develop an alternative control program in the near future.

In the case of moving back to granular insecticides it was only in the last 10 to 20 years that we were trying to figure out why Counter, Dyfonate, Mocap and Furadan were not working like they used to.

Weed efforts

A series of special meetings will be held during the next two months in Iowa that will be used to educate growers and hopefully provide information on how to manage resistant weeds.

All groups of seasoned weed management and control practitioners and growers know that the issue is that there are more species and more individual weeds that are no longer being killed by what was the No.1 used herbicide for about 15 years.

During that time there were fewer research dollars being dedicated by the discovery groups of different herbicide companies to develop, test and commercialize the new products that we need now.

Thus the only current chess move against resistant weeds is to utilize older chemistry until new chemistry is developed. When and if those fail we may have a problem.

New herbicide resistant traits may be released, but weed resistance is likely to limit their life span if total reliance is place on them.

Managing residue

One newer method of managing corn residue that has looked very good in limited Midwest trials involves spraying a mix of many minerals at about 2-quarts per acre along with a microbe mix flushed from peat/humus from a very cold climate site.

They have an advantage in that they have been found to stay active in doing their job at temps down to 32 degrees.

Thus the nutrients contained in the stalks are released to the 2013 crops sooner, plus they help build a stronger biological soil profile that should help with moisture and nutrient uptake next season.

ISU conference

Be aware that the big ISU Crop Management Conference is going to be held in the near future.

Now is the time to get it on your schedule and send in your registration.

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

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