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By Staff | Dec 14, 2012

For many places in the Midwest the long streak of snowless days is now over. While that might be devastating for a small percent of nostalgic people, I could live a long time without snow, as long as we get an inch or two or, or 10 inches of rain, by spring, I can do without the white stuff.

Of course, having a few inches to keep deep water lines from freezing may be beneficial.

Many of us remember having to lay out in the snow on our bellies thawing out livestock waterers to ever feel warm about lots of freezing weather and snow experiencea.

More of the meteorologists and crop forecasters, except for those with the USDA, are beginning to recognize that many areas in the Midwest have had little rain since the crops browned and there is little to no moisture left in the soil.

Thus any guesstimates that we will be harvesting the sacred 166 bushels per acre corn next fall is highly suspect and may be overly optimistic.

Most producers would gladly offer to accept 166 bpa right now and sell it for $8.

If the 2012 corn crop was as big as officially declared we would not see local users paying $.22 to .30 cents over Chicago at this time as they are at the POET plant.

All indications are that the pipeline supply that will exist mid to late next summer could be small enough to create great angst during that time period.

Meeting season

Over the next three to six weeks there will be lots of production and informational meetings. What might be presented at them as advice and guidance?

That will be interesting as there could be a large number of challenges that could be discussed.

As to dry weather we will get to hear different meteorologist give their best guess as to when the rains may resume.

All indicators seem to be pointing to a return to a moderate to strong La Nina. Until now, none of us thought that back-to-back-to-back La Ninas were possible.

Grounded, experienced and reasoned advice on what cultural and fertility steps could help the crops withstand moisture stress next year will be valuable.

Years of fertility research in states to the west show that deeper placed nitrogen and phosphate has a big advantage over broadcast material.

This is likely to mean that both higher P levels, as well as deep placing N and P, is going to show a yield advantage.

The latter still needs to be made biologically available.

The trend last year, in regards to weed control, was to apply more pre-emerge herbicides.

Given the risk of resistant weed breakthroughs in every field, using them was important.

Where the problems with having weeds break through was where the applications were made after the ground had warmed to 50-plus degrees and emergence occurred.

The advice for 2013 will be to observe soil temperatures and make applications before soil temps warm enough for germination.

If any weeds emerge prior, recognize them and applying the appropriate burn down product to control them.

A big topic thus far at meetings has been what to do about controlling or managing the resistant rootworms.

All of the experts who a few years ago who said it would never happen will have to choke on their burgers, but they will be expected to give their advice.

For them to recommend using a competitor’s trait to rescue their own genetics will be bad enough.

To go back to recommending planting time insecticides, be it granules or liquid, seems appropriate, but not what they expected to be doing in 2012.

Success could be short lived as several of those products fell out of favor as soil microbes degraded them early or insects became resistant.

Residue management

One method of managing corn stalk residue that I have been visiting about and will be observing is the one where a mineral mix and biology from Alaska is being, or has been applied, to aid in decomposition. Where it was applied in previous seasons, the results looked very good.

Why bugs from Alaska are being used is that they supposedly have been selected for their ability to degrade organic material at temps down to 32 degrees. This would be an advantage over our bugs, while ours slow down or shut down below 50 degrees.

The cost of such a program is reasonable when the grower makes a compost tea using his or her own equipment of tanks or totes and an air pump.

In those trials a big improvement in soil biological activity and soil porosity has also been noticed. When that happens your crop plants are more likely to be able to send their roots deep enough to capture any deep moisture.

Hybrid choices

By now our aggressive Midwestern growers have been appropriate skeptics and have committed to their favorite hybrids with their seed dealers and taken delivery whenever possible. It’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when recognizing that only a weather delayed planting date permitted late arriving South American seed to get delivered and planted.

We should be seeing that rooting depth and root type will be a feature that growers will be asking about hoping that their dealer will have details on those traits. If conditions are dry hybrids with a deep, penetrating root system will have a big advantage over a shallow, scavenging root.

Is that right?

This may sound like heresy, but I was visiting with a good plant disease person this summer and that person said something that I was thinking about at the same time.

And that thought was that the drought may have saved some fields and farmers from a major problem with Goss’ wilt.

What I learned from working with pivot irrigated growers was that even tolerant varieties had the disease explode on them when being wetted every week.

Over the states, Goss’ was on 99 percent of the plants and in 99 percent of the fields again, but the lesions were much less distinct than in 2010 and 2011.

Every grower needs to be cognizant of what healthy corn used to and should look like.

I was pulling out old files a few weeks ago and came across a brochure titled “How a Corn Plant Develops,” printed in 1993 and compared pictures from it with those with the pictures included in a 2011 publication called Corn Growth and Development.

It appears that corn affected by visual symptoms of Goss’ at the R5 stage is now considered normal.

Is this revisionist plant pathology or are we supposed to forget what healthy crops are supposed to look like?

Several seed companies acknowledge this change and realize that growers recognize that such action is a bad way to run business where quality and product health is important.

Important items

In making plans for 2013 we have to recognize that any cultural steps and seed treatments that help moisture infiltration, plus increase rooting depth and development are going to be important.

Strip-till advocates were able to do both those things last year. Helping the plants develop a deep root zone and eventually one with a high level of biological activity helped the plants endure the stress conditions.

We also saw that biologicals such as SabrEx helped to make roots more efficient in pulling in nutrients and stimulated their formation of root hairs.

Little things like this could be important. Are there any other minerals that could be in-furrow or foliar applied to help the plants not shut down early?

Do we use BMS or Photo-Mag that have looked good? Are we up for the challenge of raising a crop in 2013, trying to coax the little seeds to be as productive as possible?

You bet.

Will it be easy?

No, nothing has been easy the last four years.

But we will try it again because that is what we do best and many mouths are expecting us to be productive again next year.

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

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