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By Staff | Feb 15, 2013

The winter season is moving along rather quickly and it’s easy to notice the longer days and greater warmth to the sun.

There are still no huge snow banks in any areas of the state and until the quick storm this past weekend most parts had little to no snow.

It may be hard to believe, but the official start to spring is only about five weeks away.

Late winter can sometimes be when we get the heaviest amounts of snow, but except for having to push the white stuff out of the way, getting moisture in any form is welcome for those paying attention to cropping conditions for the coming season.

The meeting season is continuing and there are still several educational events being held that can be attended. The topics vary a bit, such as the latest and best ideas on how to manage the variety of insect and weed pests.

With the former, is it onto the future with new families of products and ways to scout for the multitude of bugs that we expect in the coming summer. In the area of weeds much of the trend seems to be forward into the past.

Most of the farmers and agronomists less than 40 years old are having to relearn many of the old standby products that were widely used prior to 1996, but have faded as newer herbicides and herbicide/variety partners took the weed control world by storm.

We used to say that staying current was difficult enough and catching up was going to be almost impossible. The good students still have time to learn the lingo and how each of the products works.

With maybe one new mode-of-action coming onto the scene during this offseason there is no new avalanche of products anticipated.

New soil testing regime

We had a guest in our booth at the Iowa Power Show who was one of the founders of the Perfect Blend Fertilizer Co., flying in from Texas. It was fun to hear his stories about his company’s work in developing products and instances where the response from different crops was eye-catching.

What was most interesting was the new method of soil testing that has been developed to keep up with its usage.

What he related raised eyebrows and then made absolute sense. It could change some of the things agronomists do and how they will interpret soil tests once the method is widely adapted.

What was conceived by a southern researcher after he got tired of playing farmhand and ranch hand on several cattle operations, then went on to several levels of college was that soil testing has focused on the wrong thing.

What he surmised was that the methods we were using was wrong, that it measured the levels of inorganic minerals existing in each field rather than the amounts that were plant-available.

With the increased acknowledgement that plants are highly reliant on minerals converted from fixed forms into the plant only after conversion into a reduced form by soil biology, he wondered if there was some method to test for those minerals that were held by soil component.

What he did was to incubate the soil samples, culture its microbiology, dry it, and then test for the minerals that was held in those microbe carcasses. It appears that his conjecture was correct with his colleagues now doing the correlation work. He has released an interesting paper to discuss his process and protocol.

What such a method could provide when paired with current soil tests is a better answer as to why some good testing fields still do not yield well. The mineral levels may be present, but the beneficial fungi and bacteria may be lacking.

We are seeing more of that in recent years. Just because a mineral is in the soil, it does not end up helping to grow the plant because it is not in the plant usable form.

New herbicides

In years previous, there would always be a list of new crop protection products that we needed to learn about.

This year the list of new products consists of either new combinations of older products or generics of the same. In the category of new would be several new fungicides from the newer family.

Why this product should help in controlling diseases in different crops is that fungi’s fast reproduction rate can create resistant strains within one or two seasons of a selective pressure being placed against them.

Witness the rapid spread of strobe-resistant frogeye leaf spot over the northern Delta States over the past two years and its emergence as a yield robber just a few seasons after strobes became more widely used as a disease-controlling agent on soybean crops.

Strobe resistance appearing in a few short years was something that was warned back in 2003 and 2004 by researchers at Cornell, the U.K. and Syngenta when they recommended against multiple applications in the same season of the single product.

Members of this newer family have the advantage of being absorbed into the wax layer on the leaves which leads to longer periods of activity and more weather fastness.

Banvel or 2, 4-D?

No decision has been made yet on EPA approval of either Banvel- or 2, 4-D-tolerant crops. Based on visiting with growers over the past year there is a real mixture of response as to what they thought about their potential release.

While both may solve a few problems with totally resistant weeds in a few states, growers felt it may create a new series of problems.

The first thing brought up typically has been wondering what products would be left to use for burndown if resistance to either of those two ever appeared. Next in line was the issue of drift.

While any or all labels specify that applicators quit running if wind speeds exceed five or 10 miles they have all witnessed neighbors spraying when wind speeds are three times that amount due to approaching rains or the need to get a certain field finished.

Just stating that better adherence to written policy is going to occur doesn’t make it happen. No one appreciates having their field or farmyard being trespassed upon with little recourse.

John Kempf

For any of the growers or commercial gardeners reading this article on Thursday, be aware of a small meeting on Friday at the Starlite Inn in Fort Dodge. A colleague and friend from eastern Ohio, John Kempf is an ag and specialty crop adviser is going to be the main speaker.

While much of his clientele across the country are raising higher dollar crops such as veggies, sweet cherries, blueberries and apples his advice also applies to the row crops we grow across much of Iowa. While his advice typically centers on producing an IP-ed nutritious and healthy crop that commands a premium, what he recommends could also to row crops. If what he has learned about how to successfully drought proof a crop works, we may need that advice in 2013 and it may be a good meeting to attend. Dr McNeill of Algona, Marv and I will also be there to add a few ideas.

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

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