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By Staff | Mar 1, 2013

March 1 has arrived and with it comes springtime. It’s when the new growth appears on the trees and native plants, it’s time to finalize preparations for the upcoming planting season.

Last weekend when we were all preparing for the biggest blizzard in the history of mankind, or so they told us. People knew we were sure to be snowed in until mid-July.

That never happened as the big storm got blocked by the big, dry, high pressure air mass that has been here since July 2011.

We got a gentle 6 to 9 inches of snow over most of the area that is already melting.

That half inch of moisture may come in handy when the newly planted seeds are trying to sprout in about six weeks. Keep the moisture coming.

Everyone involved in marketing grain can see how the pressure is on to drive prices down on several fronts. We know that the high prices have spurred the planting of additional acres in South America, Russia and Australia, while hurting demand from both the livestock and ethanol industries.

Our biggest enemy now may be the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its overly optimistic predictions for the size of our 2013 crops.

The current estimate for the national corn yield average is 163 to 166 bushels per acre.

Unless someone in Washington knows absolutely that all the western Midwest states are scheduled to receive 10 to 12 inches of moisture between ground thaws and planting, those estimates will be way, way too high.

With as little moisture as is in the ground from Marshalltown and further west, the roots have no moisture to follow downward as they did last year. We can be optimists, but also have to be realists.

County yields

The USDA county-by-county 2012 corn yields were just published for the state. As is typical, the southern counties with their lighter soils really got hurt with three counties under 60 bpa, and a total of 11 producing under 100 bpa.

Being located close to Missouri, where the drought centered in late summer was not a good thing. On Iowa’s western border the rains quit in late June and it shows with lots of counties in the 120 to 130 range.

On the plus side are scattered counties that either had heavier soils or they benefitted from showers that fell at critical times. Mixed in are a few counties in traditionally great producing areas that show yield averages nearly 20 bpa under neighboring counties.

If a person had to make an educated guess or summarize what they know, they would maybe point to too much rootworm damage, too many acres planted to Goss’ wilt-susceptible hybrids, too many acres of shallow-rooted hybrids or not enough root systems growing deep into healthy soils.

Drought did not do all the damage last year as evidenced by the fact that certain growers or cultural practices often produced surprisingly good yields last year. In many cases, crop insurance is protecting those who aren’t willing to make changes they need to recognize and respond to.

Planting dates

In most years during the last two decades, the better yields were from fields planted early. Last year and in previous drought years, when it cooled off and showers arrived in August, the better corn was the stuff planted in early- to mid-May. What should a person do this year and what do we expect?

No one really knows, but given the fact that the moisture profile is so deficient and timely rains will be needed, having the grain fill period falling into the hopefully cooler period of August 10 through mid-September may pay big dividends.

More than one grower has said they and some of their neighbors are not going to rush into the fields this spring and try to be the first person finished planting. Hedging the bet and varying the plating dates may be the best planning of action this season.

With many people now running 16- to 24-row and bigger planters, it no longer takes many days to plant corn. Remember that getting beans planted by early May still generally gives the largest podded node count.

Doing a portion of the corn early, then moving to soybeans and finishing up on corn later may be a plan worth exploring.


We are slowly learning, with the help of good soil microbiologists and a more observant press, about the many species of microbes that live in the soil and around the roots.

More famers are willing to apply commercialized products to the seeds before planting or in-furrow at planting time. Those growers are seeing good results via yield checks and seeing treated rows staying much greener and filling for additional weeks.

Now the next sector of biology to explore is that of phylloplane bacteria, meaning those that live on the leaf surface and help the plants grow or protect their health. A few years ago there were a few select growers using a bacterial mix, discovered by a Univiversity of Missouri biochemist, called PPFMs. That 50-cent acronym stands for pink pigmented facultative methylatroph.

In other words they are pink in color, live on the leaf surface, get fed methane and have the role of telling the bean plant how to grow. What we saw with them was that the select strains will induce the plants to form additional branches and deeper roots. Given proper fertility and a good foliar program, those extra branches can support extra pods and more yield. There is a new company that has been organized and they will be researching different PPFMs and how their properties can be improved and benefit the crops they will be used on.

Dr. Gwen Beattie, of ISU, added a chapter or two in a text book detailing properties of the bacteria.

Foliar Micronutrients

More growers are realizing that their corn plants are exhibiting the light green dark/green striping, and tissue testing is verifying that the plants need additional nutrition. If that is your corn showing that problem, now is the time to visit with your local supplier and get the Defender G or Micro Mix ordered.

The companies need to get the ingredients in earlier enough to manufacture the finished product so they can get it delivered on time. With more crop advisers being educated on this issue, there is going to be a greater focus on this issue.

Besides helping plant health, the minerals can help the plants tolerate stress much better than if they were not treated.

It has been glaringly obvious the last four years that the corn crops have been dying four to seven weeks early.

This reduces the available days of grain fill and results in yields that many growers are ashamed to admit to except to their bankers or their insurance agent.

It is early enough that many growers who have had that problem can make a few changes in their management plans to reverse this course.

It took a few years to get into the situation and it may take the same amount of time to rectify things.

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

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