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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Mar 8, 2013

Spring is just around the corner and the slowly warming days are going to be pushing winter out of the picture.

We may have to fight snowdrifts once or twice more, but a somewhat milder-than-normal winter will soon be history.

Very few days have been below zero, and we really only had one blizzard where the roads were impassible and businesses were shut down. After the tough winters of three and four years ago when tall trees in the windbreaks were full of 12- to 15-foot-tall drifts, this one has not been bad.

While griping about snow is what we might do best, few people are minding. Receiving any sort of precipitation indicates that the 20-month-long drought may be nearing an end. Later this month we can start watching the rainfall amounts in Arkansas, which indicates how well Gulf moisture will move in this direction during May and June.

Even though our good old truth-speaking USDA is predicting 160-plus bushels per acre yields, we will still need lots of preseason and timely in-season rains to come anywhere close to that figure.

Two weeks ago was funeral week for me. It’s tough to see people who impacted your life and you learned from get called to be with their maker.

The first guy to leave was old Doc Skow. He was an Algona native, Iowa State University vet school grad who worked in Fairmont at the large, big animal vet clinic.

During his first years vetting he made the connection that many animal health problems were diet and nutritionally based.

Therefore, he often times could help solve health problems by seeing what farming practice or dietary item was not up to par. By correcting the nutrient or cropping shortages he could usually get at the cause of the problem rather than just treating symptoms.

This led him to studying under an agronomy teacher who had served as the mathematician on the Manhattan project. This work got their entire group into studying the energy aspect of fertilizer and raising crops.

The concepts were “out there,” but in recent years of practice and observations his teachings typically proved correct. In his time he wrote about five more books about agriculture than I have so far, many more than most people.

The second person to pass was my uncle Leo. He was born in Southwest Minnesota and grew up on a farm in Northwest Iowa, before moving with the rest of the family to Mitchell Country. He was a grain farmer and raised cattle and hogs. I remember him making our first set of building blocks out of 1-inch smooth plywood when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old that we played with for years.

Beginning in about second grade I moved to driving the baler and switching off hauling loads of hay or straw during the summer and doing field work in the fall and spring.

He was about the only guy I ever saw who could successfully back the IH 560 hooked to the baler and two loaded racks of hay backwards into the barn before the heavy rain began to fall.

Somehow, he and my father always figured out when to mow the hair or windrow the oats so we could be doing the hard work on a 95- to 102-degree day. I never figured out how they could be so accurate in their predictions.

So doing all that work between two or three families and seven to nine boys taught us how to work and mix it up with fun times. There were usually a few .22s at work and lots of practical jokes to make things interesting.

After farming and working as an electrician for years, being on many church committees and working as a community leader, he passed at the age of 95 from a blood infection and his funeral was last week.

Springtime issues

With March arriving, seed should be at your dealer’s place and ready to be picked up when the yards are clean of snow and the roads are in good shape.

It appears that these events will be two to three weeks later than in 2012, which is fine with most people.

The extremely warm and early spring had a lot of growers justifiably apprehensive about the upcoming summer. In the 2012 season, when many growers had to fight some of the toughest weed battles in several decades, what was learned was that rains, needed to activate pre-emerge herbicides, don’t have to arrive as expected and that seeds germinate according to a temperature-based schedule.

In most years those weed are germinating and emerging about the second or third week of April. In 2012, it happened about March 23 and many operators did not get out into the fields early enough to apply herbicides to prevent germination and emergence.

They then had to fight weeds – that ended up being very difficult and expensive to eliminate. The wisdom that was gained in the Delta states in the past few seasons had taught us that some of the newer weeds have resistance to as many as five different herbicide families.

We must not let them get beyond 4 inches tall or they prove even tougher to control than last year.

Applying products earlier in the season forces most herbicides to degrade sooner than normal, opening up more fields to July or early August weed breakthroughs.

The most recent practice is to try overlapping residual programs whereby an effective residual herbicide is in action before the prior applied herbicide has worn out.

Every operator and agronomist will have to be observant and act with anticipation. We will be wishing again for the good old days of five years ago when clean fields were easy and cheap. It just proves nature does adapt and sometimes rather quickly.

On a related matter, there was an article published in the BioScience Magazine titled, “Navigating a Critical Juncture for Sustainable Weed Management.”

The authors and reviewer were some of the leading weed control advisers in the country. What they were discussing was how the era of easy weed control was over and that nature and the unwanted plants/weeds were gaining steam in that battle.

The battle is shifting slightly to use the same tactics with a slightly different caliber of bullets, namely two phenoxy herbicides, Banvel and 2, 4-D. The authors were basically saying that a better approach was to use an improved system where varying management techniques were used to control weeds rather than just throwing more or differing and increasing rates of old herbicides at the problem.

They felt that we would face a similar wall in a few years if we didn’t adopt new practices.

Their direct quote is that “if herbicide resistant weed problems are addressed only with herbicides, evolution will most likely win.”

Yikes. Part of the problem is that over the last 15 years when product dollars should have been partially directed to new families and new MOA products from different discovery units of several firms, that did not take place.

Now those four major firms we look to for innovation have nothing new to offer.

Greater returns were available in pharma research rather than in developing new herbicides, particularly on the European scene. The new stuff may be coming from the Pacific Rim instead and at a sporadic pace.

What worries many producers about the new herbicide/variety tag teams is that both depend on herbicides that had vapor pressure problems or particle drift problems under windy conditions.

Now everyone knows that many neighbors spray when the winds are too strong, but we are never guilty.

However, when the next rain is coming and spraying might come to a halt for a week, the risk of letting weeds get too tall will push everyone into the decision of spraying when the winds get a bit too strong.

The new catch phrase to describe the new developing program is that of integrated weed management.

Some degree of tillage or strip-till, where new weed or grass seeds remain on the surface where they don’t sprout rather than get worked in, may be part of the program. No one program will fit.

It will be back to the chess games like we used to play in the spring and early summer.

As the spring warms over the next weeks, it will be time to pull the machinery into the sheds or only the concrete pads.

Planter updating is on many growers’ agendas.

What seed corn population to plant has been a popular topic, in light of the current dry conditions. Being a realistic optimist is likely the proper approach.

Good luck in getting that work done.

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

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