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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Mar 29, 2013

Except for the frozen soils and four-foot snowdrifts accompanying last weekend’s snowstorm, one would almost guess that spring arrived almost on schedule.

It doesn’t do any good to gripe about how cold it is. It all must be due to global warming or some other hare-brained reason.

We got back from Argentina and Uruguay a year ago and found that our cherry and peach trees were half bloomed out and the bees were already doing their jobs. The other trees soon followed only to be nailed by those three subfreezing nights in early May.

Mine and most of those in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan got nailed almost as bad. So staying cold is a plus for them, but a negative as far as getting the soil thawed out and accepting of rainfall trying to soak in.

Another USDA report is going to be out soon. Preliminary guesses thus far have listed expected corn acres at a level about 2.3 million acres under those levels predicted in the last report. They still aren’t certain because a number of growers are still undecided.

Deciding factors include availability of irrigation water in western states, snowmelt in the northwestern corn belt may cause flooding problems once it does warm up and availability of seeds, which could drive growers to switch acres to crops other than corn.

On the side voting for more corn are guys paying hefty cash rents and ethanol plants who will need the grain ASAP this fall. At this point having much 2013-produced grain available to go to market prior to Sept 1 anywhere in the U.S. is unlikely.

Things to do yet

By mid to late March everyone who does not have a shed large enough to pull their machinery inside to unfold and make updates and additions to their planters needs a few nice, sunny days where they can pull their equipment up on the pads in front of the their sheds to make those changes and updates.

Thus far none of those warm days have materialized. The weather forecasts don’t seem to be expecting any of those days in the next week. Thus that work will have to wait until conditions warm.

Such work often takes one to two weeks or longer to go through any tillage equipment, planters and bars or sprayers to get them ready.

Realistically getting that work done, having the snow melt, getting the seed in or waiting for southern production to arrive, doing any spring tillage to smooth stalks down or run the strip-till bars or spreading manure from the livestock operations, will require the most time and point to a later-than-normal planning window.

If it’s later than desired, we will only be able to look to the soil thermometers to see if the temps are above or below 50 degrees and gauge if it is time or still too early to plant.

After last season’s yield results and seeing the number of growers who saw the best yields with mid May planting, we may see more growers watch their soil temps and ground conditions to determine when the ground is ready to plant. As always growers with a large number of acres to plant will be incline to rush things.

I spent a bit of time with a friend who spends much time running seeds through planters, adjusting meters and is not pleased with the quality of what he is seeing submitted to him.

The new bugaboos of having the seed fields die too early and producing shriveled seed as well as the newer problems of too wide of variation in seed dimensions creating an enigma that the equipment must solve are going to be very challenging to every grower or planter specialist setting such equipment.

On top of this will be bags carrying a lower-than-normal germination ratings that will leave growers trying to outguess how much of it is likely to emerge.

Pre-planting decisions

Items that growers may need to decide on yet prior to planting will be what fertilizer to apply in furrow or what biological to select for use at planting time or apply to the seed.

Ten years ago, companies and early adapters were deciding if they should apply a fungicide to the seed. Five years ago it was tough to convince growers to use things like an inoculant or a seed-applied insecticide.

Now the adventuresome bean growers hoping to boost their soybean yields are asking what else might they include in the mix.

This is also at the time we are seeing companies such as Bayer, BASF and Syngenta buying into or developing their biological lineup. So there are now bacterial- or fungal-based nematicides.

We are seeing Israeli-based biological companies release their nematicides that have looked great in university trials. In California, where strawberry growers have to spend $4,000 per acre to apply EDE or Telone, they would love to see cheaper and safer alternatives.

Ones that I have worked with and have found to be valuable are the PPFM bacteria that can be seed or foliar applied. These select bacteria which are in the final stages of testing have been used on a limited basis in past years.

What we have found is that the cytokinin producers, either seed or leaf applied will cause select varieties to form four to niner branches on every plant instead of the normal two or three.

The second microbe that will be selectively available is a strain of pseudomonas flourscense bacteria. This bacterium is known to serve several important roles in the soil.

It releases compounds that fight many different soil pathogens that attach seedling and cause stand loss or rotted root systems.

Several top university soil microbiologists recognize that its population declines in many fields is part of the reason seedling diseases have become a major problem in parts of the Midwest.

These bacteria also form and release enzymes that cause phosphorous to become plant available. If one looks at their soil sample analyses and finds that their P1 levels are less than about 70 percent of their P2 levels, and pHs are under 7.4, their problem may not a lack of P in the soil, but a lack of plant available P.

Applying a select strain of Pf may be the best methods of increase the P availability and much cheaper than applying more P, which would also get tied up in the soil. A strain that we experimented with four years ago showed a 6 to 9 bushels per acre response on soybeans.

Such products are used just as regularly in South American fields as inoculants are used here.

Perfect blend use

A week ago, I commented about our informational trip to visit a fertilizer company and growers out in Washington State. We really liked the scenery, cropping and friendliness of the people. We also liked what we saw about the so-called biotic fertilizer which has been tested on the ISU campus the last few years producing very good results under a multitude of tests.

The few farmers who used it commercially in Iowa were impressed with the plant health and productivity of the crop grown. In the past week, since I wrote a letter providing the details to select farmers, the booking pace has been very fast.

There is just a little product still available for shipping. At this pace we could see a new plant in this state in the near future. We also expect 50-pound bags made available for lawns, flower beds, trees, gardens, hort plants and berry beds, to anyone who wants to try it including commercial or organic gardeners hoping to maximize production and quality.

A hot topic

One subject that has drawn attention was a grain sample that was pulled from the region and analyzed in a food quality lab. The analysis report showed a certain level of formaldehyde. As someone who used to cut up all sorts of animals as well as cadavers in my college days in comparative chordate and the neighboring human anatomy lab, I know a little about the product.

It is bad news in any food or human exposure product, so further investigation is necessary to find out what it’s doing there and where or what process it is coming from. More on this when the time it right.

Seeding

Once the snow drifts melt and the ground dries a bit it should be an ideal time to get alfalfa or small grain seeding in.

In the case of alfalfa, be sure you have soil tested and limed so the proper pH level exists in the field.

With the record high hay prices may of those growers have found out that forage production has been profitable as long as they had the time and labor to get the 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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