If April showers bring May flowers what does a May snowstorm bring?
Last week was a really weird weather period as up to 12 inches of snow fell across northern Iowa and much of the Midwest also had measurable amounts accumulate over a three-day period.
This was the first time since 1907 there was a two-day snow that amounted to anything. I cannot remember a time when a farmer in Iowa could be planting one day and make a snowman or join in a snow ball fight the next. It was just strange.
Luckily, the temps stayed warm enough that fragile plants and crops such as winter wheat didn’t suffer freeze damage.
Who would have thought that most Midwest farmers in early May would actually be hoping for rains to stay away for the next two weeks?
While we are still okay as far as yield potentials if most of the corn acres could be planted within the next week, the threat of rain midweek has the potential to delay those plans. If and when measurable and significant rains fall this week there could be a significant percent of the state’s corn crop planted later than desired.
There will be lots of experts sharing their opinions about what delayed planting means in terms of percentage of optimum yield that is still possible and trying to minimize the risk of having this happen.
In years of warmer soils one rain on one day made a difference, but this season there were only 3.5 days in parts of central Iowa where the soils were both warm and dry enough to allow those farmers to work and plant their fields.
What is still perplexing is how the market still thinks things are rosy and big yields are still likely.
The lack of field progress encompassed a large area and is present as far south as Kentucky and Tennessee. Where will that early grain come from to fill the feed and ethanol use gap that will exist later this summer?
If one studies the entire coarse grain situation for the U.S. there are a few dark clouds existing for general feed, ethanol and industrial use.
Thus far the areas I have traveled through, where significant progress with planting has occurred, is from about Madrid over to Marshalltown and up to Fort Dodge and along U.S. Highway 20.
It likely felt good to have completed that work, but now those farmers’ concern is if the seeds planted late during that 2.5- to 3-day window will emerge without problems or if the cold conditions that moved in damaged those seedlings.
Only time will tell and that time should come in about two weeks, when we will have to watch and perhaps dig for the small spikes to appear and unfurl. We don’t want to see many of the corkscrewed deformed plants or have begun to twist under the soil surface.
According to the weekly USDA survey the eight states in the upper Midwest are now at 6 percent planted versus a normal of 41 percent. Granted the larger equipment and planters will let growers get acres planted more quickly, but the rains that fell late last week has left ponds in many fields that will take additional days to drain away and more drying weather to get the ground dry enough to permit field traffic.
Mid May planted corn can still yield well. We saw it happen in 2012. But plants are the few organisms that possess chlorophyll, which allows them to turn sunlight energy, water and carbon dioxide into sugars.
Fewer days of being able to do so reduces the amount of sunlight they capture, thus sugar and grain they can produce.
The worst weather delayed planting season I can remember is 1991. What we saw were corn plants that grew taller than average, were higher-eared and lodged more, were spindly, and much of it did not reach black layer or dry decently before it froze in mid September.
In many cases the early frost was a blessing as the Halloween ice storm kaboshed much of the corn still in the fields. Hopefully, none of that happens this season. What may be the greatest threat to final yields is the increase in Goss’ wilt that could appear if conditions are more moist during the summer.
Every corn grower needs to be alert to those carmel-colored lesions that grow from the ground up on the stalk. They need to be ready to test with the strip kits and, if a positive reading is found, be ready to attack it with one of the few nutritional and curative products found in 2010 and 2011 to give a good degree of control.
If warm temps are the rule right after planting, the individual plant may devote too much energy to top growth and not enough to root growth. Uptake of nutrients could be reduced and short the plants on what they need to grow and stay healthy.
The best ways to combat this problem would be sure to use a good starter, apply micronutrients and strongly consider applying one or two applications of micronutrients.
Another method would be to apply an ethylene-based product or a hormone mix containing cytokinins.
Applying biologicals at planting to boost nutrient uptake can also be a big aid in reaching this goal. Energy gets moved around within the cells and plants via charged phosphorus as adenosine triphosphate. Being short on P is not an option, thus foliar P in the right form and at the right time can be beneficial.
The main threat to late planting is normally an increased risk of an early or normal frost cutting short the grain-filling period.
Since 2009 we have not had a season where much of the corn acreage was not dead or dying long before Oct. 1 or even Aug. 15. Most growers need to realize that such early dying corn is not normal and need to do what is necessary to make sure it does not happen.
Soybean yields are typically maximized with early planting since the podded node count is typically greater.
This can be compensated by applying foliars and to make sure additional side branches are formed. Foliar cytokinins cobalt are important in making the pod count increase.
If a bacterial microbe called PPFMs was available I would be using them.
More branches, large root systems, placed fertilizer and a high level of pod retention are necessary for high bean yields.
Work is done
Has anyone else noticed the commercial that says once the planting is done there is nothing else that can be done for the crop?
That is not the logic that noted high-yield achievers around the country subscribe to.
Guys like Ray Rawson and Kip Cullers, who became famous for their high corn and soybean yields that were much as four times better than their counterparts, realized that the crops had nutritional needs that were greater than their neighboring growers.
It is common for such growers to make multiple trips across their fields during the summer to apply nutritional products. Those same nutritional products, including calcium, will help to reduce internode length and increase standability in beans.
Corn is a hungry crop and can respond favorably to having additional fertilizers applied during the hunger periods.
I get to scout some winter wheat this year. It is a fun crop to work with that is so pretty looking as it turns into a golden color near harvest. Some of the crops leaves began to hold fungal lesions last week as several leaf diseases appeared, partly due to the wet weather.
Anyone raising this crop should be scouting for this now and likely applying micros and fungicides.
In a number of southern states the armyworm moths are emerging and reaching high numbers. Last year, there were fields where the grass control products failed and must have attracted these moths.
The resulting caterpillars destroyed some stands of corn that ended up having to be replanted. Be alert to this.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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