Just around the corner comes the welcome and dreaded Fourth of July. In the crop world our fathers and grandfathers always noted the height of their corn crop and said that if it was “knee high by the Fourth of July,” the crop had a good chance of being ripe before the cold fall weather arrived.
It worked for those earlier generations, but we have more modern planters and advanced equipment that can plant hundreds of acres in a day. We also begin planting earlier when the soils are colder than in the old days.
Thus, in the last two decades we have had a number of seasons where we had corn plants that are knee high by June 4, and even beginning to tassel by July 1 through July 4.
This year though, we are going to see most fields not match that standard. Where will that leave us as July turns into August and then September?
Across the state we have corn that was planted in late April and before the big May snow, yet we will have many acres of corn that was planted or replanted in mid June.
None of us have that perfect crystal ball that will give us the accurate and perfect answer to that question.
And how are our major crops faring across the Midwest and in each of our neighborhoods? The answer depends on who is giving their opinion, how far and where they have traveled in recent days, and how closely they have looked at the fields in question.
If you listen to well-known commodity commentators, once a field is planted everything is rosy and there are no future problems. Plus they believe that every field can recover from whatever problems existed with no yield penalty.
We know how foolish each of those misconceptions are. It’s too bad that such ideas even get aired, since we have to live with the bearish reactions within the marketing structure that determines commodity prices.
I had the chance this past weekend to travel 140 miles when we drove to and from Carroll, on Sunday and then to Iowa Falls to meet daughter No. 3 for a Father’s Day supper.
My wife took the wheel on the drive to Carroll leaving me to spend time looking at the crops. I was watching both sides of U.S. Highway 30 and was looking for corn fields that I would rate as good or very good for mid June.
Having big drowned out spots, areas that had rotted off, or major erosion problems dropped them out of those two categories. In that 70-mile drive I counted only five fields that were good to very good. I have not done the math yet (one field every 14 miles), but that would equate to a very low percentage using 80- or 160-acre field size averages.
On the evening trip up I-35 and U.S. Highway 20, the count was 15 good to very good fields in 60 miles.
Try that on your next drive and see what totals you come up with.
Other people that attended the wedding and reception were from various parts of the Midwest. What we surmised was that the most affected area was from south of St Louis up to the Twin Cities along the eastern 75 percent of Missouri, Iowa, and eastern half of Minnesota.
That amounts to quite a few acres and forgone grain production. The night before different parts of the state had received rainfall amounts that ranged from .6 to 9.5 inches. That flooding did not hit any major population centers, thus was not reported by any major media.
It put a major stop to any grower activity in those affected areas. Accompanying the huge amounts of rain was a lightning show that was one of the top two I have ever seen. It looked like celestial beings were dueling with their light sabers for hours. We had pulled out onto our gravel road on one of our ATVs to watch the show about 10 p.m. as we did not want to miss it.
So far that is the story for central and north central Iowa. What I have seen west of U.S. Highway 71, the farmers who got hit the hardest in last year’s drought have the best corn crop so far. There is a long way to go yet, but that might be poetic justice. There are some very nice looking fields in eastern Iowa, but flat areas often flooded and hilly fields suffered much more erosion.
Late corn plantings
Farmers who have been forced or have decided to plant corn up until June 15 will note several features about their plants this year. As one moves from planting corn in late April to late May the corn plants will grow about 18 inches taller.
But getting into June the plants will stay shorter, which can help with standability. This could move pollination into a more typically stress time period, but can help by moving the grain fill process into a time period where temps are cooler and rainfall is more plentiful.
The drydown period will be cooler, thus the normal .5 to .7 percent of grain field dry down per day seen in mid September likely won’t happen. Thus having a thinner husk cover will be important.
One item that has not been mentioned yet is that many of the fields planted weeks ago were harmed by the cold saturated soils. This is very widespread.
Due to the calendar date, lack of field drying and so many other tasks at hand, fields that should have and would have been torn up and replanted in a normal year were not replanted or spot-planted. This number could amount to 25 to 30 percent of the fields.
Stands of 10,000 plants or less per acre are common in those bad fields.
Goss’s wilt is a reality now. Late-planted corn in other years was often not affected by leaf diseases since plant breeders used multi-genetic resistance genes to keep different varieties green until frost.
Now with Goss’s and gray leaf spot being problematic, a late field can be overwhelmed by high levels of inoculum floating or blowing around a neighborhood.
Keeping high nutritional and mineral levels in a late-planted field could be a very good preventative strategy.
Late soybean plants
In many parts of Iowa half of the bean acres remain unplanted as of Monday. In fact, a person can still get stuck in those fields driving across on an all-terrain vehicle.
Many will take a week or more to dry. What may be the major challenge in getting late-planted beans to yield well is that they form fewer podded nodes on each stem.
This has to be compensated for by either having more plants and stems or by forming more branches. Branch numbers can be increased by using foliar, or seed-applied cytokinin hormone containing or producing microbes.
This is where the cytokinin or B12 over-producing PPFMs had great value. More side branching does increase the need for foliar calcium to increase branch and stem strength.
We have had successful experience in central Iowa with late-planted beans in using foliar programs to help mid June planted beans to still yield 53 to 55 bushels per acre.
It will take two more trips and phosphate and sugar nutrition along with humate-based applications to make it happen.
But it can be done using equipment that you already have.
Yellowing corn stands
As you drive by many corn fields the degree of yellowing is noticeable. It appears there are three or four reasons.
If these include your acres be sure you check to see if saturated soils, compacted roots, loss of nitrogen, poor micronutrient levels, or a combination of several are to blame.
Now may be a good time to do some digging or sampling for sending to an analytical lab. There is time to act and remediate some of these.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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