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By Staff | Jul 5, 2013

We now sit on the first week in July wondering how the rest of the cropping season and year will turn out.

Thus far, when one tours around much of the Midwest and in particular the eastern 80 percent of Iowa and Northeast Minnesota, it is easy to see that there have been lots of cropping problems that have affected a high percentage of the acres and will severely affect final yields.

This is all following a 2012 season when many growers waited long weeks and months for the first decent rain that would replenish the moisture that the plants pulled out of the soil, rains that never came until May. Then some of it was in the form of snow when it finally arrived.

On top of battling the flood conditions, most growers now feel that they are battling their own supposedly helpful USDA. As Mark Twain once said, “there’s liars, damn liars and then there are statisticians.”

That was definitely the case last week with the latest USDA report. Everyone was absolutely dumbfounded when the acreage report was released last week and they somehow found new corn acres in states such as Nevada, Alaska, Poland and Latvia.

The move was reminiscent of June a few years ago when they found all of the supposed new acres and crashed the market. Who thinks new acres in Nevada will yield as much as those now fallowed acres in Webster, Hamilton or Floyd counties?

One has to ask the questions: 1. Do they know what they are doing? 2. Is it accidental or on purpose? 3. Do they realize that their actions are causing growers to drop plans to try to get those damaged acres to yield as much as possible? 4. What is the goal of driving grain production down? 5. Where will the needed bushels of corn to supply the livestock and ethanol acres come from during the next consumption year?

These questions deserve answers.

Has anyone looked to see if Goldman Sachs held a majority of the short positions on the board as they did in June three years ago, when they collapsed the corn market by $2 per bushel, which prompted a short scolding letter to Vilsack from the Chinese minister of ag?

Crop status

Last week was one in which there was a big rain in midweek and then conditions warmed up and dried off. Most of the final bean acres finally got planted or were declared as prevented planting.

Most of the glamour and optimism that was there just before the snow seems long gone.

Field topography, internal drainage and amount of tile in the ground determined which fields finally got planted and which ones will lay idle for the summer before growing a cover crop.

What needs to be remembered is that farmers who raise above-average bean yields really work as it and are willing to make extra applications to coax their crop along with extra fertilizer, humate and hormonal products.

A high percent of the corn acres that began the week yellow and waterlogged finally had a chance to begin drying out and get oxygen into the root zone.

This allowed the roots response to the aerobic conditions in a favorable manner, with taller fields returning to a green color. As those plants begin to block the view of the rest of the field from the road passersby will think the fields have improved, but the view from the air will tell the truth.

All of the thin and drowned out spots will be visible. Those fields and their yields are not going to recover, no matter how Pollyannaish the surveyors are in their work.

Applying sidedress nitrogen was the task at hand for a lot of growers as they have recognized additional fertilizer was likely needed. One thing I have learned is that when corn turns a copper, yellow color it is due to manganese, zinc and copper shortages, which creates low N-use efficiency. Thus tissue testing can be very helpful in making a proper determination.

This year the correct approach seemed to be one where each operator had to review how much N had been applied, had the soil been saturated more than 10 days, had that N been stabilized, and was it possible to get into the field between rains.

Now that most of the better-drained fields have already been side-dressed and those that remain are the partially drowned, pothole fields with major blank areas, the decision about managing the rest of the fields will depend on insurance levels and what sort of yield potential remains.

Does a grower cut his or her losses or decide to invest more inputs in a field that has limited yield potential?

Midwest-wide the latest NASS figures for percentage of the corn crop falling into the very poor, poor or fair category averages close to 40 percent.

This compares to soybeans which are rated actually a bit worse for the five non-irrigated states. The big factor here is the lateness of both crops and how this really is not being figured into NASS calculations.


Tracking where and what percentage of nitrogen may have been lost is difficult. N can be present in three different forms and can be removed easily by the roots from a depth of 30 inches.

Soil NO3 testing and then getting those results back in a timely fashion has been difficult given the saturated soils. Use of a chlorophyll meter has been helpful since it gives real time readings of leaf greenness.

The percentage of growers who now operate with a planned sidedress program has increased in recent years due to excessive springtime moisture.

Insect stories

If you are digging for corn rootworm larvae you will now be finding third- to fifth-instar larvae that are about .5 to .75 inches in length. Their root feeding should be nearly over and will be visible as hollowed out and brown roots.

In past delayed planting, saturated years we often saw that the mortality rates of the small first instar larvae was high with many of them not getting established on a corn root. Few fields get their roots inspected and rated, thus we will have to see how much lodging occurs in any July or August winds when the ground is moist.

Those fields I have checked have not shown much feeding so far. Will that luck hold?

In a recently published paper, an entomology team at the Illinois Natural History Survey told of how it has discovered how and why the western corn rootworm changed its feeding and egg-laying habits and began to lay eggs in soybean fields.

In past years it was assumed that the beetles needed nutrition they could only obtain by eating a corn pollen or silk meal in order to form their eggs. Changing this requirement was assumed to be low risk since the CRW only produces one generation per year versus two to three with European corn borer.

What they determined using antibiotic feeding trials and DNA microbial marking was that the microbes within the insect guts were what mutated.

These gastric changes allowed the feeding adults to change their diet to soybeans and get the nutrition they needed from soybean leaves.

These findings likely even go beyond what established entomologists said 10 to 15 years ago when they expressed their doubts about how long the Bt rootworm traits would be effective.

Root feeding last year was damaging in 2012 in a moisture-starved season with silk feeding caused kernel loss also being severe.

An insect that has gained a firm foothold in the Midwest in recent years, the Japanese beetle, has now emerged and the numbers are increasing.

If they operate in 2013 as they did in previous years, they will appear in huge numbers and selectively devour and destroy different foliage and plants in towns, farms and fields in coming weeks.

When they get to soybean leaves, corn silks, raspberry leaves or grape vineyards, they can become a problem.

Last year I saw that Hero did the best job in controlling them.

Has every farmer or crop scout procured their Ag Dia CMM Goss’s wilt detection kit to use in testing their corn fields for the disease? I have one strip left in my first batch as I have been using it in the last week or so to test corn stalk tissue.

You don’t have to have visible symptoms to find the disease. We think the earlier corn growers start their treatment programs the less damage the bacteria does to the plant health and final yields.

Good luck with the multitude of tasks at hand and I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July as much as possible.

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

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