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By Staff | Jul 12, 2013

July and the heat that accompanies it has now arrived. Oh for the days where the high temps only got into the low 70s and were so pleasant.

But the crops need the heat so we get to sweat through those summer days where even standing in the shade feels overwhelmingly hot.

After last summer’s extremely warm temperatures those in the mid 80s up to the low 90s seem cool by comparison.

Since we collectively need the grain produced to serve as this country’s food and feed supply, everyone just needs to find a way to cool off for the time being.

Japanese beetles

Many growers and gardeners were asking this past off season about what the most damaging insects were going to be in 2013. A common response was the Japanese beetles since their numbers have grown in recent years. They are especially damaging to specialty crops.

We first heard of them causing problems in Illinois as they marched west and how, with one trap, an insect survey person caught more than 150,000 beetles in one week. We also heard of how they seemed to gather each morning to designate a targeted species of tree or plant their hordes were going to consume that day.

Part of my long weekend, besides looking at crops or working with fertilizers, was doing battle with the pesky insect as they decided to attack plum trees on one day, peach trees a second day and apple trees plus roses on day No. 3.

In doing my quick once over at the place in the morning I could see that they were massing by the thousands on a particular individual or group of tree and were bent on destroying it or them that day. So I started out by spraying an organic insecticide and it did not seem to stop them.

For round No. 2 I moved to a product that is used in restaurants and hospitals and it did not hold them off. Trees were still being denuded.

So I finally called in Hero and it caused the insects to rain down as they expired. My thoughts were heaven help those who might be gone for a few days and then come home to see the bare branches, or don’t have a shed full of products at their disposal.

Based on the battle this weekend we have to watch for their feeding on corn silks later this summer.

Crops in other areas

It is always tough to judge the nation’s entire crop by looking out your back window. Thus we may be letting our terrible crops influence what we let the nation’s corn and bean crops might look like.

But in visiting with producers and farmers, who have been to other crop-growing areas in the U.S., they are escribing the warts at exist in other states.

Now that the planting time rush has gotten over, I am having a few opportunities to visit with crop specialists and farmers from around the Corn Belt. I am hearing there are field problems that exist and it doesn’t sound as rosy as we thought. Keep your ears open to this.

What ticked many growers off about the crop report, besides busting new crop futures prices, is that the USDA predictors made the mistake of assuming that once a field got planted it was going to yield up the expected state average.

Anyone who has driven through their own fields or neighboring fields, north to Minneapolis, or many other areas, has seen the field that should have and would have been torn up and replanted if conditions had been drier.

No matter how tall the plants get and partially hide this view, the lack of plants cannot be made up. Those yellowed and stunted plants sitting in concrete-like soils are not going to flourish.

A second point about the report is the lack of knowledge of plant disease displayed in the pronouncement. SDA can quote prior years and how things turned out, but this is a new era, one where Goss’s wilt changes everything.

Since 2009, which was when we have examined many of our digital field photos, and noticed the large black lesions, the crop health and yields have gone down because the crop is not staying alive as long and because the grain weight can disappear even in storage.

How is that disease and the problems it causes going to disappear so suddenly?

Speaking of Goss’s wilt

I continue to go through my strip tests when I make field inspections and keep checking more counties in Iowa off the GW list. Only a few agronomists are actively looking for signs of the disease.

It was only last week that a visual inspection could find the lower-stalk, caramel-colored lesions. Before that you had to split the stalks open and look for the brown or lack-of-color tissue to find signs of bacterial plugging of the plants’ plumbing tissue.

It seems that no one wants to mention it or talk about it. Is it because the disease underwent an abrupt change in 2009 and became much more virulent, with only Dr. Huber’s mention of a micro fungus serving as an explanation?

Or is it because seed infection is much greater than proposed as evidenced by how many of the seed fields look in late-July or early-August each year? As I discovered in fall 2010, while speaking with state and federal seed officials, exporting infected seed to other states and countries violates state and federal statutes.

It is easy to see the telltale circular areas of dead plants in our Midwest fields while flying over them. Thus with a portion of the seed being infected, and residue in the fields being infected, how are farmers supposed to raise a healthy crop?

They need better advice than being told there is nothing they can do to treat the problem.

Prevented planting

How accurate are the numbers telling us that 200,000 acres in Iowa were filed as prevented planting? I know in my travels from Fort Dodge to Ames on the county blacktops last night there were quite a few 80s and 160s that are still black.

Multiply them along all the roads in just a 60-mile stretch and 200,000 acres seems too small. And that area does not include the worst areas which are further north and east.

An informal survey among state crop insurance agencies would be telling.

Doing the math

What I am watching in the corn fields now is plant development stage and the subsequent expected tasseling, silking and black layering dates.

If corn in a field is at the V8 growth stage it still has to form 10 to 11 leaves at a rate of 2.5 leaves per week. It takes 3 to 5 days from tassel appearance to pollination and silking.

Then from silking to black layer requires 55 to 60 days. Thus the V8 corn can be projected to be safe from frost and at 33 percent moisture around Oct 10.

Earlier maturity hybrids tend to have fewer leaves and require fewer days of vegetative growth. But the remaining rules still apply. This should give you the information that you will need to evaluate each of your corn fields in making your lifeboat type decisions.

Those corn fields still at the V4 or V6 growth stage would cause me worry.

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

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