It is hard to believe that August is right around the corner. It seems like summer just started and the crops were getting off to a trying start.
But many of the county fairs are now over with and RAGBRAI is going on this week. So the calendar and weather people must be right, and the last month of the official summer season will be here before we know it.
State of the crop
How do things currently look in this state and across the Midwest? It all depends on where you are and when things were planted.
Just a short while ago fields were flooded and crops were being lost from too much water. Now most of the state has gone a month with no rain and it shows.
Many stands of corn look like pineapple plants during the afternoons and take on the gray or brown look as not enough moisture gets into the plants.
The drought effect can also be seen with the soybean plants as their growth has slowed or stopped. Thus we are still seeing V2 and V3 soybean plants in these late-planted fields near the date when the 30-inch rows should be closing.
That is not the prescription for 40, 30 or even 20 bushels per acre soybeans.
The corn crop looks good on the rolling ground in eastern Iowa as well as in the western part of the state where the water ran off or soaked in rather than ponding.
In the central and north central part of the state the crop looks better when viewed from the road. Observing them from the air or when walking through the fields one can see the stands are lousy and erosion has been severe.
Stands of 10,000 plants or less are not going to yield as well as stands three times as high. Surveys of acres planted are not going to reflect the extreme yield and moisture variability expected this fall.
Last week I got a chance to inspect a field where a product from John Kempf, a very wise Ohio crop advisor and smart input supplier, has developed. It is high in cobalt and silica and helped form the thickest and most solid corn leaves I have ever seen.
If maximizing spongy palisade cells adds photosynthetic activity and to yield we will have this trial to learn from.
In Indiana under very droughty 2012 conditions the results were good.
The other qualifier is the maturity or lack thereof of the plants in all the fields. The acres planted before the snow are tasseling now, which should turn out OK if the temps cool off and we get rain.
Earlier I had covered how a corn plant develops and the timetable it follows. Plants that silk yet before Aug. 1 should make it to black layer and normal plant senesence before Oct 1.
What I saw on my drive up to Rochester last week allowed me to see fields in Floyd and Mitchell counties as well as in southeast Minnesota where the plants are still only at the V6 growth stage.
There are also some at V6 through V10 in central Iowa that will not tolerate a freeze before Oct. 15 or Oct. 20. We need hot temperatures to gain growing degree units, but want cooler weather to minimize plant stress, thus our conundrum.
One other item that none of the surveys are picking up on is the lack of root development seen in nearly all fields.
Most plants have about one-third of a normal sized root system. In most fields it is very easy to pull plants from the ground with little effort. Tomahawked roots seem to be the norm.
The ground was often too wet when planters went to the fields. We have to ask if the lack of oxygen in the soil affected root development.
We also have to wonder about the amount of recreational tillage performed last fall and ask if some of the machinery has become too heavy for wet conditions.
There are growers realizing that this has happened and they are considering going back to row boxes rather than center fill.
They have noticed the high amount of traction in those planter wheel tracks. There is more realization among crop advisors and farmers that soil is a living biological medium and abusing it by applying products known to kill important beneficial fungi and bacteria will cause it to get harder and shed water faster.
Everyone with hard soil problems needs to be studying cover crops as field trials and farmer experiences have shown that planting tillage radishes or cereal rye can help break up compaction and increase moisture infiltration.
If you listen to or read articles by Jill Clapperton you can learn about the different organisms that the roots of cover crops can support. Back in the 1983 payment- in-kind year when many fields were worked during the summer and never grew any vegetation, the 1984 crop often proved to be short on available phosphorous.
At the time it was called fallow syndrome. In time soil scientists discovered the microbial connection and realized that raising a green crop created a vegetative bridge that proved beneficial to the next year’s crop.
This is the time to read reports such as Larry Acker’s to see what the ocean current or volcanic activity suggest could happen in September and early October.
Either way the use of propane is bound to exceed what corn growers used in 2011 and 2012 to dry the grain.
The slow growth and development of the soybean crop remains puzzling. The fields planted nearly on time contain plants that are still shorter than expected due to the cool nights.
I have only seen a few fields where the 30-inch rows are almost closed. Even the better fields contain plants that lack about 10 inches of growth of closing the rows.
The plants in the later-planted fields range in size from V2 to V4 with most not growing much because they cannot pull any moisture in from the bone dry topsoil.
I was trying to catch the best soybean expert that I know of, a geneticist and soybean biologist who helps direct the USDA soybean research center, to quiz him about how to read what the bean plants are doing this season.
In a normal year they are supposed to start flowering close to June 20 as long as they have reached the V5 growth stage. A few years ago this began on June 10.
Today I was seeing V6 through early V8 plants that were still not flowering. Is something missing that the plants are not getting from the soil?
I know we will recommend applying Seed Set to those fields to instigate flowering and manipulate plant architecture.
It is surprising what a little cobalt, NO3-N and sugar will do. I have also been inspecting fields where we applied different mixes of products to boost growth and add branches.
The growth responses by the plants have been excellent, often times in as little as five days.
One major problem that growers are encountering is there are management things they would like to do, but if they have to apply a product like Cobra that could torch the leaves they can’t hope to get any foliar product into the plant until they regrow the leaves.
And without rain to boost plant growth this is not going to happen. This seems to be the year that our Delta-state counter parts have warned us about. The weeds just aren’t dying, even where three products that should have worked have not been effective.
One interesting note is that I have gotten to work with a few souybean fields planted out of necessity after the ground had received a one pound application of atrazine. They show no problem, no burning and have minimal weed pressure. I have seen that in several cases over the years.
Stay vigilant and watch for both Japanese beetles and plant diseases.
Both can sneak up on growers and can prove costly.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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