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By Staff | Sep 13, 2013

Mid-September is now upon us and for all practical purposes and for 95 percent of the acres the grain fill season is over with.

We waited for about two months for a decent rain to fall over the state and surrounding areas, which did not happen for much of the area

If the saying that the corn crop is made in July and the beans in August, and rainfall amounts in many area in August was a big old zero what can we expect for final yields?

The heat continued until midweek and then a cool down into the 70s is expected.

That is all good, but now is the time when nature is supposed to be filling the profile up for the 2014 season already. A few deep- thinking crops people with many years of experience got together earlier this summer to talk about the first part of the season and to compare notes on what they were seeing concerning the soil and how the spring rains did not seem to be soaking in.

While that sounds strange, lots of people were noticing that the soil seemed to seal over when any rain fell and did not soak in. It acted like the alkaline soils they have in Nevada or Arizona that shed moisture, causing flash flooding.

What they theorized is that when the ground froze last fall it was completely dry.

Normally, when the ground freezes in the fall it contains moisture, thus it expands and the compaction layers heave and fracture. This process opens the soil and makes it less dense. Without the fracturing the spring rains tended to run off, rather than soak in.

I was noticing this as areas that only had small creeks for draining excess rains often turned into raging rivers with just a 2-inch cloudbursts.

Are we in for a repeat and if so what can we do to soften the soil to accept the rainfall and any snow melt between now and next May.

Crops and early death

Most people are still wondering what happened to the corn crop in much of the Midwest, meaning what caused it to turn brown or dead in such a strange fashion even when some fields still had moisture in the ground.

Remember that this is the fifth time in the last five years that this has happened. And many times this past summer I have told how the plants when sliced open showed lots of brown discolored tissue within the stalks.

That discoloration represents diseased and plugged tissue that no longer transports water and nutrient upward to nourish the upper leaves and grain fill as is or was normal. In past years some good and ‘willing to think outside the box’ agronomists were seeing this browning in seedlings only a few inches tall.

This year they actually checked seeds that had sprouted and never emerged, and found the same organisms that caused Goss’s in them using plating techniques and strip tests. Why wouldn’t the seedlings be infected if the plants the seeds grew on were infected, as evidenced by the yellowing and early death in the seed fields of many companies?

Those are what will have to be cleaned up to get us out of the mess.

This early death was not just in Iowa. It was over a broad area.

Does that sound like a recipe for a record corn crop or not? Farmer friends who traveled through the eastern Corn Belt states conducting their own crop tour often asked farmers to estimate their yields to match what the USDA had predicted.

Each time the farmers just burst out laughing. That says what they thought.

What we are seeing in these corn fields now are ears that tipped over and pinched the shank in the milk to early dough stage.

That means that kernel depth is going to be affected, and that is very evident in many fields.

Bob Nielson has given his guidelines as to what percent of yield is gone when the ear fill ends during the milk or dough stages and it is not pretty.

Foliar feeding

While foliar fertilizing has been downplayed by nearly the entire fertilizer and university system, if the stalk plugging continues to be a problem, along with dry soils and loss of soil organic matter due to erosion and excess of early season nitrogen applications, then foliar fertilizing using the correct materials and in the correct form may be the best and most efficient means of feeding the plants.

At Keith Schlapkohl’s field day near Stewartville on Tuesday, near Osage on Wednesday and west of Davenport on Thursday, farmers can see what it takes to keep corn green and healthy.

The extreme foliar program may not be the easiest or quickest, but may give a sneak preview of what a few additional applications of fertilizer can do to keep the plants alive so they can produce the grain needed to feed the nation’s and its inhabitants needs.

A short trip

I find myself in Hawaii this morning in a small cabin in a big park just beneath Mount Kahili writing this column. I received a short phone call just 10 days go to see if I could come over to help them with an environmental study that needs to be done.

All work with no play, but in beautiful surroundings. They needed someone who knows pesticides and crops.

See you when I get back.

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

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