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By Staff | Oct 3, 2013

There are three more months in this year, and then it’s on to 2015. That means about 30 more days in which to start or continue with harvest and then get any other preparatory work done for the 2014 crop.

Most farmers I have talked to just want to get this year over with and get on with next year. Farming in much of Iowa, the western two-thirds of Nebraska, now about the same percentage of Illinois, and a good share of Missouri and Minnesota, was just a big headache this season.

With grain prices being forced down by harvest pressure and yield reports out of the eastern Corn Belt the chance to make a profit this year appears difficult.

Most Midwest growers have fought a good fight, but many just couldn’t win.

Harvest is upon us or soon will be in most sections of the Midwest. This normally begins right as the major league playoffs begin. That gives all farming baseball fans something to listen to during the long evening hours as they make round after round in the combines and tractors getting the grain harvested and any fall field work done.

The harvest

The super early harvest in 2012 was an anomaly, mostly due to the early planting dates and excess heat units. The heat this year was not as intense, as evidenced by the number of people who wore light jackets as they went outside during early evening or early morning hours in June and July.

As of mid-July, having an early frost that would be damaging to the slow-developing crops seemed to be a large threat. My thought at the time was “only if the crop stays healthy and lives long enough to be green after Sept. 1.”

The bursts of heat, intense hot winds, lack of rain and attack by the unnamed disease tsunami beginning in late-July and through mid-September put a quick end to those fears.

We thought last year was one in which correctly guessing how each field would yield was tough. This year will be just about as tough, with the added difficulty being trying to accurately guess how many acres in each field were affected by ponding and supersaturated conditions in May and June.

The latest figures from NASS tell of a corn crop that is rated as being about 49 percent good-to-excellent and a bean crop that is rated 46 percent good to excellent in the five main grain-producing states west of the Mississippi. An Iowa commodity analyst who farms and participated in the ProFarmer crop tour noted that some of his medium- to late-planted fields developed very quickly – too quickly in fact – and actually moved from silking to black layer in 35 days compared to the normal 55 to 60 days.

The plants were shorted 25 to 30 days of grain fill. In all of the high yield years since 1990 the grain-fill took the full 55 to 60 days, with a cool July and/or August and plentiful moisture.

Kernel fill

Kernel depth and shape of the kernels are good indicators of how well each plant or field did with grain fill. Do your kernels look more like footballs or bricks? Having plants that stayed healthy and producing starch is important in being able to convert moisture and sunlight into starches and grain. Dead or dying plants don’t fill very well.

Thus far, I have seen or heard of verified corn yields that range from 50 to 230 bpa.

As of this morning the low side is 20 to 30 bpa. In areas that caught rain in July and August there could be quite a few yields at 150 to 180, minus the drown-out areas. Without rain, 80 to 120 bpa yields could be common.

Early planting, even before the snow, was a big help as planting resumed more than two weeks later and the optimum window came and went, no matter how much cheerleading and soothing talk was being spewed forth. Soil type, corn on corn versus corn following soybeans, topography of the fields, amount of tile, amount of rain in July and August, and south versus facing slope were all big yield-determining factors this season.

More growers than in the past are asking what is going on to make their corn crop die weeks or even months early, sometimes when there is good moisture in the soil. If you remember it was mentioned that the pith tissue within the stalk down near the root crown was turning brown or black early, in cases even when the plant was in the seedling stage.

This browning was the water conducting tissue becoming plugged by Goss’ wilt bacteria and a plaque inhabiting the soil. This just got worse, especially in fields where chelating chemicals were applied and the nutrient shortage issues were never resolved.

Once the plaque blockage became severe enough to block both moisture and nutrient flow and evapotranspiration increased, the plants could not keep up with demands for both. The solutions will be to try to keep the seed and seedlings healthy and free of diseases using clean seed, in-furrow nutrition and biologicals.

Foliar nutrition applied every two weeks can partially replace the nutrients meant to keep the top part of the plant alive and filling the ear. I have been riding in combines and walking fields that were treated in that fashion and they still have plump ears and green leaves.

The copper-based bactericide, micro mixes worked very well in keeping bacteria at bay. The husks are open, the grain is drying.

As to stalk quality concerns, crop consultants in western Nebraska and eastern Colorado, who have worked with Goss’ longer than any of us, warned that stalks melt in bad infestations if you have not actively fought it so it can’t produce its stalk-melting enzymes.

The fields treated with Blooming Blossoms are still green enough to give a good Spad meter reading.

Bean leaf beetles

The bean leaf beetle pops have exploded in the past two weeks and any late and still green bean fields are host to high numbers. If the pods are still soft and being chewed up, don’t ignore the pod feeding since those seeds will decay before harvest.

Soybean necrosis

Pathologists and entomologists in Wisconsin have been actively scouting for and finding this new virus in their bean fields. They are finding that it is being spread by certain species of thrips. Iowa and Nebraska bean growers likely saw this cigar-shaped, light-green insect on the underside of their bean leaves, but didn’t know what they were.

If the viral disease is linked to yield losses, they may have to include them in their list of what to scout and perhaps spray.

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

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