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By Staff | Oct 11, 2013

One week further into the fall season and hopefully into the harvest. We lucked out last week when the snowstorm that dropped 48 inches of snow in Deadwood bypassed the central Midwest with that amount of snow and wind.

Old-timers used to tell of the blizzards that blow across the landscape in early November greatly affecting harvest and total production. As it was, much of the state received its first substantial rain since mid-June and it was welcome.

That amount soaked in quickly and by Monday the combines were rolling again. There is lots more storage room if more moisture arrives. Getting big rains after late-October does not happen often as November tends to be a dry month.

The common consensus among growers is that they just want to get this season over. After making all of the ambitious and optimistic plans during the winter and spring preparation then having everything screwed up by six weeks of cold weather and continuous rains seemed a waste.

In most of the national press the writers and national staff told of how much the crops recovered from the early season problems. In some cases and certain soil types a degree of recovery occurred.

In most fields the appearance improved from the road. As the corn plants died the unevenness of the crops reappeared and is showing up as wide variations on the yield maps. The big drowned out spots are also showing up, even after the stalks are worked.

Once the actual and final prevented plant tally of 753,000 acres appeared, a number of people were trying to calculate the number of acres drowned or still affected by water logging, and the bushel loss it represented.

Big snow

How about the big snowstorm out in South Dakota and Wyoming last week? The first snow fall of the season is typically a few skiffs or a inches to start. Then the big stuff comes later. I had heard from a friend a few days before that their weather had turned very cold and wet and it was a major front.

So when that front moved into higher elevations it dropped its load. Wet snow driven by strong winds is a cattle killer as I used to see out in western Kansas, when the snow would plug the cow’s nostrils tight.

Now the latest word is that as the snowdrifts melt many ranchers are finding a sizeable number of dead cattle. We lucked out in that most of the soybeans in the northern Midwest are still in the fields and the corn stalks are not stiff enough to support much of a snow load.

Harvest progress

Thus far we have seen a small percentage of the corn in Iowa harvested. These acres were primarily those planted before the snow or those that died early. Yields have ranged from less than 50 to more than 220 bushels per acre

People have been somewhat surprised how certain fields have turned out, but not pleased that those fields will produce a profitable return at today’s prices.

In most of today’s farm publications the emphasis seems to be on narrowing rows, updating to narrow row planters that switch varieties on the go, or using ultra-high populations.

Those are all higher dollar fixes that seem to ignore the bulk of the problems that currently exist in the field, but will require long-term programs to fix the problem.

The solution to these early dying corn fields will require a grower to develop a deeper root system in a biologically robust soil that holds more moisture for when conditions turn dry.

The plants should then stay healthier longer and will be able to thrive if a 30- to 40-day dry spell comes along in July or August.

What different places are calling flash droughts seem a reflection of how our soils no longer let moisture soak in or do not have the sponge ability like they should have.

Maintaining that biological activity may require repeated use of cover crops and a close examination of which pesticides are most damaging to soil biology.


So far soybeans yields seem to be meeting expectation, but then our expectations were lower than they have been in the last 30 years.

Most fields seem to be yielding from the high-30s to high-40s with a few in the low-50s.

And if the fields received a few rains during July or August yields up to 55 to 60 are being reported.

Given the fact that little to no rain fell over much of this territory during August everyone is surprised at what they are finding – better than expected, yes, but ood enough to pay the bills or not file an insurance claim, not likely.

Walking plots, fields

I had to chance to walk a few test and research plots in eastern Iowa. They were planted and managed around waterholes.

Weeds were bad as they were not sprayed on time or at all.

What struck me most was how half of the varieties had marshmallow strong stalks at this time.

If we get a bad wind stalk lodging could be severe.

This goes completely to the contrary of how we thought stalk quality would be once we had corn borer under control.

The crop had to survive numerous stress events during the growing season, but it appears that stalk quality is much below where it should be.

Soil nutrient levels have to be examined. Was there some factor that made any nutrients in the soil unavailable?

Or did the early season browning in the crown region move up the stalk and multiply? Did Goss’ wilt release lignases that dissolved the woody tissue as Servi-Tech agronomists warned in 2010 would happen?

Watching yield data come in and tying that info to field observations will make choosing the best hybrids to plant in 2014 difficult in that performance will be spotty and erratic again.

Multiple year and multiple location performance data will be tough to come by.

Soil fertility

Remember to set up your plans to get your soil sampling needs lined up with a reliable person and be sure to test a portion of them for base saturation and micronutrients.

Then make sure you address phosphorus, potassium, calcium, boron and zinc needs.

Foliar work can help with manganese, magnesium and copper.

Good luck and be safe with your harvest.

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

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