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By Staff | Oct 18, 2013

The 2013 harvest season continues and it appears that we may have a slight rain delay as of Monday night through Tuesday. Resumption of the fieldwork is in question, but any delay likely won’t be too long as the ground is ready to soak up the first few inches of rain if that much were to fall.

Any additional inches that are added to the moisture profile prior to freeze-up is greatly appreciated and we surely won’t turn it down, as long as the amounts are within reason.

The rain that was needed to even up the beans finally fell last week and it did its job.

There were a number of fields where the beans at one end were under 10 percent moisture, while the other end of the field was near 20 percent. All one could do then was to sit on the sidelines or find an earlier-planted field or an earlier-maturity bean that was ready to go.

As the combines made progress over the weekend most growers returned to working on the bean crop as the grain moistures were ideal and they hoped for the corn to drop another few points of moisture.

World Food Prize

The big event of the week is the World Food Prize that commemorates what Norma Borlaug did to alleviate hunger with his creation of his Green Revolution.

The list of winners picked from the nominees created a bit of controversy this year as many of the dreams from 20 years ago have never materialized and many farmers are thinking that how they did things 15 years ago was not that bad.

Corn at $4 per bushel instead of $7 changes quite a few things. My opinion is that in much of U.S. ag, as pronounced by so many grower associations, they have forgotten the basic tenant of commerce, which is everyone should pay attention to what the consumer is asking, rather than dictate what they have to take.

We saw in the U.S. car industry not paying attention to the consumer’s desires open doors for alternative suppliers who do adhere to the basic tenant.


It was once thought that good scientists were always looking for the correct, or most correct answer they could give at the present time.

Nowadays many of them seem to belong to the flat earth society, and tend to profess how little they know. This was exemplified by Fred Kirschenmann in the latest Leopold letter.

He describes a book written by Stuart Firestein, chairman of the biology department at Columbia University called Ignorance-How it drives science.

The author’s contention is that science is not driven by a collection of agreed-to proven dogma, instead it’s driven by all we don’t know, a collection of dark cats in a dark room.

Unwinding the mysteries involves groping, probing and poking, some bumbling and bungling, and then a switch is discovered, often by accident, and the light is lit, and everyone can then see how the room looks.

Then it is off to the next dark room full of dark cats. Science is a process, not an accumulation of facts. Past discoveries typically lead to an acknowledgement of more black rooms so the process continues.

And this is how we can view the cycles and systems around us as that of understanding nitrogen systems, how soil biology works, and some of the effects of today’s pesticides on biological systems and living entities.

Corn progress

Normally we could state what the percent harvested in each state was as of the weekend. This year with the government shutdown all we can do it take an educated guess.

In Iowa there may be areas where 30 percent of the corn is harvested, if it died early, while in others the moistures have finally dropped into the lower-20s the progress is much less.

Given the forecast of temperatures finally dropping into the more seasonal mid-50s during the day, harvesting a few points wetter-than-desired can be justified by the warmer ambient air not needing as much heating to reach the desired temperatures.

Yields are still all over the board as in 30 to 230 bushels per acre based on a slew of factors with the main ones relating to soil types, planting dates and rainfall amounts.

Only one of those three items is something we can control. Except for tiling to improve drainage, nature is much in charge.

For a more realistic opinion there will be fields in many areas of the state and Midwest where averages of 100 to 120 bpa will be common. Many of those fields received little to no rain from late-June and on.

Where July rains fell, but none in August, yields are often 40 bpa better. There will be a few exceptional areas in Iowa where plenty of moisture fell in both July and August.

Yields are close to their normal high water marks of 180 to 220 bpa.

Across the rest of Iowa there will be fields that were dry for two to three months and are producing yields in the 100 to 125 bpa range.

In your own fields stop to twist a few ears to see if they are solid or have gotten spongy. Are the kernels pointed and shrunken or plumb at the attached end with a shallow dent on the outer end?

Early dying stalks typically produce kernels that are lighter, have shrunken near the germ, and have dented deeper.

Be aware that much of this grain is going to be carrying lower mineral content and likely have lower feed values.

Soybean progress

Someone answered our many requests for a later-than-normal frost this fall. With soybeans being planted as late as July 5 and even later, any normally timed frost would have hurt those fields tremendously.

Now with no major frost expected before Oct. 20 most of those fields should reach maturity. A few areas did drop below 32 degrees on Saturday night.

The yields have been better than expected, but our expectations were lower than we have seen since 1993.

Around Fort Dodge, where no rains fell during July and August, high-30s to mid-40 bpa yields are generally being seen.

Even then we wondering how those pods managed to fill at all.

Cover crops

Due to this spring’s rains many growers got their first taste of using cover crops. The general consensus among those who used them in 2012 or 2013 is that they like what they have seen so far with controlling erosion and helping moisture infiltration.

What they should see next spring is an improvement in soil tilth and texture. It will be more alive due to not being as much of a mono-crop system.

Different crops and different root exudates foster a wider range of soil biology, which will help with forming soil glues and gels that build organic matter and the sponginess that retains spring moisture for use during summer months.

It is interesting to hear and read about different combinations of grasses and legumes that can be used, especially mixes that fix significant amounts of nitrogen.

In the wetter areas of South America, where rainfall amounts of 60 to 90 inches annually, growers may raise soybeans each year, but they are always raised in a double-crop rotation with a grass cover crop in between.

They know they need to control erosion and to keep soil biology alive. All the growers we have met do as much as they can to build their soils.

Good luck with harvest. Keep a notebook to write things down as you make those rounds through your fields and those thoughts are fresh.

Mistakes are best eliminated rather than repeated.

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

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