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By Staff | Oct 25, 2013

Harvest continues as of early in the week.

Will rain mixed with snow stay in northern Iowa and points north, or move into central Iowa and make the ground slick enough to slow field traffic?

While snow this early is not unusual, getting a measurable amount is as rare as getting 6 to 18 inches in northern and central Iowa, as happened in early May.

If snow falls on Tuesday it means that we will have had four months without snow this year.

While any moisture could contribute to profile reserves, getting measurable snow amounts would be bad for growers with lodged corn and any soybeans left to harvest. There are many acres of both still in the fields.

The World Food Prize was held last week and it looked like a big crowd with many out-of-state visitors attending. As was the case last year, a major focus was on getting ag production going full bore in Africa, where more people are short on food.

They have many acres of good soils, lots of natural resources, and enough population that labor should not be a problem. The problems in the past have been getting modern cropping practices adopted by their farmers and recognizing that doing most chores by hand is not the most efficient method of producing food.

From my visits with scientist who have worked extensively in that country an oft-heard comment is that one major problem is getting the same group of people who do the most field work in the U.S. do the same there.

All the natural resources and outside efforts will go for naught unless a capitalistic nature is accepted by their proposed farmers.

Last year at the WFP were many female farmers who had been able to get small operating loans that allowed them to rent ground, buy inputs, plant and harvest crops, then earn enough money selling their goods that they could expand each year.

They expressed great satisfaction in being successful in their ventures.

Balanced recognition

I did get the chance to visit with a good researcher from South Africa. She was working on wheat diseases and how they were doing genetic screening and making genomic comparisons of all lines from susceptible to tolerant.

Lots of funding was going into the work and they expected another grant to make a big difference in wheat production in their country. It sounded like a worthwhile and extensive project, like many that we have here.

So I asked a question based on soil fertility research at Hohenheim University in Stuttgart that was written up in a text book by Horsch Marschner. That was if they had done any screening of silica content in cells of the different varieties and tracked their vulnerability based on the cellular level of that element?

That idea had not entered the discussion or researched, as it should have been. Apparently soil fertility is not a sexy field, so was not considered as being important in solving the disease problems.

Since she was interested in those ideas the texts will be sent to her so she can study and implement those concepts.

Like so many of today’s experts she prefers to treat the symptoms rather than seeking to study and alleviate the causes.

Harvest progress

The corn and bean harvest continues and comments on yields continue to be very quiet in the coffee shops, at the elevators, and on the web in much of the western Midwest.

While there are occasional flashes of very good yields on the yield monitors, whole field averages pay the bills, and those averages continue to be lower to much lower than what we have become accustomed to in past seasons.

This is the time when we like to assemble field data in comparative manner to sort out what practices or varieties proved to be best this season.

This year the in-season uncontrollable factors of planting date, proximity to the tiles lines, loss of nitrogen, direction of the slope, timing of rainfall, damage from rootworms or wind caused lodging are proving to have more influence on performance than genetic superiority.

Going into 2014 we will have to trust our gut and observations of how well each variety tolerated stress and disease pressure more than succumbing to sales lingo.

Surprisingly enough some of the better corn in the Midwest seems to be in western Iowa and eastern Nebraska.

Moisture fronts this summer typically stalled out close to the Iowa/Nebraska border and moved only two to three counties in.

In many cases the first harvested cornfields were those planted before the snow on the driest ground and many of them produced the better yields. Now the wetter and later-planted fields with wetter soils are being harvested and results are generally lower to much lower.

In central Iowa, where rain was scarce during July and August, many whole field yields are coming in at 125 to 140 bushels per acre or lower. It is tough to make up for those bare waterholes where the only things growing were waterhemp.

Eastern and western Iowa fields where better drainage is the rule stands remained higher and yields are much beyond those low levels.

Where the occasional corn field pumps out 200 plus bpa yield the common denominator seems to be well-drained soil that had a good plant population, high fertility levels, high micronutrient levels and/or one or more micronutrient applications, and in cases two to four applications of bactericides and ammonia along with foliar nutrition were applied.

With the working knowledge we currently have we have to ask if these mixtures maintained plumbing integrity that allowed an adequate supply of nutrition to reach the upper portion of the plant when the crown region of the stalk became plugged by plaque.

Deep tillage

Growing a good crop seems to hinge greatly on forming a deep and fully functioning root system. As the crops get harvested it will be the time to apply fall fertilizer and make plans for fall tillage.

Before operators do any fall deep tillage it would be good to use a penetrometer to test for depth and degree of any compaction that may exist. If compaction exists there are several means of alleviating it.

Long term no-till allows microbes and earthworms do the job. Deep-rooted cover crops can do it Multiple applications of gypsum can be effective, and then inline deep ripping periodically is effective and can be long lasting as long as magnesium base saturation levels are maintained below 20 percent and heavy packing is minimized in the future.

Operators who take these tactics find that they give long-lasting results and they don’t have to resort to ultra high plant populations, variable rate planting or narrow or twin rows to keep marching up the yield ladder.

Then they find they can continue that march by using foliar micro and nutritional applications at key times.

Fertilizer plans

A problem recognized by top growers and agronomists is that many growers and the move to more ground being rented on a short term basis is that many of them are not replacing the pounds of nutrients that are being removed by these higher yields of the last 10 years.

Quite a few surveys are showing this trend and trying to alert growers that it will threaten yields in the future.

At the same time the word that micronutrient levels in the soil are important is being listened to by more growers and crop advisors.

The next step is making sure microbial activity in the soil is adequate to convert those fertilizer forms into plant available forms.

Good luck with the rest of harvest and may those days be sunny and warm.

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

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