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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Nov 6, 2013

November has arrived, and it seems like winter is going to blast us shortly.

That is a feeling that many of us who spend a great amount of time outside battling the weather expect to happen.

We have already had several inches of snow in different parts of the Midwest so don’t have to ponder when the first flakes will fall.

One good weather newsletter is one published by the Browning Group. The current author’s father was Iben Browning, who was famous for his methodology and interpretation of what nature, long-term solar cycles, outside galactic events were suggesting what the weather might do.

It is a good read, and one learns to appreciate how solar radiation and photon energy creates large ocean currents that warm or cool land masses.

What they saw in August and September were much more cold weather over the Arctic that seemed poised to drop down into the U.S.

Great. Another meteorologist and an astrometeorologist boils all the observations into Nostradamus-like interpretations – it would get cold and snow on Oct. 22.

He was dead on. He also predicts it may be a snowy, cold, old-fashioned winter.

So get the outdoor stuff done ASAP.

In-field activity

In central Iowa, there are regions where most of the crops have been harvested and a high percentage of the tillage has been done.

This would be much of the area from Fort Dodge to Ames and Des Moines and points west.

From about Iowa Falls and northeast there are many acres of corn that have been left to field-dry to 20 percent so are still standing.

A lot of these acres were planted late and tasseled late. In many years they would not have reached black layer before the normal frost, but did this year.

Until now, the grain was considered too wet to harvest by many growers who were penciling out projected drying costs and thought the risk of letting it stand and drying down a few more points were worth it.

Many of those fields are being attacked now and could be history in 10 days.

Tillage has been done on a quick pace as the ground has never been wet enough to slow any operator down for more than a day.

There is lots of dry profile space where any rain can be stored, so the topsoil dries rather quickly. With the days getting shorter and harvest being much later than in 2012 we hopefully see much less recreational tillage than last year.

While this could be important this extra group pulverization likely played a role in causing the ground to seal off when any rains fell rather than soak as it should.

Leaving residue on the surface can help with absorbing such rains and then help with wicking surface water into the profile.

In many years after a bad crop we see this excess tillage being done. I refer to this as the Gilligan Syndrome, named after Bob Denver’s character on Gilligan’s Island, where after any calamity he would do something to quell the evil spirits.

In reality, planting a cover crop to break up the soil and return more biology to the soil would be more constructive and rewarding to the following crops.

Root lodging

One common theme at harvest as I have spent days riding in many combines is how much root lodging occurred in many areas of the state.

Why might it have been worse this year than in other years? There appear to be several reasons:

  • The ground seemed to seal off this year and never did soften up, likely due to it freezing last fall in a dry condition.
  • The ground stayed very hard which prevented most of the roots from penetrating to their normal depth.
  • Rootworm feeding was heavy in many areas with traits and at-planting insecticides failing. This removed anchoring and the ability of roots to do their jobs.
  • Lots of strong wind during thunderstorms and even dry storms.
  • Roots decayed by Goss’ wilt and possibly red root rot, where the root tissue had rotted off enough that it had little integrity left to hold onto the soil.

This made harvest progress slow and exasperating, as it was easy and common to be off many rows when opening up new fields or swaths.

Cat whiskers and RTK helped, but one had to wonder how many ears never made it into the heads.

I did ride in combines where variety made a difference, where one trait worked and another didn’t, and also where no traits was by far standing the best.

That creates a great area to investigate and hopefully we can sleuth out the answers as to what is happening.

All in all, the root thing is causing quite a few growers to wonder about the feasibility and future of continuous corn.

One thought that reoccurs to me is that quite a few seasons ago a learned plant physiologist named Irv Anderson at ISU organized a think tank to discuss the yield deficiencies of second-year corn.

It was an interesting collection of people who attended those meetings. One idea that Anderson threw out what that they had found that corn roots only grew about 65 percent as massive when following corn corn rather than another crop.

He had postulated it was due to the presence of an unidentified, allelopathic compound but never had success in isolating or identifying it.

Fertilizing

Being that we are in the time to formulate fertilizer plans and application rates or timings. Deciding what rates to use is always a point of debate.

Fertilizer costs money and typically more than corn and bean growers like to spend. But it seems apparent that a high percentage of those growers have been producing and selling off farm more bushels for which they have been fertilizing.

Soil test levels have generally been dropping, at the same time as the levels given for each sufficiency category have changed.

Did they change due to new findings or a desire to reduce potential water quality? In either case, these lower test levels should cause high yield producers to reassess their application rates or efficiency promoting strategies.

They may have to ask if foliars should be on their agenda.

One change that may be coming is that more soil scientists and a group of growers are recognizing that soil biology plays a large role in nutrient availability.

An increase in that activity can allow higher nutrient levels while also offer reduced erosion and support higher yields.

This is where cover crops have been shown to create long-term improvements in soil health. In good soil, the nutrients are held in humic and fulvic acid gels that do not leach, yet are plant available.

Beginning input

decision making

Once the harvest and tillage machinery have done their jobs and is put away it becomes time to reflect on the cropping season and see what we have learned.

Can we see the individual trees in the forest and pick out the good ones? We have to if we are to map the best strategy for the 2014 season.

For me and most growers the inconsistency of moisture during each month, the variability of temperatures, and ability to get each task done in a timely fashion made crop growing difficult.

Crop diseases didn’t used to be a major issue and now are. It may be good to make a list of each challenge and then decide on paper an action plan on what you propose as a means of meeting or solving that problem.

Take one bite at a time, and the elephant will be consumed.

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

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