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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Nov 15, 2013

And exactly what month is this, December or January? Temperatures may be warmer by late this week, but as of Monday afternoon it was freezing in Iowa and the surrounding states.

Apparently there were too many lobes of cold air around the Arctic and some of them had to break free and migrate southwards.

While we can always expect winter to make its frosty appearance it typically does not show up 120 days after spring planting was completed. But that is the way it is, and it all must be due to global warming.

Either way it is too early to be this cold. We have to be wondering if everyone will get all their necessary work completed. I did pull out the calendar and the number of days between the last spring and first fall snow in 2013 was only 170.

With corn planting lasting until roughly June 25 and late beans still going in from July 3 through the 16, many acres of crops were very late.

We have to be very thankful that much of September and until Oct. 20 was conducive to grain fill in fields that were still alive.

Field progress

There are all sorts of field activities being done yet last and this week. There are farmers who have all of their field work completed and also have their fall nitrogen applied.

There is another group of conventional operators who are completing their tillage, typically consisting of chiseling or mulch-tilling their corn stalks in preparation for next year’s corn or beans.

Next on their agenda is the task of applying any fall nitrogen that is planned. In the last group are those who were waiting for their late-planted or late-maturing corn to dry down and still have a sizeable percentage of their corn left to harvest.

I drove from Ames to near Storm Lake on Monday and there were still quite a few fields of corn untouched. Historically not much field drying occurs after Nov 1, so typically other tasks took precedent.

Those moistures are generally under 18 or 20 percent so if they can only put air on the grain they should be able now to store it safely.

The people operating chisel plows and anhydrous rigs were going strong yet on Monday. Temps in the single digits may bring a halt to field work depending on the depth of frost and if there is a serious warm-up later in the week.

Those who typically like to do strip-till placing their dry fertilizer in the fall, still have most of that work to complete.

The speed at which the water ran off this season and the percentage of shallow and tomahawked roots was a good indicator of serious compaction problems.

The way to firmly and absolutely get a reading on the degree and depth of compaction is to use a good compaction meter to test several locations in each field.

Cover crops planted on these prevented planting fields will help rectify the problem. In tilled fields, it may require a deep ripping with a straight shank tool. Long term no-till or strip-tillage fields did not see such problems and have shown the loosest soils having the ability to soak up nearly all rain that falls.

Having moisture in the ground now when it freezes should swell, breaking the shallow compaction layers. Ignoring such a problem only leads to continually raising crops that under perform even in good weather years.

Having easily penetrable soils high in nutrients allow any corn or bean stand managed decently to resist theses so-called flash droughts.

Corn yields

So the official USDA version says that the national corn yield is a hair over 160 bushels per acre.

How does that measure up to what we are seeing here in Iowa and Nebraska? There were different regions in the state that received decent rain in August and late-July that helped the corn crop add lots of bushels in a cooler-than-normal summer. But in the western 70 percent of the state the cool weather was the only factor that allowed the crop to survive the drought.

Within that area, few growers are bragging about yields. It is easy to brag about yield peaks that flashed on the monitor a few times, but tougher to talk about overall yields when visiting with your banker this fall.

More than one person has commented on the lack of big outdoor piles that typically dot the countryside in bin buster years.

Part of their absence could be the astronomically low carryout, as in various ethanol plants being down to two to three days worth of grain in inventory, or yields that were under the official guesstimate.

If the officially reported prevented planting acre tallies were off by 370 percent through July, why should we expect them to be telling the truth now?

2014 decisions

We are now in the period where everyone has to start making decisions about how to raise the best crop possible in 2014 and beyond.

Now the circumstances for 2014 are based on long-term yield averages with prices and projected gross per acre, much below what they have been in the last three years.

With corn closer to $4 than $6 per bushel, the numbers don’t work as well and everyone gets to figure out what may or may not be affordable now.

One example would be at the Iowa Falls plot where they had 6 inches of rain in August and the average yield was 188 bpa at 19.8 percent moisture.

A market price of $4.50 gives a gross of $820 per acre minus drying costs. Depending on rent costs or a land payment, the margins will be much below those seen the last three years.

FIRST Plots are typically on a farmer’s best ground. What would the results be on the poorer soils?

On making hybrid corn choices, the FIRST Plot results are now online and can be printed off at any time.

Each printed report shows the 32 top performers out of the 64 entries. The network includes the major corn states and the report ranks the hybrids in bushels and dollars per acre.

Hybrids and varieties

How will the lower project gross dollar per acre affect hybrid choices? Everyone would like to drive a Cadillac or Ferrari, but they may not have the budget to do so.

How will this play out as growers look at the higher prices for each traited hybrid and anguish over which trait or package seems to have paid off and what they can leave out?

If a trait no longer produces or saves value they may have to seek out hybrids that no longer have those traits attached, if that is even possible.

Are seed companies reckoning with this tsunami or are they preparing for it? The base genetic potential is where the value is. Plant health and the ability to produce a large,browned husked ear on a still green stalk is the ultimate goal.

The FIRST Plot organizers need to plant a series of plots where only conventional hybrids are entered if that is what growers are asking for.

In soybeans the change is coming due to the major systemic post-emerge not controlling many weeds like it used to.

Spraying two or three times plus having to follow with one shot of Flexstar and then one or two of Cobra gets expensive and yields limiting. Needing to manage their weeds in the same manner next season is something growers have to avoid.

They have to find better answers in different products.

Luckily it will be the Japanese companies to the rescue, working through the Germans, American and Japanese distribution chains.

Insect control is still a necessity. Having a program not perform is always more expensive than ones that work.

Resistant insects are not going to go away and need to be planned for using multi-year strategies. Both traits and conventional products have their challenges.

Understand that bug survivors producing offspring every year that are loaded with even more tolerant genes. You have to beat them at their own game.

Good luck in getting everything done.

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

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