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By Staff | Nov 22, 2013

In a short while the heavy winter season may make another attempt to reach the Midwest. Hopefully, this blast will not last long and another stretch of Indian Summer returns and lasts through December.

Life is so much easier if temps stay above freezing and snowfall is limited. Then after Jan. 1, the cold weather and snow can move in. Outdoor activities will continue, such as doing livestock chores, pushing snow, moving grain and a few dirt or building-related construction projects.

For many, it will involve a few months of making machinery repairs, updating equipment, doing the books, re-educating yourselves about every new bug, disease, piece of innovating equipment or landmark variety that has been developed or is being sold for this next season.

Of course, we always get to think about the past season and what all happened to us or to our land in the last seven months and consider if it was a bad, good, or just OK season.

The action of the EPA in the last few weeks has been perplexing. Those actions are going to have an impact on prices and property rights.

First, there was the reversal on a portion of the RFS where the industry counted on so many gallons of corn-derived ethanol to be used in blending with gasoline to increase octane levels. This was a kick in the stomach for all the people and groups that had invested many dollars and time in building the ethanol industry over the past decade.

Big Oil and its deep-pocketed backers prefer to control 120 percent of society and the energy policy of the U.S. The main reason we have gotten so heavily involved in the Mideast is oil.

The second EPA action is how its bureaucrats have revived their position from about five years ago when they defined their role as being in control of all water flowing in the U.S. and all land lying adjacent to those sloughs, ponds, creeks and rivers. They want to control everything that goes on in each acre of ground.

This may require our Senator Grassley to go up to Capitol Hill and knock some sense into them once again.

Ground preparations

Most growers who till their ground have had the hours they needed to turn any ground they thought they needed to. If they are confirmed no-tillers who have the soils to let that management program work likely spent their time redoing terraces if any of them were washed out or in need of improving their storage capacities.

Hopefully with colder temperatures and lots of freeze/thaw cycles those shallow compaction fractured enough to allow root penetration next season, letting those roots reach deep into the subsoil for their mid-season needs.

Strip-tillers still have some of those applications to complete. Freeze-up will bring a halt to their activities. They will have to wait until thaws in the January through March period to resume their slot work and get their fertilizer applied.

What was apparent to growers this entire season was how valuable good air and water management was to raising crops. They realized that getting rid of excess water via artificial drainage was vital as it allows oxygen to get into the soil profile to promote root growth and good biological activity.

This rush to get long put-aside projects got going early as most operators who had enrolled prevented planted acres realized it was the opportune time to get their tiling contractors working in those waterlogged fields.

The work should pay off next season. Then we will get to see if the proposed added water flow volume can be handled by the drainage ditches, streams and rivers. Or will those downstream areas seen more high-water marks set as they did this past spring?

One well known meteorologist is forecasting quick melting snow pack in mid-March. If that is the case then being prepared and having soils that can soak in any rains and melt will help considerably.

Fertilizer applications

There are many piles of big square bales from corn stalks that were baled up to satisfy the projected needs of the cellulosic ethanol plants due to begin production in the next year.

The Soil Lab on the ISU campus did its research and made calculations on the mineral value in the stalks, plus looked at the biological costs and came to the conclusion that one half of the stalks could be removed every other year and the soil health and organic matter could be maintained.

Any more than that and the soil sponge capacity and organic material could suffer. So if a person is generating revenue through the removal of stalks, the operator or landowner needs to spend the money on macro and micronutrients to replace what was hauled away in those bales.

Another area of concern that has been showing up more is a general decline in fertility levels. The long time use of 200 pounds of dry fertilizer in front of a corn crop is no longer replacing what has been removed by the 200-bushel-per-acre corn yields of the early 2000s.

So that leaves a deficit that is reflected by a lowering in phosphorus and potassium levels as well as sulphur, boron, and a number of other fertilizer elements.

The 200 pounds has been sufficient to replace what has been pulled off by the fields that have died early and produced lower corn yields since the 2010 crop.

More people getting their fields sampled are getting more of the micronutrient profile analyzed, which is good and necessary. What I have been seeing so far are deficiencies in several of the elements.

Generally sulphur, manganese, boron and zinc levels are low and can be remediated via fall applications of dry product.

When Copper, magnesium and molybdenium are low foliars or in furrow dry or liquids can supply what is needed.

In addition one area to examine on all soil analysis results is the relationship of the P1 and the P2 levels. Generally, if the P1 is less than 70 percent of the P2 level there can be a problem with availability of the phosphorus in that soil.

Having soil pHs too high or too low can be at fault. If the pH is in the 6.3 to 7.3 range the problem may be due to an absence of an active pseudomonas population.

This can be remediated by an application of a commercial product on the seed or use in-furrow at planting.

If soil residual levels of some bactericidal pesticides are too high, it is tougher to remedy. The same biological product also works to decimate fungi and bacteria that cause seedling and stalk rots.

If you have cover crops you will get to see how they protect the soils this winter and increase water infiltration in the spring.

Most people have to see for themselves how well they work. They are not problem free, but give good returns on protecting the soil and acting as a green bridge for the good microbes in the soil.

The food debates, sponsored by the Farm and Ranch Alliance, were held in the Scheman Building in Ames on Nov. 12. I hope there is an educational discussion, as there should be, rather than rote corporate cheerleading.

Time will tell.

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

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