homepage logo


By Staff | Nov 29, 2013

The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us and Christmas won’t be far behind. It is a good time to think back to everything that has happened this season and give thanks for the good events that occurred.

Farmers are in the business of raising profitable crops and collectively helping to keep the population of the U.S. and a portion of the people in other countries well fed.

It can be a thankless task given the challenges that Mother Nature, the U.S. Department of Agriculture policies, and a host of other people that you get to interact with on a regular basis.

We likely didn’t completely recognize at the time how good the last five years have been, as happened years ago when Richard Nixon said the same thing, that in retrospect proved correct, but it was a mini-Golden Age.

It was when ethanol and the world demands for grains gave many Midwestern growers a chance to make decent money and be able to use it to update equipment, buildings, vehicles and who knows what else because that process was overdue.

Now it looks like it will be a return to reality as every operator will have to push a shaper pencil to show as much black ink.

Besides the business part of farming there is also the personal and social part of the occupation. It is going to social and educational meetings in our local towns, working in partnership with neighbors and friends on an important project, or just going to the kids or grandkids sporting events that there is a certain satisfaction.

It’s doing what seems to come naturally in many parts of the Midwest. Just saying hello and asking people how they are doing and really meaning it means a lot.

So as you get a chance to sit down to a meal or two over the holidays, or go to a church service, remember to give thanks for living in a great country where we have many freedoms that we too often take for granted.

Fall field activities

As of last week there were still a few farmers trying to get their last tillage work done before the soil profile went into lockdown until spring. Depending on the horsepower they had they were working yet to getting those last fields tilled. Nighttime temps in the single digits finally determined when there was too thick of a frozen topsoil to continue such tillage operations.

The no-tillers who live on the better-drained soils didn’t have to worry themselves about fall tillage. They have more time to plan and get ready for the upcoming season. That means making adjustments and updates to their planters so when the soils thaw out and begin to warm up in the spring they can finalize things and move to the fields when the time is right.

The anhydrous rigs and tanks were a very common sight for the last three or four weeks. There are quite a few more double tank rigs in the countryside versus a few years ago, so the need to cover acres as quickly as possible is a big feature for those operators.

Quite a few operators who rely mostly on the 82 percent nitrogen again got hit by the very wet May and early June, seeing N losses that were very noticeable.

We expect to see more of them doing a preplanned sidedressed N application to counter any field loss or do a planned application to apply a portion of the N closer to the time when the crop will be using it.

The Food Dialogues

Last week, on the ISU campus there was a sort of debate on food issues. Basically there were two sides discussing the same thing, which was, “How do we as food producers connect with the food consuming public?” What is being done right and what needs improving?

In business one common axiom is that we have to assume the customer has the first and final say in what they want and what they will buy. Doing anything outside of that channel of thought is asking for problems with final salability and customer acceptance.

Dr. John Schillinger, of Asgrow and Schillinger Genetics fame, likely had the best logical path when he stated that with all of the high tech things that now exist we are very prone to forgetting about soil quality and how much influence it has on every other facet of production agriculture.

Without that 6- to 12-inch deep layer of topsoil in place we starve. That is why work done to help control erosion and trying to understand soil microbiology is so important.

The issue of food labeling was discussed with both sides saying they felt consumers should have that information presented to them.

The IPM Conference

In early December there will be the annual crops management conference. It is a two-day session where lots of current information is given covering the pertinent topics in agriculture in Iowa in 2014 terms.

The conference typically is a sell-out and has a waiting list of people trying to get in. Make your plans now to attend.


Until recently the figure being given as to the amount of corn that was sold prior to harvest was only about 15 percent.

Too many grain producers learned over several recent years that the guy with no plan or a poor marketing plan often came out ahead of the guys who sold early because the market prices kept rising through July or August, giving them good opportunities to haul to town or the local ethanol plant when they had the time to deliver during the later summer months.

Even though the market is saying there is a burdensome supply of corn and beans, there are still few big outside piles visible as one drives through western Iowa. One large factor in helping to determine marketing plans is knowing how foreign customers and markets are responding to bigger than expected crops.

So far, Darrell Good, a University of Illinois crops specialist, relates that export movement of our two major commodities has been extremely strong and has actually been above expectations.

What remains to be seen is how much of the market buys their grain from new areas of crop production such as Russia and the Ukraine. There is also expected to be added acreage in South America.

Weed control

With snow on the ground now as well as low temperatures, weeds should not be a problem for several months. However, for the producers who have been battling marestail, which is proving to be tough to eliminate, have to remember is that in different parts of the Midwest marestail plants can be emerging during the late fall months or early in the spring.

Since it can no longer be controlled solely by some of our common pre-emergence herbicides the management tactics for it will have to be adjusted.

The rule that has been formulated is to scout potential bean fields both in the fall and spring to document the size and population of the plants that have emerged and do what is needed to eliminate them prior to planting.

Even with the new soybean herbicides the one weed that does not seem to fit into any category are some of the tough, small-seeded, winter annual broadleaf weeds that germ in the fall or spring.

Marestail fits that category. Being resistant to several classes of herbicides is their advantage, almost as much as their offseason germination pattern.

In nearby states they have confirmed marstail’s resistance to several herbicides that used to work well.

Cover crops

The number of cover crop acres in several states climbed dramatically as most prevented-planting acres ended up being planted to one of them. In fact, if one traveled thru northern Iowa and southern Minnesota the predominant crops were cover crops and soybeans.

A portion of those cover crops were killed this fall by being worked, while others will be terminated next spring prior to planting. One question being brought up is how much N and phosphorus was scavenged by those crops this summer and will be available as nutrients this coming growing season.

Stay alert to such information since it may influence how many people will have to manage their acres in 2014.

Enjoy the holiday weekend.

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

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page