One more week in this month, and it will be history. Typically when we roll the calendar over to February we can accurately say that the worst of the winter season is behind us.
Fewer cold snaps and fewer tough blizzards become the norm. Most Midwestern inhabitants will say that we have had our share of super cold weather, and they are correct.
As to blizzards, most sections of Iowa have not had to deal with many big snows.
I know in central Iowa we have only had to push snow once so far. That is a huge reduction from the tough winters of four years ago when most of us were wondering where we were going to move the snow to.
While it has been chillingly cold, it could be a lot worse.
What are the markets poised to do in the next months?
While they fell dramatically, or were pushed in that direction due to reports and predictions, the economist from the University of Illinois reports that corn usage is much above expectations.
What happened to create this difference and does it suggest that prices were pushed too low by unknown factors?
I was visiting with a number of input suppliers during the past several weeks trying to get a handle on what their ordering patterns were suggesting would take place as far as changes compared to those of 2013.
Most seed dealers are reporting that soybean sales are up a major percentage versus last year, likely a result of poor results from corn-on-corn acres.
Concurrently, many growers thought it was a good time to lock in soybean prices for the 2014 crop.
Some believe they have a greater chance of losing fewer dollars growing soybeans than by raising corn after corn.
The percentage of growers who are moving back to purchasing residual herbicides for use on their soybean acres is likely as high as it was 15 years ago. Reality has hit many of them alongside the head.
Pigweed, waterhemp, or the soon to appear Palmer amaranthus has hit home with most growers, and they don’t want to be like those Delta State bean growers who had to abandon such fields in past years.
Luckily, a team of new herbicides from a Japanese company was advanced through research in the nick of time and will be commercialized through FMC, Valent and BASF.
None of them will be cure-alls but will be great tools in the herbicide arsenal of many farmers.
The other uncertainty out there is that the seed corns sales, including that of the traited hybrids, was quite strong last August through November.
Typically, seed booked before December is 90 percent certain to stay sold. However, this year when gross dollars per acre are projected to decline, and growers see their bankers, they may have to go back to their offices and refigure their cost projections.
With land costs and rents fixed already, and machinery costs fixed close to 2013 levels, applied fertilizer amounts already expected to decline, then the largest segment under scrutiny may be seed costs.
Might we see growers reconsider some of their earlier reservations, particularly if the chance to pick up a premium for any different grains may be possible?
This may be a very pertinent question.
Crop advantage seminars
These have been very good in the past and served the role of providing the latest up-to-date information to growers. The one in Ames was held Jan. 14 to a full meeting room.
The first two seminars were those headlined by Mike Owen and Elwynn Taylor. The most telling point that Owen gave was that the last new mode of action herbicide family was released 27 years ago.
It used to be that every company seemed to have new candidates for the marketplace every few years. There were plenty of herbicide companies with their basic herbicide research divisions that were entering new products in the university testing programs.
They were plain herbicide companies that had been around for 30 to 100 years. That is not the case anymore.
Now there are about four major U.S.- or European-based companies that have full research divisions, plus several more that do research in only several sections of crop protection areas.
In addition there are several foreign firms that appear to have bigger roles than they have in the past. Some of these are smaller firms that are exploring the libraries of Japanese or Korean firms that do not have sales or marketing divisions, thus are willing to partner with these mobile, quick-to-make decision firms.
It may not be advantageous to be linked to a pharmaceutical division, since their higher return-on-investment products can outshadow any ag returns, making deep investments harder to justify to CFOs.
But what Owen gave as his take-home message was that no silver bullet herbicides are going to appear in the forseeable future that will control any and all weeds, pre or post-emerge, at a minimal cost, and rescue problem fields.
Instead it will take carefully thought-out strategies, overlapping residual products, and reasoned expectation of what you are trying to control as well as what to expect.
And heaven forbid, row crop cultivation come back into the picture for many growers. Will that change be welcome? No, but it will be the new reality.
Taylor acknowledged that many sections of the western Corn Belt were still quite short in subsoil moisture. Much reduction from normal rainfall this summer could be damaging to crop yields if we don’t get more rain into the deeper profile.
He held off from making any bold predictions since a few of the signals for rainfall and temperatures that result from ocean currents will become clearer sometime over the next two months.
Supposedly, the cycles are favoring an El Nino pattern, but meteorologists recognize there is a true El Nino, as well as a cycle that is close to it, except it brings dry weather.
Speaking of dry weather, stay tuned with what is playing out in California, which is where much of the winter production of berries, lettuce, nuts, fruit and melons comes from.
The water levels in many of their reservoirs have been dropping the last few years. The situation has gotten worse the past years and now what is apparent is that their snowpack is now only about 10 percent of normal.
Some of the larger producers are taking the tactic of drilling deeper into saline aquifers to meet their immediate needs.
The others do not know what their response will be or will need to be. Unless the ocean currents change dramatically and much of California catches good rains the next three months it could heavily affect the supply of those fruit and veggie crops.
Stay tuned to see if they get relief in the form of a strong El Nino.
Melon juice ‘Invite’
I have written in the past about a crop that we hope is raised this spring. That would be some acreage of a bitter melon that would be juiced, concentrated, emulsified and then sold as a product called Invite.
In the past corn growers have sprayed it on their tasseled corn fields around July 18 to Aug. 25 to draw in corn rootworm beetles.
Since they are programmed to eat the juice, which is mixed with a partial rate of an insecticide, their population is eliminated for two weeks with each application.
With zero egg-laying happening the pressure from CRW is lessened the next season.
If two applications are made egg-laying is eliminated during the four-week period.
This could be an inexpensive tool where the 12 ounces of product is window-paned and then alternatively strip-applied by either a ground rig or an airplane to either eliminate beetles feeding on silks and tassels in 2014 or used to eliminate a high percentage of the eggs going into 2015.
I’ll look for you at the Iowa Power Show next week.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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