The long winter continues and has finally shown hints of retreating.
Now that the National Weather Service has begun to name snow storms in an alphabetized fashion instead of numbering them, there is risk of having to start over with a an AA name to double the number of names available.
People are beginning to sense that this winter is unlike others in recent years. At the Iowa Power Farming Show several asked what the forecast for the spring and summer months were. Will cold air masses keep plunging southward through April and May? Will an early warm-up be in the cards suggests? When will moisture reach the Midwest?
By reading three different weather reports it is clear that there is no general consensus about what we might look forward to for cropping conditions in 2014.
Isn’t is interesting to visit grocery stores and see how much food prices have dropped since the price of corn decreased? Not. In other words corn growers and ethanol industries were given a bum rap for years when every marketer used that excuse as a smoke screen to boost margins.
Higher cash rents and land prices resulted and will have a long tail, of which renters are experiencing.
The pork, poultry and beef feeding industries could only hang on for those year and hope they survived.
The crowds were good for the three days of the IPFS. Organizers had not yet given the final tallies when we asked and it is tough to relate crowd size to how tight the people were packed since there is now about three times the space available for booths and people.
While people were there in droves and had lots of good questions, you could sense that there were levels of apprehension we have not seen since before the ethanol boom began.
One thing almost certain is that a having a blizzard snort through the state has become almost a certainty. Not this year.
While another Arctic Clipper rushed through the state it did not become the big snow like Chicago and points east were receiving. The drive down each morning for both presenters and the attendees was relatively uneventful.
There didn’t seem to be as many people looking for a big to mid-size item to purchase. Instead they seemed to be visiting with company reps about which products could help them with weed/insect control programs, asking fertilizer or soil fertility questions, or how to boost efficiencies in one of their crop production or marketing arenas.
There is full recognition that lots of the dollar returns that have existed in crop production are not projected to be there in 2014.
That may change, but unless a producer can convince the banker of the same, tighter budgets are the rule.
Two years ago we had a winter conference over near Iowa City. In attendance were several well-educated, feet-on-the-ground, dedicated and insightful young agronomist and lab scientists from The Netherlands and a few surrounding countries.
They had agronomy consulting businesses and worked with row crop, veggie and fruit growers from northern European countries.
When asked what changes growers from their countries made when the price of ground reached $20,000 to $30,000 per acre they responded by saying that everyone that was in business to show a profit realized that every management step they could add or improve to boost production and efficiencies, they did.
If weed problems or seedling diseases trimmed yields, they did what they could to solve the problems. If sidedressing nitrogen rather than applying everything preplant increased yields in a tough regulatory environment, they included that in their cropping program.
They keep better track of plant health and nutrient demands in all of their crops. They were able to access the foliar feeding information that for some reason has generally been kept from U.S. producers and they used lots of tissue testing.
They found that with row crops, the tissue sampling and lab result response timeframe worked OK, but with high-dollar veggies and greenhouse crops, tissue testing needed improvement.
Since the best instrumentation labs are in those countries they began to do sap testing. They found it offered a much quicker look into the plants’ nutritional status.
This let them correct any deficiencies even before any symptomology appeared.
Several U.S. agronomists and growers send plant samples to them to see how well their labs worked and found out they would produce a report that gave us the status of 22 to 24 different elements in the plants.
The only negative was the cost and time involved in boxing and sending samples to an overseas site.
The information proved to offer better insight to the crop appearance and health. At this point they have accumulated nearly a half million data points to correlate their findings with crop response.
What is in the plans now is establishing an accredited sap-testing lab in Ohio in time to be used with the 2014 season. That makes it much easier and cheaper to ship samples.
Current plans are for several of the Europeans to be at an informational meeting in mid-March. Any interested growers or agronomists could contact me about this if they want details about the meeting.
The Iowa crop consultant meeting was held in early December. One attendee was a rep from an Oklahoma company that works with insect control using scents and long-term programs.
In previous columns I wrote about the Invite program where an emulsion from a genetic throwback bitter melon, discovered by USDA entomologists at Beltsville, M.D., was used as a bait to attract corn rootworm beetles into sprayed rows where a light rate of an insecticide was included to terminate them.
That program worked great as a means of reducing beetle populations and egg-lying.
This company’s product is a finely ground powder made from the root of the buffalo gourd, a wild bitter gourd that grows in the sand hills and pastureland in several Southwestern states.
It contains the same scent with the same effect at an even higher concentration. The main difference is that is it a powder that may require a small amount of agitation and going with larger screens and nozzles.
The SideTrack D should be a nice tool for growers who are forced by factors such as soybean cyst nematode numbers, high soil pH conditions, drainage issues and ethanol demand, to raise second-year or continuous corn, and are having a tough time in controlling CRW due to intense insect populations.
There is going to be more information about this product shortly.
One additional theme at the IPFS was that different growers were hearing that some bankers were scrutinizing the projected cash flows of customers and they were being asked to trim the expected expenses by 5 percent to 12 percent, or to find a value-added market for the grain or meat to produce.
While that will be difficult to do since land, machinery and herbicide costs are fixed, it will be the task for more than a few producers.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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