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By Staff | Mar 14, 2014

It is getting late in the winter season, and we are finally getting a bit of relief in the form of 50- and 60-degree weather.

Most Midwesterners were going a bit cabin crazy, and it seemed the best conversation was about whose water pipes were frozen how many number of feet down.

Or, I remember when it never got above 30-below for three weeks straight back in the early-1940s. I heard that one back in the early-1960s as we were trying to keep the cattle and hog waterers thawed during a brutal winter in northern Iowa.

As bad as things are, you could always go 50 miles further north and things get worse. Just thank the Good Lord and DuPont for Thinsulate for much warmer clothing that makes cold temps tolerable. Fifteen years ago, it did not exist and we had to wear two sets of gloves or mittens to keep our hands warm.

Either way the warm temps on Sunday and Monday melted a lot of snow. We can see grass again, and it looks like the mud season has officially started.

Observant and understanding farmers will be paying particular attention to how fast or slow the standing water goes down. We know the ground is dry below 2 feet and that the frost has reached down to 4 or 5 feet in many places.

We would just as soon see any snowmelt stay close to where it originated and soak into the ground rather than run off.

Soil conditions

It is too early yet to know for sure if the water will soak in like we hope. But a number of people are noticing that some of the first ponds do seem to be disappearing. Maybe with the recent snows the ground was able to warm underneath the snowcover. Where no snow existed until mid-February that may not be the case.

Most of us will be paying close attention to the Palmer Drought Index. Until recently it had about the western two-thirds of the state and most points west rated as in a moderate to severely dry or drought condition.

While it is never good to panic about dry soils, the same admonition was given in 2013 that there was no way to fill much of the soil profile unless we would start receiving rainfall that would delay planting. That proved correct as we had the worse and most frustrating season many old timers could ever remember.

A total of 752,000 Iowa acres never got planted and then a portion of those acres were planted in less-than-stellar conditions. Cross your fingers that everything shines for us when the time is right, and we get the rain we need in late-March and early-April.

Alfalfa stands

After such a cold winter where the ground was bare for several months we could see that the new and even established alfalfa seedings may have been hurt, sometimes to the degree they will need to be replanted. By comparison, the previous winter was tough on alfalfa fields in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota due to the long cold weather and the ice sheeting in the spring.

Those conditions were bad enough and created hay shortages just when many livestock people had to rely on purchased hay. Hay prices responded by climbing at every auction.

Hay supplies may be a bit larger than last year going into the spring, but we will just have to see how quickly the soils warm and when the regrowth starts. Expect to see more alfalfa planted now that grain prices have moderated and beef prices have kept climbing.

If you didn’t get the job done last fall it would be good to evaluate each stand to see if it’s thick enough to produce as it should. If you have not soil-tested yet to make sure the pH level is below 6.5, it would be good to do so.

Be sure to test for calcium base saturation as well as for phosphorus and potassium levels as the crop is a major consumer of those elements.

If conditions get dry, pay attention to micronutrient levels and application of a micro package for each cutting about a week after clipping. Alfalfa does use lots of water.

Many of the drought responses are micronutrient mediated, so consider a package that supplies those elements. When we were in western Washington state last March, we saw more covered stacks of hay that had been harvested and stored for export to Japan and other Far East countries.

Those growers have been on strong foliar programs in addition to maintaining high soil test levels. They know the forages can be profitable crops if each stand produces well.

Wild radishes

News about a new glyphosate-resistant weed in Australia is reaching the Extension networks in this country. It is the wild radish, which looks a lot like a bushy tillage radish many farmers planted as a cover crop on their 2013 prevent-planted acres. It is a plant that can become competitive with low canopy crops.

In their experiments and in field inspections they have found this weed also exhibits resistance to SUs, ALSs, auxins, and perhaps a few others besides glyphosate.

When they did their trials they found good resistance to the 2, 4-D products. So far they have determined this weed could cause problems in 45 different planted crops.

So along with a number of other weeds they need to figure out how to manage it. One method is what they term a “weed seed control program.” Growers build a catch cart containing weed seeds collected in fine straw.

Periodically they dump the cart and torch the accumulated straw containing 90 to 95 percent of the seed. Thus far they found this cumbersome method is working to prevent heavy seed-producing weeds from overtaking fields, especially if it is a species where a high percent of the seeds germinate the first year. One would hate to think how we would have to manage in that fashion, especially when starting a field or when working around terraces or risers.

Weed management

In a few short weeks, and after the next big snow, it will be time to be thinking about making the first application of broadleaf herbicides meant to prevent germination and establishment of the marestail population.

Because the weed has shown the ability to survive several different herbicide families, particularly after it has advanced beyond the rosette stage, trying to manage it after it has emerged can be a losing task.

There are a number of herbicides recommended to being used to control marestail.

These include 2, 4-D, Banvel, Classic and Kixor containing mixes. Make sure you understand how each of these works and what soil type and pH restrictions exist for each.

Several products are registered for fall applications and have been doing a good job on the weed.

As the late-winter and early-spring days get longer and the sun does a better job of warming the ground, we will be able to get out and get the different jobs done.

It can be a great time of year for all who participate in raising crops.

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

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