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By Staff | Apr 25, 2014

All of a sudden the 2014 planting season got its early start over the drier portions of the Midwest. While corn planting at this date is very ordinary in much of the corn-growing states, many regions took a long time to recover from the coldest winter in 102 years.

It was in 1912 that there was a major volcanic eruption that blocked out much of the sunlight and its heating potential.

Ditto for this year, though very few of the major news sources and politicians care to say that Mother Earth and solar cycles have a huge effect on the temperature trends, extremes and causes.

The latest NASS figures gives a more accurate picture than the headlines. In the five major corn producing states the percent of corn planted as of April 20 show that less than 3 percent of the corn had gone in the ground by Sunday.

How much territory the showers predicted for Wednesday and Thursday covers will determine the amount of planting progress we make this week.

The major window that typically opens about April 22 is here, so we have to hope for drying conditions over the next two weeks.

Absolutely no one wants any sort of repeat of 2013 and all the challenges it presented.

Let’s all hope for the best and do a lot of positive thinking to make this season a good and early one.

Optimist expectations

After a very long and cold winter, just being outside and being active in the sun feels so good again.

The first major task in actual preparation for the spring season was to get all the machinery ready. More farm operators used some of their earnings from grain profits to build heated shops.

Once viewed as a luxury, they are now thought of more as a necessity.

One of the biggest and most discussed items of recent years were the new planter updates that affected trash clearance and down pressures.

More care and thought is given to residue and dirt flow as well as how the seed is handled and delivered down into the seed trench.

Purdue’s Dr. Bob Nielson really pushed the idea of perfect spacing, partly because it was measurable and dealt with machinery ideas and improvements. What seems to be catching up are ideas related to soil tilth and biological activity that affects how the plant is able to anchor itself into the soil and explore the top 6 to 60 inches where most of the moisture and nutrients are pulled from.

More people recognize that civilization depends greatly on the top few feet of soil.

We still need more work to learn how to keep it in place.

Soil temps are climbing still. The top few inches are close to where they should be. We all hear about how frost is still below 24 inches across much of the northern half of the state.

Water pipes buried around 5 feet deep in northern Iowa just thawed out last week, finally letting the household inhabitants lead normal family lives again.

Seeding depth

The logic and recommendations on seeding depth after the last two seasons are trending toward planting at least 2 inches deep. Two years ago the fluffiness of the soil and how much the soil settled down, coupled with the dry summer conditions left many growers wishing they had moved a notch or two deeper with their planting settings.

But we now hear of a few people recommending that growers plant more than 2.5 inches deep. Enough work has been done to prove that planting too deep can have a detrimental effect on yield. Too much of the seedlings’ energy is spent on pushing the spike above ground if the placement depth is at 3 to 4 inches.

One educated friend who has studied the correlation between seminal and brace root numbers versus planting depth is a firm believer that a 2- to 2.5-inch depth helps most varieties form the 24 to 34 roots he believes is optimum for plant rooting strength plus moisture/nutrient uptake.

Livestock and methane

There is now work being done to see what can be done about methane production and release by our bovine friends.

Some environmental stewards blame them for a high percentage of the methane produced. What I did not know is that about 97 percent of that methane comes from the front end of the animal rather than the expected rear end.

Government scientists are feverishly working on pills, electronic equipment and diets that could lessen the amount of gas the animals emit. What was not recognized in the article published in a scientific magazine is that the real problem lies not with the cows, bulls or steer but with the stomach bacteria responsible for digestion. They have a microbiome, just as humans do, that can get thrown off by lack of the correct nutrition entering the stomachs.

Sap analysis

A number of U.S. agronomists and fertilizer companies were on a conference call last week where an agronomist and fertility specialist from the Netherlands explained that country’s program of sap testing the major crops.

They used to do tissue testing, but once the value of the ground and growing crop increased as our U.S. land prices followed suit, they developed the sap testing program because they saw it giving a two- to three-week quicker look into the plants and what was happening in their cells.

The presenter said using the analytical readings to differentiate the levels of very mobile from partially mobile and finally non-mobile elements.

The basic knowledge about what category they fell into told them if young or old tissue would give the most accurate results letting them best manage each crop.

This year people interested in learning how to better understand and manage their crops’ nutrient status and needs may want to make sure they learn about this new method of tissue collection and analyses.

John Kemp and his lab team are going to send the samples sent to his lab in Ohio overnight to the European lab for processing this summer.

When we sent some samples to their lab two years ago we received a form that gave us the test levels and degree of sufficiency or excess of 22 to 24 different elements.

One big idea that followers will have to learn is the interactions each mineral has with other minerals. For example an excess of phosphorous will upset zinc availability, which then shorts another one or two elements.

You heard it here first. Have a good week and may the sun shine on your fields and work.

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

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