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By Staff | May 2, 2014

The month of April is history and May has arrived. Weather is the issue that all of us are wondering and fretting about, because it controls so much of crop farming.

Coming off the coldest winter in more than 100 years, we were all hoping for a warm and drier spring along with getting enough rain to supply the crop needs as the season goes along.

Now it seems like we slipped back into late winter with temps hanging in the low- to high-40s over much of the northern Corn Belt.

After a 2013 planting and growing season, we were hoping for a non-eventful and smooth one this year. That can still happen, but it had better start soon enough to permit a high percentage of corn acres to be planted in the April 22 through May 10 optimum window.

Cross your fingers and say a bunch of prayers. It’s tough to wish away the rain when we have needed it so badly since July 2011, but we could use a break for a few weeks.

The NASS cropping progress survey was release Monday and told of the six states surrounding Iowa and points east, save Missouri, are now at about 13 percent planted.

Projecting the week to remain cool and wet until Friday morning and allowing four days for soils to dry, the delay would produce the third slowest planting pace nationwide since 1980.

While this covers the modern farming area, one pundit remarked that much of northern Iowa was a swamp until the settlers in the early 1900s got busy and starting tiling and ditching much of the territory.

While early planting would be nice, a more important issue is when the soils will finally warm up into the 50-plus degree range.

One colleague said after looking over his records and the ice-out date on the lakes near Okoboji was exactly three weeks later than in 2013.

To think about it, it began to rain in northern Arkansas on March 24. Typically when that happens we get wet four weeks later.

Planting date

A few meteorologists have commented that in recent years we have seen later springs accompanied by later first frost and freeze dates in the fall.

Remember that last year it never froze over much of the state until three weeks later than normal. That gave the late-planted crops time to reach maturity and lower harvest moistures than any of us expected.

With the 921,000 extra acres of ice up in the arctic, courtesy of volcanic dust blocking sunlight, a quick turnaround to warmer conditions was not something that we should have expected.

So should that make corn farmers re-examine decisions to load up on a high percentage of very late hybrids?

It’s too early to act too much on that thinking, but if I was farming along Iowa Highway 3 in north central Iowa and had lots of a 112-day or later hybrid in the shed, I would be looking at the calendar and going over a list of qualifiers such as field drainage rates, phosphorous levels, and any potential P foliar applications that could speed plant development.

The rule of thumb is that each day in relative maturity represents about a half day more moisture at harvest. To maintain an equal yield/moisture ratio each point of extra harvest moisture should be worth about 4.5 bushels per acre. The advice that will be given is that to not sweat this weather delay too much until we get to about May 7.

By that date most corn growers will want to be making significant progress with planting. After that date, any changes should be incremental and made with solid performance data to back up any changes.

What could become concerning is the rate of emergence or lack of emergence if the quality of seed and germination percentages were not as high as expected.

Fields that have shown problems with seedling and root rots are the same ones where those soil dwelling pathogens, often fungal, but lately bacterial as well, can cause problems when they attack seedling struggling to emerge.

This could be a difference due to the efficacy of seed treatments applied by the supplier.

In the days before Apron became commonly used on seed corn seedlings typically rotted, if they were in the ground 2.5 weeks or more.

For farmers in southeast Iowa, where both fusarium and pythium have become huge problems in causing poor stands in recent years, this may be the year where using newer micronutrient or biological seedling protectants (like pseudomonas) or products like Procidic may be well worth the effort and expense.

Allowing seedlings to become diseased creates plants that are never able to produce up to their genetic potential.

Weed control

Growers who till still have the chance to eliminate any growing weeds.

Once no-tillers get into their fields they will have to act immediately to get their residual products applied before those germination windows open any wider.

Once those small weeds and grasses emerge they will have to either apply a burndown component to their mix or make sure their early post-emerge products have burndown capabilities.

On the latest University of Illinois IPM website, one of its weed scientists planted Palmer amaranth and normal waterhemp seeds in pots and took photos of the plants every two days to show their growth rate.

What they saw was that those Palmer plants grew to 3 inches in six days and 10 inches in 14 days.

This was in their greenhouse, which is a slower growth rate than weed scientists in Delta states have seen.

It will be interesting to see what percent of corn and bean growers face reality this year and accept the fact that controlling weeds is different in 2014 than it was in 2012.

It is not hard to surmise that many of those smaller waterhemp that grew and produced seeds in corn fields cross pollinated with resistant waterhemp plants growing in soybean fields, and will produce resistant plants in bean fields this season.

Scouting, identifying and acting early while the weeds are small is the best course of action this season. Recognizing when the plants are not dying from the last herbicide application will be important in making decisions to use a contact herbicide while they are still controllable.


The price of good alfalfa hay is expected to remain high this season since many stands were injured or lost after two tough winters.

Both dairy and beef producers recognize the feed value to good forage. Not enough farmers want to spend the expense and labor it takes to be devoted to growing and harvesting the crop.

This creates the opportunity to still plant additional acres this spring or to devote effort to scout and fertilize acres you already have.

Now is the time to scout any stands where plants have reached six inches and the stems have reached the diameter where alfalfa weevils may have laid eggs.

When there are weevil larvae feeding the upper leaves and whorls will appear skeletonized.

Yields and forage quality will be decreased if the feeding is not controlled. Most pyrethroids offer good control and enough residual to control activity a week into the future.

Plans, preparations

In the days before you can get back into the fields it may be a good time to check out any pictorial guides that show what micronutrient deficiencies look like in the field.

Be sure you know what parts of the plants to sample and send to Midwest, Minnesota Valley or other approved lab. Recognize that Dr Bruce Tainio, a well respecting crop researcher and advisor, believed that it requires 59 different minerals to get plants to produce to their full yield potential.

Are you sure you are prepared to help your crops meet that requirement?

Will you be using tissue to DO sap testing to monitor your crops on a regular planned basis this summer?

May the sunshine later this week and all of 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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