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By Staff | May 23, 2014

After three years of very limited rainfall across the western two thirds of Iowa it seems strange to be hoping for the rainfall to slow down or stop, especially since there is still empty space in the soil profile that can hold more water that could be stored to meet crop demand later in the growing season.

Last weekend’s 2- to 3-inch rains and strong winds created flooded creeks and white caps in many recently planted corn fields. The rain can quit for about three weeks while the fields dry allowing the completion of both corn and soybean planting.

We wondered a few weeks ago when it would actually turn into late spring. It is always a matter of getting those frontal boundaries established which always brings us major storms and tornados.

In the meantime it is good strategy to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Having lanterns and chain saws handy is always good.

The growing season

The big difference so far between the 2014 versus the 2013 growing seasons were the nice seven to 10 days that areas south of Iowa Highway 3 had that allowed farmers to get a high percentage of corn acres planted by May 10.

Last year, this planting surge week came later, often long after the optimum planting window had passed. Thus a higher percentage of the corn acres got planted in the time frame where the grain fill should occur during the August when the days are still long enough to maximize sugar formation and grain fill.

Last year’s disappointing corn yields would have been worse except for the extra three weeks worth of good conditions coming in September and October. Those don’t happen every year.

A week ago we were waiting for emergence in fields planted just before Easter. Initial inspections found those kernels were still firm and fresh and had 1/2- to 1-inch long sprouts.

With warm temps and a bit of crust-softening moisture those kernels grew and have now made it above the soil line.

It was a challenge during those cool weeks. The slow growth and late emergence now appear to be a blessing as many portions of the Midwest dropped into the mid-20s and freezing conditions killed the tops of many corn plants and likely nuked early emerging bean fields.

In the same manner, a week ago, we were wondering when it was ever going to warm up. I heard that seeing kids wearing winter jacket over their Dutch costumes for the Orange City tulip festival was a first for many.

The ability of the seedlings to survive the cool and saturated soil are a testament to the value of the seed applied fungicide. Those treated seeds now have about four weeks to emerge versus 2.5 weeks.

There is still a sizable percent of the corn crop to be planted in the north central and north east portions of the state. I had to make a run up to near Rochester, Minn., last Friday and what I saw for progress in that state was that in the stretch from Albert Lea to Rochester there were about two fields that had been worked and planted.

Even though the calendar said May 20, the soil temps still have not stayed above 50 degrees.

The plants will now grow taller than if planted on time, and the yield potential will drop slightly. We saw in 2013 that later-planted corn can still yield, but propane costs are bound to soar.

Remember that many acres in the southern Corn Belt were planted a month or so later than normal this spring with many switching away from corn to a crop that better tolerates delayed planting. They often have three or four to chose from.

As to the nationwide planting progress, the northern tier of counties in Iowa and northern Corn Belt states are still having problems.

The red flags are being raised in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

As of Sunday, those five states only averaged 25 percent of their corn acres planted and 6 percent of their soybeans.

Temps are finally predicted to be slightly above normal with daily highs expected to be in the low- to mid-70s. It seems strange to grab a jacket going out the door in mid- to late-May.

What to find

In my scouting trips, so far what I am finding are corn stands with slightly decreased stands, some showing about a 25 percent drop from kernel to established plant.

There are also fields with plants lacking the push to get above ground. Was it poor cold germs or lack of vigor?

In some cases, it appears that rotary hoeing to get sunlight to the crinkled leaves may help them push and recover.

Top growers who commonly use foliar fertilizer have seen good results from applying products containing nutrition, a sugar source and plant hormones on those slow-growing fields where the plants are slowly recovering from recent frosts.

If that is you, be sure to wait for three or four days before making field surveys to detect new growth.

Row widths

There seem to be more questions about row width and planting populations in both corn and soybeans, maybe due to more articles and talk about narrow-row culture and equipment.

I thought more of the answers had already been generated and disseminated with clarification being latitude-based – higher yields result more along I-90 than along I-80.

In corn, we are seeing several multi-state projects where 8- to 12-inch paired rows on 20-inch centers for corn are being played with.

In that project, the hybrids are being bred down in stature so as to end up being only 60 to 66 inches tall.

The populations could go up to 50,000 plants or slightly higher.

As long as the growers do what it takes to improve soil porosity and health it may increase yields and profitability.

Most growers still have other things to work on before jumping onto extreme populations.

I saw twin-row, 30-inch corn a few years ago, and it looked very good, still allowing traffic with 13-inch tires.

The grower did not want energy expended on growing a big root which is not the case in Iowa and Nebraska.

There is a southern Minnesota grower that does a great job with twin-row 30s.

The inter-row and light interception his planter delivers is very good. The 8- to 12-inch trial is worth exploring, which is what field trials are all about.

Most 30-inch farmers may push a few stands above 36,000, but after that point stalk diameter and root mass seem to decline, affecting standability and root anchoring ability.

There have been many trials with soybean row width and there are several qualifiers as to which is the best row width to plant.

Thirty-inch beans planted before May 15 typically tie for the high yields in Iowa.

Narrower rows may work better if erosion control via better ground coverage on sloped ground is the issue.

There are hormone containing foliars and seed-applied hormone containing products that will induce the plants to form more side branches.

Final branch harvestable and podded branch number combined with the number of filled-pods-per node are the best precursors and indicators to final yields.

For soybeans planted after May 20, narrowing up row width provides a slight advantage to 15-inch rows.

Twenty-inch rows are somewhat a good compromise.

If air movement is suppressed, the C02 levels within the canopy can drop below the critical level for C3 plants and white mold can become a problem due to higher humidity levels and more hours of plant wetness.

Prevented acres

Quite a few of the 2013 prevented planted acres have already been planted, but some still have to get done.

Growers managing such acres have to remember it may take proactive management to help that ground recover if they did not plant a cover crop, or green bridge, to keep the soil microbial population alive over the summer.

The best recommendation is to apply a microbial mix containing pseudomonas bacteria.

With soybeans use at least a 1X level of a top grade nitrogen fixing inoculant.

After the 1984 Payment In Kind year -a fallow growing season. The problems that resulted were due to a beneficial microbe die-off due to no green bridge vegetation being grown.

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

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