Memorial Day 2014 has come and gone and typically serves as the starting point to the summer season.
Even though planting did not go perfectly, we are sitting in a much better position than we did one year ago.
By the end of the week most of the corn and soybeans should be in the ground. A few showers are supposed to dance through the Midwest this week, and the weathermen raised the chance of rain the first few days from 30 percent to much higher levels, but most of the major crops should be in the ground by the end of the week or prior to June 1.
And except for extreme northwest Iowa the moisture situation is the best it has been for about three years.
On the positive side for grain prices, yet negative for those growers in the northern tiers of states, are the many acres yet to plant to corn or soybeans where it has been too wet to get into the fields.
In the case of the Dakotas those two states have turned into big producers of both corn and beans in the last decade. Improved earlier varieties and more rainfall during the growing seasons and higher gross incomes from those two crops versus wheat or sorghum have converted their cropping programs.
Their northerly locations and experiences last season likely taught them it may be better to take the prevented planting options rather than bank on a three-month longer growing season than normal.
Thus a pertinent question is how many of those corn acres may disappear if they don’t get into the ground by June 6 or 8?
In weird early-planting seasons, as in 2014 and 2013, it is always difficult to correctly decide what is the best theory to follow about planting early or before the soil has warmed into the 50- to 55-degree soil temperatures.
Though it seems contrary to what a sane person would do the last few years, we have had that warm one- to two-week period where the air and soil temps are warming and conditions are good, but overall there is a lot of doubt about it being too early.
This was another one of those years in the western Midwest. That would have been in the week before Easter.
What we are seeing is that the soils stayed warm enough during that week to let the seeds germinate, send out sprouts and emerge before any crusts formed.
Those fields planted in that time frame generally look good.
Where I am seeing problems is those fields and growers who planted during the first week of May, which was the second window, had seeds and germinated seeds that endured many days where temps rarely climbed above 50 degrees and were likely at a very low level of seedling vigor while they were trying to emerge.
I and other agronomists are seeing that quite a few of those fields may look good from the road at 50 mph, but when you get out and walk the fields to count stands, you find there is a sizable percent of the plants that still had not emerged as of last weekend.
By digging, one can find seeds that never germinated, some that send out roots, but no coleoptiles, or tried to push the spike through the crusts, which ranged from almost no crust to one inch of cement before leafing out.
Last week was the time to rotary hoe, but there may be a chance to save those seedlings if one can get the crust cracked and light onto the wrinkled leaves.
Receiving any lights will let the plants form sugars and continue growing towards the surface.
As to assessing which course of action to follow, what I learned years ago was to count the percent stand improvement that could be gained versus doing nothing, what percent of compensation may occur from neighboring plants based on hybrid characteristics, and then putting a dollar figure on the expected gain.
Thus if 4,000 plants per acre could be saved by hoeing, increasing a stand from 26,000 to 30,000 plants, then that would be a 15 percent increase.
If the compensation by the neighbors would be 33 percent, at $5 per bushel corn on a 180-bushel-per-acre yield expectations with the higher stand the dollar gain would amount to $90 per acre.
It may seem ironic, but with many tractor and planting rigs along with the electronics costing upwards or $250,000 to $500,000 each, spending 15 minutes per field using a $3 screw driver to dig for crusted-under plants to save them and protect yield seems quite important.
What I and other people learned from ISU’s Mike Owen at his meetings was that we don’t control problem weeds, we manage them.
When asked what’s new with the dreaded Palmer amaranth in Iowa, Owen said, several visitors from different states and countries requested to view the super, Godzilla-like weed after hearing about that terrible name.
They seemed disappointed, he said, that we had to tell them our worst weed was a pigweed, which didn’t sound so ominous.
What is new is that there were more fields and counties across the state where there were suspected populations of the tall, vigorous, fast growing, and resistant-to-many herbicide- families plant.
What Owens urged was for any grower who notices a patch of fast-growing pigweeds that did not die from an herbicide application, should mark that spot and keep close watch on it; and then be ready to respray with a different family and mode of action product to see if the problem patch dies.
If that does not work it could well be worth cultivating and perhaps even disking that area down to keep those plants from surviving.
Iowa agronomists and weed specialists have said while those sound like drastic steps to take it could be the best practice for the guy’s or lady’s farm and neighborhood to take.
The Palmer pigweed is simply a larger and faster growing cousin to the waterhemp that is more aggressive in its growth and ability to tolerate common herbicides.
Keeping areas clean for as long as possible sounds like a good strategy. With cotton seed cleanings and machinery moving into the state in today’s ag reality it’s just what we have to do.
As to other weeds the creed is to hope the residual herbicides give the control expected of them and then some.
Total dependence on post-emerge products with no residual was very easy and helped create the problems that we have today.
With many fewer dollars being available for many companies to run their discover units there are no silver bullets on the horizon.
What we currently have available is all we will have for some time.
Choose and mange your management programs wisely.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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