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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Sep 19, 2014

It’s sad to admit, but based on temperatures over the weekend the summer of 2014, though brief, is over.

Put the comforter back on the bed, and pull out the jackets and long sleeve shirts.

In actuality, we had to do that over the weekend. A year to the date, they had another big snowfall in the Black Hills region of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

Luckily there was not a big kill of the South Dakota beef herd as there was last year. That event is a factor in record high beef prices as ranchers have had to begin rebuilding their herds by retaining heifers.

Nature is not waiting around this year with blasting parts of the western plains and Midwest with Canadian air and measurable snows.

Are we all ready for another long winter, perhaps as cold or colder than last year, unless this oncoming El Nino proves to be an event that brings a southerly jet stream flow of western air to the western Midwest this winter?

Grain prices continue to tumble as crop forecasting groups continue to compete in predicting the size of the corn crop.

The decline in grain prices has every grower doing early cash flow predictions for their bankers. Nearly all are feverishly wondering how to make the adjustments to both the output and input side.

They know that a portion of those expenses are fixed and out of their control. Some are taking those projections to their landlords to explain why they can’t afford to pay as much rent for 2015 as in recent years.

A good relationship where partnering and sharing risk in the past can be helpful in understanding each party’s situation.

Then the issue may turn to competition among neighbors unless long-term relationships and family connections are solid.

Crop reports

Early reports from southern states are good, but what will happen as they get to major corn producing states west of the Mississippi where there were multiple weather challenges from May through September?

Granted the weather has been cool and with lots of moisture, with lots of storms. But how many fields still have enough green productive tissue left to add more pounds of grain?

A high percentage of them were yellowing or browning two and three weeks ago, only adding to the threat of stalk lodging or grain deterioration before harvest.

The same goes for soybeans, where many fields began to show the leopard-like coloration of SDS, indicating a fusarium root infection had been killing the plants since May or June.

In reality, we have seen a high percentage of the acres limp across the finish line instead of making a strong effort to beat previous yield records.

In this week’s crop evaluation, it was related that 15 percent of the corn crop had matured.

Then why were the plants in 85 percent of the fields completely dead?

That is not normal, no matter what anyone says when attempting to rationalize the situation.

Harvest issues

The biggest issues connected to harvest will likely include stories about prices and the struggle to find adequate storage space.

As to the storage challenges, the story in the northern plains states where, thanks to Warren Buffet and the rail systems, are bottlenecked by shipping crude that rightfully should be transported via pipeline (at $10 per barrel) to the refineries versus moving by rail at $30/barrel.

The huge basis of $2 per bushel (plus or minus 50 cents) slowed or halted summer sales by growers, leaving many of their bins and elevators full of 2013 corn.

Grain cars were pulled into remote rural areas and left sitting for much of the summer.

Now with harvest approaching there is still a shortage of cars and engines to pull them.

In the Midwest, many harvest facilities are still holding unsold grain that in previous higher-priced years would have been moved by mid or late summer.

At one farm management meeting, the admonition from the grain marketing specialist was that the final 20 percent of the harvest may have a tough time finding storage space.

Then the question will be if there will be a financial reward for holding it.

If there is finally the adjustment made for few corn acres as expected, there could be price movement.

Crop problems

Observant growers and agronomists have been looking at root systems in the major crops and wondering why most of them have been brown, reduced in size, or non-existent nearly from the start.

Healthy roots are supposed to be white in color and maintain that healthy indicator through the season. The question from the production side for growers seeking to improve their crops has got to be how to restore the soils, soil biology and nutritional status enough to bring back those white roots.

It is a biological battle so one of the strategies will be to create an environment that is favorable to the microbes we hope to apply, culture and build in number.

It was interesting to spend a few days with the top plant and fertility researchers from both North and South America during the Farm Progress Show days. Their combined 160 years of experiments and experiences were valuable to tap into and learn.

What have they learned that might let us rectify the plant health issue and regrow those deep and healthy roots? Growers who pulled tissue samples or used the advanced sap-testing analysis did gain better insight into their plant’s needs .

In many cases part of the solution will be either seed or in-furrow application of different nutrients or microbes. That will require adding a liquid system to the planters prior to springtime.

Several new biologicals such as the Heads-Up by Engage Agro for control of SDS, or a Pseudomonas f. from ABM, to fight root-rotting organism, are two that deserve attention when looking toward 2015.

There will be a host of others on the scene as well, as more input companies are scouring the globe for beneficial biological products that now fit our cropping systems.

A number of these products work to increase availability of minerals already present.

Fertilizer thoughts

Efficiencies to any applied fertilizer will be highly stressed as a means of retaining profitability.

This may mean deep or row placement where the root systems can access a concentrated zone of nutrition early in the season and make use of it throughout its different growth stages.

This includes primarily phosphorus, and if using 0-0-50 potassium as well. Boron, sulfur and zinc needs must all be met.

Recognize that crops have needs for between 15 to 59 different elements.

Knowing how much of each element to apply is still best gauged by maintaining the same two- or four-year cycle of soil sampling and analysis.

With more fertilizer retailers waking up to micros, more of the samples being taken will have a full analysis run on them.

If a micro is needed, then there may be a very good return on investment for applying those identified as being deficient.

With the record late-May and June rainfalls of 8 to 12-plus inches, many corn growers on flat black ground recognize that their fields had major nitrogen loss problems.

In many of those N deficient fields, the major form used was fall-applied 82 percent.

At some point those growers will have to draw the conclusion that fall N is not the best management program.

Then when do they switch to using two or three different forms or application dates to maximize N efficiency?

It will require more time and machinery, but 2015 might be the time to make that change.

Most of the recent years have been excessively wet in May and June.

Varieties for 2015

From mid-August through mid-September is typically the best time to evaluate new corn and bean varieties that may fit your farming operation in 2015.

Taking notes on plant healthy, plant type and heights, and stalk quality are all traits that need to be observed.

A bit one might also be ear flex. It may be good to know which hybrids may yields and stand well at 30,000 to 32,000 plant population..

Good luck in getting work done in this upcoming Indian summer.

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

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