We now find ourselves at the end of the first week of October. In Iowa, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, more than 90 percent of the crop acres are still in the field.
This sounds like a very high percentage compared to the degree of progress seen in the last five years, but historically the percentage harvested at this date is closer to normal, but behind due to slow grain drydown and plant development.
What we have seen of harvest progress by Oct. 6 in the last five years has been abnormally early, especially in 2011 and 2012 when dry weather and early disease caused many entire fields to die by early August. There were fields where the ears were beginning to dent by the end of July.
If one is examining the aggregate growing degree units, the tally would show us being about 250 behind normal. After the last three years were incredibly dry we were all hoping for a return to normal moisture to solve many of our problems. Those prayers were answered with huge amounts of rain during May and June, and then again in August and September.
The perceptive growers and agronomists recognized that getting that extra moisture was going to set the stage for greater levels of plant disease and that has happened.
Now the issue will be when will conditions dry enough to allow harvest to get fully underway?
A bench mark seems to be that the baseball playoffs are often underway when harvest is between 30 percent and 50 percent complete.
The economics of raising corn and soybeans and making money in 2015 appears to be challenging if everything else stays the same.
Since early acreage reports were released last winter predicting huge production numbers, subsequent reports have changed little. This doesn’t help.
The old axiom that more people buy food than raise food appears to be true, so cheaper commodity prices were in the cards for the major grains.
Livestock operations appear poised for another good year after six tough years, but replacement costs for cattle feedlots are between unreal and crazy.
Being on the wrong side of the market is always a possibility, but supplies will be low for five years just when export demand for good beef is increasing.
Beef lovers still enjoy a good steak or hamburger when grilling is possible.
What might happen if these 250-bushel-per-arce dryland corn yields west of the Mississippi don’t materialize? So far many of the big yields that have been reported or repeated have been in the smaller acreage states.
If corn demand for feed use, ethanol processing and exports stays strong we could see the uptick in prices that long-time charts seem to be predicting.
Currently, every operator is running through cash flow predictions and wondering what and where to cut costs. They have not seen any company or industry on the input side shave their prices enough to make a big difference in total costs.
All of the major expense categories – fertilizer, seed, machinery, or herbicide – have remained steady on price. The local input of cash rent, which typically stays in the community, is the one that is going to be under pressure to come down.
The question will be what can be eliminated or lowered that will not be counterproductive to yields next fall, or, what can an operator do to coax more bushels out of the same acres, or how to increase efficiencies to boost ROIs?
Any reduction in fertilizer must be weighed carefully using recent soil tests and a good knowledge of when and what nutrient test levels yields begin to drop off.
Seed needs will be examined by growers wondering if paying for each trait is a necessity, especially if the particular weed or insect pressure is not a yearly occurrence.
Machinery has costs, even when sitting in the shed. Herbicide? Not getting control is much more costly than getting adequate control. Waterhemp sure makes setting up a good control program tougher due to its continual emergence during the summer.
Doing the little things right that boost yields by making the soil healthier and keeping the crop green and filling for more days is the course of action to follow.
Efficiencies in fertilizer are most likely to be gained with nitrogen by split application and using more than one form of N.
Using all 82 percent last fall looked cheaper and more effective, but did not prove to be the case in light of the excessive moisture during May and June.
Tissue testing needs to be looked at as the way to evaluate if the nutrients you are applying are getting into the plants.
Those fields containing nutrient-deficient plants are now the ones that died the earliest and are at the greatest risk of stalk lodging.
Last Saturday the Iowa Celiac Conference was held in Iowa City. Attendees were of either personally afflicted or had offspring that had problems. Others were medical personnel that dealt with caring for or supervising people who could not tolerate the gluten proteins that are contained in wheat, barley or other small grain products.
While being a meat eater who likes beef, pork and fish along with potatoes and veggies and fresh bread, I don’t have to worry about it. But if you have someone in the family who cannot eat those types of food and is not able to get good advice, dealing with the problem on a daily basis can seem overwhelming.
I got a chance to visit with three of the four speakers about their info and where the latest research was going. Most of them had not visited with a crops person to find out where some of the problems are likely to be coming from.
Like much of medicine today, the focus by the advanced medical community seems to be on fancy testing equipment and procedure along with expensive medicines. That community forgets to ask about, or does not search for, the cause of the problem.
I forgot to ask them who had the advice to “let food be your medicine” or wrote a book titled, “Real Medicine (nutritious food), Real Health?” (The answers are Socrates and Dr. Arden Anderson, respectively.)
What I learned was that roughly 100 million people in the U.S. have some sort of eating or health problem; and that $23.3 billion dollars of food are sold in the U.S. labeled as non-gluten, so the market exists for food that fits the consumption category.
The large attendance at many of the local farmers markets across the Midwest states demonstrate that people like to feel closer to their food source, hopefully getting assurance that it is both nutritious and safe.
Capturing more of the food dollar is what the specialty crop growers are able to do.
They see the reality of depending on commodity markets where world markets set prices.
The percent of corn harvested is still small. Thus far the national trend seems to be showing very good yields in states where 70 percent to 75 percent or more of the crop was silked before July 20.
If the percent was lower, the yields seem to be under expectations. The range I have been seeing or hearing about is from 160 to 230 bpa with many coming in 20 to 40 bpa less than expected, especially after many experts kept predicting yields closer to 250.
We did not get the heat units, sunshine and long grain fill period for maximum yield to be generated. By the end of the season more growers recognize the heavy Goss’ wilt pressure and the increased severity of the northern corn leaf blight.
In soybeans, it appears that good seed treatments, use of inoculants and biologicals, foliars to boost branch number and pod counts, and fungicide at R3 to minimize the Septoria infection all helped and paid good dividends.
Yield reports tell of sudden death syndrome fields, or poorly drained field,s coming in around 40 bpa, while better-drained and highly managed fields are yielding in the 65 to low 70s range.
Next year more bean growers will have to learn and implement what it took to be in the higher yield category.
If you have a day partially open, try to walk your fields to check for stalks that may be getting soft.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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