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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Oct 31, 2014

The month of October is soon to be history as we move later into the harvest season. The last 10 days have been a blessing in that this is the two week dry spell, or close to it, that everyone needed to make progress in their fall harvest.

That makes it significantly better then the harvest of 2009 where the corn’s moisture never did come down and combines kept getting stuck and grain carts buried.

It might be an understatement, but seeing field fires like we saw two years ago, where fire departments were being called to fight field or combine fires constantly seems so far away from this year’s conditions.

It was about time for our break in the Midwest as once it turns into November the weather can turn cold quickly and field work can come to a halt quickly.

NASS stats

Monday’s USDA-National Aricultural Statistics Service said bean harvest in Iowa being about 85 percent done while corn is at 43 percent.

There were a few combines going on Sunday, but at this point many growers have already harvested the better-drained and better-tiled fields and are now trying to get into the wetter fields hoping they don’t get stuck too bad or too often.

We are already seeing many combine operators dump the load onto the grain carts before trying to get through the lower areas. The good in this is that after three years of scant rainfall it was enjoyable during the summer to not have to wonder when it was going to rain again and get disappointed when the narrow rain cloud went in a different direction rather than dumping on your fields.

The trend of wide yield differences being the rule continues.

The biggest determining factor still seems to be the degree of drainage and topography of each field and how long the water sat before draining off.

Remembering how many ponds were in fields on the flat glacial till fields and how yellow the corn was due to lost nitrogen and lack of oxygen in the soil reinforces the fact that water and air management of the soil is rule No. 1 in raising good crops.

The reinforcing of that message this spring appears to have been acknowledged as many of the freshly harvested bean fields have already been tiled and more will likely be before the ground freezes.

Disease response

The take home message for many growers this summer and fall is that root, leaf and stalk diseases love wetter conditions and they can sure lead to lower yields.

What makes controlling them tricky, and more operators are finding this out, is that those caused by fungi are much different than those caused by bacteria.

Attempts to control the former can lead to an explosion of the latter.

This year we saw northern corn leaf blight show up at levels we have not seen before and it seemed to be a virulent form that paid no attention to what was supposed to be good genetic tolerance by otherwise good varieties.

There were fields that were extremely attractive on Aug. 10 and then were dead brown by Aug. 20.

And the normal symptoms of NCLB were accompanied by those that were not normally associated with that fungal disease, such as 2 feet of brown slime on the lower stalk and rotted second ears.

The prediction by several good, futuristic thinking, plant disease specialists is that the incidence of these bacterial and, eventually, viral diseases will be increasing in the next years.

The rate at which they are showing up and subsequently becoming tolerant to the crop protection products make it difficult and expensive for any company to stay ahead of each of those pathogens.

That is why experienced crop advisors are becoming more like top-notch veterinarians where they gradually evolve from trying to figure out what medicines they need to be shooting into the sick ones, to changing their mindsets where they are managing plant health by adjusting diets and mineral levels that maintain good animal health.

Fertilizer thoughts

After hearing how many operators who, by luck of their birth or longevity, figure out how they cannot pencil in a profit on next year’s crop, even if they don’t have to pay rents, you begin to wonder how each operator will meet this crunch proactively.

Most guys have to pay rent or make land payments. Thus we are seeing more stories and hearing more tales about how growers are varying their strategies for 2015.

It appears that dry fertilizer applications will be reduced in percentage not spread as well as amounts per acre being reduced.

Each operator will have to pull up their latest soil tests to see where each field is on the chart for percentage chance of return if additional fertilizer is applied.

If their phosphorus and potassium levels fall into the high-to-medium or high range they have some staying power and yields should not be drastically reduced if nothing is spread for the 2015 crops.

However if the test levels are low-to-medium or lower, or several of the major micronutrients are showing deficiencies, then cutting application rates or not addressing micro needs can be counter-productive.

Each situation will be different and will need to be evaluated independently.

As we get closer to the fall anhydrous season it will be interesting to see what direction corn growers will go in deciding what forms of nitrogen they decide to apply.

Many who went to 100 percent fall applied N saw a major portion of that N lost during the very wet months of May and June.

Those who were able to get back into fields to sidedress recovered most of those bushels. If they weren’t successful in attempting to apply supplemental N and saw their yields drop they likely are ready to go to a split-application program in 2015.

The majority of their alternative programs recommend that 50 percent to 60 percent of the N could be applied in the fall, then the remainder be either applied in the spring in a slow-released form or saftened to prevent loss of applied around the V6 to V8 growth stage when rapid N uptake begins.

While such a plan will initially cost more, farmers find that when they reduce the total amount of N used or higher yields are obtained, it more than makes up for the difference.

This may be our last chance to make changes voluntarily.

Compaction

The issue of compaction on rutted ground or in ground that is moving into no-till is being brought up again.

In every root pit I have been in one can see two compaction layers. The first is the one at the 7- to 9-inch level which is the plow pan or tillage pan.

The second is at 15- to 18-inch depth, which originated from nature sifting its fines over the eons.

Most plant roots have a tough time getting through both in search for nutrients and water.

If you find these while digging or using a penetrometer, you should help your plants out by breaking them physically with an in-line deep-ripping operation.

A straight shank tool will do very little soil disturbance and not cover much of any residue.

Good luck with the final half of your harvest.

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

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