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By Staff | Jan 2, 2015

I hope you were able to enjoy the Christmas Holidays and are well prepared for the New Year arrival.

When next week rolls around it should be business as usual for most people and most companies.

Farmers who have livestock don’t get a chance to stray too far in their schedules since those animals still have to be fed and tended to in their regular chores.

Over the next month growers will be studying lots of information concerning different cropping items knowing that they will need to be making decisions about many of them.

What worked in 2014 and prior years and what things did not?

What new courses need to be explored in hopes of jumping to a new yield plateau? Is it time to change tillage and fertilizer regimes in hopes of gaining new efficiencies and hope to improve returns on investments and long-term sustainability?

Every operator from small- to large-sized operations are all in the early stages of their decision-making processes.

Fertility information

Nearly every good cropping plan begins with an accurate and updated set of soil samples and analyses. One had to establish where they are in order to know what they have to do to maintain or improve their fields’ nutrient status.

A typical cropping plan is to set a yield goal for corn of 5 to 10 percent higher than previously achieved, or the running five-year running average. It’s the same with soybeans.

With lower commodity prices we may see growers seek to maintain the level of their good yields from recent years while trimming input costs.

That course may allow a healthier ROI, with care given as to whether or not the strategy employed is sustainable rather than long-term detrimental.

As in this year, a common thought may be to lower fertilizer rates or perhaps skip application completely. Will such a program be counter-productive long-term?

One thing that is puzzling farmers is that while grain prices have dropped, the fertilizer prices have actually risen over the past few months.

Is it a market-driven response to supply, lack of rail capacity in light of the Keystone not being built, increased foreign demand, or completely ignoring the fact that per acre revenue from our two major row crops has dropped by a major percentage.

We saw a major shift back in 2008 when there was a disconnect between grain price declines and wholesale fertilizer prices.

From what I am seeing and hearing, a higher percentage of soil samples is being turned into the labs with the growers deciding to get a more complete analysis from their set of samples. Most growers have now read one or more articles about different micronutrients and their role in influencing yields and plant health.

As we get into the early part of the 2015 growing season and into the V5 to V8 growth stages, we can give more thought to working with the new practice of having sap analyses run on plant samples.

What that testing can do is educate each of us as to what portion of the fertility mix in the soil or applied that has made it into the plants.

Nitrogen timing

Based on recent reports, corn growers in southern Iowa and further south have been able to continue to apply 82 percent on the warmer days in the last month.

That has not been the case north of I-80. Will that be a blessing in that more of the nitrogen will be applied closer to the time of usage, or a curse in that more of the N will need to be applied after planting?

In much of the northern 66 percent of the state, growers are still trying to decide on how they can apply more at V6 or later, and still get the amount needed by the machinery currently owned.

We are seeing more of the people who own high clearance rigs equip those machines with the Dead On Dribblers or long, stainless steel tubes that will be attached to the broadcast booms to run through taller corn prior to the tasselling stage.

If using a high clearance rig it not in the cards, then using forms of N that are either stabilized or slow-releasing are likely to be sound moves.

At a recent cropping conference, Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Soil Tilth Laboratory, in Ames, said planning for and managing top-yielding crops was not exactly rocket science, but it’s more difficult. He said the actions of a rocket deals with known quantities – weight, trajectory, thrust, gravitation pull – which do not change.

In raising crops there are many more known and unknown effects that need to be factored in with many of them changing on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

With nitrogen that axiom is extremely true.

The use of a chlorophyll meter next year may be worthwhile since it can give an instant reading as to whether the leaves on a corn plant are dark enough or turning less green.

The sap analysis testing could do the same for growers in monitoring the other 22 nutrients it can gauge.

Weed control

One long-honored theory used to be that if a weed management has worked well and is within your budget constraints keep using it.

Part of that is still true, but we have also learned that it is good to work in new or different mode of action products to confuse or head off development of resistant weeds.

Waiting until a program fails will be the wrong approach since any resistant escapes could create thousands or millions of seeds that are going to be reminders of our mistakes.

At the North Central Weed Control Conference in early December, there was mention of only one new product that will be released for 2015.

And that is simply another ALS herbicide that will always be sold in a mixture of three other products.

So there is no new silver bullet that we can use in bad weed situations.

When you attend one of the crop update sessions that will be held in different parts of the state, this topic will be one of those that will be discussed.

Have a happy new year and a prosperous 2015.

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

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