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By Staff | Jan 9, 2015

After what seemed like a long holiday season we can get life back to normal.

If normal is possible with a polar vortex, named Gargon by the national weather service, attacking the entire country with piles of snow and chilling temperatures.

Weren’t those 30-degree days of December nice? Hopefully, everyone was able to spend time with family and friends in different settings and enjoying their time together.

For many of us it was also a time to spend hours seeing people and continuing with helping to develop cropping programs for 2015.

A common thought that many are seeing is that the entire planning and thought process is happening about four to six weeks behind the normal time frame.

Having a spring warm-up, planting season, harvest and tillage season being behind or aborted worked to force many normal activities later into the year.

It is possible to say that the normal planting season is three and a half months, or roughly 15 weeks away.

Lots of activities and work will have to get done in that time frame.

2015 Year of the Soil

Acting in consortium, several ag groups have named 2015 as the Year of the Soil in recognition that too much of the focus has been on secondary input and management items rather than in good land management and soil husbandry.

This includes both farm operators, ranchers, and researchers who are on the front line in recognizing that if they allow too much erosion or kill off soil biology that damage can reach the point where there is a reduced chance of recovery.

The awareness seems to be changing as evidenced in several different arenas – increased use of strip-till, no-till, and higher residue farming; more farmers willing to use seed; in-furrow and foliar-applied microbials; an increasing number of magazines willing to publish soil quality articles; more soil analytical labs performing soil biology tests; the findings similar to those in human medicine that microbes interact with plant (along with human physical and mental) growth and health; and a greater acknowledgement by growers and fertilizer people that soil biology has a great importance in nutrient availability.

The predictions made in a 2012 article in Seed World where industry prognosticators predicted an $8 billion per year market now appear to be conservative. That’s why companies like Advanced Biological Marketing and AgroGro are seeing solid yearly increases and yield and many companies of all sizes are bringing new products to market. Many of those new products are performing very well.

Demand versus acres

We have made mention in past columns that the grain markets, while down dramatically over the past 18 months, are showing more strengths than expected.

Exports are up over expectations by quite a bit and feed demand remains strong due to strong overseas shipments.

More people moving into the middle class over the next few decades will continue to fuel this demand for more meat consumption.

In the past we have often assumed that we would typically ship these coarse grains to where the animals were going to be fed and slaughtered.

Recently the trend seems to have shifted in that it actually makes more sense to feed the meat animals close to their grain source, keeping the animals handling and meat processing jobs in the Midwest.

I had the chance to sit down for part of a day with a locally raised farmer who, together with his brother, farm row crops, small grains and fruits such as bananas in several other countries.

He related that food growing and processing facilities for as many as 50 million broilers per year are being planned or built. He did say that farming in two areas in Russia, plus operations in Africa and Southeast Asia are definitely different than growing crops in the Midwest.

But raising many different crops and being involved in processing and marketing their output further up the food chain takes more effort and thought, but can be much more rewarding. I think he is right in that proximity and close recognition of Chinese food needs will be important food needs.

What the wishes of the average middle class consumer in China will trump what any government agency has approved. The more they are educated on health-related issues the greater the risk to certain groups of producers who don’t meet those demands.

From now to late in the spring we will be hearing about how many growers will be waiting to see how the market signals will influence their final decisions as to which of the two major crops they will be planting this spring.

Having only two major crops to decide between limits that overall decision-making process. If the thawing or planting seasons are delayed to any degree corn would have to show some strong pricing opportunities to sway farmers from planting large bean crops.

Currently we can find many seed corn dealers who are seeing seed corn sales decline while seed bean sales seem to be dramatically higher.

An influencing factor will be the expected size of the corn crops in Brazil and Argentina.

In Brazil the fall rains began weeks later than normal. That will force later harvesting of the first crop and later planting of the safrina.

Then this second crop will be trying to fill the grain during the normally dry fall months of March through May. If their rains shut off 100 percent in March, which has been normal in recent years, that is extremely bad for grain fill and would subtract from expected world grain production figures.

Decisions making

Over the next three months there will be many decisions that will have to be made and acted upon. What to do for weed control in corn is typically easy as there are many good choices.

That process is more convoluted with soybeans. High waterhemp populations and their propensity to germinate and grow from April to September along with their ability to develop herbicide resistance has definitely complicated weed control/management.

Use of overlapping residuals will have to be the course of action for the upcoming seasons.

In soybeans the top performing program the past three years has been an Authority mix followed by Anthem as V4.

This has worked great, but will make an operator look at the costs and recognize that paying the $20-plus per acre tech fee plus buying the herbicides are not compatible.

The list of available seed treatments is now large. It is expensive to put multiple treatments on all of your seed.

Growers and crop advisors have to recognize that seed treatments are like insurance in that there are some diseases and insect that will be adversaries each year while some might appear only after warm winters or after high populations the previous year.

Being able to separate real versus perceived or over-hyped threats is what you need to consult with an expert on. Years of experience along with a working knowledge of new and old products helps in this realm.

Nematode are a part of nature, just as earth worms and soil mites are. What we don’t like are invaders like cyst nematodes that are tough on soybean plants and yields.

In the past we only had crop rotation or Fayette along with limited usage of Peking to fight SCN.

For 2015 we will have products like Clariva and Votivo, both bacterial. New biologicals being introduced are different Dactylaria fungal strains, which are fungi that kill migratory nematodes by lassoing them and growing pegs into their bodies.

As you continue this fact-gathering and decision-making process, be sure to ask all stupid questions to verify everything.

Always ask if you are being educated or sold on a product.

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

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