homepage logo


By Staff | Jan 16, 2015

Another two weeks and we should have the traditional coldest period of winter behind us. Already it is easy to notice the days are getting longer, and we are having more minutes or hours of sunshine.

And with our normal cold weather acclimation appearing right on schedule, these 20-plus degree days feel warm, especially if there is little to no wind.

Now, doesn’t knowing all that make it feel like a nice spring day with the birds chirping and the first flowers pushing through the last snow bank?

Iowa tillage conference

This conference was with strip-till farmers from several Midwest states with the best represented area being North Dakota and northern South Dakota.

Now, there is a hardy breed who rarely gripe about anything except maybe the ice being too thin for good ice fishing.

What we learned from them is that growing corn for many of them is a somewhat new event that transpired when they began to receive 5 to 6 more inches of rain a year, the early maturity varieties were improved, and the price of corn increased to $6 or $8 per bushel.

They have found out much about strip-tilling, namely that they can save enough of the rain that falls to grow corn averaging about 140 bushels per acre over the past four years.

Given the much cheaper land rents their breakevens are close to $3.15 per bushel.

The main negatives are poor or nonexistent rail service and the need to construct high-dollar drying setups they never needed when they raised small grains.

Their soil types are different and show a high degree of variability in each field.

An example is that soil pHs range from 5.0 to 8.0 in the same field. Finding and being able to buy high CEEC lime without high levels of manganese can be difficult – as difficult as finding a crop advisor who understands their good questions.

They have found they can shave fertilizer application rates about the same 30 percent.

Nitrogen and stabilizers

Growers have finally had the chance to look over their yield results from 2014 to see what makes sense. They were able to sort out what effect nitrogen rates and timings have on overall yields.

Relying entirely on fall-applied nitrogen on glacial till soils was not conducive to the highest yields. It demands rethinking how we might construct the proper 2015 N management program.

One item is what the best stabilizer to use with anhydrous, dry or liquid nitrogen.

Everyone is acquainted with N-serve, Nutrisphere, Agrotain and a number of other stabilizers including carbon or carbon-based products. How each individual product or group works is different.

Several work by killing the N converters, others by tying up or limiting the availability of urease, or by capitalizing on the N’s desire to bond to carbon-based products.

How long they last depends on soil type, soil temp, amount of rainfall and level of biological activity in each soil type. Those factors at work can create differences that can be magnified, lessened or eliminated when one studies the results from different field trials or research plots.

Nitrogen is somewhat a ghost element in the soil or in the plant and can change forms quickly.

When Bill Stowe, CEO of the Des Moines Water Works, began taking legal action against corn growers north of Polk County, the first reaction was that he was crazy. I have been in small meetings with Stowe and the Water Works crew.

They are obligated to deliver clean and healthy water to the communities they serve.

In several ways their motive is the same as growers – minimize the loss of N while raising crops. As crop advisors we should be working towards the same goal, to help farmers use and develop the most efficient way to managing N as possible.

Stowe is hamstrung in that he has few recommendations other than using less N. Is the answer using less N or changing the application timings?

Long-term plant scientists would love to develop corn plants capable of hosting N-fixing bacteria on their roots.

One process that needs to be more fully explored is the application of bacteria that are able to fix N out of the atmosphere, which is 78 percent N.

We know the major species involved that have been utilized in other countries and should be targeted here. One of these was called Blooming Blossoms. We still need to determine what and how to feed them, how often to feed them and what the overall program should be.

It might be time as one top notch, high-yielding corn growing friend said, “to recognize we have been clubbed in the head with a 2-by-4 on the N issue and to take corrective action”.

If our N programs have caused our organic matter sponge to decline by 50 percent over the past two decades they are not be acceptable anymore.

Maybe it is time to see the Answer Plots and any other county-based plots utilized to test a variety of programs within a system similar to what the On Farm Network has done for years.

Manure management

We know that late fall manure applications have been scrutinized this fall.

Anyone who raises hogs in confinement and has gone through a late spring, wet fall, and a delayed harvest coupled with a early winter recognizes that the window for application was narrow this year.

Seminar season

This is the time of year for the crop update seminars across the state.

These are good meetings that offer the extension staff the chance to disseminate the latest information to farmers who are looking for such guidance that may help them in their operation.

Watch for the ones in your area.

Seed treatments

There are likely to be many more bean acres in 2015. Some growers may be planting beans at the highest percent of acres they have had in years.

Those in that situation will have to recognize there are several rules to follow in an updated management program.

The first will be to match genetics to field and soil specifics. Then recognize that a combination of chemical and biological products need to be applied to the seed to give it the best chance of producing a health seedling.

Be sure to match the latter with a top-rated inoculant that will fix the 400 to 500 pounds of N that will be required to form the 5.5 pounds in each bushel of grain.

Have your plan ready on paper and be sorting through the different categories of what inputs will be needed.

This is the two-month period where these decisions and plans need to be formulated.

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

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page