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By Staff | Feb 13, 2015

The month of February is streaking by and will be gone before we know it. The Blizzard ‘Linus’ is behind us now and quite a bit of the snow that was left in its wake has now soaked into the soil after melting away.

It was quite intense for about a day and sure screwed up many people’s plans. I learned a lesson in 1980 as I spent a night outside in a snowstorm in car during an intense flash blizzard.

It was the night of the Buddy Holly concert weekend. A few people on I-35 near the Boondocks that cold night froze, but we were somewhat prepared and got lucky. No sense tempting fate once more.

Having a normal spring where we can get into the fields in time and not be forced to fight the elements would be very welcome.

Farming Power Show

The big IPFS went down well in the state’s capital city last week. Luckily Linus struck a few days earlier and most farmers spent Monday clearing out their yards, freeing them up in time to drive down on Tuesday or Wednesday. The crowds were large on those first two days.

Gauging that it’s tougher now because the show’s square footage is so much larger than before the remodeling of Vets Auditorium. That extra room was nice in that one no longer has to negotiate through six or eight rows of people.

That room also allowed more exhibitors into the show who often waited two to four years to get a booth.

After the show, several of us were sharing our observation about its success. It seemed that few people were shopping for or asking questions about the big expensive equipment.

The smaller items that offered greater ease or handling planting time inputs were getting attention. Then the exhibitors who were marketing and explaining products which dealt with soil biology or soil health were drawing attentive people.

Drones and other items which could be used to better scout and manage crop acres were also ones where people were gathered around.

There were several rooms where educational seminars where being held. Most of them centered on crop nutrition, such as Calcium Products’ talk on the importance of sulfur use and application, or on how a focus on soil health is what is needed now to boost productivity and long-term sustainability.

In recent seasons the idea of regenerative agriculture has been talked about more as plant diseases, resistant weeds and degraded soils become more common.

Top biologicals

At the IPFS, in most farm publications, and in many grower discussions, a big topic is the use of biologicals already out or soon to be released that are functional and easy to use.

The ROIs on many of them are quite good and make them attractive to growers hoping to raise the profitability of their operations. The tough part is to sort through the advertising and headlines and find out which ones have been entered into trials in your state and in similar soil type and passed the performance test.

What makes this difficult is that there are very few soil microbiologists at the universities studying the topic.

A recent estimate is that only 20 percent of the underground critters have been identified and maybe 2 percent are well understood. Bob Kremer, of Columbia, Missouri, told us that many of them cannot be grown all alone or in captivity, making their identification more difficult.

I did visit this week with a renowned bacteriologist who has one of the few U. S.-based new instruments capable of making counts and identification of the microbes. It can do this in a matter of five minutes with good accuracy.

The task now it to build their data base and library so the known microbes fingerprints are documented and in that base.

One way to utilize such data in the real world is to look at your own soil tests. If there is more than a 20 percent difference in P1 and P2 and the soil pHs are not above 7.5 the real cropping challenge may not be low P levels, but availability to the crop.

Cover crops

Another big topic in the news and especially to landlords in those three nitrate lawsuit counties in Iowa is that of cover crops.

Growers in many parts of the country have been successful in planting them and have noted several benefits to soil tilth and follow crops. But they are not a slam dunk yet, according to many Midwest growers, particularly those without cattle to take advantage of the value of produced forage.

In short growing seasons where the cold and snow arrives before harvest is complete the season seems too short for much growth to occur. How to manage the planting if aerial equipment is short or if the crops are lodged is another concern.

The current discussion on nitrogen loss may get more imaginative growers how to make row crop farmers figure out if planting shorter season corn hybrids may give them the added days to grow a cover crop and follow it by no-tilling soybeans into a rye crop.

A valid question is what legumes could be included in any cover crop mix to fix more atmospheric nitrogen instead of purchasing it.

ILeVO and Clariva

Two new candidates that have been introduced for the 2014 or 2015 seasons for use as nematode control are ILeVO from Bayer and Clariva from Syngenta.

Clariva came out last year and is a bacterial product that helps protect the health of the root by invading wandering and attacking nematodes.

In trials it looked good and allowed for much larger and healthier roots to grow. The way many fields were flooded during May and June made it difficult to judge its yield benefits.

ILeVo is a hard chemistry product that performed well as a nematode control product. As an interesting aside, Bayer field researchers noticed that where it had been applied there was no sudden death syndrome.

Subsequent lab work documented that it did a great job controlling the Fusarium strain involved in SDS. Thus it is going to be used to manage both problems.

It is currently available through select seed companies as an ala carte item in their seed treatment mix. That will make it difficult to test on a stand-alone basis in a year when all added costs are under intense scrutiny.

Aquaculture conference

In past years there were likely few Midwest attendees at the U.S. Aquaculture Show typically held in New Orleans. That number will be greater this year as the fish and shrimp producing industry are poised to expand into Iowa.

Both look like the technologies to grow them have been improved significantly. The feed conversion ratios the growers are seeing so far put poultry ratios to shame.

In new ventures, marketing the product is typically the biggest challenge. In the case of the Nelsons at Webster City they are getting requests for their fish from restaurants and grocery chains from Cleveland to Denver.

I have tasted the fish and would compare it to the sea bass we caught ourselves off the west Florida coast and prepared at a dockside cafe soon after we caught them.

If you like, check out the details of the show by googling U.S. Aquaculture Conference 2015 New Orleans.

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

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