Did we all just blink twice and someone slipped early summer into our March-April weather time slot? I don’t ever remember having two weeks of 65 to 84 degree weather so soon after the snow banks and sub-zero weather was ruling the Midwest.
We like it and what it has done for us, besides melting snow, put a little extra spring into our steps. No more of that dark, moody weather that we hear about up in Alaska where it is light for just a few hours each day.
Will this warm spell be viewed this fall as a blessing or a curse? That is the question we have to ponder now as we experience the 2015 cropping season as a sort of huge chess game.
Many of us were expecting to be blading snow out of our yard until late-April.
I mentioned previously that at the time of the Iowa Power Farming Show, RaboBank said that 40 percent of the farmers did not have financing lined up and another large entity reported that 87 percent of the cash flows were not working yet. Since that time we have seen a lot of whittling going on as everyone had to get their knives sharpened and put on their thinking caps.
One pertinent article that was in the winter issue of the Progressive Farmer Magazine was titled, “Making More Farmland.” Thinking back to the 1970s and after the first Russian grain deal, we heard Earl Butz and his cohort’s state that they were not making any new ground, so borrow as much as possible and lock onto the maximum acres.
There is some truth to it in a neighborhood sense, but how about on a national scale? In that article, Marcia Taylor gave the tally on how many new row crop acres came into production in different countries, likely because there was income to be made raising $6 to $8 bushel corn and $15 beans.
She listed the U.S. row crop acreage gaining 9.3 million acres as the CRP tally shrunk. Then in the South American countries of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Columbia, acreage jumped 45.9 million acres. She added Sub Saharan Africa at 28.3, East Asia at 22.8 and the old USSR at 21.7 million acres.
When you add those up it totals lots of new acres that got pulled out of pasture or small grains. Many of those growers can take advantage of newer machinery, new ideas on smart farming, similar fertilizer capabilities and have good ideas on how to coax the maximum bushels or maximum return out of each acre or hectare.
Thus the challenge will have to be how to distinguish each of our operations as to efficiencies, superior crops, crops in demand by new or emerging markets, IP products or finished goods that command a premium, or new uses for old products that displace an established item that is now too expensive and begging for competition or replacement.
All this gets to happen in a country where we don’t look favorably on our economy and national leadership, but our economy and dollar still look good when compared to those of other countries.
Most of us are still scratching our heads on that one.
Now in the final four to five weeks we are fine-tuning each input. What products, inputs or add-ons should operators consider adding, skipping, shaving or delay applying in the coming season? It is only by experience that each of those decisions can be weighed and evaluated.
One does not want to cut a vitally important input if that choice will come back and cost 10 times over later. In that category I would place seed treatments against soybean seedling diseases.
Replanting once or twice in the spring used to be common before the cheap and effective fungicide Apron was introduced by Syngenta. In today’s world, I would also make sure Maxim was included.
A few of the newer seed-applied biological would almost have to be in the must category. That would include soybean inoculants and biologicals.
As to fertilizer costs, each operator is looking at commodities that actually got more expensive during the past year. We know the corn and bean plants remove nutrients from the soil and will have to be replaced to maintain yields, but should be done in tough budget times?
High yield producers never want to consider cutting or shaving rates, but the rule should actually be to study your latest soil sampling analyses and see how balanced your major and mid-level nutrients are and if any of them are so low that they are yield limiting.
That is not a question you want to pose to a rookie CCA still getting their feet wet, as there can be several exceptions and qualifiers in the different fields.
Then if you were to get acquainted with the Haney or Solvita tests which evaluates the biological activity of each soil sample in each fields, you may have certain fields where you would want to prioritize boosting the microbial activity by using an in-furrow microbial back or a mineral/microbe catalyst to increase availability of nutrients that had been applied in previous years.
Nitrogen is typically a large cost item, and after a high-loss season most growers are intent on maximizing the return from each pound they purchase. The attitude should be to lose the absolute minimum of N by varying the timings, sources, along with developing different application techniques.
Many more corn farmers are planning to split apply products and try to place more of their purchased N close to the V8 to VT stages, which is when the corn plants’ usage is highest.
This may require corn growers to visit with their local supplier now about rental equipment that would be available at sidedress time and to get details about each stabilizer’s ability to boost the efficiency of each N form.
Remember that each form of fertilizer or stabilizer should be of the type that would be boosting the biological rating for soil health.
Long-term, those high-scoring fields will be the ones producing the most bushels and highest grossing and netting crops.
One other item that will require good planning and careful strategizing is how to maximize weed management dollars in an era where resistant weeds began to appear two to three years ago and now every field had a percentage of plants that survived 2014 applications.
Most advisors recommend that poor control will end up being more costly than any control that did work well.
Using residual herbicides is being a recommendation for all operators. Use past history of each field to rate expected pressures and make sure that you blend different modes of action to control the grasses and weeds known to be in the field or neighborhood.
Good luck getting final plans and preparations done for spring.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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