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By Staff | Apr 24, 2015

The old saying of April showers makes May flowers seemed out of place in what has been a much drier-than-normal spring.

In fact, most of the Midwest, especially the western and northern parts, have had only about 25 percent of normal rainfall so far. It has had a few ag people spooked given the fact that the West Coast states are mostly in a severe to crippling drought.

In the central part of the state, field work began about two to three weeks ago and the first brave growers started running their planters just after the insurance replant date with this continuing hot and heavy until the rains came on the weekend.

Those rains should go a long ways to rebuilding subsoil moisture supplies, especially further west where conditions were dry last fall.

Once it clears and dries off everyone will be operating full speed in getting their corn and bean crops in the ground.

New uses for products

There have been breakthroughs from several companies, both large and small, from several countries. What they have recently announced is their developments in using either ag products or ag wastes in making products such as bio-based and degradable lubricants (BASF and S0-53) or actual oil products (Dutch fermentation).

Both of these could replace items previously made from petroleum. In addition, a biochar researcher from Hawaii visited the Midwest two weeks ago to visit with several individuals and companies to see how different cities and counties are seeking machinery that would allow them to process carbon-based waste into soil enriching char, oils and electricity.

She is working primarily with a French-engineered and Swiss-built machine built on a modular format able to be sized to each customer’s needs.

This would permit stover to be used for multiple purposes, while still enriching the soil and its nutrient and moisture holding capacity.

Planting dates

If we only knew in the spring what the summer and fall weather were going to be like, we could rest easier in the spring if there were a few planting delays.

It was not unusual in years with a hot and dry July and August that the later-planted corn fields could often out-yield those planted in mid- to late-April.

Rainfall timing, as well as, stressy or optimum temps for grain fill occur help determine final yields.

This spring growers have remembered the planting delays of 2013 and 2014 and are determined not to get blindsided by two to three weeks of weather delays that caused late tasselling and grain fill leading to wetter gain at harvest.

Those that could get their planters running earlier than normal this year have done so, especially since the soil conditions have been near perfect so far.

A few astute growers have been holding off because of anticipated rain and cool temperatures. If the first rains that get imbibed by the seed are cold rather than warm, it can cause cellular damage to the new seedling.

Going into their season I have become more of an advocate of getting the corn seeds into the ground almost as early as possible. Seeing the corn crop brown up in early- to mid-August and shut the grain fill down weeks early the last six years told me that the corn fields and varieties that had accumulated the highest number of fill days possible has the best chance of getting close to optimum yields.

The caveat to this would be that growers who are willing to do everything possible to optimize plant health could likely wait until soil temps are closer to the mid-50s.

A few farm magazines are printing guidelines and stories pertaining to optimum bean planting dates as well as the proper maturities to plant. From what I have seen it’s best to vary maturities with early and late varieties ready to benefit from August or September rains to fill the pods.

None of us can guess when that optimum 2-inch rain will fall. Thus hedging your bet by planting a range in maturities, say from a 1.8 to a 2.4 in northern Iowa, a 2.2 to a 2.8 in central Iowa, or a 2.9 to a 3.5 in southern Iowa or east central Nebraska is a good idea.

Given the opportunity we see, the earlier planted beans are more likely to form more podded nodes that contribute to higher final yields.

The benefit of early bean planting are enough that varying maturity groups beat delaying planting in most areas.

Watch out

One problem that has been showing up in recent weeks is an increasing problem with Fusarium and Aspergillus mycotoxins.

Veterinarians in eastern Iowa are tracking down problems in beef and dairy herds. It seems to have resulted when wet corn was put into the long white plastic storage bags where no aeration could be provided.

The moisture levels were from the 15 to 23 percent range. Some of the animal problems have been from direct consumption of the infected grain, while some are resulting from the distiller’s grain going into the rations.

The fermentation process does not denature the toxins, and they are being picked up by growers expecting a high protein product being delivered. The heating process began early this winter when temps got milder and only increased as time moved along.

If you are seeing feed refusal or tell tale signs of mycotoxin poisoning be sure to take quick action.


Soybean planting is still several weeks away, but deciding what seed treatments to use is ongoing. Thus, there is still a need to accurately assess the risk of having bean leaf beetle problems in the coming crop.

In the latest ISU Extension Newsletter the subject of BLB mortality was discussed. Researchers have established the fact that temps below 14 degrees kill the beetles.

There can be survivors who burrow into trash and under residue or tall grass pasture to keep warmer. Those entomologists have drawn a map splitting the state into nine districts in three tiers across Iowa.

In the northern tier mortality averages 94 percent, the middle third is at 81 percent and the southern third is at 69 percent.

The cold months of October and November were tough on them, while the warmer-than-average December and January were friendlier.

The BLB populations were smaller than average in 2014 due to the tough winter of 2013/14 so carryover numbers were smaller than average.

So the advice is to continue to pay attention to them in the central and southern thirds of the state, especially with early planted beans near CRPs and woodlands.

Alfalfa weevil activity

Adult alfalfa weevils become active when air temps climb into the low 40s. Those first eggs begin to hatch on a base 48 degree scale after 200 growing degree units in southern Iowa, and after 250 GDUs in central and northern Iowa.

When they hatch they tunnel into the stem and begin to feed on the rapidly expanding leaf tissue. Those fed on leaves take on a veiled/skeletonized appearance if the feeding is heavy.

Cover crop burndown

With more cover crop acreage, a pertinent question is what other non-herbicidal options are there for burning them down.

There is more plot work going on in using boron compounds such as Solubor at 1 to 2 pounds per acre, or sulfur/phosphorus fertilizers mixed to destroy the stands, while leaving a residue cover to protect against erosion.

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

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