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By Staff | May 8, 2015

After recurrent bouts with late-winter weather in April, things seem to have shaped up beginning about 10 days ago.

There was good progress with field work and planting in central, south central and Southeast Iowa, but was lagging in other sections of the state and surrounding states.

Because of the delays in planting seen the last two seasons, everyone was nervous about a repeat this spring. Thus, once the ground dried off and the soils were fit, every row crop farmer put in long hours with updated arrays of planters and seed tenders.

Now that a rainy week is in the forecast, most growers can sit back and hopefully watch their early planted corn emerge and do the same with the high percentage of the beans that also went into the ground last week.

While many used to wait a few days between crops that is no longer the case. The time-proven and still affordable seed combo of Apron/Maxim has proven to be replant insurance and was applied by growers who still wanted them applied to their seed.

Parts of the grain belt from northwest Iowa through the Dakotas was missing out on rains and there were sugar beets that had been planted for six weeks and still laying in dry dirt.

Hopefully, they catch some rain out of this major front that moved this week through the region.

This rainy front was expected to push corn planting past the drop-dead dates that growers in the South and Southwest have established as to when summer heat and dryness threatens the fill period.

This will subtract from already reduced corn acreage in the U.S. In the grand summary of acreage and projected bushels, this early corn planting in great soil conditions points to high yields, the loss of acres in the south could help to balance things out.

There are other issues on the consumption side still to be discussed.

West Coast drought

The big news on the ag scene is the years-long drought in California threatening the veggie, fruit and nut industries, forcing many food companies to search for locations that have more water resources.

Any technology or equipment company that can offer improved water use efficiencies is being invited to share their knowledge. The situation is set for an epic battle between the urban inhabitants and crop producers over water rights and usage.

How does one choose sides when both need each other? The effects could be felt across several states.

Could parts of the Corn Belt, on less than ideal ground, be converted to higher value veggie production using high tunnels mixed with outdoor production by smaller, yet highly profitable producers?

It would be a way to generate more dollars while keeping food production local and potentially more nutritious, while helping to stop the population drain from denuding the countryside.

Bird flu

A few years ago we were passing along cute cartoons about the bird flu, but now it is serious due to its impact on local incomes, economies, food supplies and consumption of grain.

When we heard of H5N2 in China or Indonesia we tended to think of passing waterfowl or crowded and older barns while we have housing and conditions where outside pressures are generally absent.

Two or three weeks ago Minnesota and Iowa poultry growers were asking very serious questions including “what if” and “how do I respond if my barns get hit.” Those were very scary and potentially expensive thoughts. The warmer weather was supposed to stop its spread.

The last word was that is has continued to spread and has now been documented in Wright County, which was originally chosen back in the 1980s as the site by the DeKalb Poultry operation for their genetically isolated chicken production flocks due to no other poultry being in that entire area. This was after the virus moved through Buena Vista, Pocahontas and O’Brien counties. Now we hope it does not move south one or two counties.

Are the epidemiologists looking in the correct areas? Is the problem caused by a more virulent pathogen or a much more disease prone livestock?

Is anyone using ICP mineral analysis on the vital organs of affected poultry as they have in the pork industries in Europe as pesticides have gotten into the grain supply?

What might be in the feed or water that can be lowering the immune response in the animals so much that this disease is moving this fast?

Corn planting

Some of the first planted corn has emerged and more will be doing so over the next week. So far those first fields can be rowed and the stands look good.

Many of the later planted early fields only consisted of plants with .25 to .5 sprouts on germinated kernels that still have to emerge. When I was quizzed about planting two and three weeks ago my advice was to proceed with planting the heavier weight seed and avoid the lighter weight bags and shrunken seed where the germs may have been questionable.

Soybean planting

The pace of bean planting has been rapid. Once the calendar approached May 1 growers had few reservations about starting. Early planted beans are more likely to form the 18 to 22 podded nodes, crucial for obtaining the 65 to 70-plus bushel-per-acre yields.

Good management is always crucial to top yields. Foliar supplying of nutrients along with manipulation of the physiology is a key that the top bean growers utilize to out yield their neighbors.

The astute 2015 growers were still able to convince their bankers that applying a good fungicide mix to their seed beans was a good investment.

In areas that had problems with SDS, new products like ILeVO or Heads Up might be money well spent.

Their cost or the size of the losses in fields where either SCN or SDS were problems in 2014 were factors in determining what growers were willing to spend.

Sap testing

The new science of sap testing is ready to enter the mainstream of U.S. agriculture. The idea was fostered among a small group of innovative agronomist and crop consultants in the Netherlands who were working with high-dollar crops.

The growers realized that they could no longer stay in business leaving 5, 10 or 15 bpa or a percent of the crop on the table because they didn’t want to bother with making another application or trip across the fields. They had worked with tissue testing and knew its value.

They also recognized that it may take weeks before a nutrient application that was made was detectable using that testing strategy. So they thought they could perhaps test the plant sap and basically do a blood test for the minerals it contained. It worked.

By testing the top and bottom leaves separately for 23 different elements they can see the effects of foliar mineral applications within 12 to 24 hours of them being applied. As of last winter they had almost .7 million data points to verify their accuracy and form the correlation of mineral sufficiency to plant growth and health.

The staff at Plant Health Labs of Middlefield, Ohio, was collecting leaf samples from across the Midwest to forward on to the lab in the Netherlands in 2014 and hopes to have a lab operating in that state and serving growers in 2015.

The cost on the more complete analysis is comparable to using Midwest Lab’s tissue test where molybdenum levels are tested.

Sap testing is another tool that growers can utilize if they are aiming for top yields and profitable, healthy crops.

Doing such sampling and analyses, then following up with applications of minerals on any deficient field can produce as many or more dollars than investing in most electronic gear.

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

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