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Of fields, bird flu and soil health

By Staff | May 15, 2015

It’s the second week of May and it looks to be a week where tornadoes and a mid-May frost might be in the cards for parts of the Midwest.

In South Dakota forecasters announced blizzards and tornados at the same time, which might be a Midwest first.

A few weeks ago we were basking with warm temps and great sunshine and now we are back in insulated hooded sweatshirt weather.

In the fields

At this point the early planted corn looks good and it seems to be advancing through the early growth stages without problems.

The plants are all in the VE through V4 growth stages so the energy being provided to the plants is still coming from the seed.

The cold nighttime temps and wet soils could eventually be causing concern if the dark green colors fade into a yellowing tint.

Given the date I can’t remember when we could easily row the corn and the fields were taking on a greenish tint when looking crossways against the rows by May 10.

The only place I have seen lots of corn left to plant is in extreme northern and northeast Iowa.

Wet soils are slowing their pace of planting.

Farmers will have to be tracking the growth of the plants and perhaps take action if the cold weather continues to slow development. Management steps can be taken to make foliar applications that contain high grade phosphorus fertilizer along with hormonal products.

Sulfur is important for proper plant development, so if no preplant sulfur was applied, or if tissue tests document these deficiencies a sidedress application of ATS can rectify these shortages.

Fewer soybeans have been planted or emerged than corn. The final acres will get planted as soon as the ground dries. The pace of growth has slowed, but with fungicidal seed treatment being the norm, there should be no reason to worry about having to replant.

One problem that appeared in 2014 were cases where suspected herbicide carryover was a problem following a dry 2013.

That should be a lesser issue in 2015.

Typically, the first crop threat is early feeding by bean leaf beetles. Cold weather in October and November was thought to have caused a high mortality leaving few overwintering survivors.

In rare cases fields where a grass stand had become established, I have seen seed corn maggots hollow the stems of the small plants causing them to die.

One of the biggest drags on soybean plants is early weed competition. Luckily the thought process for management of the crop has advanced to where early weed control through the use of residuals is stressed, so very few growers allow the weeds to get up to 4 inches. Twelve inches used to be the case.

Bird flu

Sad to say but H5N2 has not disappeared in Iowa and is a major U.S. problem from Kentucky to Washington state.

Currently, the count of animals affected in Iowa is in excess of 25 million. A new announcement has come out of Indiana where H5N8 was confirmed in a small mixed flock of chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese.

Currently there are more questions than answers as to what is causing the disease to hopscotch across the state.

And how it might be getting into hen houses that are shut to outside birds flying in is still a question that needs to be answered.

I still have not heard of any feed analysis being done looking for any atypical causal agent(s). We still have to see if the rate of spread slows as warmer weather appears in the Midwest.

So, what happens if the egg supply is reduced below typical demand? State leaders are accepting proposals to bury or compost the dead animals was discussed.

Dealing with a few carcasses versus several million from one site is going to be a lot more challenging to an operation.

How many counties will allow those transporting trucks to move through their domain without demanding assurances about the overall safety?

Soil health

The drumbeat about soil health continues from different ag groups, which is needed if Iowa is to keep the soil in place and maintain or improve yields.

There are few quick fixes that can restore it, but the first steps can be taken this year if you are interested.

I was doing soil penetrometer work last week on some new fields for a new client. The fields are prone to getting hard and could use a gypsum application.

The penetrometer probing detected and showed the PSI required to push the probe through the soil in 1-inch increments. At PSIs above 300 the roots either have a hard time penetrating or simply can’t do it. If the ground is hard at the 12-inch depth, it limits the available moisture and nutrients for crop use to what is contained in the top foot.

The use of inline deep ripping or compaction-busting cover cropping would be tools to use to break the hardpan and let roots explore the deeper profile.

Long term, building calcium and carbon levels in soil will be important. Those steps will help drought-proof the crops by deepening the root profile and building the microbial life to fix more plant available nutrition for plant uptake.

Have a good and safe early growing season on your farm.

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

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