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Head-scratching numbers

By Staff | Sep 25, 2015

The official beginning to fall arrives this week. Summer will be over with and we now move into autumn chores of harvesting, drying and storing grain, doing any general or strip-tillage, overseeing soil sampling, applying fertilizer needing to be applied prior to winter, and then finally every outdoor task done before the snow flies.

It seems like just yesterday the planters were operating in the fields and the new season was beginning.

I guess everyone can put one more season under their belts in this business of raising crops.

As they have the last few weeks the NASS figures makes people scratch their head and try to make sense of what we see in the fields versus what is being reported nationally.

What does it mean when the three “I” states report that 65 percent of the crop has reached maturity while 90 percent of the fields are completely brown?

Did the many people participating in the fall crop tours anticipate a normal fall where the corn plants stayed green until late-September? Or did they know that many of the fields were going to turn brown right in front of the hot spell in early September?

If so did they get a chance and reevaluate their forecasts? And if not should they be allowed this to lend more accuracy to the process?

On that note over the past two weeks I was as far north as Marshall, Minnesota and this past weekend made the six-hour trip to near Wichita for a pair of funerals.

Everywhere the corn has the look of getting napalmed. That is the phrase we used when viewing the Asian rust that hit in Brazil and wiped out 12 to 15 million acres of soybeans.

Does that mean this will be an annual occurrence and will it happen progressively earlier every year?

Will it be eight for eight in 2016?

Disease symptomology

Back in 2009 when we first saw the big, very noticeable spots on the corn stalks I called up a few old colleagues who work as crop scouts in eastern Colorado and western Nebraska.

They warned that the bacteria causing the problem produced an enzyme that degraded the woody tissue in corn stalks and could produce record amounts of stalk lodging.

They also said we could say goodbye to seeing any second ears on corn plants.

I have mentioned this to a number of growers who instantly recognized they were no longer seeing those second ears, instead they are seeing just the stinky, brown, mushy remnants where no kernels ever form.

Back in the mid-80s there was a popular line of 110 RM hybrids that tillered if the season was favorable and it was easy to find two ears on the main stalk and two on each of the tillers. How common is that today?

The other thing is to recognize that the normal fungal leaf diseases tend to favor and occur in different areas of the field, depending on the amount of dew hours and levels of humidity.

What can be the cause of entire fields dying over a weekend like we saw in 2014 and in 2015? It acts like the plants are getting plugged and are unable to meet the nutritional and water needs in the top portion of the plants.

One other theory being promoted was that the weather was stressful for corn because we had warm days and cool nights during grain fill.

Everyone who raises corn only dreams of such conditions because that is when grain fill and plant efficiencies peak.

Keep remembering that the first leaves that are supposed to turn brown on a corn plant are the leaves covering the ear.

Saying that the plant is supposed to dry from the top down is completely wrong.

Corn crop maturity

This was supposed to be the week where lots of corn harvest was supposed to begin in much of central Iowa.

Traditionally farmers like to take out enough corn to see if the drying setup is working as it should be.

Then they focus on the soybean acres.

In central Iowa the early April corn is dry enough, being in the high teens or low 20s. The rest still needs to drop a few points.

If those operators were to do the push test of their plants by their different varieties they may ramp up the pace of their harvesting.

There are lots of soft stalks with lodging already detectable from the air. An aerial pilot asked me what was occurring because they could see those circular spots of lodged corn already.

Those fields sprayed with the mineral product(s) that boosted plant health still remain very green and are still filling.

If the yield trend seen in Illinois and much of the other Midwestern states continues, where very few combine operators are bragging about yields, there will be interest in learning what happened and what needs to be done in 2016 to reverse that trend.

That may be a very good topic for a few astute agronomists at meetings in December and January.

Dust problems

Harvest used to be a time of very clean air where it felt great to breath in the fall aromas. In recent years we have been seeing more of the blackish dust clouds billowing behind each combine in the fall.

Often it hovers in the air for hours after the combines shut down. A number of operators have complained about the lung congestion and nose bleeds they now suffer.

In one county a corn grower related to me last season that 80 percent of his fellow farmers were having problems with lung infections beginning three days after harvest began.

Other symptoms seem to be hazy vision, coughing, congestion, nose bleeds, and inability to take deep breaths.

If might be time to listen to the wives’ telling us to minimize the dust exposure.

If anyone is curious we have had the dust samples from different fields analyzed and there are nasties in it.

Particularly if there is a pinkish hue to the corn leaves.

Ear molds

For fast grain drydown we like light, open husks. If it rains a lot those same characteristics lead to more problems with ear molds and even kernels sprouting on the ear.

The sole management step that can be used is increase the fan speed to blow the damaged and discolored kernels out of the combine.

This is more of an issue if you are feeding your grain to your own livestock.

White mold

In years with wet weather during late June and through July along with soil temps below 74 degrees, white mold can become a problem, especially in fields where humidity levels are higher and dead air spots occur.

Along creek banks and next to buildings it can be a severe problem that limits yield in the fall.

Northern and northeastern Iowa as well as much of Minnesota and Wisconsin experience those conditions most years.

There are a few products that can help reduce the population of the mouse excrement spore capsules that will be threshed out of the soybean stems and affecting their survival.

The erratic appearance of the problem and the high costs of those products limit their use.

The words of wisdom for lessening the WM problem is to combine the fields where a problem exists last to minimize the spread of the spore cases.

Soil sampling, weed mapping

Before harvest begins in earnest take time to discuss your soil sampling plans with other people within your operation and your crop advisor.

This would give you time to assemble maps and talk to the people who do the sample collecting.

Remember that micronutrient sampling is becoming increasingly important and that Midwest Lab in Omaha and Ward Labs in Kearney both offer the Haney biological soil test.

Having those results lets you formulate your plan to increase your soil health and long-term profitability on your acres.

As you are traveling through your fields this fall, remember to carry a tablet or GPS to mark spots where particular annual or perennial weeds are a problem.

This could facilitate being able to tailor a weed control program more accurately this winter in preparation for 2016.

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

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