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2015 lessons learned; 2016 decisions

By Staff | Oct 16, 2015

The fall and harvest season continues throughout the Midwest. Harvest is rolling along, and with the extremely dry grain the lines at the elevator and at the bin sites are moving rapidly as there is not much grain drying to be done.

Bird flu, again?

We all hope not. In last week’s Farm News they had two informational articles. One was about a possible return of the flu now that water fowl are migrating south from their summer nesting grounds to the north.

The story told that they had been doing early sampling among shot ducks, and then were sending the samples to the national lab in Madison.

There they would be analyzed to see if they tested positive. Early testing is good, but the early migrating birds are typically local ducks, rather than some that may have commingled with Asian birds during the summer.

They also have to be asking why the birds’ immune systems were so weak that it was mostly all caged birds and not those living outside that had the disease problems.

This point was mentioned in the FN story about the couple raising an old heritage breed on pasture near Story City The only losses they had were to predators. Time and time again this was the rarely published story.

Corn harvest

Many farmers are now on their last half of corn harvest. So far weather delays and mud problems have not been a problem.

From both the road observations and in field inspections the issue of stalk quality was one that should be mentioned. By now, many fields have been dead for six weeks or more and are infected with bacteria that dissolves woody tissue in the stalk or a collection of fungi that will do the same.

In many cases the loss of leaf tissue to fungal diseases left the plants lacking enough energy to both fill the kernels and support the plants’ need for nutrition.

With the problems from six different fungal leaf diseases loss of this tissue many plants were cannibalized by the grain filling process with the stalks being hollowed out.

I have been in fields where the lodging reaches close to 100 percent areas with the stalks in many areas collapsing at ground level.

The prudent thing to do is to rate the stalk strength in your remaining fields and adjust your harvest schedule to get to those at-risk fields soon.

There were cases with a fungicide application helped and two applications gave superior results. Then there were also fields where that or those applications made the problem worse since it was not a fungus causing the problem. When additional nutrients were applied the plants’ health improved.

Too often growers do not ask the wise and insightful question as to what was the underlying cause of the disease problem. Was it the rainy summer? Were there new diseases? Did the varieties have the disease resistance as advertised or did I take a risk by planting susceptible varieties? Or did my plants have a weak immune response due to poor nutrition?

Trimming 2016 costs

There must be a cheat sheet circulating among university and bank economists because they are all giving the advice to farmers that everyone must trim $100 in input expenses per corn acre for the 2016 crop.

None of those advisors seem to get very specific about what expenses should get trimmed except to say that cash rents need to go first. That is nice to say, and a percentage of landlords recognize that growers are having a tough time projecting any positive return, but a few other areas have to be examined and discussed to make things fair.

Fertilizer prices have not backed down, but those are controlled far up the supply chain. Machinery expenses are already locked in.

Herbicide prices are out of our control and not using the right ones or right rates can be counterproductive. Fuel costs have come down, but are not a major item.

Insurance costs are a factor, but again, not a major one. When does a discussion on seed price get started?

And should an operator try to make budget by focusing on maximizing production volume or minimizing costs? It usually seems that maximizing yields while recognizing that producing additional bushels adds cost, but that those last-produced bushels may be where the profit exists.

One issue that should be discussed is fertilizer efficiencies. What ways or products boost efficiency? Does relying more on foliars rather than soil application where a high percent can be immobilized by the soil?

We did see on a trip through a high-dollar crop area in northeast Brazil that foliar fertilizers have an advantage in efficiency. The correct management plan will likely be to pair good fertility levels in the soil with timely foliar applications to meet immediate needs, trip a physiological trigger or boost nutrient supplies during crucial development stages.

If the research data coming from Michigan State University using radioactively traced fertilizer to compare foliar- versus soil-applied nutrients were to be circulated, it would help growers make better decisions.

Charts showing the comparisons between nutrient movement up versus down in the plant as well as soil versus foliar uptake.

This info was based on field trials where the material was sprayed on the leaves, or in the case of fruit trees on the bare branches, then clipped off the plant parts and did the examination on x-ray detection equipment.

This was published in a 10-page testimony to congress. In the case of nitrogen, spreading the application timings throughout the season, while using stabilizers with the materials most prone to loss, makes the most sense.

What I am seeing now is that the highest return on corn in lieu of how the corn crop is turning out it that doing the two or three things to keep the plants green longer has been giving the highest ROI of any decision.

It may be time to take a reflective moment and ask if you are doing everything you can to boost soil and plant health. If you were allowed a do-over, what might it be?

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

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