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By Staff | Nov 20, 2015

What a great fall this was, contrary to what some of the forecasts called for, 70-degree temps and sunshine nearly every day made it enjoyable to be outside.

It sure allowed a pleasurable grain harvest, except for the fellows who had to spend extra time in the heavily lodged corn fields.

Then the anhydrous season went full speed once the soil temps dropped below 50 degrees.

In the end most of the fall tillage by the flatlanders was completed in preparation for 2016.

Rain now can be a blessing as it can help fill the moisture profile for the next year’s crops.

Two weeks from now the big Crop Management seminar hosted by Iowa State University Extension, scheduled for Dec. 2 and Dec. 3, will be held in Ames.

It is always a good time to get updated on new findings and new information on different cropping topics. The schedule and list of speakers can be viewed online.

A quick rundown on the individual sessions covers many topics with a few of them including nitrogen management and how to boost efficiency; the appearance of the new crop diseases, their biology and how to control them; new seed treatments and nematicides.

One important other topic is how to make critical fertility decisions when budgets are tight, while yield goals remain the same. Be sure to preregister by Nov. 20 as it has sold out early in many of the previous years.

N management

With the DMWW’s lawsuit still active and many of the large fertilizer retailers recognizing that everyone in the business will be under tight scrutiny in 2016 and years beyond, farmers will be urged to tighten their nitrogen management plan.

There are a few basic proven ways that over the long term have been found to help maximize N use efficiency and are doable.

The first would be to recognize that any applications made closer to the time of crop uptake reduces the chance that Mother Nature will have a chance to wash or leach it away.

Thus we are likely to see split applications become more common with about 50 percent of the N applied in the fall paired with a stabilizer or the same in the spring.

This application will then be followed with one or two in-season applications with the timing depending on what each grower’s time and equipment.

By spring there could be a major established program in place funded by several heavy hitters of the manufacturing world to aid in this management.

One tool that a few crop advisors use to scout and determine N-deficient corn fields is the chlorophyll meter. A Minolta model is handheld with jaws for clamping onto corn leaves in three to four locations.

By sampling leaves in different parts of the field a person can judge the real time N status of the plants and decide if additional N is needed.

The readings are displayed digitally on a 080 scale where 0 is no greenness and 80 being dark green.

The recommended program is to make one round using a doubled rate of N, then dropping back to the normal rate over the remaining rounds.

That doubled strip is used as a basis for comparison as it is known to be very high in N and signifies luxury uptake of N.

A chlorophyll meter allows exact reading to be taken on each variety with each reading below the optimum then suggesting that the plants are low or getting low on available N.

Maintaining a level above 55 through the end of the season can be viewed as the goal for achieving top yields.

Once a person uses one they realize it carries greater value than doing the late-season stalk N testing.

If the meter values drop below the mid-50s additional N can still proactively benefit the growing crop.

The Minolta meters are valuable but their $2,000 to $2,700 price tag rules them out for most crop scouts.

There is now a small company that has designed and is now marketing a new meter called ‘At Leaf.”

This new $250 meter has been tested against those from Minolta and performed well.

Budget adjustments

More recent farm magazine articles discuss the many decisions that will have to be made by growers as they plan for the 2016 season.

The authors and farm management consultants voiced their opinion on what path they recommend be followed when budgets are tight.

The paths vary into those that advise trying to develop positive cash flow by cutting inputs severely or following an alternative pathway where growers try to produce optimum yields by doing a lot of little things right.

Their plans sometimes incorporate steps to lessen input costs by boosting the use of in-furrow starters and microbes that should boost the availability of those nutrients that are already in the soils.

Both paths have to be looked at and weighed as to what threat or boost they pose to final yields and overall profitability.

And who is the best person to make those final decisions? At the beginning of the planting season all of those questions this season appear a bit overwhelming.

Things should clear as we get further into the decision-making season.

In past years the typical tactic is to go after the maximum bushels since there’s a reward in the marketplace.

More agronomists and farmers are wondering if wholesale changes are being called for or if slight tweaking will do the job, and where will new ideas or new advice be coming from.

New electronics

New electronics have definitely changed crop production for many. Yield monitors, VRT applications, GPS and RTK or drone use have or will become commonplace.

What would you think of a detection unit that could give an immediate reading of mineral content of any plant, grain and fruit, vegetable or liquid?

This could include detection of vitamins, enzymes, proteins or pesticide residue.

Ponder this whether you are on the production, marketing, or consuming side of the grain or meat business.

Instead of any such instrument being the size of a large desk it can fit on a sheet of paper and eventually handheld.

How would it change things, especially since enough advances have been made in understanding how plant, animal, and human/microbiome health relate to those now measurable fractions?

Give this some thought over the next month.

Seed decisions

Deciding which varieties to plant in 2016 seems to be a bigger mine field than in recent seasons due to the wide variations in yield and because one is left wondering how much the presence or lack of plant health affected those yields.

This was more the case along U.S. Highway 20 and south within the state.

Another big factor was how long the plants stood in the field for drydown purposes and the resulting stalk lodging.

The first set of plots that most farmers will be examining for this task will the FIRST plots.

Individual plot data and company ratings should also have value, but the problems certain hybrids had in not matching those ratings left those ratings in question.

There were hybrids that looked excellent in 2014, but disappointed in 2015 and remain a head scratcher. Recognizing genetic families and their characteristics is important.

Now is the time to start compiling the statistics and begin the process.

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

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