homepage logo


By Staff | Nov 27, 2015

It seemed that as of last weekend the fall season was definitely over. The 7 inches of white stuff in central Iowa and amounts ranging from 12 to 18 inches across northern and northwest Iowa verified that winter weather has definitely arrived.

Until that storm, the tomato plants along with other bushes and flowers were still enjoying the unseasonally warm and sunny weather. We did have enough warning from several forecasters to get everything inside including fruit, machinery and livestock, but most of us were still hustling to do so until the last minute.

Luckily, it warmed up the next day and it looks like we will get some reprieve through the next few weeks.

Then if the El Nino predictions are correct this coming winter will be milder than normal.

How warm or cold could it get? We all think that getting to spend a few days in a warmer climate during January through March to escape some of the bitter cold is great, and it is. A friend from eastern Iowa used to talk about an old climatologist by the name of Iben Browning, who was considered perhaps the best of modern times.

Browning wrote a few books on the topic including ‘Climate and the Affairs of Men’. It told how climate has always helped to determine how populations grew, fell, or disappeared based on weather. In one case conditions got so cold in the 1200s that even the Indians moved out of the Midwest heading for warmer climes.

That was before the days of Thinsulate, heated gloves and Sorel boots. Will that be what we get to face if we drop further into the cold 58-year Dalton Minimum cycle?

Salmon anyone?

In a big announcement from the FDA the first GM animal was given clearance to be commercialized. Is this a bad or good thing?

The project to develop the fish began almost two decades ago and has been closely watched by scientists from several different groups. Part of the interest was spurred by the attention paid to Dolly, the transgenic sheep that was born in the United Kingdom at a facility owned by the Roslin Institute.

At first there was a lot of good publicity generated by this milestone, which gradually faded as the young lamb was soon found to be suffering from severe arthritis.

After Dolly died from old age ailments at a young age the lab tests discovered that its telomeres still reflected the age of an old animal even though physically it was still young.

It was a case of epigenetics trumping old thought genetic theory where the presence of one gene was supposed to control the expression of one trait.

One worldwide geneticist wrote down the process used to create the transgenic salmon and it can get hard to follow. They inserted gene sequences from a Pacific Chinook salmon and an eel pout into an Atlantic salmon.

They then exposed male fish to a high dosage of 17 Beta oestralial hormone creating neomale transgender females before they mated them and exposed them to high pressures creating sterile triploid offspring with the hopes they are 100 percent rather than just 99.7 to 99.9 percent sterile.

So Intrexon, through their subsidiary, AquaBounty, plans to produce their fish in either wild cages or in fish farms for commercial sale through grocery stores. Already eight of the major chains said they would not be interested in selling them.

The remaining two are waiting to see how their customer surveys turn out. It doesn’t sound like they can expect a great roll out. The consumers seem to be giving the new fish a thumbs down vote no matter what FDA declares.

In a recently disclosed paper the details came out about what has happened at the Roslin Institute’s animal creation lab which moved to New Zealand. After over $500 million had been spent on creating transgenic animals, only three surviving animals, though severely deformed, still exist.

The rest either died early, had to be euthanized or had systemic organ failure which cut short their lives. It sounded like the old fashion way of having cows and bulls mate remains the best way to produce a calf.

Soybean demand

It always proves interesting to watch global demand and the export/import figures for our major grains to judge where the market and market shares are going. The latest export figures for corn and soybeans are telling a story that needs to be watched.

While beans being imported into China are sourced alternately from North American and then South American sources, the latest figures show that the volume of beans that normally come from the U.S. in the September to November time period dropped rather than escalate from the June to August time period.

The change appears to be dramatic. Is that a factor of dollar strength or something else in play?

Fall field work

In much of the territory north of I-80 in the state, it appears that fall field work has come to a halt unless the snow melts off and the soils dry. It will be beneficial to melt the snow if the normal freeze/thaw cycles to break the shallow compaction are to take place.

These cycles usually serve to break up the shallow compaction resulting from harvest traffic.

In some penetrometer work I did this fall it was apparent that floater traffic that occurred during the very wet spring of 2014 planting/spraying season still existed and needed to be fractured to permit deep-root penetration in 2016 and beyond.

Knowing that such compaction survives and often remains undetected should cause most growers who are pondering moving to narrow-row corn to reexamine their plans and place greater priority on deepening the root zone rather than trying to grow more roots within the top few inches of the profile.

Biologicals for 2016

By now most growers have read numerous articles about the new biological products appearing in papers and magazines. These products used to be thought of more as snake oil, but now with more companies getting into the science and better diagnostic tools available this category of agriculture is ready to flourish.

The trick will be to find out what individual or mix of products runs the best chance of producing healthy ROIs for the growers who want to go that route.

Part of what has caused the change is the recognition among soil scientists that soil fertility and conversion of applied nutrition is more of a biological equation rather than a chemical one.

The work of Dr. Rich Haney, a soil researcher with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, in Tempe, Texas, and others, have helped agronomists and growers recognize that we have huge populations of little critters working for us to keep the plants fed if we take good care of their needs.

The sciences of tissue and sap testing have helped us correlate what percentage of the applied nutrition has made it into the plants.

The new instruments will magnify our ability to gauge how quickly the plants can access those minerals.

Dr. Mary Lucero, soil scientist, formerly with USDA, wrote a neat paper on plant microbiome where she compared the microbe teaming soil around the roots to the collection of 2 to 5 pounds of bacteria in our gut that help us extract nutrients as well as making up 70 percent of our immune system.

While that thinking gives us additional answers, it simultaneously creates another whole set of questions.

For sure, it tells us how much we don’t know.

Enjoy the upcoming Thanksgiving season and time with family and friends.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-01439.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page