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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Dec 25, 2015

Christmas is here. We have to remember that the holy day and holiday commemorate the birthday of the Savior back many years ago.

That sacrifice was meant to save our souls on earth and make the world a better place.

Most of the people in this country still recognize what the celebration is about, so here’s to hoping you have an enjoyable time and get to spend it with family and friends.

Be sure to give thanks that we live in a country where we get the freedom to enjoy the fruits of our labor and work for a better life for us and our children.

Yield potential, yield levels

After each season when each grower records and analyzes how many bushels each field yielded, the task becomes two-fold. First, to figure out what went right or wrong, and then to set crop yield goals for 2016.

An optimistic person typically sets the bar about 5 percent above the previous best for corn, and 10 percent above for soybeans. No one tries to be an average producer. Bushels pay the bills.

In a perfect scenario, the yield trend keeps going up with no downturns. In reality much of what we experience is that weather still determines final yields; and whether it is too hot or too dry, too cool or too wet, Mother Nature still has the final say.

What we know buffering the effect of weather on plants is the knowledge that by having rich topsoil and rooting zone that can help to smooth out the wide swings in yields.

The talk of flash droughts is more common in recent years, but it does not take a rocket scientist to recognize that lack of good rainfall infiltration and low organic matter to hold soil moisture do the most to allow plants to quickly drop into a moisture deficit situation.

There has also been work at Purdue University, the University of Missouri and others around the world indicating that trait insertion can screw up different areas of plant physiology and weaken items such as disease and drought tolerance.

Different crop researchers are spending time and brainpower figuring out either why not all the high yields materialized or why in a growing degree unit-shortened season there were some very good yields.

Different thoughts tossed about was the effect of cloudier weather on reducing photosynthate production or possible deposition of sulfates and other minerals from the western forest fires.

In general what astute growers are noticing is that while the top yields among growers who actively managed and maximized plant health were records, the growers who took a nonchalant attitude generally ended up disappointed with their final results.

Micros anyone

In a recent article from the University of Wisconsin the authors showed the results of soybean yield trials where different mineral mixes, biologicals and fungicides were applied to plots. The results were published for each product and it was interesting to see the results.

The top six placers were either minerals or microbes or mixes of both, which seems to back up the rule on traits, that they only protect yield and seldom add significant stand along yield increases.

Each item can fit into an integrated and systems approach where a balance is needed and identified weak links need to be improved before the sum total improves.

Se or Si anyone?

In published articles about soil fertility, the speakers or authors still seem to be focusing on N-P-K. This is after wise and learned soil scientists drew attention to the fact that what research pointed out in the 50s and 60s that more than three elements were needed to grow healthy and productive crops.

Their predictions were actually that our U.S. soils held about 40 years worth before they would be depleted on several crucial elements. It is easy to look at the many diagrams in plant physiology and animal nutrition text books and see that many more minerals are involved in raising fruits, foliage and grain that we eat to gain nourishment and stay healthy.

Even at the ISU ICM conference I don’t remember them mentioning human health or human nutrition once, even though that is why we supposedly raise crops.

One good crops person asked me is I could tell him about the role of selenium and silicon/silica. I said selenium still had not been verified and listed as an essential element, but that the full function of the immune system depended on Se.

I did tell him to look at his Marschner Text. So tonight I read pages 253 to 257 to see the exact wording. It states that while scientists still had not tied down the exact value of the element to plants, they knew it was extremely important to fueling the formation of the glutathione molecule and the immune system in animals.

Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if the plants are deficient of that element, not understanding it is used can lead to the people or animals eating the crop also experience problems when their diet is deficient?

It noted that in Finland, ranked in the top three best educated countries, the legislature mandated that Se should be added to fertilizer mixes to increase the mineral in the food supply to produce healthier people.

As to silica or silicon, its role in plant growth and metabolism is still under study. Drs. Lawrence Datnoff and Brenda Tabana at Louisiana State University are the U.S. leaders in this field of discussion.

What is published is Si contributes to plant intactness, disease and stress tolerance, the ability to withstand drought, helps water movement in plants and facilitates manganese distribution in leaf tissue. In animals and humans it is vital in forming connective tissue.

Whether or not it is important seems obvious. When you follow the list of micronutrients (zinc, Mn, copper, boron, magnesium) one by one and read of their role in the plants’ and animal metabolism you realize the importance od each.

Then to quantify this trend visit with the head agronomists at the soil and tissue testing labs to hear what percent of the time samples are determined to be low or very deficient.

Much and better education on the issue needs to take place.

Nitrogen loss

The prediction for the weekend of Dec. 12th and 1 3th was for heavy rains beginning on Saturday afternoon. The front stalled out as it moved north and east and arrived about 12 hours late.

But when the showers arrived the predictions for 3 to 5 inches of rain proved to be true as up to 7 inches fell in spots.

We are just lucky it didn’t drop below freezing as the amounts of snow would have been mind boggling. A lot of the rain soaked in, but most streams and rivers were bank full by the evening of Dec. 13 through Dec. 15, mostly due to recent rains that had already filled the moisture profile.

Without a crop growing on most fields there is nothing outside of tile to removed additional rain. The questions now center on how much nitrogen was left over from the 2015 crop or had just been applied as anhydrous may have washed away.

Because most retailers did not let tanks go out before the official soil temps had dropped below 50 degrees, the fall applied 82 percent should not have been in the leachable form.

That leaves open the question about carryover N that lay in the 0- to 12-inch, 12- to 24-inch and greater-than-24-inch root zone and was not tied down by organic matter.

In seeing a few fields that were planted in grass cover crops there was no, or minimal, water runoff from the fields.

That is exactly why there is more interest in increasing the acres devoted to cover crops.

Keeping the soil and valuable dollars in place is what cover crops are meant to do.

Having them wash away is lost potential that may never be recovered in a lifetime.

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

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