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By Staff | Jan 15, 2016

It was another week into the New Year and another round of snow for the Midwest.

At first the single-digit temperatures seemed cold, and it was when the wind was blowing.

But throw in a bit of sun, insulated coveralls, with no wind and it seems almost balmy.

Later in the week, the central Iowa temps were supposed to climb above freezing so some of the ice should melt.

That will make it easier to get around without taking the tumbles that many people are doing on the glare ice.

That brings up the climate that we can expect for this next growing season.

What many of us have seen over the years is that seasons are something that usually average out.

So if this year was very wet and on the cool side, does that mean that this summer is due to be hot and dry?

Currently, several good climatologists are expressing the same though – hot and dry in July and August.

What can one lose if they are wrong and what steps might be good to follow to drought-proof your crops if those forecasts prove correct?

The 600-pound gorilla

The big topic in Iowa is the state of the ag economy.

On Monday, the Iowa State University Extension service released the results of its calculations as to what it will cost to raise an acre of corn and soybeans in 2016.

In the different categories they tallied the costs for machinery, labor, land and a catch-all sum of other inputs, like seed and chemicals.

They did the calculations for corn-on-corn ($4.63 versus $4.93 for 2015), corn following beans ($3.99 versus $4.23 in 2015), and beans following corn ($10.67 versus $10.96 for 2015).

They also gave the costs for alfalfa hay production ($100.78 versus $105.24 in 2015).

In the same order Extension listed the yields it used for figuring 165 bushels per acre (corn-on-corn); 180 (corn following beans) bpa; and 50 bpa (soybeans); and 6 tons of hay.

While those grain yields are low for farmers in good ground and with good fertility they might be closer to average when the weather is not prefect or we have a year where big waterhole or delayed planting becomes a reality.

There are variations in each of those fixed and variable costs depending on many different items and what land rents or land payments are.

Such close figuring may be an incentive to rank each field as to yearly and long-term return on investment, just like many of the farm management advisory newsletters discuss regularly.

The chance to rent good-laying, nearby fields comes along so seldom that most growers in it for the long haul will not let them go to anyone else if they can help it.

The relationships among family and older neighbors can be strong and it can sometimes be challenging.

So how might hot dry weather affect the price of grain and what are most growers hoping for?

I remember being at a meeting in Nebraska years ago where the Secretary of Ag joked that the best farm support program was to hope for a drought in their neighboring states, especially to the east.

If the dry weather materializes then the growers who have taken the best care of their ground, have healthy plants with deep root systems, and actively manage their fertility program and plant health might be hoping for stressy weather to cut production which would give a boost to the markets.

Nitrogen management

Fertilizer retailers in Iowa know their operations are under a microscope this season, as in trying not to have their county or their business being sued for excessive nitrogen in the water.

It’s too bad good science doesn’t rule here. Applying the correct amount of nitrogen to the corn crop is not rocket science.

Rocket scientists know what their rocket weighs and what the pull of gravity is. They also know how much fuel is on board and how much the fuel weighs. They also know how far the rocket has to travel.

Thus they can sit down with their handbooks to run a calculator and figure out how much fuel is all needed to be successful.

Now, when raising corn there are many variables based on rainfall amounts and timing, rate of rainfall and how well it infiltrates, how fast the corn grows as well as how tall it gets, how long the soils stay saturated, the rate of soil warming and extremes in both directions, how well any stabilizers work, how much carryover N and organic matter release amounts and rates are and what are the overall yield expectations.

The availability and cost to make each application as well as how many days are available to make those applications are also unknowns.

Rocket scientists have a much easier job.

At a grower meeting last week, a company rep gave a presentation about how his company is advising growers to manage their N more precisely using tools that are available to most people.

The program he described recommended pulling soil samples at 2 feet to more accurately gauge how much residual N was left from the previous crop or manure application as well as the amount made available when any organic material weathered.

That program promotes using the Y drops, where the N was applied by a high clearance rig with drop tubes and hoses that laid the liquid N right at the base of the plant.

One thing they should have mentioned were the existing and expected N stabilizers that kept the N where it was applied for the length of time the corn would be using it.

There are a number of those on the market that have done well in trials. Be watching for a new one from BASF which was the best one ever tested by the Purdue research staff back several decades ago.

Stay warm and safe.

The days are getting longer already and in two months we will be able to comment that it was not that bad of a winter.

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

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