The recent warmer weather has been great in that it reaffirms spring is getting near and we can say goodbye to another winter. Most long-time Midwesterners would have to agree that this has been a milder-than-normal winter, as is typical for this part of the country during an El Nino season.
The U.S. weather service recently announced its summary for the 2015 year and noted that statewide the rainfall was 25 percent, or 8 inches, above normal. But if you pull out northwest and North Iowa , who were significantly drier-than-normal, it shows there were parts of the state that were 25 to 50 percent wetter-than-normal during the summer months.
How will the growing season turn out? At this point there are three to four major meteorological services now predicting a warmer and drier spring and hotter and drier season after early June. Just as in the theory of global warming, having a consensus doesn’t mean squat.
But paying attention to an individual or team that has stuck his or her neck out in recent seasons and made a wild, long-term prediction that proved to be correct could be a good bet. I had the chance to spend a few hours with one of those individuals this past week, a person who is well known among ag audiences and he sees a much warmer and drier season.
His methodology deals with a multitude of solar and galactic cycles and their influence on the semi-molten earth core to set up ring of fire volcanoes and electronic stress lines that dictate where weather is steered or flows.
For just over a week, the two of us made a long trip across Argentina and Uruguay. We were hoping to see a number of researchers, growers, producer groups, growing fields and old friends. Part of what we could see in the fields and learn about their economic situation will let us determine the degree of influence the size of the Argentinian crop could have on the grain prices over the next six months.
The crops in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have been under the influence of the El Nino event which has been stronger than normal, yet still weaker than those back in the ’70s and ’80s.
In much of central Brazil and central Argentina, the conditions were dry until December with the first big rains arriving just after Christmas. Once it rained the farmers began to plant both crops. Those who planted corn or beans in early December saw their crops wither in the 96-plus degree weather and have the grain fill affected in the extremely dry January through early February.
The first big rains moved across central Argentina the week of Feb. 12 to 19. We stayed in the Rosario through Pergamino through Cordoba area and saw several 3- to 5-inch rains.
Thus you could see early-planted corn that had turned completely brown right next to corn that was just beginning to tassel and could take full advantage of the rains.
The soybeans were the same in that the growers who waited to plant until around, or shortly after Christmas, will have crops that will perform well.
In the area we covered the ground lays about as flat as central Illinois with a climate close to that of eastern Kansas. The latitude is about 34 to 35 S, or close to what happens near Memphis.
Their weather is influenced more by the Atlantic ocean and moisture fronts moving across their plains. They do not have the Rocky Mountains that set up the cold fronts that move across the Midwest, squeezing moisture that moves in from the Gulf.
Their rainfall patterns are more erratic, making winter-grown crops – wheat or other small grains that capitalize on winter rains – more feasible. The average farming operation covers 1,100 to 2,500 acres.
Yearly rainfall totals near Rosario are less than ours by 4 to 5 inches, while west near Cordoba where higher elevation hills force more rain from the clouds, their yearly amounts exceed those in central Iowa. The majority of fields looked good with a dark green color.
About 15 percent showed nitrogen deficiencies. There are areas where about 30 percent of the fields showed patchy growth either from sodic soils or poor moisture-holding capacity.
Their farmers tend to be low-input growers and, at best, operate at replacement fertilization, while very few use micros.
Thus their best agronomist recognizes they are on a similar path as many U.S growers are. Near Rosario and to the north 80 to 90 percent of the row crop acres are planted to corn.
With Mauricio Macri replacing Nestor Kirchner as president, and corn tariffs going to zero, while soybean tariffs are reduced to 30 percent, Argentina does not expect a huge shift to corn as one would expect.
Corn acres could increase by 25 to 30 percent, but that is with a low percentage to start at.
Argentina’s better rainfall and better soil regions can hit 200 bushels per acre corn in dryland and 30 to 50 bpa better with irrigation.
A higher percent of corn growers use biologicals and their use in soybeans is increasing. One company we visited has been researching and is testing several signaling LCO and systemic immune response compounds that looked very good.
Those growers were keenly interested in knowledge on late-season foliar and ground-applied materials that could help their plants add to seed size and pod fill.
Of course we had to discuss insects, plant diseases and resistant weeds. Such resistant weeds are creating challenges for their growers. Their main ones are Johnsongrass, Conyza and Amaranthus.
The pigweed problems are spreading rapidly in many areas. They tend to have a wider spectrum of root, stem and leaf bean diseases, thus the findings by Dr. Robert Kremer at the University of Missouri, who found out that with a kill off in Pseudomonas populations, all of the slime molds and root rots would increase, was interesting to them.
Soybean rust showed up further south and earlier than ever in both countries. It had been kept in check by the dry weather, but was expected to explode with the rains.
In northern Argentina, any in all of UY, the three-way mix of fungicides were being applied. They’re basically using strobes, triazoles and carboximides together in an attempt to slow resistance problems.
Their rust pressure is not as great as in northeast Mato Grosso where a bean crop might be sprayed 11 to 13 times and no green bridge crop or volunteer bean plants are allowed.
Some of the UY rust problem is thought to be due to green bridging.
There are plantings of Bt-soybean plants in those countries in hopes of limiting caterpillar feeding. We have seen situations and fields in Brazil where an influx of egg-laying caterpillars can create enough offspring to denude a bean field.
Not having winter can be a negative in insect control.
Many people we visited wanted to talk about American food safety and food security. They are seeing the same chronic diseases showing up in most communities, while a generation ago they had no such problems,
Argentinians love to protest and hold marches so they have had many on those issues in Buenos Aires and in their provincial capitals. They are not as passive and stoic as are most northern Europeans.
Uruguay was as filled with small farmsteads and gently rolling hills devoted to growing corn, beans, alfalfa, sorghum and livestock, as Iowa was back in the ’60s and ’70s.
It is a great place to visit and stay. We were lucky enough to get to spend time with our ISU- and Iowa-connected friends near Colonia del Sacramento.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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