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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Mar 25, 2016

Spring is now officially here. There will be the bright, sunny days that will make the flowers bloom along with the cold, blustery periods where we have to stay inside and work on more mundane tasks.

So far the amount of snow received has been minimal, but the wintery mix of this past week serves as a reminder that the white stuff can come at any time. And more was expected this week.

Meanwhile, it is time to make the final machinery preparations and do the plumbing work that can be associated with planters or sprayers. There are still more than a few decisions concerning fertilizer and final herbicide programs that are being adjusted or added to. In many cases this decision is still a work in progress as budgets continue to get reworked based on price projections and costs of some of the inputs get adjusted by suppliers and landlords.

On my drive back from St Louis on Monday we saw rigs pulling field cultivators from Hannibal to Pella. A day earlier they would have been working while the snow fell. There were also a few anhydrous rigs operating and were not balling up with mud.

Planter additions

One of the big topics of recent seasons has been the movement to install the equipment on planters that allow growers to place starter fertilizers and biologicals in furrow, or in a 2-by-2-inch arrangement so as to allow the fertilizer to be more available to the young root system. There are several reasons for this.

The first seems to be that as growers push their yield bar higher they look for any advantage to get the small seedlings off to a great start. Any increase in nutrient availability early in the season by placing it near the seed or early-forming root system is viewed as one of the main ways to make that happen.

In furrow, on the seed trench side rows, or within 2 or 3 inches is typically sufficient depending on volume and properties of the materials used. Then with more farmers getting educated about biologicals and their importance in nutrient availability they are applying more of them on their acres.

Look for more trials to be run and more companies offering the combo of micros and biological mixes being applied either on the seed or in the furrow. There have been more trials being run on those combinations and the consensus appears to be that germination, seedling vigor and early growth can be boosted by the micros since many of the enzymatic pathways involved in those processes are mediated by minerals such as manganese, zinc and cobalt.

If this coming season ends up being warm and dry as several climatologists are suggesting, growing as deep and extensive root system as possible will be a big deal.

For my money this season, I am recommending:

  • SabrEx Planter box treatment for corn and beans to boost manganese, root growth and drought tolerance.
  • Super Trace liquid on the seed or in-furrow to grow a root system expanding network of fungal mycelium and specific micros to boost root health (Generate) and growth.
  • Any other microbial product with the research background to form great microbial activity and nutrient release within the root zone.

The latter products work by delivering food such as sugars, amino acids and minerals that increase the food supply for the commensal organisms that are only seen under the microscope.

Typically their entire food supply is provided by the plants which recognize their survival and success depends on the little critters activities.

Plant populations

Over the winter many magazine articles included discussions about how interviewed growers were going to adjust populations up or down by minor amounts in hopes to boosting profitability. This can help in minor ways, but when you get to the field most planers will be set in the 34,000 to 36,000 range.

Over the last 10 years we have gotten accustomed to those populations and that is where our top yields have come from. Fewer high-ear flex hybrids are being commercialized. Those with a Pennsylvania or Missouri genetic background are those still having the most.

Corn growers who ventured higher may have done slightly better, but increased the risk of root lodging or late-season stalk problems. Buying your seed in a Dutch auction fashion from the seed dealers could typically cut seed costs enough to eliminate decisions about moving up or down 2,000 seeds per acre.

I have planted at pops up to 43,000 in 38-inch rows, but with the addition of stalk strengthening growth regulators lodging was no problem and yields increased. The bigger aim for most growers is to grow a large, expansive, root system that stays white for the entire season rather than turning brown and pithy way before the VT stage.

The latter has been very common the last seven years. And due to compaction or not using the right mineral package, too many root systems are only exploring the top 6 to 10 inches of soil for nutrients. Fry the big fish first.

On soybeans, having been around Michigan soybean grower Ray Rawson and other guys that raise very good soybeans, I typically recommend a planting population of around 135,000 and doing the things to grow a deep healthy root and forming as many branches as possible.

There are a few special microbes and minerals that work well to do this. I did see a new product that had recently been released down in Argentina that greatly enhanced branch formation.

Included in the mix were signaling compounds plus materials similar to what soybean biochemist Gary Stacy has researched at the University of Missouri. Remember that those extra side branches make a thinner stand act much thicker and their strength must be boosted by foliar calcium.

If the same amount of thinking and preparations was made in figuring out how to keep the corn plants green and healthy with good root systems after Aug. 20 instead of debating the minor things, those growers would be bushels ahead.

Sprayer trailers

One farmer I visited with today had previously been pondering about building a mixing shed where he could mix his different liquid sprays using computerized equipment, flow meters and electronic scales to be as precise as possible while trying to adhere to future EPA regulations.

He nixed that idea after seeing a series of new mixing trailers (Pit Stop Chem) from JD Skiles down in Atwood, Kansas. The trailer carries some of the same equipment as the mixing shed would have been equipped with along with flow meters and cone-bottom tanks and mixing containers.

It also was considerably cheaper and eliminated the need to add another hauling trailer to the operation.

While there I walked across a soybean stubble field that had been inline deep ripped. I had used the digital penetrometer last spring and diagnosed significant compaction in the 11- to-13-inch and 15-to-18-inch ranges.

The ground was still spongy and no water was standing in the field. It will be interesting to see if the phosphorus and potassium levels climb now as we have often seen once the oxygen levels in the soil are increased.

Weed observations

One item to pay attention to and especially in upcoming soybean fields is early emerging broadleaf weeds.

The worst of these seem to be giant ragweed and marestail. The marestail seem to be especially hard to kill with any product after they reach about 4 inches.

The best action on no-till ground seems to be to apply the residual herbicide or mix when the top 2 inches of soil reach the mid 40s on flat ground.

At that point the hillsides will be a few degrees warmer and the seeds will germinate and grow. Tillage on flat ground is normally effective.

Last spring’s frequent rains allowed dislodged marestail and lambsquarter plants to re-root when the plants never dried down between the tillage and the next rain event.

Good luck in getting your final prep work completed.

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

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