So far the Iowa corn planting season has reminded me of the 1992 season. That year followed the dreaded 1991 season where in much of central and north central parts of the state it stayed so wet there were only a few small windows in which to get field work done.
Thus, many of the acres that did not get planted during the May 11-13, 21-23 time windows either never got planted or were done in June.
Coupled with the mid-September freeze and October ice storm the season was one big disaster.
So in 1992 most of the farmers were working until midnight or 2 a.m. to finish up in April. The spring was drier and conditions were perfect so no one delayed one second in getting seed into the ground. The following season was cool and dry at first, then, after it warmed up, the July and August rains were timely and yields were excellent.
2016 … so far
The thought process of not wanting, or waiting, for the same scenario to happen, we have seen a week in Iowa where Monday’s weather began as being warmer and windy, which helped to dry soils out. Until then growers were saying the top few inches were dry, but it was mucky below.
It was too tempting for many growers, who, induced by 70-degree temps in early March, started across fields with cultivators. From there on it was a race to get the most acres worked and then planted.
As of Monday morning, the progress report showed Iowa farmers at 13 percent planted, though we know in an area of aggressive growers, there are actually a number of farmers who are 70 percent of more planted.
There never seemed to be a big fleet or planters in the fields, but now with such a high percentage of them being 16- to 24-rows, with quite a few 36-row rigs, the acres per day really add up.
To the south, as in Missouri, where planting drug on through much of June in 2015, the corn planting is at 58 percent done. In comparison the Minnesotans are at 13 percent, Illinois at 12 percent and Nebraska at 7 percent. The latter were getting worried about being too dry as the entire winter season was lacking moisture.
Kansas growers were at 35 percent done. What effect the snowfall over the weekend, which totaled anywhere from 5.5 to 53 inches in Colorado, will have to be determined yet. Those high plains, dryland farmers typically rejoice at whatever form of moisture falls.
In other areas where the soils have remained cool and did not dry as rapidly farmers were more cautious and thus far have preferred to wait a week or so. If the expected temps remain in the low to mid 70s their crop still has maximum yield potential. It is still only mid April.
There used to be good rules of thumb to follow when deciding on the best day or window in which to plant corn. Before Apron was available to be applied to the seed, the kernels has about 2 to 2.5 weeks to get out of the ground before they rotted.
Now they have about a month. Thus planting seems to be determined more by how the ground is working and when the dirt is flowing properly through the openers and closing wheels and the latter are functioning to force good seed-to-soil contact.
We also now see planter gurus such as Kevin Kimberley and Precision Planting field men who have taken cameras to the field, attached them to the planters, and filmed the ‘bird’s eye view’ of how the openers are working, how the seeds are dropping and how the closing wheels are doing their jobs.
Thus if air pockets are still causing a problem with the seed-to-soil contact, the problems can be solved using the air-assisted equipment that many more planters now have.
One of the reasons that used to be given to convince farmers to plant early was that it helped capture more of the total growing degree units, allowed for earlier tasselling during a hopefully cooler part of the season, and helped to produce drier grain at harvest because the ear would open up after black-layering in early, rather than late, September.
Going through all the developmental stages by Sept. 20 helped to minimize the risk of an earlier frost.
How things have changed.
Now I may relay a somewhat jaundiced, yet valid viewpoint, by advising corn growers to plant earlier because of the entire crop is going to die from disease by Aug. 15 through 20.
Their fields will have completed only a high percentage of the needed 55 to 60 fill days if they had delayed planting by seven to 10 days. Sad, but true.
Once more farmers actively begin managing for optimum soil and plant health we could see that change. But the best laid plans can change or will change because everything depends on the weather.
With today’s super computers and added satellite data, along with better and more numerous sensors, there seem to be more climatologists who also can extract the data and then interpolate it with the many galactic cycles to make long-range forecasts with surprising accuracy.
Is it art or a science? Do some of the best also throw in a touch of clairvoyance, or admit to it if they do? What do you think or know?
Anyhow, what is surprising this year that once a person mentions a drought to a group of Iowa farmers they don’t get scared. They say, “bring it on” Their soils allow their crop to survive a modest or bad drought than soils in other parts of corn-growing country.
A short crop nationwide might be the best thing for prices. Apparently we aren’t the only ones thinking it as markets have shown surprising strength and the funds seems to be positioning themselves for such an occurrence.
Okay. The planting season arrived early and you are satisfied with your progress.
If you have the time before the ground dries and before bean planting begins, go over your most recent soil test results again and look at the boron, zinc, manganese, molybdenum and sulfur levels.
Though you might have missed spotting any deficiencies or made the decision not to spend money on those minerals, do you think the plants will notice? Each of those minerals fulfill critical roles in helping the plants maximize their photosynthetic efficiency, make efficient use of nitrogen, direct where the sugars are partitioned in the plant, form sulfur, or stay healthy.
Understanding the roles of each mineral and knowing when those rules occur are as important is having the Ford or Chevy assembly line person in Detroit remember to put each bolt or part onto your new pick-up. If they don’t there are likely to be consequences.
Remember that the top-testing lab in the Midwest confirmed that four of the most important micronutrients have been deficient in more than 75 percent of the samples in recent years. If the soil tests indicate one or more minerals were lacking, there is still a chance that side-dressing or foliar applications can supply the needed mineral.
Check your soil test analyses now to see how your field levels compare to the suggested norms.
Early corn planting begets early bean planting. Planting before April 25 could lead to problems if the predicted freeze of early May occurs.
Planting the first week in May typically benefits the growers since it leads to more podded nodes, thus higher yield potential.
Be sure to be making your final plans as to what seed treatments should be receiving and who will applying them.
Use the top-rated inoculants and look at good biologicals such as the SabrEx to boost manganese sufficiency and photosynthetic efficiency.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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