After a very busy week for most grain farmers the work continues around rain fronts that are now passing through the Midwest every few days.
So far the heaviest rains seem to have not hit the central or north central parts of the state as well as the eastern half. We will just have to see how accurate will be the 2-inch rainfall models for midweek.
The huge amounts that should have fallen last week seem to have been diverted by the standing high pressure over Iowa and eastern Nebraska. Thus, in the area around Grinnell, the first planters were moving on rolling, no-till ground on Friday and all fields near Iowa Falls thru northeast Iowa on Saturday.
If we are blessed to have another week of good weather a high percent of the corn acres will be planted by May 1. One noticeable item is that the people doing shovel and thermometer evaluations of the soil profile are finding the soils below 4 inches still seem cold and mucky.
The consensus on planting date for the last decade seems to be that the early planted acres have produced some of the best yields as the later planted acres were often delayed into mid and late May.
We will know the best days for planting when we see how the yields turn out this fall. In dry years early planting benefits the plants for about five reasons.
There is some apprehension about the wet clods that seem to exist a few inches below the surface.
Years ago a group of us ag company employees used to joke that by 2020 we would all be working or put out of work by the one big company that existed. We figured it was going to be named Acme, just like in the Road Runner cartoons.
At that time there were about 30 seed companies and about 20 chemical companies. That number has been whittled down by about 75 percent since then. That process continues as shown by the big contractions of the last six months.
Will those changes affect many people in Iowa for the good or the opposite.
The first of these was the outside investor spurred merger between Dow and Dupont. Dow was always the chemical company and Dupont was the coatings company. Both have very good chemists and scientist working for them, but there were new challenges as ag and the rest of the economy and competitors got larger once they were elevated to a global scale.
Once their three main competitors in the chem industry and their research budgets climbed above X hundred million dollars they had to compete financially to keep up with the Joneses.
Only one of those two has a pharmaceutical division, which may hurt them for overall research dollars, but elevates their ag focus versus the ROI of pharma of companies where pharma generates a higher percentage of revenue.
Now the people and teams in Midland and Indianapolis, plus those in Wilmington and Des Moines, get to move the chess players around the board to make the big decisions about their futures. At least we know who is playing and moving the pieces around.
Then the other big move was Chem China making the high bid for Syngenta. The Swiss company has one of the best and deepest product portfolio as well as ongoing research. They seem to have stubbed their toes once in a while and other companies seem to have tried to capitalize on those foibles.
China may have made the move as a defensive one in which they could purchase a futuristic thinking company with deep genetic pools of both feed grain and veggie seeds. This would let them control their food destiny.
At the same time their leaders and populace are forcing the discussion as to what type of grain and food they wish to consume, much like the U.S. and EU. One major question that exists is why J. P. Morgan Chase and Blackwater Inc. lined up the financing to help the deal go through.
Those two companies always extract funds from the deals they are involved in.
The corn planting calendar is still ahead of schedule. The current NASS survey of corn planting progress has the states of Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois at about 43 percent done, Missouri at 81 percent, Nebraska at 16 percent and the Eastern Corn Belt states at a wet 10 percent.
If the wet pattern continues moving through Indiana and Ohio corn growers may have difficulties getting much done until later. Time will tell.
The 16- through 36-row planters can speed planting up quite a bit, but the larger ones and the center fill ones need drier soils in which to operate.
Not all of them are equipped with tracks.
A decade ago there were breaks between when the corn planting was completed and when soybean planting began.
With many growers covering more acres and wet spells seemingly more prolonged, many will move directing into planting beans.
Will that be the correct thing to do this year? In the last 10 years farmers in central and southern Iowa who waited until at least April 25 to plant beans had emergence after the frost risk was minimized and they typically had higher yield potentials, though with an increased risk of SDS problems.
The one cloud on the horizon that exists is that several weather forecasters have mentioned an expected frost even for the first week of May.
If that happens in your area it would be best to not have any planted beans emerged.
Usually any early planted fields would be those with better drainage. The danger from SDS could be minimized by an application of micronutrients in furrow or early post or possibly using ILeVO or Heads Up seed treatment.
While most farmers recognize what SDS is, they often have not heard much about it being caused by a Fusarium vulgiforma fungus. Long-term use of a major systemic herbicide serves to kill off the Pseudomonas bacteria that kills the Fusarium.
Why the Fusarium species are tough to manage is because they can affect both corn and beans. Rotation does not help.
Even bean growers who wish to save the cost of having their seed treated, should ask to see which dealers are offering deals on fungicidal products to protect the young seedlings so they don’t have a damping off problem.
Remember that there is a second product that looked good in university trials in minimizing SDS problems at a less expensive cost.
That was one called Heads Up and sells for about $3 per acre.
One area still worth investing in for high yield soybeans is for products that are low cost that can boost branch number. I would sooner plant 135,000 seeds per acre in 30-inch rows and have each plant form multiple side branches for top yields than narrow row beans in a wet year in much of the state.
On loess soils or on rolling ground 15-inch rows can be managed well for good yields.
A hot topic at many farm shows and winter conferences was the use of drones to use in scouting fields and monitoring crop progress and for any problems before they become big problems.
Based on what I have seen drones capable of, and the many circular dead spots scatter at regular intervals through the corn fields when flown in a plane, many corn growers who might be flying their drones will be amazed at the number of fields showing that pattern.
I know that quite a few growers will be flying them this summer to keep up on happenings on their acres and trying to stay ahead of problems.
In a related manner did many of you read the stories in the Washington Post where Target Stores and some MIT scientists were working on a handheld scanner capable of measuring mineral levels in plants from a distance? Expect them to be commercialized soon.
They are not the only team working on such technology. How much behind will be sprayers that will directly inject the liquid micronutrient mixes on the go, geared to what is scanned by sensors on the front of the machines? It may be interesting to attend the AgriTechnica Show in Hannover to see which European company will be the first to offer them.
A high percentage of corn growers now recognize or acknowledge that their acres died too early last year – in many cases stalk quality was poor and they saw no second ears with kernels on them.
By now all of them should be strategizing about what they plan to do proactively to avoid a repeat of the same event. Plant health could be an even bigger issue this year as we are one more year into the problem. According to Iowa State University and University of Illinois there are now three more corn disease to reckon with in 2016.
Be safe in your field work.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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