At this point the upcoming growing season is already looking like one long obstacle course. Poor economics, delayed planting, difficult to control weeds, cold wet soils and late freezing weather.
No one said it was going to be easy, but it isn’t supposed to be this challenging. On days where the sun shines and temps are in the mid 70s things look good. The problem is we have not had many of those days.
If you are one of the farmers in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin Ohio or even Missouri, that received a visit from Jack Frost last weekend, sometimes with temps in the mid-20s, the big question late last week was the effect of the freezing temps on the emerged crops, which were mainly corn, wheat or alfalfa.
Just as three noted individuals and weather advisors predicted months ago the cold air dropped down from Canada/Alaska and moved across the corn and wheat belt last weekend.
In Iowa parts or all of 19 counties were involved and signs of freezing temps were seen.
Most middle-aged growers have seen damage in past years and knew to look for plants that turned white after a few hours or days. The questions that came up were how to judge the damage and figure out what if anything to do about it.
The prudent advice was to give the plants about three to five days to try to regrow and push the spike back above ground. In most cases this was bound to happen. But in locations and situations where the temps had dropped below to 28 degrees or lower for several hours it was possible to freeze the growing point and kill the young plants.
Crop scouts in the affected areas were digging quite a bit and trying to determine which cultural or fertilizer practices contributed to any variety or management program contributed to better or poorer survival.
The general trends seemed to be that application of starter fertilizers that boosted sugar levels helped protect the plants. Heavy amounts of residue were a mixed bag in that it seemed to contribute to better or worse survival. It may have insulated the ground around the seedlings or retain the cold air.
In areas where the cold air either froze the ground deeper than 3/4 inch or seemed to penetrate the seed slot and killed the growing point, the event as well as poor emergence due to cold, saturated soils forced a number of growers to replant fields. As long as the calendar had not reached May 20 the thought that going into the season with a full stand of healthy plants was superior to accepting a poor stand so early.
In most cases any planted soybeans had not yet emerged, thus were not affected. In wheat-producing states growers were concerned about headed wheat head being sterilized by the freezing temps.
It was a justified concern. Alfalfa plants were also at risk of being affected, though the crowns typically aren’t killed.
The past week was also a time where corn growers were able to get into their fields to make stand counts to see how perfect their stands were or if they did not match their standards.
So far there seems to be a wide variation in stands. Some are at 34,000 when they planted at 36k while some that planted at the same rate are counting only 28 to 29K.
There are others who planted at 32K and ended up with stand less than desired. Cold and wet soils in the presence of lots of Pythium have to be a factor. When tracking seed size, shape and weight there also seem to be interactions. Having seed weights at 45 pounds or heavier does seem to help establish better stands, likely due to higher minerals content. Research done by a good researcher in Canada verifies such a finding.
Soil conditions also seem to have affected stands. Where residue levels are high or the ground was cloddy it has been possible to find more seedlings that had problems with getting roped up and not being able to push the spike above the soil surface.
Based on insect trap findings moth flights of black cutworms and armyworms happened several weeks ago and the alerts are out to be watchful in fields where the vegetation or residue levels were attractive to the adults. Be sure to keep an eye out for plant clipping or leaf feeding.
One other insect to keep track of, in particular in corn fields with lots of residue was the stinkbug. The early damage is difficult to spot because it consists of a small feeding scar on the small stem, but manifests as stunted plants that are totally unproductive.
In alfalfa the problem insect has been the alfalfa weevil larvae. They tend to eat and skeletonized the leaves of the small growth second cutting plants.
The main plant diseases to be observant are those occurring in corn as well as wheat.
In corn it would be the seedling rots such as Pythium or Fusarium. Those will show up as browned roots or stems. There is not much to be done as curative steps.
In wheat early leaf lesions are appearing already. Fungicides will need to be applied to control leaf rusts.
A few good researchers are involved in trying to help the citrus growers in their fight against a bacterial disease affecting their trees.
When you find out that many of those groves have not produced any marketable fruit in three to four years it becomes apparent that they don’t have much time to solve the problem.
Now several of the researchers seem to be making great headway and those are the ones concentrating on tree nutrition, remediating the soils and having the growers change their methods and products used in weed control.
From this work we have learned about a new polymer that is helping them make foliar-applied products last much longer and be more effective – called Argosy. In the product sheet it is advertised as helping to wrap the plant with saran wrap to envelope the leaves with the nutritional product, fungicide or insecticide that had been applied.
It seems to be working great in that it has allowed citrus growers to shave their herbicide and insecticide rates significantly and use two applications per year rather than five.
Hmmm, that sounds like something that may fit here with quite a few different products. Knowing the product has been used in the medical field on heart stints for years and is safe as well as being affordable we are going to be trying it this season to see how it works here.
More of the advances in the future for Ag seem to be with biological and polymers. Learn about them when possible.
So with planting completed for most growers and the small plants are now emerged and growing, what is next?
The season is just starting. Be scouting your fields to check for stands, insects, and any signs of nutrient shortages. What I have seen in corn and verified via tissue testing have been boron shortages.
Being this element is important early to determining where sugar is moved to in the plant and later in helping to form kernel sites, and it is deficient in about 90 percent of soil tests, applying it in small amounts in season is important.
Pulling leaf samples, sacking them in aerated paper bags and send them into the lab is easy and important. Good luck with your scouting.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.
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