As the final week of the year approaches we all get to do our personal review of the year and in the case of farmers, get to determine if it was a year where our personal goals as to production and economics were met.
In most cases the production goals for both major crops were likely achieved and in the economic evaluation, commodity prices are mostly out of our control, so we can just hope that the markets evolve in a upward direction.
What will the next season bring? Will the western Midwestern states experience a close-to-normal temperature and rainfall year, as several forecasting services are predicting? Then will that lead to a drier- and warmer-than-normal eastern Corn Belt region, where yields are limited enough to lower overall U.S. grain supplies?
Our grain-producing counter parts in South America seemed to have gotten off to a good start with spring rains arriving on time and the planting windows being optimum for trend line yields.
Reading the latest Browning Newsletter their prediction is somewhat murky, in that the switch from the previous El Nino to the predicted upcoming La Nina is not clear cut and seems to be switching back to being neutral. About 55 percent of the continental U.S. is now under dry conditions, and we must be in that zone as very little rain fell through the last half of October through late December.
Under the dry topsoil our profile has to be full. Typically the optimum situation is to be an inch or two short of full to leave space for any 1- or 2-inch rain. In that scenario Elwynn Taylor’s observance that if we have a full profile going into the growing season, we are 80 percent sure of a trendline yield.
With today’s planter sizes with 16 to 24 row rigs are common. A slight delay a not big deal anymore. The biggest issue is likely drainage capacity if tiles are draining into a slow-running river, ditch or creek.
In the past few years getting planted early to maximize grain fill days before the corn died 4 to 6 weeks early was an important consideration. Now with BioEmpruv to keep corn fields green through September, such a threat is mostly eliminated.
Corn or bean acres
For the past several months the ratio between corn and bean prices was near 2.9, indicating that raising beans was typically a better prospect than raising $3 corn.
If that figure holds through the spring planting window we could see that 3 to 5 million acres-to-bean swing.
With urea being priced equal to 82 percent waiting to apply N on swing acres or opting for beans is more of a late-season decision without the price penalty on N costs.
China’s continued need for soybeans to supply its population with protein is still the big driver on bean prices. That means that any interruption in South America’s ability to produce a good bean crop could produce a bump in bean prices here.
A year ago when we were visiting and working with their plant pathology people, all growers were relying on strobe/triazole/carboxamide 3 way mixes to control the early and more severe rust problems.
How long the carboxamide family will last under such heavy use is the X factor.
I stand corrected on some of the Dakota Access Pipeline problems seen in the Farm News territory. When it was so wet last October most farmers knew it was too wet to do any harvesting or tilling. Pipeline crews were still sloshing through the mud and compacting the soils.
Then piling soft dirt on severely compacted subsoil as was done could create a long-term problem when the roots will be restricted from growing deep into the subsoil.
Shannon Gomes, from Waverly, is the go-to-expert on mitigating pipeline installation problems. In cases, he is called out even a decade later when the damage can still show up.
More is known now about cover crops and how restoring the biological component of the soil is important to remediation. That would mean that supplying a carbon-based fertilizer, possibly some gypsum, and doing deep tillage to get oxygen deep into the soil will be the best program to use.
There was work done in Washington state and at the National Soil Lab using Perfect Blend fertilizer on sandy soils.
The work showed it helped form black topsoil down to 8 to 10 inches in the first and second year of application.
I have previously mentioned our research work in growing high corn yields in the Guthrie County. We utilized several products in the trials. There were stabilizers applied such as Avail and Nutrisphere to increase P and N availability during the season.
We also used a product called “Take Off,” which is a signaling compound from Los Alamos and Verdesian Plant Sciences. It is meant to direct nutrient scavenging and efficient use of those
We also used BioEmpruv to fight Clavibacter bacteria, which helped keep the plants green and filling through late October.
When yield checks were taken the best areas produced 280 to 340 bushel-per-acre yields.
The tough part then was and is to figure out the yield benefit from each component.
In a systems approach that is tough and each has its role. It’s like a football team where the quarterback can only be as good as each offensive lineman.
In duplicating those yields we will be recommending that growers look at each step and see if they can do the same.
In examining these and other high-yield operations the biggest factor that must be achieved will be for growers to boost their Haney soil biology score between 8 to 10 and preferably 11 to 13 or higher.
That means that most growers will need to start by having Midwest Labs or Ward Labs performing that analysis on their representative fields. Then the issue will be to teach growers how to raise their scores at the cheapest cost.
Will it be the application of biologicals, use of cover crops, applications of microbe food, or the cessation of doing things that kill microbes? It is mostly likely going to be a combination of numbers 1, 3, and 4, while learning how to manage 3.
Over the late fall months I was alerting you to different conferences where there were valuable pieces of information presented.
One good conference was with Acres in Omaha in early December, where great soil microbial researchers presented and most solutions were of the soft chemistry type. The aim was to work with more sustainable practices that promote soil health.
They also recognize that we produce food for people and their health depends on it being safe and nutritious. These began in 1972, so this was their 45th season.
There will be a big Soil Health Conference in Ames on Feb 16-17 and the list of speakers look good.
The goal is to present ideas on how to boost soil conservation and soil health with the goal of saving our soil resources, keeping our water clean while also boosting yields.
It should be well worth attending both days.
Right now ISU and its Soil and Plant Analysis Lab are setting the bar among land grant universities in the Midwest.
There will be speakers from Minnesota, Nebraska, South and North Dakota and Missouri, as well as farmers from within the local areas who have been successful in boosting both soil health and yields.
One will be a well known southeast Iowa farmer who had 300-plus bpa corn yields from fields that stayed green and healthy through October.
In other words they have done it and contributed to the knowledge bank.
This is the second annual conference, so they have some catching up to do. To be valuable they will also have to inform growers what practices and products, and which fertilizers or pesticides do harm to the little critters in the soil.
Look up the Feb 16th conference and consider attending.
Happy new year.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or www.CentralIowaAg.com.
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