April has arrived and so far the weather has been cool and wet. While there is a great saying about March’s lamb and lion scenario none exists for April. We are getting the showers as predicted, but no guarantees as to how many days it will rain and what sort of amounts will fall.
While there have likely been other years where the February weather was warmer and nicer than April’s, I don’t remember any.
Good-sized portions of the southwest part of Iowa, and then Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and the northern half of the four delta states were dry until a week ago. Since then the rains have been plentiful.
Now is not a bad time to fill most of the profile, yet leave a 1- to 2-inch moisture deficient in the top foot to serve as a moisture sink to keep minor rainfall events from keeping us out of the fields for more than one or two days.
We are typically assured of getting 75 to 80 percent of trendline yields with a full profile, but now the wait is on for decent weather to dry the soils and allow the machinery to begin rolling. So far I have not heard of any corn in the ground in the state, but did learn of a small field near Hannibal where the operator had free time and planted around Feb 10.
At least he could have his replanting done by May 1.
Decision time yet ?
With an expected delay due to the forecast for measurable rain Sunday through Wednesday or Thursday most operators recognized that they had more office time or machinery prep time. Quite a few of the people I am visiting with are still making input decisions.
Fertilizer items are generally settled since most of needed to be booked earlier and the application equipment lined up. There are still decisions left on what if any stabilizer to use.
Most of the seed needs are lined up, though there are still operators who care little about being first in line to try to grab what hybrids have been touted as the second coming, yet little performance data exists.
Now is when the bargain hunters can find seed supplies that are still looking for a home rather than cause added carrying costs for corn seed and possibly disposal expense for treated bean seed. Most companies expect a certain percentage to be left in cold storage for replant needs or as buffer in case any calamity occurs. Good germ seed can stay in condition for even five years.
Herbicides are generally locked in for preplant applications. There may be a little switching on posts depending on what the situation calls for based on timing and label restrictions. The biggest changes since fall were the release of the different Dicamba formulations, application restrictions and cleanout language.
At this time their reception has been tentative at best. With the publicity of the two farmer shootings in the Delta states, distant memories about vapor drift events, inversion realities and recognizing that those are somewhat out of an operators control and the lengthy cleanout procedures on non-dedicated sprayers most farmers are taking a wait and see attitude, wanting to let someone else dive in first.
At a meeting in northwest Iowa the host asked how many farmers were going to plant and spray then this season only two farmers raised their hands in a sheepish manner. Quite a few had heard of the research done by a major company and a well qualified university researcher who developed Dicamba resistant waterhemp after two seasons of less than full labeled rates. That is quick.
One section in the recent Progressive Farmer was devoted to managing particle drift. The issue has caused the old Redball company redesign and start building the hooded banders again for 3-point and self-propelled sprayers.
In areas where cereal rye has caught on and the rolling hills make no-till more common, farmer interest is more into planting or drilling beans into standing rye, followed by crimping the rye after the beans have emerged.
In this time of tight budgets more growers are wondering more about what items like a proven or promising biological or established micronutrients could be applied in-furrow or early post to add to plant growth, plant health or affect plant architecture. There is less university data to support product performance because many of the companies involved are smaller or regional and don’t have the budgets to finance any multi-year trials or do any large scale marketing.
There are recent cases where superior yield results have gone unpublished because the underdog finished first ahead of the bigger budgeted companies.
The things I have been trying to stay current with are the mineral trials going on with good agronomist or established biochemist teams where they are developing products that boost plant health or size and health of the roots.
Except for the yield winners who have center pivots to apply timely watering the fields with the larger crop roots typically win the yield game.
In recent years we have gotten to interact with the top fertility researchers in Brazil and learned a few things about minerals they can apply to dramatically growth and root formation. The results have been good up here and we hope to get replicated plot work done up here this summer.
Again it is the smaller companies who are making progress in this area. It’s not glamorous work and does not involve any sexy gene tweaking but the results have been encouraging.
Humates, the carbon-based products, are also getting more attention. Ten years ago the popular gospel was that they were fairy dust type products without merit. Then the soil labs in different countries, including the lab in Ames, began to verify that these products, when used in tandem with minerals and hormones could beneficially affect plant growth enough to boost yields and fertilizer efficiencies.
Now we see different proponents of soil health urging more labs to offer testing of the water soluble carbon levels in the soil. These liquid or powdered carbon forms are the food for soil microbes that keep the biological cycles active, thus spurring nutrient release.
Two weeks ago this paper was kind enough to cover the high yield field trials that I got to participate in last summer. It has people interested in high yield because many producers recognize they are more likely to benefit from becoming better producers rather than trying to expand acres without improving their cropping skills.
The BioEmpruv proved to keep the corn plants green, alive and filling an additional three- to four-plus weeks, but it is not a silver bullet.
I mentioned previously that the common denominator between high performing fields were good biological activity scores as measured by Midwest or Ward Labs performing the Haney analysis on soil samples from those fields.
Thus producers who want to go down that path first have to learn what the Haney test consists of, how to sample for it, and what the results tell them. The sampling procedure is like other sampling, except that if a row crop farmer in the Midwest has been managing, fertilizing and managing the residue and using similar herbicide programs in their different fields similarly for more than five years most will have similar scores with variance due to soil type, base saturation levels, and degree of aeration.
In other words similar, yet potentially quite different. Getting a few fields tested gives you a starting point and some idea of where you are beginning from.
Once you know where your fields score, low single digits/high single digits or mid teens, should indicated the ability of the biology in the soil to release nutrients that can be moved into the roots and contribute to plant growth and grain formation.
Improving your Haney score can take different pathways.
Your starting point, how fast you hope to build and projecting what your budget allows you to spend will then allow you to develop your cropping plan.
Cover crops help in that the more sugars formed in their leaves and pumped out their roots, the more food the microbes have to thrive on and reproduce with. One crop advisor recommends that tilting the microbe population towards being fungal in nature is something he achieves by including solubilized fish in his spray mixes.
PLFA (Poly Lipid Fatty Acid) tests determine the number and type of little critters in the soil that serve to release nitrogen from the microbial population.
Another advisor likes to recommend setting up brew tanks using peat to reintroduce the little critters if their populations have been decimated by pesticide applications. So it really does sound like a person who is charged with housing and feeding a zoo full of microscopic animals.
That is what makes the process confusing, intriguing and purposeful.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or www.CentralIowaAg.com.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page