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CROP WATCH

By Staff | Nov 17, 2017

We are now about five weeks from the actual start of winter. The days are several hours shorter and darkness comes about three hours sooner than it needs to. We have already experienced one of the arctic fronts that moved through quickly, which are more likely to stay around for weeks when they do a repeat in the December through Februar time period. It may sound crazy but I have heard of Midwesterners who relocated to the weather paradise of Hawaii but moved back within two years because they got tired of every day being 80 degrees with lots of sunshine.

One noted corn breeder and scholar educated me years ago in that the weather of the Midwest was influenced mostly by three factors, which were: the Rocky Mountains, which serves to channel the fronts that move in from the north and west during the fall and winter; the Gulf of Mexico which supplies that largest percent of the moisture during the year; and the Hudson Bay, which is a huge reservoir of cold water that serves to block fronts to the south and east instead of to the northeast. So how many more weeks of decent weather will we get before the ground begins to freeze up?

Field progress

There are few fields of corn left standing, but still enough that getting another week or so of harvest suitable conditions are vital to those growers. It was surprising how after the first four inch rain the combines were rolling a day or day and a half later since the cracks in the ground were so wide and the soil was so deep that the ground dried tremendously fast. That was not the case in early October and any rain of more than an inch forced a delay in field progress.

It will be interesting to see what the ear count for those laying on the ground after the October winds. Remember in the days before Bt hybrids or before farmers would treat if the second brood of corn borers reached threshold that ear drop could be a major problem. Given the fact that few stalk fields get grazed by cows anymore or have hogs run on them, those dropped ears could increase the sales and use of Fop or Dim herbicides next June. I had mentioned in a past column that agronomists with the University of Nebraska reported as many as 60 to 70 bushels of corn ears on the ground in the worst fields. We saw a similar problem in the fall of 2015 when the Clavibacter bacteria targeted the ear shanks. Many turned brown and slimy and were too decayed to hold on to the ear until the combines arrived. Thus the volunteer corn counts in the soybean fields in 2016 were some of the worst people had seen. Not all of the growers put two and two together on that issue.

Tillage

With the repeated intrusions of cold air this fall getting any fall tillage wrapped up as soon as possible was on most peoples’ minds. So the disk chisels and other heavy tillage tools were often operating the day after the corn was harvested. Will that have been the correct action?

This spring was one of the wettest ones seen in years and the tendency was to start the machinery operating as one could drive across the fields and hope that timely rains would help compensate for any compaction caused shallow rooting. With the big rains that were predicted most operators had to weigh the risk of getting planted weeks later than desired versus making ruts. As a result we have to ask if each farmer did any penetrometer probing in those fields to break up any existing compaction layers. And if any existed exactly how deep did any tillage tool work to perform the same task. Repeated rounds of freezing and thawing can break any hard layers in the top six inches, but any beyond that depth are likely to remain intact.

Yield estimates

Include me in the crowd of people who truly believed the NASS and USDA agencies were way to optimistic in their corn and soybean yield estimates. A high percentage of the crop got planted weeks late and stands were reduced in many of the major corn growing states. GDU accumulations were slow in happening and then the heat turn on about the time it quit raining over the southwest three-quarters of the state. Every walking and talking grower in the Midwest saw those problems and it did not place the potential for the crops on a great yield trajectory. We saw the fields that turned yellow and did not recover and the shallow kernels that often had begun to dent by late July, and in 2012 that was the kiss of death as far as kernel depth went. Now normally August is a hot and dry month not suited to helping a struggling crop improve in yield potential, as stress days can quickly do their damage if the soil moisture supplies have been depleted. There were many corn fields from Ames to way Northwest and West Central Iowa that showed the grayish color typical of impending death and severe moisture stress. But we began to receive enough small rains to help both the corn and bean crops to limp along until a few substantial rains arrived, and most days after August 1 were below 90 degrees. What would have happened to both crops if it had stayed as hot and dry thru August and early September as it had been in late June and most of July.

In the end the yields were better to much better than hoped for and expected. Most growers ended up with more bushels in the bins plus quite a bit of grain yet from 2016 if it was off farm storage. For the grain farmers the prices are still well below the cost of production, but at least that is typically better than a very low number of bushels to sell. It is typically some unexpected event or events that occur somewhere in the world coupled by efforts by grower groups to establish new markets or new uses that pull us out of such problems.

Biologicals in ag

A decade ago when someone mentioned they were using biologicals in their cropping operation or were trying to sell a grower such a product it typically prompted a fair degree of skepticism. That is not the case anymore as lots of good soil scientists generated the proof that their products had value, or enough small companies with dedicated science teams worked to sleuth out the value of new biologicals that the science and the products have gone mainstream. In the past the products were easier to get labeled and ready for market, but the consistence of performance was not always as consistent as hard chemistry was. By 2017 we tend to see that the performance is more consistent and the formulations create healthier organisms to the crop. And the smart companies have learned that pricing their products reasonable and commensurate with row crop budgets makes buying them much more palatable.

Another selling point is that with most good live biological products have efficacies and populations that increase from the date of application, versus efficiencies that decline or never increase from the date of application due to degradation or weathering. It is also possible that a microbial mix can have as many as 12 active molecules or peaks of activity versus a hard chemical that only has one active molecule. Multiple peaks of activity or active molecules also reduce the chance of resistance developing.

Be alert to a host of new products possibly being released for use in 2018. Part of that is due to that the cost of developing new hard chemistries has gotten so expensive. The second thing is that in crop production we often need certain things to happen in the soil, to the residue or to affect the plants in a certain way. And such products can assist growers in those tasks.

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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