Only two weeks left in 2017 means the New Year will be upon us soon. Already grain farmers have been attending meetings or events where speakers and the topics are geared towards the 2018 growing season, the inputs to use and new ideas to ponder and possibly put to use. I was in attendance and spoke at one up in Northwest Iowa last week and the first point of discussion was on input costs versus budget dollars. With the third year in a row of breakeven at best, there aren’t too many notches left in people’s belts when financial advisors tell listener to tighten down one more notch.
At the Farm News Winter conference two weeks ago the point of ethanol production and consumption was discussed. Back in the 80s it took major efforts by farmers and ag people to develop the ethanol industry to create new uses for grain and this generated new demand that ate up the corn surpluses. In the view that even a serious two month drought doesn’t seem to hurt corn or soybean yields very much, it will take serious efforts by commodity groups and hopefully a movement towards higher ethanol blends to use up the surplus amounts in storage. A good drought or other currently unforeseen weather or disease event in some part of the globe is not impossible. We shall see.
Meanwhile the Christmas holiday is this next week. May everyone have a joyous time with your family and friends.
I get updated with several different weather reports every day from a local major commodity advisor. Two things might fall into the notable category. At this point central Iowa received a quick dusting of snow once or twice so far this fall/winter, but none that could be called measurable. According to records 2017 is tied for second or third for the latest date for not having received any measurable amount of snow. The record of Dec 26th was set clear back in the late 1800s, and based on the forecasts for early next week, will not be broken.
In a science journal there was a story where two climate change scientists were using a new analytical tool that measured the rate of melting of glaciers in Antarctica and were now calculating how fast they would calve into the ocean with melting occurring from both the top and bottom sides. They were trying to warn everyone that lived along the coasts that were not at least twelve foot above sea level. The last corresponding news I had heard was that the reason the North Pole was losing its ice was that the added heating from the ‘ring of fire volcanoes’ under the polar plate was warming the ocean. In addition the continued shifting of the magnetic pole away from its normal axis was changing the water flows, while the ice at the South Pole was getting thicker because of very cold condition. Who is correct?
2017 in the rear view mirror: a look back at newsworthy events of the year
The big one in ag may be the dicamba debacle. Except for the release of two soybean sulfonamide herbicides back in the 1987 through 1990 era we have rarely been witness to the commercialization of a product that was like watching a slow moving collision between two oncoming trains. This time the crash may happen over three to four years. Any male with a touch of gray in their hair remembers spraying a product called Banvel on their corn and hoping that the weather stayed cool and calm for the next three to five days. In that era a majority of the beans were planted about two to three weeks after the corn was planted, so at the time of application most of the beans were not emerged. The product could also move several miles depending on wind speed.
Now we have a new group of marketers who hope to sell a very similar product into a market that is a lot more wary due to experience. This is while conditions seem a lot windier in the May and June time frame than years ago. The incidents of spray/volatilization drift were large enough and publicized enough so growers should have been more cautious this season. The weird planting season, wet soils, increase in broadleaf pressure, and increase reliance on custom application created a narrow spray window that was not open very long, thus applicators often cut corners and made applications when winds were borderline too windy.
There have been efforts to test new surfactants with spray mixtures to minimize the formation of small driftable particles. One well advertised product from Royal Oil gave good results in trials and is worth paying attention to. It did receive the company’s blessings for 2018. This may mean that a good Christmas present for your significant other or neighbor could be a wind gauge and thermometer.
Our drought of 2017
Looking at another weather publication, a year ago there were serious pockets of drought positioned in Georgia and Alabama. Since our droughts typically come from the southeast, that seemed to be a harbinger for us in the central Midwest. This year the driest spots on the drought monitor site are in north central Montana and in the southern half of Arkansas. Meanwhile about 75 percent of Iowa is now termed abnormally dry and shows up as yellow on the maps. Will be get the rain in very early spring so as to fill the profile to within 1 to 2 inches of being full, but still dry enough to not let a 1 inch rain keep us out of the fields?
Political turmoil on the national scene
2016 and 17 were definitely the year of political turmoil. The issues of ag trade and job/company migration factored into national debate and our daily lives. We likely should have listened more to Ross Perot back when he was running for POTUS. He predicted that the sucking sound of NAFTA would be that of the jobs being lost in the U.S. Ask the citizens of Webster City, the Amanas or a host of other communities if Ross was accurate in his assessment. The latest proposed treaty was the TPP, where the goal sounded good, but issues within the details spawned distrust. Mandating the sovereignty of most free countries to be under the jurisdiction of a number of multinational companies that will do anything for a buck was stretching the boundaries too far. Allowing the populace of a country to be sued by the alleged wronged company would be nuts.
In most industries when profits are slim the production of such goods declines. In agriculture the opposite is true. Thus growers are always seeking to grow more bushels to lower their cost per bushel of production. What new products work and what should an aggressive forward thinking grower put to use for 2018? In the coming week I will discuss what was learned from the high yield work at Dave Schwartz’s Verdesian research farm in the 2017 season. The yield range on the flat ground in 2017 this year was about 20 to 30 Bu/A above last year. In other words, high 200s to mid 300s with peaks up to 411 was the rule. Included in the plot were signaling compounds, a silica based product, and polymers to keep the nutrients fully available while minimizing leaching. Soil health was measured constantly because increasing it is a must. I will spell out the details in the future weeks.
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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