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Crop watch

By Staff | Sep 4, 2018

With the end of the 2018 growing season getting closer there is still much uncertainty about what sort of yields farmers in different parts of the Midwest can expect. The ProFarmer Crop Tour took place through the central part of the Midwest and their guesses were about 177 and 53 Bu/A nationwide for corn and soybeans respectively.

While those figures may be matched in parts of the states included in their survey, growers in different growing regions such as north central IA, south central Minnesota and most of Missouri are quick to point out that whole field yields will be much, much lower than the survey predicted.

We are close enough to the ‘too much rain’ epicenter that we have driven past the damaged fields for months and know the yields will be high variable and that it takes many acres of very high yields to balance out the very low yields that will be common in the affected areas.

As in what several farmers said at a Thor country music event this past Saturday evening, it takes several hundred acres of very high yielding corn to combine with the zero to 70 Bu/A parts of many fields that either sat in two feet of water for the better part of a week before the water left. At the Saturday night event they had a very good male country singer, Jason Brown and his band, playing for the 290 person crowd for 2.5 hours.

National event and scrutiny

Everyone who has kids or grandkids has to feel for the citizens of Brooklyn and family of the girl that died. Iowa and most neighboring states are supposed to be safe places to raise kids where they can run without too much supervision. As kids we stayed busy baling hay or straw, raising livestock, or other chores on the farm, but we were still able to pal around with neighborhood kids without fear of any threatening persons wandering around.

On Sunday the DM Register ran a front page story about the number of unregistered foreign workers who now do the work that many natives prefer not to perform. I would give the Nobel Prize to the guy who invented the skid loader, though it was twenty five years too late.

An acquaintance of mine is a native of Uganda and works as an ag consultant in the strawberry producing area around Watsonville, CA. I asked him if they could round up enough laborers when it came time to pick the berries. His reply was that they could round up 45 year old, gray beard Hispanic workers, but that younger people 40 years old and younger preferred a computer job as an alternative.

That seems to point to the need to allow in such laborers, as we see many of the concrete and construction crews tend to be heavily foreign born. The same goes for poultry, hog and diary operations where lots of hand labor is required. There are efforts to mechanize and robotize the harvesting and repetitive movement jobs, with intricately designed equipment typically imported from Germany or France.

We need a good, all encompassing discussion, where all segments of the economy that are labor intensive get to share their views.


In most years inhabitants of the cold upper Midwest typically are envious of the Hawaiian people and their perfect climates. That was not the case now as Hurricane Lane dropped 10-15 to as much as 40 to 51 inches of rain on parts of the island chain. The flooding has been horrific with major damage to their roads, bridges and harbors.

In recent years there have been efforts by dedicated, forward thinking people who recognized that their state had a high degree of vulnerability to food shortages if the delivery boats missed two days of deliveries. Any delay or disruption would cause the grocers to would run out in two days. That happened as inhabitants prepared for Lane’s arrival. Even before they were unsure of the docks surviving.

Expect those efforts to being more self-sufficient to intensify once the waters recede. No one knows when the next hurricane, tsunami or earthquake could occur on those volcanic islands. They have to be more food sufficient soon.

The crops

I have not been east of the Mississippi much this summer, but the reports tell of many regions looking very good with an excellent yield forecast. Here in many parts of Iowa, southern Minnesota and in most of Missouri, the yields will be measurably lower than in 2017. There were just too many problems and delays in getting the corn and beans planted and then trying to manage them as the season progressed. The list of problems is a long one from delayed planting, wet soils where the roots stayed shallow and nitrogen loss became a reality.

In all the combination of too wet, too dry, shallow rooting, lost nitrogen, greensnap or otherwise damaging winds, and high night time temps took their toll. We know what good corn looks like, and we have seen bad corn before. This year we will often see both in the same field. Concurrently drowned out area often have a negative effect over an area twice as big as the actual pond.

Will the ProFarmer survey and yield estimates be accurate or ignore the negative effects of reduced grain fill?

I have been checking a number of local fields and am seeing lots of early dying corn plants. The first leaves on the corn plants that should turn brown are the husk leaves, not the upper leaves. Some of the symptoms were caused by the plants scavenging for any forms of nitrogen to complete grain fill, with excessive rains and dry soils partially to blame. Low mineral levels led to fungal disease problems that destroyed photosynthesizing leaf tissue.

A large part of the damage was done by the same bacterial disease that has plagued corn production since 2009. In the fields I check over the weekend all of the browned corn plants had the brown mottling indicative of the pathogen. The Ag Dia kits will confirm its presence. The completely brown plants showed very shallow grain fill and very loose kernels. The latter had already black layered while the former had not. Remember that with normal plant maturation the kernels should form the black layer before the husks or other leaves brown. Having the ear flip down before the black layer is negative for yield. Be sure to monitor for stalk quality issues as the stalks could melt down under wet conditions.


The big farm show of the three “I” states is this week in Iowa. It has rained quite a bit over the last weeks but the permanent roads will keep the mud away from halting traffic.

The Aug 20th field day

Our crowd at the Guthrie Center Verdesian research farm went very well with about 200 farmers in attendance. It poured rain most of the day preventing group tours through the plots. Two weeks earlier and only 4.5 weeks without a rain the corn looked perfect. On that date a few of the plots were showing a bit of firing. No black or brown layering had occurred yet.

A Saturday inspection of each of the treatments included ear size counts and SPAD readings to be made with it being possible to see which product combinations showed the largest ears, best plant health, highest SPAD readings and least incidence of firing.

The list of speakers was long and full of people who captured the attention of the audience. Many of them had never spoken to any audience in the state, but will in the future due to the potential relevance of their input products. We had a crew taping the presentations and are making the thumb drives available to interested people after the film editing is completed. Our goal was to lay out a pathway that introduces producers to regenerative principles placing emphasis on soil and plant health. A balance of inputs rather than extremes and relying on solid plant nutrition was stressed

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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