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By Staff | Sep 28, 2018

With harvest time approaching everyone connected to agriculture has to be hoping that it quits raining shortly and we have a perfect month of 65 to 75 degree weather. There will be no more weather fronts that drop four to 10 inches of rain across the northern one third of the state, like last week. A lot of the corn plants have been in a death spiral now since late July and with wet conditions the stalks that are already weak could continue to get softer.

Many operators who have done the math are hoping they can wait long enough that they could harvest corn dry enough they could put it straight into the bin with very little drying expense. Remember Charlie Hurburgh’s admonition he gave at the Farm Progress Show where he related what he was seeing. He believed that with the many stresses and poor health of the corn crop harvesting before the stalks got softer and lodging got worse, even at higher than desired moistures, was the best choice to make.

It could have been worse, as farmers in the eastern coastal already found out with Hurricane Florence. Their 24-plus inches that fell in a short time window was much more than the ground could absorb and it all had to run downhill. While the two states most affected are not huge corn and bean states their acres add to the total. They are major producers of cotton, tobacco, sweet potatoes, peanuts, poultry and hogs.

The damage to the above ground crops can be inspected quickly, but they will have to resume digging the below ground crop to evaluate their status. Most of those crops are graded and priced according to quality, so the degree of damage and if the crops don’t meet established standards, crops in low lying acres could be total losses. Hurricane Andrew hit the same area two years ago, but was a late Oct. storm. Florence arrived five to six weeks earlier and prior to much of the crop harvest.

Field observations

The common question coming in to me is what is with the early dying corn and why are many of the stalks getting soft already? With last week’s major rain events, growers are seeing that there are fields close to them where some of the stalks are collapsing. The last month of the growing season has been quite wet with many hours of leaf wetness across all of the state. In the northern one third of the state most of the summer, save for July, was excessively wet. Multiple stresses and bacterial attack weakened the plants, many of which tissue tests indicated were short of the major micronutrients, and the fungi were able to penetrate the cuticle and become systemic in the plants.

As the plants got into the later stages of kernel fill and saw most of its defense mechanisms came to a slow stall. Now we see diseases like Fusarium, Diplodia, Anthracnose and Physoderma releasing enzymes that dissolve the stalks. The best conditions that could happen now would be warm and dry. Until those conditions rule the stalks are likely to get softer.

Hybrids higher in calcium and silicon will be those most capable of standing well and remaining upright until the combines arrive. Too much K early can also allow the plants to form softer cuticles and less intact cell walls that are easier to invade. Most of the management steps that are typically recommended to increase yields such as increasing planting populations and promoting high K levels early have been found to have negative effects on stalk health and strength. Loss of nitrogen early in the season when the ground stayed saturated for all of June was a huge negative which poor budgets and lack of equipment and enough decent days to make any supplemental N applications was a perfect storm that doomed many acres in many acres north of Hwy 30.

There are enough acres of corn in Iowa to get a good test on the effects of the Si on influencing stalk strength in 2018. In 2017 the stalks were definitely stronger where that mineral was applied. In the rice, small grains and sugar cane areas of S. America the main use of that mineral is to bolster stalk or stem strength and physiologically keep fungal diseases out longer than normal.

Dicamba decisions

This was the fall when state ag departments and eventually the EPA were going to make a yes or no go decision on the conditional labeling of dicamba soybeans. Do they extend that label for future years or do they admit that the volatility issue is inherent with the herbicide?

No matter how tight the labels over application specifics were made, and often followed, it could not control the ability of the compound to gas off for days after application and drift for miles. That characteristic and damage done to neighboring farms, orchards, vineyards, woody and perennial plants, gardens leaving the trespassees often unable to identify the source of the problem and collect reasonable and multiple year damages went way beyond most past drift issues and entered into neighbor and rural societal arenas. Big and often foreign companies may not recognize that, but may have to.

The number of complaints in each state was typically above that in 2017. Growers and field inspectors were more aware of what symptoms to search for, but tracking the source for a product that was applied several days prior after the wind changed direction several times in the interval, made each source investigation tough. The tank cleanout issues still existed and still caused problems among custom and private applicators. If I were king I would not allow any further dicamba applications until the parties damaged in the past were paid for their losses.

Such complications were complicated during a season where sprayers were sometimes shut down due to rain, and the sprayers sat for three to four weeks before the fields were dry enough to operate again. I did see where individual operators who owned their own spray rigs could pick the right time, right wind speed, and correct day with minimal inversion threat and experienced no problems. I hope that whatever decision is made that more than just money influences the decision.

New bad weeds

Dr. Hartzler spent time over holiday weekends visiting sites and areas where Palmer amaranth was found in 2017. He gave decent marks to most, but not all of the sites. What he was not able to do or didn’t do was get into neighboring states and see how close to the border they have problems. I was out in Nebraska checking on BioEmpruv sprayed fields and walked into fields where I saw the characteristic tall, bushy Palmer plants with their very long and thick seed heads. Once you got close and felt the spiny stems you got confirmation that your visual evaluation was correct.

Jason Norsworthy, weed science professor at the Univ. of Arkansas and the successor to Ford Baldwin, told how in ‘good old’ boy country’ all the neighbors grabbed their favorite beverage and rove around the neighborhood periodically to spot those rogue plants before any seed was mature and dug them up so as to eliminate any seed production. The weed still got away from them. What will be our fate further to the north and east?

Weed zapper

Back nearly thirty years ago a company called Lasco produced a tractor mounted electrical powered bar that shocked and fried taller weeds in the fields. They seemed to do the job, but most ended up parked in the back of the sheds. Since then our weed profile has changed and now waterhemp and Palmer have increased in weed pressure placed on the crop and the seedlings emerge clear through August. Now two brothers, organic producers in Illinois, began to explore ways to eliminate the taller weeds and possibly grass cover crops growing in their fields. They found one of the old machines owned by an Iowa farmer, copied it and found that it seemed to do the job. The idea, prototype and apparently patent was acquired by two organic farmers and their father in Missouri and they are now refining the machine.

A producer in northwest Iowa bought one of the seventeen machines manufactured in 2017 and used it on their organic beans to take out taller weeds and later a taller rye planting. He and a producer near West Bend used this bar and achieved acceptable control with it. They compared it with having people walking the field to take out the weeds and saw an 80 percent reduction in cost with similar results. You can check out their WeedZapper.com website. They have several to sell yet for 2019. If you buy one, mention Brent from Sioux Center.

Things to do

Schedule any soil sampling that needs to be done. Consider apply products like BioDyne 501 to degrade corn residue, especially if corn will follow corn in 2019. It did the job last winter and should benefit yields in 2019 dramatically. It’s great way to manage residue.

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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