It is now mid October and winter conditions with snow have arrived in parts of the mountain and Great Plain west and the Northern Cornbelt states. In the years since 2009 we typically have wrapped up half or more of the bean harvest and often 50 percent of the corn by late October. In the seasons prior to 2009 when the corn crop stayed green until the first frost/freeze, the harvest began and ran later. In the last decade our harvesting and hauling capacity has also increased dramatically with wider heads and larger class combines. While all of those improvements help speed our fall harvest they are all dependant on having enough dry weather to permit field traffic.
We haven’t had much of that since Sept 1st, when the first big storm system moved through and parked itself across the Midwest. Then came the second and finally third major systems induced by warm, moisture laden gulf moisture and cold pulses from the northwest that ended up being blocked by high pressure fronts in the east. The end results now are that a high percentage of the soybeans remain in the field with seed and plant quality in various stages of decline, while the corn plants continuing to fall prey to stalk rots and grain quality at risk from ear molds.
Weather conditions need to change and quickly if we are to have a decent chance to get the fall tasks completed before snow arrives and stays. Let’s see: harvesting; grain drying and hauling; soil sampling; any tillage; fertilizer applications; needed manure applications; fall tiling; and finally machinery clean up and storage before winter weather arrives.
By now most growers have seen the internet pictures of conditions up in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana where measureable snows have fallen on unharvested spring small grains. Harvest progress will be slow for them and there will be field losses. As of Sunday afternoon with our lawns covered with snow, we can truthfully say that our 2018 snow free season in Iowa lasted a few days less than six months.
It could be worse. We have our blizzards and tornadoes. Blizzards last two to three days and the snow eventually melts. Tornadoes normally cover a narrow path. Hurricanes like Florence and Michael have caused major problems in the southeastern states with their wind damage, destruction of infrastructure, and the flooding. Twenty to 40 inches of rain are almost unimaginable and the repairs needed to houses, buildings and businesses will take a long, expensive task.
Is it a matter of there being more storms or have we seen a larger percentage of the population want to move to warmer climate states with lower elevations and close proximity to rivers and oceans? The population growth in North Carolina, Virginia and Florida has been dramatic in the last two decades and houses have been built in areas where the natives knew were inundated periodically. Now the farmers in those southeastern states who raise crops such as peanuts, veggies, pecans, cotton, Citrus and stone fruits, and assorted others are faced with harvesting what is left, preparing for the next short season crop, or begin to get ready for the 2019 season.
Status of the soybean crop
As expected the soybean crop and the yields seen so far vary widely depending on planting date, topography, internal drainage of the soil and now plant health. We expected many of those factors as they occur every year. We could not react to the five to six week rainy period which now threatens grain quality enough that a sizeable portion of the crop is at risk.
The moisture situation has been with us all season. The plants don’t like to sit in a pond at all, so in the northern half of Iowa the landscape has been dotted with many small and medium sized lakes since the rains began in April. A decent percentage of them were replanted once or twice with some of the replants surviving and actually forming decent pods. Most of those ponds are once again full with many of the pods underwater. SDS did not explode as badly across the entire state as we expected, but north of Hwy 3 many of the bean fields were affected by the disease as they approached maturity.
The weed control measures everyone carefully planned months in advanced often fell apart as many sprayers were idled for a month while the rains fell and the waterhemp, marestail, and lambsquarter plants grew larger in the warm and wet conditions. While some fields looked decent most had pockets or areas where the weeds seem to have survived the battle. With that note researchers at Kansas State announced their findings and confirmed the development of Dicamba and Fluroxypyr (Sterne) resistant waterhemp.
The issue now will be split pods with beans falling on the ground and beans sprouting in the pods. Most growers are asking what to expect when and where these two things are happening. The pods are more likely to split if they have been completely dry for several weeks and have now gone through several wetting cycles. When moisture penetrates through the pod or via the cracked pod and the swelled beans stay warm, those seeds can germinate. I had mentioned a few weeks ago that during one of our trips to Brazil the farmers in Mato Grosso and Parana had received rain for 35 straight days. We saw fields where the seeds had either sprouted or turned into a brown, smelly, mushy substance that could not be sold as soybeans. They ended up no-tilling corn right into the standing bean plants. Most of the beans I have looked at here have not hit that stage, but some have turned brown. In Missouri, drought affected beans that were harvested early and were discolored were at first docked $.20 -$.30/Bu and later $3.00/Bu.
What I’ve seen is that once soybeans in the pod have sprouted they will split and shed the seed coat to become two non-round halves. Those halves are likely to get blown out the back of the combine and not end up in the grain tank. Your plants may have formed 45, 50, or 60 Bu of grain but 10 or 15 Bu/A may not make it into the grain tank. Before you begin combining any field it may be best to evaluate each field for split pods, sprouting beans, or any discoloration that could lead to a grading discount. Are just the pods at the top nodes affected, the top five nodes or all? Let your insurance agent know what you are finding. The crop insurance agents have been discussing these factors internally in recent days and have been alerting their agents how to handle each situation. The problem covers the western and northern part of the Cornbelt where Sept. and Oct. have stayed wet. If there is no market for damaged grain close to your location, what value do they have? Gestating animals and poultry are very susceptible to any mycotoxins. We will know more in a month, but right now it is a situation is new to most. There are three or four articles posted at the Chat N Chew Cafe through Purdue University that cover the topic of moisture affected bean plants and grain. Realize that seed companies may also be in danger of having many of their seed fields affected and having to scramble for good germ seed.
The brown and darker soybeans have been affected by a mix of several fungal pathogens: Anthracnose, Cercospora and Phomopsis are the main ones. There are also secondary ones that have moved in hoping to find a food source. These fungi will cause seed discoloration. Typically if 7 or 7-plus percent of the beans are discolored the grain could be discounted according to federal standards.
The corn harvest
After we get the beans harvested and in the bin, if quality permits, the emphasis will be on corn. Many of the plants have been on the health decline since early August, so with the warm temps and constant rains since Sept. 1 the stalk quality in most fields has gone downhill. While driving from Ames down to Guthrie Center in the rain on Oct. 1 the plants in about 1/3 of the corn fields were knee with the stalks disintegrating. Harvest will slow and pick up reels and rolly-cones on the heads will be helpful.
Any long lasting input products to boost or preserve plant health and stalk quality such as fungicides and/or BioEmpruv has been making harvest easier. Farmers who also applied the Calcium Silicate product are seeing a benefit to plant health and stalk intactness. This is mentioned in most of the research articles from S. America or Asia where they typically Si products to grass crops such as rice, wheat and sugar cane. It acts both as a fungicide and strengthener to stems and stalks.
Ear molds on corn should also be scouting for. Lighter and quicker opening husks are great for faster grain drydown but also expose the kernels to more weathering and fungal attack. Heavily infected kernels are typically lighter in weight and get blown out the back of the combine or removed with the grain cleaner. Livestock feeders will be alert to where any off grade mycotoxin laden grain was delivered to any ethanol plant that took in such grain as the DDGs or gluten can concentrate the toxins and cause problems with any animals eating feed containing the fungal byproducts. Poultry, dairy, all gestating animals, and many young meat animals have all seen problems according to DVMs versed on the problems.
As the grain harvest continues examine your field records and see which fields need to have their soil analyses updated. The common recommendation is still to test every four years and oftener if heavy rates of lime have been needed or a rapid build for any element has been recommended and implemented.
And if your regular fertilizer dealer typically handles the sampling, request a more complete analysis which includes micros and base saturation figures to be provided. Figuring out the optimum fertility program is more difficult without this information.
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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