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By Staff | Dec 14, 2018

Today and several days this week are supposed to hold temps above freezing, which has been a rare occurrence in the days following Thanksgiving. Maybe things are looking up and the toughest part of winter is over with. Not. Here we have been thinking and acting like it has been winter, and that season won’t arrive for another week. When winter finally does arrive and then decide to end in March, April or May we will likely say goodbye and good riddance in very stern language. If this is global warming I would sure hate to see what global cooling would feel like.

The news lines were buzzing late in the week with news from the G20 side discussions. The issue was the tariff tiff between the U.S. and China along with the IP protection stance of the Asian party. There was a good and friendly supper meeting between the U.S. and Chinese delegates amid hopes that sales of American ag products to China would be resuming shortly. This would be a welcome step as having it happen sooner than later would mean fewer lost soybean bushels from the 2018 and 2019 seasons exported to our largest trading partner. The rumors and promises have been released but grain firms are waiting for the transactions to be solidified. Let’s keep our fingers crossed as this is the time when decisions are being made and inputs are lined up or purchased. Knowing budgets would help this process.

My thoughts on this are that there are dollars and profits in food, just not enough in producing commodities. In what area can a producer get closer to the consumer to capture those profits? The stories and history of individual or groups of producers who have solved that riddle are always interesting.

Late season field work

There were a few disk rippers, disks, and rippers operating one to two weeks ago when warmer nights allowed some degrees of thawing of the top few inches of soil. The rigs that were operating were running into lots of mud building up on the blades and shanks. I had heard earlier about guys that were giving fall tillage one last shot and reporting the going was slow and they were breaking shanks and many had called a stop to that work. In most cases it was growers who were watching corn/bean prices and figured if they were going to plant much second year corn they had to get the stalks at least worked down.

There were times in years past when temps warmed up in Feb and March and farmers were able to till a sizeable percentage of their acres as a result. If the forecast that just came out Sunday morning applying to the Dec 14th thru 22nd comes to fruition another 6 to 10 day reprieve this month. Will it be enough to allow any additional fall ammonia to be applied? From the reports on 82 percent pricing, supplies, and paid for contracts being torn up by the large suppliers lots of decisions would have to be made in a very short time period. Stay tuned. There may be some very unhappy campers in about ten days.

Facts and conclusions about the

2018 season

As we review the season and studying harvest data we like to figure out what we learned and what the take home lessons are. After the wackiest weather season of the last 20 or 30 years there are a few that stand out from 2018. The first might be that early planting of both corn and soybeans seemed to produce the better yields, even when the soil temps seemed to be too cool.

Secondly that air/water management was crucial, meaning that having or providing for good drainage was important in having a fully functioning root zone and system. The lighter soils and hill tops often yielded better than the heavier soils and more productive soil.

The third take home what that good nitrogen management pays. Nitrogen stabilizers or smaller doses timed to match plant needs are critical to producing top corn yields. As more crop management steps are aligned with good soil health practices, growers will see this get easier to accomplish. Lastly, viewing good plant health as a season long management program, where sufficient mineral levels are maintained and residue/inoculum levels are managed rather than just applying a rescue fungicide is something to strive for. Most growers know that keeping the plants green through late September maximizes grain fill and weight. After this year they are less likely to the accept the bull crap excuses for the corn or bean plants turning yellow or brown three to five weeks early. Those last bushels often represent the profit for growers. If we are trying to learn about soil health and the benefits from it, we have to think about the little critters that maintain that health. What are the effects of every crop protection product being applied? Are they chloride or fluoride based?

Soil sampling yet

A lot of soil sampling that was supposed to be done this fall did not get completed. Is there a chance it will warm up enough in the next two weeks to get this done on fields that have not been sampled in the last four years? Be ready if in your locale this happens. Knowing what the mineral levels are in each of your fields and what areas are deficient can be worth big dollars.

Planter updates

It is often said that the most important piece of machinery on the farm is an accurate and updated planter. That admonition is true as getting great stands increases yields. The issue then bccomes ‘do I buy a new planter or look at rebuilding my used one if the frame is good and it sized right for my operation?’

Those can be a high dollar questions. A few mid-sized growers I know went the retrofit route, adding hydraulic down pressure and high speed equipment. They found they could boost their ground speed enough to have their 12 or 16 row planter gain enough capacity to act like a bigger machine. Central fill can be a time saver, but in wetter springs the center load makes going through wet areas more difficult. Identifying your needs for your operation is critical when planning changes to your planter.

Two ag conferences

A year ago I attended and spoke at the BioNutrient Food Conference out in MA. The attendees were more the mid-size and larger veggie producers and buyers across the country. New ways to handle higher dollar crops and the soon to be developed food scanners were common topics.

This past week several of us drove to Louisville for the Acres Conference. The themes were the newer biologicals coming to market, soil health and management, and producing for the end user markets. The well known self described ‘Lunatic Farmer’ Joe Salatin was there to present and give the main keynote address. The only complaint I had was that his 90 minute talk was so accurate and entertaining it was not long enough.

We learned the details on the $370 dollar food scanner that is being marketed and shipped out to producers and consumers by the end of December. They are patterned after the X-Ray defraction scanner from Bruker except they are using LEDs rather than X-Rays. The new meters currently measure minerals levels while people like to have a gauge for tastiness and flavor. Those properties are dependent somewhat on secondary compounds such as flavinoids, carotenes and terpenes. The task then is to collaboratively have the beta testers collect data to form the graphs and curves to create the taste scales.

This will give the growing class of educated food buyers a tool to use when they enter the supermarket or famers market. The Successful Farming magazine mid-Feb 2016 issue with the 30ish Kristin Porter pushing her cart down the store isles looking for the highest nutrient dense food becomes more achievable in Kristin’s view point. Will her food knowledge permit her to choose wisely and what foods, if any, she will do her best to avoid? That’s what food producers hope to learn. As far as how pervasive such scanners will be come, the equipment could be installed in smart phones for less than $7 within a few years. What other capabilities might they possess? Those most likely will include mycotoxin and pesticide residue capabilities, based on surveys done. Are production ag and input companies ready for this level of transparency?

Another word on this year’s Acres conference: I had to change my opinion after I began attending them. It is the great collection of speakers and growers who are interested in soil health and growing healthy crops. Many of these involve smaller companies founded by top researchers who don’t have the huge marketing budgets to start getting their innovative products out to the farming public.

Current plans call for it to be held in the Twin Cities next December.

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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