The New Year of 2019 arrived and we are hoping for a fruitful and rewarding year with decent crops and much better commodity, livestock and diary prices to reward the many producers who often feel totally unrewarded for the time, effort, and investment they make in their farming operations each year.
As the winter planning and educational sessions are held across the state and Midwest the theme may well be talking about us being more aware of farmers as food producers and how to inch our way up the food chain. I was at one meeting last year and one of the speakers suggested that farmers be described as primary health care professionals, following in the old Hippocrates axiom of “let your food be your medicine”. That will mean embracing items like the new hand held scanners that are now being distributed to beta testers after they were displayed and discussed at several food conferences this fall.
I did mention the Quid pro Quo circumstances where the Chinese resumed purchasing U.S. produced soybeans from us a few weeks ago. According to a good source from a Welshman the demand from their leaders was that any food product imported into their country had to be under a certain level of a certain no-selective herbicide used in many soybean fields.
Now which groups may go to lengths to keep such a request out of the press in this country? And if that request becomes a rule this fall, would growers in retrospect say they wish that had been told about it before they made all of their cropping plans?
The winter weather in the Midwest remains turbulent. First we had much more snow than normal beginning Oct 15th, less than six months after the last major snowstorms in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. Then bitter cold in November, warmer and more pleasant with little snow over the state except for southeastern and northwest Iowa through November. This was followed by a brown Christmas and warm enough weather that we were able to walk into Hilton Coliseum for the Kansas game this past Saturday wearing short sleeve shirts carrying our jackets.
Oh by the way, anyone traveling south on I-35 may have spotted a crippled Jay Hawk limping back to Lawrence early Saturday evening. He could be limping like a truck ran him over. It won’t be the last time that happens in the next few years.
The first series of meetings
Starting the first full week of March will be the Crop Advantage meetings. In a normal year not much new information has been forthcoming from them because not many new items are occurring. It may be different this year. In what was a preview at the SprayTech meeting in Fort Dodge, we listened to a discussion about the corn and soybean diseases that have increased in severity the last few years. The newly recognized ones like Physoderma stalk rot and Bacterial leaf streak/stripe have invaded most of the central and eastern Cornbelt.
Dr. Robertson will likely spend time talking about a newer pathogen called Tar Spot, since that is what it resembles. The alarming fact about those last two is that so little is known about them. No one has been able to propagate Tar Spot in the lab so as to infect plants to screen in the greenhouse during the winter months. There appears to be genetic family sensitivities where the first varieties that show a yellowish coloration by mid to late July seem to be the most susceptible.
The issue of insects will also be on the agenda. In soybeans the main new one will be a tiny fly in the same family as the Hessian Fly, which has been causing problems with wheat growers in the high plains states since the 1950s. No one knows where the small fly came from or how it got transported here. If enough eggs are laid into a bean field that a high percentage of the stems are hollowed out and fall over, it could become an economic problem.
Plant disease cases
We heard of cases from Michigan this past summer where the first Tar Spot lesions showed up in a few fields one week and two weeks later those most susceptible fields were completely dead. A likely question of ‘has any investigator had taken and then sent leaf samples from the infected plants to a soils lab to have a tissue mineral analysis done’. The answer was ‘no’. That would be a great place to start. The great reference guide and No.1 best seller five straight years from APS Press entitled Mineral Nutrition and Plant Disease by Huber and Datnoff is going into its first rewrite and plans are to add a few new chapters where the authors lay out the plan to use mineral testing and supplementation as a way to minimize or eliminate many diseases. Knowing such information could let a grower solve the problem instead of just chasing symptoms.
One other fact that is seldom mentioned is that most herbicides act as chelators, meaning they do their job by tying up one, several or many minerals in plants, resulting in the shutting down of an enzyme site or an exact synthesis chain essential to the plant. This would result in killing the target weeds while also having an effect on the crop plant, where the symptoms persist for days or weeks, slowing its growth or other functions. If the main P450 cytochrome degradation pathway is slowed down by cool temps, lack of sunlight, or lack of certain minerals the plants productivity will often be affected.
Sorting out new
When it comes to new products, how does a person find out which ones could significantly boost their yields every year, which ones could do so 50 percent of the time or even less, and which ones you should shy away from the start. With minerals the science behind most minerals is quite good and the challenge is to have enough of your ground and plants mineral levels analyzed to know where on the graphs your test levels fall.
Secondly, it is known that with many of the minerals there are often two way interactions between pairs of them. The best pictorial guide is called the Mulder Graph. It is a circular graph drawn up by a German soil chemist which illustrates which minerals either affect other minerals or are affected by others. The arrows often go in both directions. Such as high P levels are typically desirable, except when very high levels can lower the available zinc levels.
John Kempf, the young Amish agronomist, has sketched the same information in a colored diagram that groups the main minerals in one of four different categories. It helps to segregate them as to which ones are systemic throughout the plants, which facilitates understanding what any sap analysis results indicate.
There are still things that seasoned agronomists can learn. After I heard from about a calcium silicate product a farmer friend was using on his sugar beets near Morris, Minnesota from a company out of Idaho and invited one of the company founders to visit Iowa and teach class to a small group, the pieces began to fall into place. We tested it in 2017 and saw a 30 Bu/A corn yield increase. In 2018 we saw it greatly reduced green snap and helped lessen leaf disease severity while making the stalks much stronger to eliminate stalk lodging. In hindsight we learned what farmers in Asia and South America had known for years.
With all the new biologicals being marketed the main question is which ones will consistently produce desirable results?
What one person sees for results on a heavy soil in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota may be completely different from what a farmer in south central Nebraska or central Missouri based on clay type, soil organic matter, rainfall parameters and soil temperature. Many times the great results seen in one area may not be replicable in another area. The existing microbial population already present in a new area may not be hospitable to a new specie or group of species being introduced into a new area. This is why when microbials began to become more popular a number of learned people commented that Pandora’s Box was being opened. In many ways that was true. The value of finding the right one or creating a hospital field environment where the right species mix can thrive could drive your yields high enough to make such experimentation worth it many times over.
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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