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Crop watch

By Staff | Feb 8, 2019

So far, so good. We are now past what is traditionally the coldest and worst part of the winter. I was going to ask what happened to the old style of blizzards that lasted three or four days and shut down entire sections of the Midwest.

While we never saw it our parents and grandparents told us of the snow and dust blizzards (out in Kansas) where livestock guys used to tie ropes between the buildings so the people doing chores would not lose their sense of directions and come to a bad ending.

Back in 1980 when we lived in Iowa Falls a big surprise, quick blizzard came in late on the weekend night of the Buddy Holly Concert Weekend at the Surf in Clear Lake. The snow drifts were too deep on the roads to get back to town so six of us started out trying to say warm in two cars until one ran out of gas. We crowded into one car. I had my insulated coveralls in the trunk so volunteered to go out and knock the ice off the tailpipe every hour so we would not get gassed. A few people froze to death a few miles west on I-35. We could make out the faint outline of a farrowing barn at daylight and made it to the unlocked barn to thaw out. I said I was going to kiss the first pig I saw.

As it turned out one set of parents lost their college aged son on the University of Iowa campus. It was a ‘life or death’ few days for people who could not get out of the wind. Shutting down the schools may have been a tough decision but likely a good one as it may have averted more tragedies.

The upcoming season

The big Iowa Power Show was last week and though it was bitterly cold outside, a sizeable number of people came because they figured there was no way they were going to work outside in -20 weather. The crowd was small the first half of Tuesday morning, but picked up about 11 a.m. and we stayed busy until 2:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The people stopping at our booth wanted to visit about soil health, what products we believed had proven themselves, and what blend of input items we had seen offered the best ROI for the 2019 season. A high percentage of them mentioned that a lot of the people giving advice were like medical specialists who were more interested in selling medicine than in asking questions about how they were managing their soils, their fertility programs, what their micronutrient levels were, and what the details of their cropping programs were. We were often involved in a longer discussion than we wanted since there were typically one or two people were waiting for a chance to visit. If that happened to be you please feel free to call one of us at your earliest convenience.

The big machinery show scheduled in Louisville is coming up quite soon. Most of us have wanted to attend it but it’s not in the cards this season. One friend was making plans to exhibit at the large irrigated world Ag Expo held in Tulare, California. I attended a few years ago and it was huge in its campus footprint size, crowd size, and the wide array of products on display and for sale.

With the wide variety of veggies, fruit crops, nut crops, citrus and nut trees comes a wide variety of planters, harvesters, sprayers, and irrigation equipment. At the time the state was several years into their bad drought and the reservoirs were precariously low. Many growers were told there would be no canal water that year and no new permits for wells. They were going to be ruined and in areas half of the ground was to be idled. It’s too bad we didn’t have T Boone Pickens’s big pipeline to move excess water from the Midwest out to California this past season as we had more than our crops needed.

Seed poker

There are now stories about seed prices, quality, marketing programs, the percent sold but may not stay sold as to seed corn, and overall quality with the availability of high germinating soybean seed among all companies. There are seed growers who raised seed beans who last fall were told the beans did not meet existing germination standards and were told to take them to town. Now as more beans in the growers bins are getting checked the once rejected beans may find a home as the later harvested beans spent more time in the field turning into mush in the fields. The Phomopsis that is common in wetter falls that typically fades out during the winter may not fade away on the seed this season.

We will have to see also if banker induced budget trimming may force a percentage of growers to switch their hybrid packages to lower priced products. Will we see the smaller, more nimble, alert seed companies develop programs that let them grab customers who were either sitting on the sidelines or were faced with the decision to move back to conventional hybrids? This could happen, especially if they have been seeing the conventional hybrids out-dollaring the more expensive traited hybrids in nearby plots or in their own fields. In most cases adding a good in-furrow or foliar micronutrient program, or being able to afford an effective N stabilizer will benefit the bottom line more than an added trait. Traits can protect yield but not add to it while nutrients when needed can. Added plant health that keeps the plants greener longer has been the biggest yield booster the last decade.

Tillage anyone

At the risk of getting a nasty letter from a certain well known advocate of no-till in northwest Iowa, here is a comment about tillage meant to address the needs of farmers who have to work with the heavier glacial till soils that drain poorly and stay too cool if no tillage is done.

Marv and I met this past Saturday morning with a tillage consultant to hear and see what he has learned over the past two decades and about the new ‘vertical tillage implements’.

He and his son have been on quite a few magazine covers due to his innate ability to see how dirt and seed moves and how well or poorly different tillage tools perform in getting the job done without destroying the seedbed or packing the ground. Farmers with the lighter Galva Primghar or Tama Muscatine soil types can have great results with no-till, but the improved internal drainage of those soils make all the difference in the world between how soils work and warm up.

The saturated soils, delayed harvest and early freeze up created the perfect storm where very few famers in the northern half of the state completed their planned fall tillage. The prerequisite for planting second year corn is to have the stalks worked in the fall. When the market price forces more corn following corn, what tillage implement, what sort of disc blade, what sequence has the best chance of creating a good seed bed? The same goal exists to facilitate stalk degradation to help minimize the amount of disease inoculum present to cause disease problems this summer? We discussed each factor for nearly four hours and may have another four to eight hours left in our class.

We got the basics down as to what machines have performed well, what to look for in soil action/residue flow, and the optimum shape/cut of the blades. Quite a few of the most advertized pieces of equipment were not ones he would advise farmers to use. Setting each of the machines properly may change per each field, moisture level, and soil type. Learning this is will involve more than a half hour discussion and lots of educated experimenting to see what works.

New soybean insects

We learned a lot visiting with bean growers who stopped by our booth. One item was that the soybean gall midge appeared in a lot more areas and further east than has been mentioned. Some saw very measurable yield drop where a high percentage of the plants had been cut off. At this time no entomologists have ventured an educated guess or recommended action plan or products to keep an infestation out of their fields. This is at a time when many crop advisors and soil health advocates are searching for safer and softer insect control products.

Next week I will go over two new products that have been used in a wide variety of crops, some being tree or vine crops, and have been successful due to their systemic activity against insects and fungal pathogens. We worked with one last season from a company down in Georgia.

The other is a fungus called Beauvaria basiana. It was well researched in the 1970s and 80s by two well know entomologist located in Ames.

The fellow fermenting them is a native of a small town in Hardin County who will be teaching a seminar at the ISU Vet College this spring. His first OMRI approved product was priced for the organic market. He has added additional capacity so the price now fits into a soybean grower’s budget this season. Both have the capacity to do the job for bean growers looking for an answer.

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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