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Crop watch

By Staff | Mar 7, 2019

March 1st is here and typically the snow banks are slowly melting away. The hours of sunlight are increasing which should be giving us daily highs in the high 30s. In a few weeks the first early flowers should be pushing through the snow to display their beautiful colors. And farmers continue to prepare their machinery and cropping plans as the beginning to the planting season is typically five to six weeks away. NOT!! Instead a blizzard of killer proportions blew through much of the country last week with a 131 vehicle pile-up in Wisconsin. It took until mid to late week before school busses were running, farmers got their yards cleaned out, and many school districts across Iowa and several surrounding state are weighing the possibility of chucking the rules requiring 170 or 180 days of school to be held.

That was one heck of a snowstorm. The big snow in southern Minnesota in April of 2018 was similar in that being out in it was really life or death. Below zero temps with 40 mph winds are dangerous to anyone having to stay outside without very protective clothing. It has been a while since we have seen snow that packed so tight that normal equipment wasn’t able to move it. I had help from a neighbor who had his 250+ HP, 4WD tractor with a twin auger 8 foot blower helping me clear my farm yard. Around the house where a 7 foot drift formed I used a shovel and silage fork to move the chunks after I broke them free with a heavy pick ax.

Weather parameters

As to the nice, sunny warm weather, it may not arrive for another two weeks as record cold temps for this time of year are predicted. Last fall when one typically very accurate climatologist predicted there was a chance of a crack in the stratosphere would let in -100 degree air it sounded preposterous. It somewhat meshed with the theory that that atmosphere had contracted as the sun spot cycles crept closer to zero.

A few sunspots are now occurring and their polarity has switched, marking the movement into cycle No. 24. The full entrance could take a decade or more. Currently the ten day forecast is for much below normal while the thirty day is for below normal. While last year we had heavy snows clear through mid-April, once the snow melted people were planting corn within a week. Will this spring be much different than last year? The ground condition this year will be closer to being fully saturated while dry conditions were more common during the fall of 2017.

Tillage concerns

In past articles I have mentioned the challenge growers in the northern half of the state and surrounding areas who typically raise a high percent of second year corn are facing this season with very little fall tillage done. What implements to use, what types of blades will do the best job of sizing the residue without forming a compaction layer, how many trips and in what direction, rolling baskets or spring tine following, and when to begin working the ground are all important items.

To answer the questions at our March 14th meeting I have invited Kevin and Brock Kimberley of Elkhart who have been running a well regarded tillage and planter consulting business. In a workshop that I have given mention of is a meeting at the shop at his farm east of Elkhart, which is northeast of Ankeny. Call Melanie at: cell 515-290-2377 or office at 515-967-3583 so they can get a meal count. This meeting will begin at 8 a.m. His schedule was such that holding it after the Ames meeting did not look possible. It will be hands on and very practical in nature.

Two important items that should be mentioned are that waiting to begin field work until after the ground takes on a good earth smell will be important. Beginning too early when the ground is too wet is likely to cause problems with severe compaction and tomahawking of roots. Secondly having a decent population of microbes in the soil to make nutrients available and degrade residue is important. Where the ground was saturated for long period of time during the summer the oxygen levels was too low for good survival. Using a biological inoculant and being sure to use a superior inoculant on your soybean seed will be important.

Little critters

A common admonition among scientists has always been that once we get heavily into microbes we will be opening Pandora’s box. What is better known now due to a greater knowledge based is how to test for efficacy and how to ferment them for greater survival. Storing and handling them will mean keeping them at cooler than air temps will be important, both to the people handling them as well as those applying them. The second important item is that very few microbes actually exist alone in a community. Many of them are interdependent on each other for byproducts in their diet.

One book I have on my shelf and on my reading list is ‘I Contain Multitudes’. It deals with the acknowledgement since about five years ago that as humans our GI plays host to more microbes than we have in our human body cell count. That’s cool.

While working on a project with a deadline last week I was up until about 3 a.m. and George Noory was interviewing Dr. Rob Dunn, a microbial ecologist from North Carolina State. He was discussing the ever present microbial critters that live around us in our houses, food, on our pets, and basically in and on everything we can imagine. He had a list of little critters I had never heard of or imagined. The really icky one on his list were the face mites that live by the hundreds of thousands on everyones’ faces, typically in the hair follicles. In their work they have discovered that the mite species mixes are passed maternally and remain fixed for centuries based on which of four landmasses our ancestors migrated from.

The March 14th meeting

Members from our working high yield group were fielding questions as to when our next informational meeting was going to be held. In the March and August 2018 meeting we had a number of very good presenters covering ideas, products and management ideas that seem to work for producers hoping to figure out what steps may allow them to be become better producers on their acres.

The themes we will cover will follow somewhat the same order where the first two speakers will deal with soil health from the biology, testing and management of. The next topics will then be fertilizers and minerals and which forms of application or stabilizers boost their effectiveness. Then any new ideas ir items that help to boost plant health, stalk strength, mineral uptake or minimize stress losses will be covered. Tillage and planter management tips will be covered as mentioned earlier.

The final and most recent topic will be a colleague from Algona who works with quite a few successful growers who have transitioned some of their fields to organic due to the much higher margins available. It is always easier to correct a problem on paper or in the planning stage rather than in the field. He is very knowledgeable and will discuss it from a practical perspective.

The location for the meeting has changed and is now scheduled to be at the Quality Inn (formerly the Starlite Inn) at 2601 East 13th St., Ames.

It is the first exit coming from the north on I-35. The meeting will run from 9:30 to 3:30. Check for the details on our website www.centraliowaAg.com or call 515-231-6710 to reserve a spot. We need the numbers by next weekend to let the food staff know how many meals to prepare.

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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