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Crop watch

By Staff | Mar 28, 2019

At last spring has arrived, but the warm fuzzy thoughts about springtime and all that goes with it disappeared for many people across western Iowa, eastern Nebraska, much of South Dakota and now northern Missouri as the property and hellish stories about fighting the water mount.

Many of the flood stories accumulated the last two decades tell of flooding problems that built up over a few weeks and there was time to think about ‘what if’ and lay out response plans. That wasn’t the case this year. Instead, as a good climatologist related, the perfect storm of events were in place: record snowpack that had accumulated during the month of February; the ground was full from last fall and still frozen, preventing any infiltration; the melting temperatures arrived very quickly so the warmth and rain caused the deep snow pack to melt quickly; and in some cases a few towns were ordered to shave several feet off the top of their dikes.

I had to be out in South Dakota last week and only as far as 25 miles west of Sioux Falls. My route took me in Iowa west on Hwy 20 and up through the Rock Valley area. In that area the Floyd, Rock and Sioux braches were still swollen. The situation got worse further west. What was most amazing were the huge ice chunks the size of cars and trucks, nine to 18 inches thick, that lined the banks of the streams like seals might along an ocean beach. Where the towns, farm buildings and grain bins got destroyed those chunks were crashing into the structures at a fast speed. Those had to be very heavy collisions. Many of the towns affected were not in areas one would consider a flood prone area, Seward, Fremont, Oakland, etc. Then when you consider there is a nuclear power plant in the area the problem could have gotten much worse real quick.

Spring time plans

The weather forecasts for April and May from different climatologists don’t unanimous agree, but the trend seems to be for above average rainfall for April and May. One group takes note of the January precipitation amounts for the Sacramento area during January is predicting the same. We need to remain optimists hoping for the best of field drying conditions. We don’t want it fast and dramatic in the northern Cornbelt due to the very deep snowpack through all the territory drained by the Missouri and Mississippi river systems. Rule No. 1 in plumbing is still ‘water runs downhill’. A planting season like people had to endure in 2018 was just too worrisome to have a repeat.

In two commodity newsletters the authors were voicing the same concerns as they recognize the wet and below normal temperature trends. While the popular media lemmings tout global warming the astronomical based climatologists recognize that low sunspot activity periods portray cooler conditions with shorter growing seasons. Commodity analysts are even mentioning ‘prevent planting’ on many low lying river bottom fields where the rivers will be at flood stage due to the heavy melting snowpack.

Drainage and microbial populations

Nearly every landowner dreams of the day when then could get all of their fields tiled as they could like. Once they do they will be thinking they need to narrow the spacing to 30 or 50 feet. Yield checks done last fall in Iowa and Minnesota proved the value of narrow spacing where the ground has a high organic matter and rainfall is above normal.

This generates a question for experienced farmers and researchers attuned to soil biology and health. ‘What will be the effect of a field remaining saturated or ponded for a long time period?’ One wise individual who spoke at many meetings always asked audience members three questions: “How long could you live without food? How about water? How about oxygen?” The correct answers he suggested were: “Maybe fifty days. Maybe a week. And to the last question, about three days.”

So after a season where extremely saturated conditions existed for much of the season, and now the same might exist for early spring, and nutrient release is essential for good crop yields, this may be the year where more people apply a good microbial product to their soil that contains a good blend of symbiotic microbes to release phosphorous, manganese, iron and so on? This is the year where using the BioDyne and ABM products could be a wise and affordable choice. In many cases the stalks still need to be degraded or nitrogen fixation could be a major problem.

Nitrogen timing and availability

There are lots of unknowns going into this season. Like when nature will allow us to get the nitrogen and other fertilizers applied? Who will have an adequate supply? And how much will the availability and application crunch hinder may planting plans? Several of us sat down with a fertilizer retail site manager last Friday and he recognizes this is a huge regional issue. It may be the season where the suppliers may suggest applying about a fourth of your total needs prior to planting and applying the remainder in any and all forms after the corn crop has emerged. Again, field conditions have to be dry for this to happen.

This may be the year where corn growers who do not have a high clearing sprayer may make a crude Y-drop rig with an old planter or cultivator folding bar and the attachments that let them apply fertilizer near the base of the plants. I have seen those built that look crude using used nipples and new hosing that do the job. Consider using stabilizers in any form to have a degree of insurance that leaching will be reduced.

If you have not considered this issue it may be good to visit with your local supplier for fertilizer and equipment since when the planting season begins everyone will want to be getting that task done within the optimum time window. The number one rule is to avoid field traffic until the soil is fit.

Environmental contamination issues

The word in past years and now is that any grain that has received flood water damage is considered contaminated and should not be marketing or fed. The latter is supposed to be with DVM supervision after mycotoxin testing is done. Part of the problem with this is that there are many individualized tests that can be done, and most take time and can be expensive.

I happened to attend a livestock conference on Saturday morning and happened to sit next to a farmer who was a PTA member, as in Pyrotechnic Trade Association. He was in charge of helping manage a fireworks business and governing committee. What he mentioned is that in this country we are advised not to throw CFL bulbs and computer screens and other electronic items into the trash because they contain environmentally damaging chemicals or minerals. Thus they ship them to China, who process and extract each of them and then ship them back over here in the fireworks. When you are attending your community’s July 4th fireworks each color you see is based on a particular mineral burning up. The big, loud, thunder boomers are made using perchlorate, a manufactured and sometimes naturally made compound one chloride, four oxygen compound that can be an environmental and water contaminant. It gained publicity out in California when rocket fuel suppliers used it as a propellant in their fuel due to its explosive properties and it leaked into their water supplies. Does this mean that each fireworks demolitions site may become a hazardous Clean Up Site?

The other national news is with lawsuit No. 2 out in California involving a popular systemic herbicide over its health effects and the jury siding with the plaintiff. Soil contamination, insurance coverage for applicators, worker safety issues, and retailer response are already being scrutinized more and it may only be the beginning. The internal data may not be kind.

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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