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Crop watch

By Staff | Jun 3, 2019

After a month of many farmers sitting on the sidelines with the clock ticking during prime planting days, very little clarity about how the rest of the growing season will play out has appeared.

The last week was interspersed with big moisture fronts marching across the entire Cornbelt every two to three days dropping from .5 to 3.0 inches of rain each time, filling the ponds and turning the saturated soils into muck again.

Who of us would have guessed at the start of the season that the late May news in the markets would have been about the 20 to 30 million acres of corn may go unplanted? It’s a strong enough worry that the grain prices are finally responding. How to capitalize on it where Mother Nature calls the shots is a real brain teaser.

I had to make a run through Illinois midweek and drove from Davenport to Pontiac, up to Rockford and Woodstock, and back west to the Dubuque. My routes were mostly on I-80 and I-39. A very high 90-plus percent of the fields along the I-39 corridor were untouched since last fall with many holding big ponds. On that journey I saw only one planter operating and that was very close to the Wisconsin border. More optimistic reports emanate from the Peoria area, but the number of acres affected from that area east to Pennsylvania, which make up the eastern Cornbelt is huge. With rain predicted for Memorial Day and a few additional days this week, how much more corn will be planted? The old saying that ‘A man who has lots of food has lots of problems, and a man that has no food has one problem’ came to mind.

A good get-away break

To get away from the rain delays we took a Sunday trip up to the Seed Saver’s Farm up near Decorah. It was a good drive to see the scenery in northeastern Iowa, with hills, limestone bluffs and big sweeping valleys while checking on the cropping situation in that part of the world.

The Seed Saver’s Farm sits on rolling ground nestled next to a few of those cliffs. They grow and market many heirloom veggie and fruit tree varieties, plus maintain a small vineyard near their pegged, free standing barn. The trees were still in full bloom and the grapevines were just budding out. It seemed late and is, as the cool weather has greatly slowed plant development.

My wife is a great cook and likes to find and taste the items on the menus of the good restaurants that earn four or five stars in the reviews based on their great cuisine without tons of pretentiousness. From online postings she had discovered a locally run place in Decorah called ‘Rubaiyat’, which in some European language means an atmosphere of good food/visiting/scenery/and wine. It is owned and run by a younger couple who moved in from Galena. They buy mostly local produce from greenhouse growers, a coop of local beef producers and a quail grower from the Manchester area. It was fantastic in all regards. If it was located in Iowa City, Ames, Des Moines, Mason City, or any other larger metropolitan area it would be on everyone’s’ top rated eating places. Try it out when your wife or girlfriend (but not both), kids or in-laws want to enjoy a great meal and wonderful atmosphere. You will love it.


Adding to the complexity of all cropping decisions at this point is the announcement that the fields have to be planted to receive any tariff payments. In a perfect world with perfect weather that makes sense, in that everyone will make their best effort to follow through on their plans to get the seed into the ground. But without a planter that can be pulled behind a duck boat, best efforts aren’t possible. We found out back in the delayed planting year of 1991, when much of nothrtn Iowa stayed extremely wet, that planting corn along and north of Hwy 3 after June 5th was not a good idea. South of there and down into Missouri, central and southern Illinois and Nebraska, corn could still be planted thru mid June, but the chance of the corn crop getting to grow and develop nicely with minimal challenges get slim. Warmer early season temps can put more stress on the plant and nutrient availability must be addressed.

Speeding plant growth

How best to speed the plant growth is something we debated with a tech agronomist with ReDox nutrient company last week. We view them as one of the top two plant nutrition firms as to products and theories on plant physiology, with them being the only ISO 9000 fertility firm in the country. His experience is heavy in turf and specialty crops, where management gets much more technical and timely. We shared notes and experiences. What could be vital to crop productivity is the development of the root system, helping it to be as large and expansive as possible. To this point the top research is out Dr. Yamada of Brazil, where Co and Ni are the elements that contribute the most to this. Here that combination plus proper planter equipment and adjustment are important. The Redox Company has products called Root Rx and Roo Tex, with the latter being a combination of energized P and a mix of Amino acids that promote added root formation.

As for speeding crop development we like to use food grade foliar P, high grade in-furrow P (like MPK or other food grade starter) with a stabilizer like Avail or BioRelease to keep the P free for plant use rather then get tied up on the soil colloids. Then apply the K later in the season rather than early, like the latest K research from the U of Illinois suggests, as we would sooner promote Ca uptake early during the rapid growth phase rather than K in order to build thicker and stronger cell walls.

As to achieving the nebulous process of increasing energy capture and speeding the transport within the plant, we talked about how foliar silica produces a thicker leaf with a thicker palisade parenchyma cell layer containing more chloroplasts to capture additional sunlight to fuel the plant. Eric explained that Dr. Patrick Brown, foliar fertility expert at U.C Davis, was experimenting with their DiKap product and found that it sped up the cycling of the ATP to ADP energy transfer. They are going to test this product on corn and beans in 2019 to see what it can do for grain fill and yields. In one N Illinois plot in 2018 it kept the beans alive an additional three weeks, which had a nice effect on yield. Can we see if it can repeat the response?

Could the combination of products work here this season? Given the fact that our grain will be limited in supply this next fall, we may be producing high priced grain in the field this year. High ROIs could be possible for growers who have their crops in the ground already. Our feeding demand still remains high. ASF demands additional pork and beef production here. A smart person may recognize this as a profit opportunity to produce as many bushels as possible and nature allows by trying new products and new methods they have learned about.

In 2017 we had the Mainstay Si applied to the corn in a late planted plot in southeastern Illinois at the start of tasselling and found that it increased the sugar content by 32 percent within 46 hours. This resulted in the sugar acting as antifreeze, so it took temps of 22 degrees to kill the leaves while 24 degrees did not. This could buy additional time in the fall for grain filling rather than letting one or two cold nights end the growing season. We will post the pictures to our website shortly.

Through all of this we recognize that having a high level of biological activity is vital to nutrient release and the production of hormonal products to stimulate the plant growth and development. Applying biologicals at planting time after a very wet 2018 is likely to be very important.

Cover crops

If there are acres that don’t get planted to corn or soybeans, be considering what you might plant as a cover crop to improve the soil tilth or to nurse along a legume. Sorghum/Sudan grasses, which form lots of sugars, or cereal rye are known as great crops to loosen the soil and as a carbon and sugar source to promote soil biology. This situation could allow a person to explore growing a new crop to aid in interrupting troublesome resistant weeds now causing problems.

Thus a person locked out of growing their normal crops could still benefit from the lemons that Mother Nature has handed them this year. We all know what make of them.

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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