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Crop watch

By Staff | Sep 19, 2019

Mid-Sept. has arrived and much of the final yield and harvest pace will depend on the weather the next four weeks. We will get to analyze the growing season and all of the management steps and products used in our major crops. Once harvest starts and we begin to get whole fields yields we can finally see who or which group was accurate in their assessment of the season’s growing conditions and how much they influenced yields, positively or negatively.

The temperatures and sunlight amounts occurring the next few weeks will be critically important yet, as both the mid-season planted and the June planted corn are still not ready for frost with many fields still needing another two, three or four weeks before reaching maturity.

With the battle between the two largest university football teams now history the rest of the fall sports schedule is in front of us. How will each of the players develop down the stretch will determine how the rest of their seasons go? Many of them are 18 to 20 year old ‘kids’ so they all have a lot to learn. For the high schoolers there is local excitement as they have their normal rivalries. On the MLB scene my Twins have returned to relevance at least part of the time. Do they have the ‘Cy Young’ type arms to go deep into the playoffs? With the Brewers, Cubs, and Cards also in contention the Midwest might get represented in the World Series.

Lessons from 2019

Since March 14th this year seems to have been cursed. Early flooding in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota left many beef producers wondering how they would make up for losing a calf crop and may Missouri river bottom farmers wondering if the fields would drain off in time to get planted. For the second year in a row we kept having March type temps through mid-May. Are we actually three to four years into the Daulton Minimum 58 year cold cycle? Weather Cycles repeat in response to gravitational pull from numerous celestial bodies. Larry Acker used to say there were more than 300 of them and people are not around long enough to recognize their repeatability.

The Ag Spectrum group and their teachers begin their presentations by listing the major important factors in raising profitable crops.

In order they were:

1. Air/water management meaning that the water tables had to be lowered enough to get sufficient oxygen levels into the soil. Once you had enough oxygen the plant roots and microbes could exist, thrive and grow.

2. Adequate soil health where the microbial population was large enough in number and species to make nutrients available to the plants and produce the secondary metabolites to foster plant growth.

3. Sufficient mineral nutrition where each macro, mid-macro, and micronutrient was sufficient in quantity and in the right form to nourish the plants thru the season. Any deficiency would cause the plants to stall out or lose in productivity.

Those rules have been around for years and they summarized our 2019 challenges.

The corn crop

Currently it does not take a rocket scientist to drive down any road in the state and much of the Midwest and see corn that is prematurely yellow or brown. Since 2009 which was an exceptionally wet and cool season where corn harvest went past Christmas, the corn crop died early with many fields looking like they had frozen early and died from the top down or bottom up rather than from a browning husk on an upright ear with the leaves still green. No matter how many excuses are given for this unusual crop appearance that standard still hold true. Even people who don’t know crops mention of this problem.

The three Ag Spectrum rules mentioned above when violated affected the crops. Some of them were manageable and some not. No one was able to stop the heavy rains or help the fields without a decent tile system. Going six weeks without a good rain during the summer’s heat also affected nutrient availability and the health of the crops. When I have checked the May planted corn fields in central Iowa that are 80 to 90 percent brown there is no black layer.

Managing the microbial situation can take time and often years to build the Haney soil health scores. The quickest way I have seen to lessen the time to build the Haney score is to use a ‘bug in a jug’ and to stop applying the pesticides, input products or activities most responsible for the decline.

BioDyne Midwest of Ft Wayne, Indiana held a meeting near Webster City last week where company personnel plus actual growers and users of the microbial products told stories of how BD products containing 25 or 29 select microbes helped to turn their fields around. There is a saying that ‘bugs in a jug’are often ‘Snake Oil’, but in this case their biochemist’s mixes have been proven to work. Investigate their products when you have the chance.

I had a part in the program and one of the points I tried to drive home was if serious plant diseases continue to be an issue growers need to make a broader view of the problem. They need to start by taking tissue samples to be analyzed and determine which mineral deficiencies exist and fix them. Then rather than solely relying on making fungicide applications the next summer, especially on second year or continuous corn, manage the residue in the fall to have microbial activity turn it into humus asap to deprive fungal or bacterial pathogens of their food source. Most no-tillers want plant residue to cool the soil as well as absorb the kinetic energy of rain drops. Mostly decayed corn residue can absorb raindrop impacts, while the improved infiltration rates help the rain soak in quicker.


Growers in a few sections of the Midwest are expecting good bean yields. Most are not. Those growers recognize the deficiencies in their crop and are seeing shorter plants with fewer podded nodes and a lack of terminal clusters. The crop tour participants counted about a third fewer pods in their field surveys. When the surveys were made many of the pods were still small enough that abortion was more likely or the plants were still in the heavy flowering stage. Since early in the season there was a general lack of heat and sunlight to promote vigorous growth and flowering. Recent rains in the past one to two weeks arrived in time to help pod fill in fields that are still green if enough heat and sunlight are received.

Soil testing

The final step before harvest is typically to make repairs and updates so harvesting and storage equipment so it is ready to perform. It is also time to give thought to updating any soil testing that need to be done to keep the two to four year cycle operating to stay current with them. Be sure to ask for a micronutrient analysis as well as base saturation calculations. Some of those included minerals that test low can be handled with products that can me mixed in with any dry spread.

Herd health

Last week I received a call from a grower who had heard through the grapevine that one or more dairies in northwest Iowa were losing more cows than normal to a problem their DVM could not identify. A certain feed was being utilized as forage in their nutritional program. If you are with one of those dairies and happen to read this, get in touch with me. The issue likely relates to the problem that a DVM pathologist at the Univ. of Leipzig has researched and developed a solution for.

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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