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Crop watch

By Staff | Oct 25, 2019

It was another mostly wet weekend in a season where nearly every weekend saw rain delivered in varied amounts. Lot of events were interrupted or postponed by such wet weather. So as of Monday morning the late Sunday front line moved through followed by a very early and an early morning front just before sunup. So it looks like little progress will be made with the harvest in this part of the Midwest for a few days. The soils are increasingly soggy, so deep tracks and getting stuck in the low spots could become more common.

On our end we had to head up to Stacyville in Mitchell County on Saturday morning to attend a funeral for the widow on my dad’s first cousin (Barb and Robert Henry Streit). They originated from north of Sheldon and then moved east in the mid 50s. They farmed about three miles away from us and we used to bale hay and work on construction projects with them, participate in 4-H events, and compete in sports with them over the years. He flew on the big B52s bombers during WW2 and survived his time in Europe. Once in a while he talked about making those cold runs and what it took to survive when many others crashed. She emigrated from the Netherlands with the rest of her family in the 1930s and ended up in Chicago. They ended up meeting at a 4th of July dance held in Ashton during the 50s and got married before starting to farm. She made it to the ripe age of 97. It was a big crowd with lots of visiting and remembering things from the past. So she is likely organizing things and visiting old friend up there as I write this. She was the last member of the old generation of Streits in Iowa.

Climate change

To me the climate has always changed. I was talking to a friend yesterday who was in the Wisconsin dairy business for years before saying adios to the snow and ice and moving to Maui. Without saying too much about it related that we have had two record wet and cold years in a row and would welcome warmer weather. I mentioned that the harvest is two to three weeks behind normal and that winter type snows have been arriving a month earlier than normal in the northern Cornbelt. She began to rethink her plans to make a fall visit back to her home area. It continues to look like the weather patterns and winter forecasts are in line with the predictions made by the ‘Quiet sun cooling planet and heavier cloud cover dogma’ crowd.

Last week I made mention of Dr. Robert Nielson of Purdue Univ. He had suggested and laid claims that today’s hybrids had been showing the ability to go through their growth and reproductive cycle in 250 to 300 fewer heat units when planted later than normal. Thus many ag professionals gave advice to farmers to plant fuller season hybrids than a person would normal think possible, and have them reach maturity before the frost/freeze hit. That ended up being incorrect advice and he discussed it last week in their IPM newsletter.

Now at the same time many ag types in June and July were seeing that the soybean plants were very slow in growing and flowering. In many fields the beans reach V6 to V8 before they began to flower. “What was going on?” is what we wondered. We acknowledged that temps were cold but what else could have caused the development delay. The GDU tabulations were available, and they showed a slow GDU accumulation during May and June. Another fact was just published by Tom Skilling and his Staff Weather Graphics. He listed the percentage of possible sunshine for each month and during the April thru June months the tallies were 45, 46 and 51 percent of normal which were about 20 percent behind normal. Thus the plants in addition to being cold were catching a greatly reduced amount of solar radiation. The meteorology team finally quantified it. A day of 70F, no wind and sun can feel warm. 70 degrees, winds from the north and no sun will feel cold to a person and a plant. All plants do, that humans can’t it to convert sunlight, CO2 and water into sugar. They need the sun shining.

Harvest progress and yields

It appears that harvest this season will resemble the planting a lot. A person will have to be ready to take to the fields whenever a small break occurs in the weather and the soils and grain gets dry enough. It may be a matter of a few hours or partial days. Entire dry weeks may never occur. Meteorologists are having a tough time making forecasts because models vary widely and show rapid changes.

People are asking what we are seeing for corn and bean yields. There are not many average yields since they can vary a huge amount based on soil types, degree of drainage, planting date and so on. Having a complete lack of USDA yield reports would improve things for growers as reports and happy talk of record or near record yields keep prices low. In many cases what was or is responsible for the variance in yields are out of a person’s control.

The general trend in corn yield tells that there are some very good yields in spots, but when a person gets an average the trend will be down by double digits. The bins and elevators will not be filled at the end of the season.

The trend in soybeans seems to be influenced by degree of drainage and latitude. The better yields seem to be coming from the northern third of the state where the days were longer and the plants added more height and podded nodes.

With the rush to get any combining done many guys are in such a rush they have not taken the time to do as much calibrating as is normal.

So we don’t feel bad other parts of the grain producing world are also having their weather problems. Too wet or too dry are common themes as major governing bodies are beginning to ask the question about which country may be having a good enough crop to contribute to exportable supplies. A lot of those regions don’t have winter weather and snows to contend with.

Insect problems

Due to tariff issues and carryover supplies there were a lot more corn on corn acres. Then include dry months and major wind events the issue of lodged corn due to rootworm feeding will become greater. In many cases corn growers have been relying on a limited number of CRW traits or planting time liquid or dry insecticides to control CRW populations.

Maybe ten years ago Dr. Kevin Steffey, an ISU entomology classmate of mine under John Tollefson at Iowa State was the Extension Entomologist at the Univ. of Illinois. He performed a CRW experiment where he planted five different CRW BT hybrids. Now those CRW Bt hybrids work by forming a toxin in their cells that kills the chewing larvae. Most people assume the concentration of toxin is equal among hybrids. If that is true case the research has not been made public. In the Illinois study they found that one of the hybrid’s toxin level was not high enough at planting to offer control. Two were marginal. Two were quite high. The toxin production in the plants dropped by a significant level between the V4 and V9 growth stages. If a hybrid was planted early enough and grew fast enough there would be a time point in the early to mid V-stages where the toxin level would not be fatal to chewing larvae. In the one hybrid the critical date was very early. In the two intermediate hybrids the date was be by V5 to V6. In the highest toxin level hybrid, control may last thru V10 or a bit later. CRW populations could also be selected for the late hatching eggs. After reading and absorbing the study we asked a well known Iowa entomologist if he thought or he expected the seed companies should or would ever publish the toxin level by genetics. He gulped and said we were correct in our interpretation, but that it was too hot of topic to publicize. In the end one seed company did not like the results and wanted the study retracted. Dr. Steffey ended up with his contract terminated and becoming Head of Insect Research in Indianapolis for another company.

So as the fall harvest gets later and the winds continue we may see more corn lean over in spite of all precautions. This story may provide some insight. Changing insect biology can also be a factor.

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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