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Crop Watch

By Bob Streit - Columnist | Jan 19, 2021

It is a new year following a year many of us hope to forget as our way of life was altered on many facets. Life for a high percent of the populace changed as the media focused 1,000 % of their time on creating fear and criticizing state and national leaders when they were not guilty. The bogeyman that your grandma used to scare you with was twenty foot tall and was told to be a lot worse than anyone could imagine.

The crops still had to be planted and managed while our livestock still had to be tended, with one of the main difficulties being finding a place to deliver your finished animals to. Prices were in the toilet until the markets realized that dry weather challenges were affecting more countries and acres than had been reported on. In Iowa we had the big windstorm that packed more fury and damage than any U.S. citizen had seen on such a scale.

This year our apprehensions center around ‘will our markets continue to be strong?’, ‘What can we expect weatherwise?’ and ‘How will the country operate with the inmates running the asylum?’ People are typically advised that unless you know your crowd well, avoid talking religion or politics. The latter has been impossible the last few years, and even though my wife and I have news sources around the globe as well as friends who have lived in and work in their big worlds, what happens the next two months is as large of a question mark as it ever has been. The statement I remember from one of the early founders that resonates for me and likely many other farm and Midwest types is that “I would sooner die on my feet than live on my knees.” I think too many younger people never heard the stories of intense suffering and cruel experiences by people forced to live in a socialist country.

Crop planning

One return to normal event that had its schedule announced was the Iowa Power Show planned during the first week in Feb. at its usual location. It is a huge show with lots of booths, displaying companies and attendees. It is typically a time to see many of the people that we may not have seen much during the last year and to renew old acquaintances. The challenge will be planning for an event that might still get canceled by official edict and carrying on conversations with one to several people while wearing a mask that makes us all sound mumbled.

Preparing for the show is about a month-long venture of gathering brochures, compiling information sheets, networking among company sponsors and suppliers and running between your office and the office supply stores. It is part of the job and our main wish is that we would like to multiply ourselves to be able to visit with and answer questions by the attendees.

My preparation tasks are made more difficult this year in that I had shoulder surgery on Jan 8th and have to do everything one armed. Wearing the sling makes everyday tasks a much greater challenge. It feels like I have two plastic buckets fastened to my right side. Bumping into a door, wall, furniture or any other object can be a painful experience.

South American production

U. S. growers like to stay abreast with how much rain is or is not falling in the crop producing areas in the major countries in South America. Any change in South America production, up or down, could move the markets here in quick fashion.

The weather and rainfall in South America has grown more fickle in the last decade. Has the large scale deforestation of Amazonia acres altered their moisture flows? A wise scholar and famous plant breeder, Forrest Troyer, related how the three largest influencers on our climate in the Midwest were: The Gulf of Mexico; The Rocky Mountains; and the Hudson Bay. Each are large enough to carry moisture inland, steer the winds or act as a large cold air sync to give us a very dynamic climate most week, months and seasons. They don’t have those three things affecting the weather in Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay, thus they depend on major fronts moving inland every few weeks during the spring and summer while remaining dry through fall and winter. Based on recent emails their grain production will be reduced because of lengthy dry periods, which on low OM soils, affect the yields much quicker than we see on our 15 to 25 CEC soils.

Approaching a season where the bean prices have soared and are now profitable for corn, most farmers know that beans could produce more profit. There are still lots of questions about what they should do on their own acres. It is considered in many countries to be more manly to grow corn. With soybenas there are fewer bushels involved, the input costs are much lower, a hailstorm can do more damage and acceptable weed control is much more challenging. Following a droughty, derecho season when many growers might shy away from growing second year corn. At the same time a contrarian may conclude that corn may offer the most profit potential.

The moisture status and lighter soils in southern and southwest Iowa could be dangerously low in the springtime if replenishing rains do not arrive. At the same time the derecho blew enough corn down that volunteer corn could be a real issue, thus moving more second year corn growers to plant beans rather than corn. These issues could make the traditional battle for acres interesting. One thing I have seen is that when soybeans are managed for high yields with applied fertilizer, a foliar program and biologicals, the efforts are rewarded if late summer rains arrive.

Prioritizing inputs

After four to five years of low grain prices and growers concentrated more on trimming cost rather than trying to maximize yields they are still being judicious with expenses and input choices. It means that when sitting down with growers the common request is to help them identify two, three or four areas to concentrate on and bring into balance. In many cases we are seeing that on ground not receiving manure two to four nutrients are testing low to very low, to the point where yields are being limited by those micros or pHs that limit nutrient availability.

In cases where yields are not matching higher fertility levels a person typically needs to check on the soil biological activity levels that affect nutrient availability levels. This is where sending soil samples in for a Haney Test can be very valuable as it can affect the dollars spent on fertilizer.

Wells Ag, BioDyne and Next Level Ag out of South Dakota have joined forces in order to sleuth out which fertilizers and which mineral sources either have the best uptake and utilization rates among the plant nutrition firms as well as finding the most systemic and effective fertilizers for use in foliar programs. Thus far the five minerals (Mn, Zn, Cu, Fe and Ca) chelated by Glycine from Phytobiotics have been the most effective they have ever documented. Now with the profit potential for beans in 2021 being as high as we have ever seen, now may be the year to mark a course to try to improve bean yields by 10 to 20 Bu/A. This means writing down a set plan for timing, in-furrow applied products including biologicals if called for, and foliar applied materials.

When one sorts through a box of old fungicide containers you can see the active ingredients were Mn, Co, Zn and Iron. They were topical and were short lived as they washed off with the first rains. When the minerals were made systemic through chelation by a PO3 or an amino acid the negative aspects decreased or disappeared. SprayTec follows the same path using good nutrition to resolve most disease issues.

Treated soybean seed

We are likely seeing a higher percentage of the bean seed being delivered to the customer already treated with a seed treatment. If this applies to you clarify if any form or brand of Rhizobium has been coated on the seed. Two straight years with above normal rainfall followed by a summer with limited rain can reduce the levels of N fixing bacteria. In those situatins applying a top rated Rhizobium inoculant will be important.

In past columns I have suggested that inducing the bean plants to form extra branches, either by applying a product like Impulse, where the plants are given the building blocks for forming hormones, or a cytokine producing bacteria (PPFM) applied in the V2 to V4 growth stages are the simplest way to get the new branches. Later the extra branches are strengthened with foliar calcium. Either Seed Set or the Phytobiotics Ca glycinate can be used.

Maximizing soybean yields requires the final step of applying late foliar mixes to maximize seed size. Knowledgeable formulators vary in which minerals they are including. Thus far they have concentrated on K, S, Mg, Ca and Bo. We need to have comparative trials to see which one (s) perform the best. Early season foliars beginning near R1to shorten internode length, thus plant height, to permit late season applications are important to a high yield program.

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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