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CROP WATCH
February 9, 2018

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Early February and old man winter is trying to teach us that he is still boss. Temps are in the low teens and the wind is whistling on this the Super Bowl Sunday. Packer and Vike's fans might like to say that an official Super Bowl has to have one of those teams in it, but that is likely to never happen. Something always seems to break down when they get into the big game. Oh well, it was fun watching this fall. As for all the visitors who are spending the weekend up in Minneapolis, there is no way we would ever wish for the temps to be up in the 40s or 50s. Give them a good dose of the cold stuff so they can talk about how tough the natives have to be to survive in the northern Midwest.

The big Iowa Power Show was held at the old Vets and new HyVee hall in Des Moines last week. The crowds seemed to be about normal, though it is tougher to gauge the size versus years ago as the increase in venue space and the lack of crowded aisles makes it appears smaller. We were extremely busy at our booth during the first two and a half days, There were lots of good questions from attendees as they anticipate being in business yet for another season and were looking for tips to either boost yields and profitability. The machinery part of the show also had many machines on display. The typical axiom for machinery shows tends to be 'bigger is better', but flexibility and ability to improve soil health, thus higher yields seemed to be the goal of the people that were kicking the tires.

New ideas

What may have been the most gratifying from being at the IPS was that a lot of all age of growers stopped by to visit. There were a lot of new ideas and questions exchanged. A number of those thoughts and questions were the type that showed today's growers have been thinking outside the box. In their quest to become more efficient or productive growers they are showing the ability to think outside the box. Whether it was the use of humates, stabilizer, hormonal or signaling compounds, new biologicals, or new fertilizers they were pushing the suppliers and scientists behind today's companies to also be innovative and not sit on any laurels. That reminded me of the old axiom 'if everyone in the room is thinking alike, there ain't no one thinking'.

High yields

I mentioned last week that Genesis Ag held a meeting at the Gateway Hotel two weeks ago. Hugh Lovell is a keep of old time knowledge that those under 65 typically don't get to encounter. He is often a speaker at international crops conference where they get into the nitty gritty aspects of plant growth and the energy used by plants to do so. One of his theories involves the linkage and priority of different minerals taken up by plants as we build fertility programs to make that happen. As far as whether or not his knowledge is valuable is answered by learning that the national corn yield contest winners in recent years have been using the products that he helped to develop.

In Lovell's presentation he covered the biodynamic mineral uptake sequence, which was somewhat new for me. Number 2 on that list was good old 'silica'. The theory is that if the thicker leaves that are observed at least in corn, potatoes and in sugar beets is the layer that holds the chloroplasts meant to capture sunlight photons, will that rate and amount of capture going to be increased substantially?

Cover crops

At the same conference Ray Archuleta, the USDA's top cover crops and soil microbiology teacher, told the attendees how when growers took to using 6 to 12 cover crop blends in their seed mixes were seeing great increases in vegetative growth and a great reduction in moisture stress under dry conditions versus when only one crop was used. After their trials confirmed this finding and they took pictures they were tasked with trying to explain this occurrence. They did not know exactly what to conclude and what was happening except to say there was a big difference they had not expected and there had to be a connection between the root exudates and biological signaling occurring below the soil surface.

Once you see the pictures and watch any YouTube videos of Gabe Brown and his Soil Carbon Cowboys it will generate questions about how we might be able to capture and repeat the same things in our fields. One thought the participants had was that the increased microbial populations might be scavenging water out of the humidity in the air as they respire and making it available to the plant roots.

Ward Labs and Big Cob Hybrids

There are more mentions of the Haney soil test that can be run on soil samples that are already being pulled to use in gauging mineral levels exist in the fields and rating the level of Biological activity is occurring in them. The two top labs that are correlating the testing protocol with Dr Rich Haney of Temple, TX are Ward Labs in Kearney, NE and Brookside Labs out in Ohio. Midwest Lab is also analyzing lots of samples using the Haney protocol. The cost is typically in the $45 to $60 range per sample and the same soil sample utilized for the mineral analysis can also be used for the Haney test.

Now that more farmers are having the Haney test run the issue that follows it is how to read the results and how does one manage the soil and field once you have the report. Your crop advising agronomist will have to get some coaching to understand and then explain what the number mean. It takes more than one paragraph and likely more than one page to cover the logic and recommendations behind each report. Doing all of that can mean substantial dollars can be saved or gained with the additional knowledge, especially since the higher the Haney Scores, the higher the yield goals should be set as long as nutrient availability remains high as long as the crops remain green and filling the grain. The last point is best proven as we have seen the Guthrie Center research farm corn yields climbed into the 280 -340 in 2016 and another 30 Bu/A in 2017. Those yields have been real as long as the BioEmpruv has been added to keep the corn plants alive, green, and filling thru late October.

We had one young and well self-educated 80 year young farmer from near Hancock visit our booth. I had dropped products off at his farm early last spring after the period of heavy rain. He related how his goal the last decade was to raise an entire field of 300 Bu/A corn. His fields looked very good in 2017 and he finally realized his goal. He was still smiling. One item listed is the soil active carbon level, meaning the ppm or lbs of total and biologically available carbon, which serves as a food source for the bacteria and fungi in the soil. What is seen is that if the microbes are nutritionally satisfied with enough carbon containing material they keep producing the organic acids that free up the minerals the plants are needing for forming plant parts and sugars. That carbon level can be increased by the growing of deep rooted and multi-specie cover crops and even the addition of dry or liquid humates.

Having a source of manure source can have a similar a beneficial effect, as applying carbon containing, nutrient rich, manure has great advantages over applying commercially dry fertilizer.

New livestock into the upper Midwest

We all have neighbors that currently or have raised cattle and hogs in their history. Might that change in your area and on your farm? Things are in the works to have more chicken for meat, fish and even shrimp added to the menu. A number of people stopped by our booth at the IPS and told of what they are learning about new additions to the livestock in their areas. From what I heard at the IPS along with earlier visits was that more chickens meant to be meat birds were going to be raised, and that expansions with both farm raised fish and shrimp were on schedule.

In an enlightened move both ventures are being guided by people who often were as strong in identifying and understanding the market as they were in developing their production plans. If they are going to spend money it is always good to know who will be buying their products and what kind of price can be expected.

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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