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Crop watch
September 5, 2019

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September came in like a lamb. How will it go out?

A year ago the start of September was marked by very heavy rain that moved in on a Saturday where both the ISU and UNL football games were rained out. The heavy rains lasted through early October and produced flooded conditions that lasted through the harvest season. This weekend the predicted heavy rains fizzled to light sprinkles before it hit central Iowa. All the late planted corn that we feared might be killed by an early to normal frost may succumb to a late summer drought. It will be the 4th or 5th time in the last decade where the crops have been affected by flooding and drought in the same season

Many questions remain about the USDA versus the private estimates on crop size. It appears that the way the tours and the estimates are compiled is a lot like the latest NBA drafts. The 18 and 19 year old athletes are drafted on their potential, where their skills are instilled by coaches and honed by experience. More accurate assessments of their professional ability can only be judged after they have reached 23 to 25 years old. Conducting the tour when many of the ears were only in the blister through milk stage and beans when the pods were still forming or in the early stages of pod fill gives outsiders a very premature judgement of both crops. The timing of the tours may need to be moved later in the season to get away from being judged on potential.

Prices, prices, prices. How does a person market with so many moving parts? Trump gained the approval of farmers by promising support for ethanol and promoting free trade. Yet the refinery waivers have continued as they undermined the ethanol markets. During the Carter years using food as a weapon told importing countries to continually seek new grain supplying countries. Don't risk all the efforts by commodity groups over the last two decades to increase export demand for the benefit of labor groups and manufacturers. Quit using food as a weapon.

One recent announcement was that a consortium of countries and groups were seeking funds for dredging Argentine's Parana River clear to Rosario. This would allow the Panamax freighters to travel upriver 300 to 400 miles to fill with beans at the large terminals near that city.

The head commodity advisor in Iowa moved to Florida from his home in Des Moines two weeks ago. Now Hurricane Dorian is threatening to tear the state apart. With 150 to 175 mph winds the damage could be catastrophic. Flooding through Georgia and the Carolinas could be severe. Pray for those people as it could make our tornadoes and blizzards seem minor.

Crop development

The corn crop continues to be behind the normal pace of development. A higher percent has reached the dough stage by Sept 1st, but lots of the last planted acres are still in the milk stage where 35 to 40 days of normal weathers is needed. With the recent days where the high temps were in the high 60s to low 70s coupled with earlier sunsets each days, maximizing grain fill with be a challenge. Shorter day length means fewer hours of heat, which is not tracked by the current tracking method.

The growers who are checking for ear size now are also looking at kernel depth and are finding kernels shallower than normal. Fewer hours of light and heat, lack of moisture, lower mineral uptake due to mineral deficiencies and lack of mineral uptake du to dry soils are all problems. So a higher percentage of the grain fill period of a substantial percentage of the crops will be affected.

Last week I commented on the many corn fields now showing major signs on decline. The first planted corn crop is maturing on schedule. The decline of the two later corn crops is now very visible in extreme north central parts of the state.

Around Mason City the corn is fried on the lighter soils and firing up to the ear on other fields. Soil health is being recognized as being critically important as having higher organic matter works as a sponge, both for minerals and as a storage site for moisture falling earlier in the growing season.

Growers looking at bean fill are also seeing signs that yields could be less than average. As one moves from north to south in the state the beans are shorter than average with the same applying to podded node counts. It is likely a good thing that many of the later planted fields were planted in 15-inch rows as sometimes even those plants did not close the rows. The lack of moisture and lack of heat units is being expressed as smaller bean size and lack of pod fill.

In August most of the yellowing seen in patches in the fields upon examination was poor potassium uptake. Soybeans are potassium (K) hogs as they begin to fill the seed. More of the yellowing appearing now seems to be due to SDS.

Dr Robert Kremer, USDA/ARS in Columbia, Missouri did the work to prove that application of a systemic herbicide caused the die off of the protective Pseudomonas fl. bacteria. That fungus normally produces and releases four compounds that kill off the SDS fungus. That same fungus is responsible for phosorus (P) release in the soil and for root uptake.

Out of necessity a lot of beans were planted no-tillage into standing stalks. The growers' experiences were often that beans have grown just as well as the worked fields and no-tilling into stalk fields in future years is something they would feel comfortable with. The performance of the Zidua Pro with its long residual convinced growers that there is a product mix that works.

One word about insect pressure in beans. Though very few aphids appeared before Aug 15th, northwest winds moved winged aphids into Iowa. Keep scouting fields that are still filling pods.

Plot viewing and converting acres to organic

I mention the Verdesian Research near Guthrie Center often. This season it has three different corn crops on it. Because the people who are involved with it are still in their mid summer mode, having a large assembly of speakers did not work to have a late August conference. This will be held in mid December. Many want to see how it looks yet. Dave, Marv and a few others will be at the farm on Sept 16th at 9:30 a.m. through 4 p.m. to give tours to see the corn. I pulled ears last week that were 22 X 52 with full sized kernels up and over the ear tip.

When attending the Beck's field day at Colfax a few weeks ago I had the chance to listen to Dave Ross talk about the increase in organic acres using the seed that his division manages and sells. He is expecting another good increase in volume. He also remarked that some top growers who were trying to develop better cash flows while battling the weather in 2018 and 2019 were using the disasters to their benefit. They used the one or two years of wet weather and prevent planting situation to build towards meeting the 36 month conversion process to gain organic status. By planting a small grain or legume crop for harvest, or a N fixing cover crop in 2019 they will be ready to raise a cash generating organic crop in the fall of 2020.

The word of organic often stirs up strong feelings. Some people swear by it while others dismiss it and swear at it.

There is a strong group of ag types that work in production ag that feel the focus of how food is raised that understand mineral nutrition and are up to date on the new diagnostic tools that are both here and soon to be commercialized. Those instruments can test for mineral content within thirty seconds as well as small molecules, as in pesticide residue, could be installed in cell phone for $5 to $7 each. The first of these were mailed out last December for $377. Others are being developed by several major U.S. companies while several from Korea, Israel and others are nearing release. These specialists believe that nutrient density and pesticide residue free should be what the focus is on.

If the creed from Socrates was "let your food be your medicine" is to be true, that should be the goal. With today's social media communication network, word of good or bad food in a store or from a company would spread fast. Word of such scrutiny would force food chains to offer such food.

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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