Renewable Farming

A clear-weather harvest helped salvage downed corn

By crop consultant Bob Streit, Boone, IA —How many farmers or elevator employees would have bet the farm on there being no weather delays in this fall’s harvest season? One or two at the most? We seem to have swung in the opposite direction as everyone seems to have noticed that we have not received any significant rainfall during that time period. Such a ‘quick drought’ is fine as long as it does not come during the grain fill period of both corn and beans. Luckily the late August and early Sept rainfall amounts were plentiful and contributed to the very good to excellent bean yields in the central Corn Belt.

Now that the harvest of the 2015 crop is drawing to a close, the focus will become marketing this crop and beginning to make preparations for 2016 crops. This process will include doing any tillage or fall fertilizer applications, making any fall planned adjustments or additions to equipment and getting updated at any local crop meetings in your areas planned to further your area of expertise or interest. The markets are in the toilet as expected. Several cycles are in play. The bottom typically comes shortly after the mid-point of harvest. Weather and markets analyst Larry Acker is predicting there will be a few fireworks yet this month. What might they be?

The fall flush of political candidates marching through Iowa on a daily basis continues. The list of candidates is longer than ever with quite a range of name or face recognition among potential voters. I am not sure how things stack up in the urban districts, but the feeling among inhabitants of all rural districts is that politicians are like dirty diapers and it is high time to make a change. I do like the comments that office holders and candidates need to be required to dress like NASCAR drivers where the names of their financial sponsors are worn on their jackets.

The World Food Prize

Last week was the time for the annual World Food Prize ceremony, held in Des Moines. The original intent of the festivities was to focus attention on the noble goal of producing enough food for everyone on the planet, particularly in Africa. With the lack of infrastructure in many of those countries and lack of inputs, they have had a problem in production.

Lots of efforts are now going into small loans to women, who do most of the physical work while the men sit around and talk soccer. The loans enable small businesses and help the women become capitalists. They now seem to have grasped the concept that making a profit is not a bad thing. I attended Wednesday’s proceedings to listen to a few sessions and to connect with a few people and writers.

One of the people I visited with was the lady in charge of ag statistics. I commended her for her work, but mentioned that her staff was publishing data about what percent of the corn crop had black layered or what percent had dropped leaves long after the crop was in the bin.

She had not received any word that the corn crop died four to six weeks early from diseases, with much of it showing severe lodging problems. Where is the disconnect?

Soil Armor?

Bob Streit pulling soil samples

One phrase coming out of the eastern states this fall is the need for more and continual ‘soil armor’ during expected wet spells. This armor is the layer of plant residue which helps absorb the impact energy of a rain drop. This way the energy is soaked up by the layer of old plant material, reducing the amount of soil dislodged and carried away by excessive rainfall.

I was driving back from west central Illinois and Missouri on Monday after being in St Louis over the weekend. Thru much of the area, the post-harvest ground is amazingly clear of residue cover. In most of the tilled fields, a strip of soil in the waterway was left untouched, but much of the remaining soil across the fields has very little surface residue and looks to be very prone to water or wind erosion.

For the past two seasons, it has been easy to see fields where compacted strips are readily visible from a distance. If a person owns or has access to an inline ripper this fall, it should be a perfect time to ‘deep rip’ such fields using an inline ripper with no wings. Shattering the dense soil layers will help allow next year’s plant roots to explore more of the soil profile and extract more nutrients and water.

 Downed Corn

The root lodging predictions for this year’s corn crop came true as strong winds pushed down rotted stalks. In many fields, dead plants were forced to stand in the fields for two months after they died. Meanwhile, disease causing organisms continued to produce enzymes which rot the stalk’s tough tissue. There is a lot more lodging in these late harvested corn fields than has been written about by the ag media.

And in trying to assess the causes of the problem, no one wants to hear that many of the fungicide applications were not the panacea as advertised. The best explanation for the lack of product performance was that fungi were not the principal cause of the early death of those corn plants.    

The plant pathology dept at the U of Illinois recently published about their discovery of another new bacterial disease in corn. It is called ‘Bacterial stripe’ and has been spotted and sampled in many fields in Illinois. Its lesions looks suspiciously like those in many of the Midwest corn fields in this fall. There is little historical data on this new disease, so work has to be done to figure out the economic implications and any method of control. Is this another case of a new pathogen or increasing susceptibility of our corn plants due to poor nutrition?

 $100 per Acre

That is the amount producers are being told must be trimmed from their input budget for the 2016 season. How are your plans going to be shaped around this logic?

At this point it appears that the two areas in the budget where such flexibility exists are in seed and fertilizer. The surveys were conducted to see how many farmers will risk losing money on a field in 2016 to maintain their lease for future seasons.

They recognize that fixing cash rents might be out of their control. If trimming fertilizer dollars is one of two options, their quest is how to prioritize essential inputs and to get optimum response from the expenses. This is where planter applied 2 x 2 as well as foliar applications should closely examined due to the efficiencies they offer.

As to seed selection, the question will be which companies can justify their products’ prices and which traits if any can be justified. Remember that many of those traits came in as means of convenience and a substitute for scouting and perhaps treating in season.

The behind the scene debate between big equipment companies and big seed companies back in 1997 centered on each parties’ desire to extract their monies first from their customer base. There were earlier and larger discussions back in the late 1980s and early 90s on related topics.    

Weed Control

Two recommendations on weed management: Now is the optimum time to spray thistles in pastures, on end rows, in CRP patches, in ditches or in waterways with systemic products that get to their roots. Too many of these patches have been flourishing in recent years helping to spread these troublesome weeds. The second item would be to remember to get weed seed samples gathered from any patch of weeds that seemed to survive normal herbicide applications. They can be sent in to labs doing testing for true resistance.


By crop consultant Bob Streit  Boone, Iowa 50036 515-709-0143

Published October 20, 2015