Renewable Farming

Consultant Bob Streit: No input is immune from “saving” $100 per acre in 2016

Marketing and market prices seem to be the big issue this fall as everyone realizes we have lots of bushels seeking a home. Livestock numbers are up while export numbers appear erratic and headed downwards. Ethanol numbers remain static, but with only one new plant built in the Midwest in the last three years there does not appear to be much growth in that sector.

The one surprise lately has been the acres being signed up for the CRP program due to their occasional flooding or potholing in wet years. The dollar amounts per acre have been higher than expected.

Crop Consultants Meeting

The Iowa Crop Consultants held their fall update meeting the day before the ISU Crops conference. The fall meeting has become the place for seed and herbicide companies to send their tech reps to give a rundown on how any new products or varieties performed this season in field trials and what was planned for their commercialization. The event was more momentous years ago when there were more new products being released each year that could add to the toolbox for weed or insect management or for adding extra bushels.

Greg Tylka, ISU nematologist, gave a rundown on the new items and new trials he conducted this past season. A good analogy to years of nematode research is that it has been like a long game of ‘whack a mole’.

The little critters just keep showing up and doing the unexpected each year. He related how great research results and expectations can accompany products, but when put into small plots those results can disappear. This can be the case even when farmer usage gives very positive response.

The major appearance of Sudden Death Syndrome in much of the state also received attention. The use of cultural management steps along with hard chemistry controls was discussed.

The topic of fungicides came up. Over the last two years there have been a number of new triazoles and strobes released. They vary somewhat in their strong points, or their level of systemic activity. Their main limitations (as identified back in 2004 in writings by people at Cornell, UK scientists and Syngenta specialists) was that each had a very focused action site and was going to be prone to resistance developing against the three fungicide families.

I was waiting for one of the presenters to voice the introspective thought about what conditions or mismanagement made the crops so prone to insect or disease attack. Wouldn’t that be what Confucius would ask?


Bob Streit

The ICM Conference

For the first time in a few years, my schedule allowed me to attend the Crop Clinic held in Ames. The crowd was large with seasoned vets age 60-plus down to new graduates in their first year or two of employment. Everybody was there to see old friends who had fought similar battles as well as to see what piece of info they could pick up from one of the presenters.

I have to commend the organizers for identifying good people from the colleges in neighboring states who could relate what they had learned from one or more years of study on their cropping specialty. They complemented those at ISU and will reciprocate when asked. There were topics covering every crop grown on row crop or pasture ground across the Midwest, as well as most livestock species raised. The economics of raising those crops were discussed as well as how the marketing of the grain was supposed to be conducted.  

A number of the newer presenters were in the late 20s to early 30s and were very sharp. They seem to be following a pathway whereby they hoped to conduct their studies on topics such as white mold or SDS in a fashion that would let them assemble a predictive model for that disease. The plan was for the growers to be more judicious in the use and expense of hard chemistries.    

At time inexperience showed up, such as one researcher remarking that their disease of study seemed to be less of an issue in fields with a higher pH — but he had not considered that calcium levels seemed to be an influencing factor. In this case a generalist supervising or advising a specialist would be good thing, as it would tie together different sciences as growers or crop advisors are often asked to.

The plant disease specialists were well represented in both soybean and corn culture. Since they are identifying new diseases every year that seem to be increasing in importance, they deserved the time. They have definitely earned their keep and support the last few years. It may be good to ask the same question as to why this surge in new diseases seems to be accelerating instead of slowing down.

Is it an issue of pathogens mutating, or are the crops becoming most disease-prone hosts? Which researcher will begin to tie nutritional status of the plants with disease susceptibility? One presenter from a neighboring state suggested there might be a connection he was hoping to begin studying: It was “if herbicide use may increase disease susceptibility, and if so, what might be the connection.”  

In future years, sessions by a small team of good soil microbiologists would be welcome. With that science and the issue of the role biologicals in production ag increasing with new developments every few months and more practitioners and growers realizing that soil fertility has a big biological component, it deserves attention.

All in all, this was a good two day event.

Winter Decisions

Now is the official beginning time of decision making for crop growers in the Midwest. They are all still listening for any ‘expert’ who can tell them exactly how to trim $100 per acre off their cropping budget for the coming season. In old terminology ‘Whose ox is going to get gored’?

I was reading a farm magazine article where the author simply assumed every corn grower was going to spend $124 per corn acre, or $300 per bag of seed corn for the coming season. With machinery expense already being set, fertilizer prices not declining, herbicide expenses actually increasing due to weeds not dying, and cash rent being out of farmers control for those who rent ground — can any item be held sacred?

For the time being the big unknowns seem to be the extent of the dry weather in South America, the risk to their second crop, and the effect of Argentina having thrown out their socialist president. After years of subsidizing nearly 100% of the social services under Christina, it sounds like the growers in Argentina will finally get relief. It is likely to free up grain that has been in storage for several seasons. It may also eliminate the practice of turning cash into cattle as soon as any check is cashed. They figured out that politicians and bankers will steal anything that doesn’t need to be fed or housed.

By crop consultant Bob Streit, Boone, IA   515-709-0143    Published Dec. 8, 2015