Renewable Farming

Consultant Bob Streit: Potential exists for a wild ride this crop season

Geopolitical turmoil, fertilizer shortages, South American drought, higher grain prices — Consultant Bob Streit’s advisory to clients attempts to put uncertainties into perspective.

February 21, 2022 By Bob Streit  The shortest month of the year seems to be streaking by; March will be here soon. The days will be longer and the temps will be warming up. I could usually state that the snow banks are beginning to melt, but here in the center of the state we only have had two measurable snows with the one in mid-January of ten to twelve inches being the only one that we had to dig out from.

Otherwise northwest Iowa has no snow on the ground, and the same goes for much of Minnesota and South Dakota.  In the last two weeks, two 10-day weather forecasts predicted strong chances for major snow events to move thru the state, but both moved on a southerly path and went thru Kansas and Missouri instead dropping over 6 inches or more in with each of them. Having storms miss us now is good, but not during the summer when we will need the rain.

The national weather surveys make mention of this when they said that drought conditions are bad in 32% of the country with over 50% existing to some degree in most areas west of the Missouri River.

Bob Streit

On the world stage and within the U.S. there are many different events that could have significant impact on all Americans and businesses. The first has to do with Russia and their leaders who want to help their country get back to their old glory days of when there was a USSR with its socialist states. Putin still seems stuck in the past when one county could invade another one and impose their will on its citizens. The decades of occupation along with Stalin’s orchestrated starvation of the Ukrainians has not been forgotten by the Ukraine people — as a few of the older folks remember the event or hear of it thru their grandparents. My wife and I heard these starvation stories from their descendants we got to know over there in 2015.  

And now the normally staid and docile inhabitants of our neighbors to the North have their Fidel Castro wannabe, Prime Minister Trudeau, so stirred up that it will lead to his downfall. One well-spoken and extremely well-educated national figure in the U.S. suggested that we sent troops to free their citizens from their oppressors. And we thought that things were crazy in Australia.

Couple those items with the effects of the impending shortfall of two major crops in South America, transportation and workforce challenges here, and unknow input arrivals, we might be in for a ride this summer. Grain prices remain high and may go higher until some black swan event appears. We need to remain observant, but we have to keep doing what we normally do now, and that is to keep making plans for the coming growing season, and if you have livestock keep tending to it.   

An updated Web Design: Carol and I have been working with our web designer in updating our website. We will try to post info and articles that we and colleagues come across that you might find interesting. The address is

Winter Events

The Iowa Power Show of 2022 is now in the rear-view mirror. The temperatures were cold but the roads remained clear and posed no problems to travel. The crowds were big on Tuesday and Wednesday but slacked off for Thursday, which is normal. Judging crowd size is difficult as now there is six times as much space as there was twenty years ago, spread across three buildings with three layers of displays and exhibits.

It seemed like there were more smaller exhibits, rather than the huge ones by major companies. It is typically the smaller companies with specialized products developed by one or more dedicated owners or workers that are willing to think outside the box in their efforts to develop a new idea or had a vision based on a need they noticed.

We had our Central Iowa Ag and Supply booth as always at the bottom of the escalator. Folks and producers that wanted to stop got to see posters and gather information on microbials, new amino acid chelated micronutrients, several fertilizers, and garner information on how to product their crops against hot weather and moisture shortages if and when they occur again.     

Another topic of interest was Tar Spot and what we knew of it. Our opinion is different than most in that we remain the only group that has done a mineral analysis of affected leaf tissue to see which minerals were in excess or deficient. The information also exists of what the role of each mineral is in the corn plant.

Might that not be significant, especially if the cost to treat it as most official published recommendations on how/what with/and when to treat it, if they have it custom applied approaches $56 to $60/A? It did help to have a person overseeing our results who has viewed similar symptomology on oil palm and bananas, and had access to an X-Ray Defraction Scanner. If you are in that undecided group, you need to ask a few questions yet to clarify the issue. 

Fertilizer Supplies and Prices

One hot topic was that of fertilizer supplies and prices. There are no easy answers on that front. Very few growers were completely on top of that. I know of only one person who recognized in March 2021 that the charts and S America weather reports warned him of smaller grain supplies and higher commodity prices, so he priced all of his 2022 fertilizer needs in March of 2021.

That was a great interpretation of the tea leaves by that individual, as his budget will not have to reckon with the huge increases seen for many inputs. On the shipping end I know that several suppliers who planned to receive product shipped from overseas are seeing the cost of moving a 20 ft. cargo container rise from $900-$1100 in 2020 to $11,000 now.

In one article in the national press, Cargill said that only one sixth of the increase in fertilizer prices could be justified by the increased cost of natural gas. How several levels of businesses in the production and supply chain lost bit with the volatility seen in 2008-9 season and now in 2021-2 is that each level will try to insulate themselves from huge increases or decreases in prices and wanting to make sure they are not left holding the bag when the prices collapse. The basic major mining companies are included in this. We are likely to see new countries become suppliers as well as see new deposits becoming developed.

The Wolf Man

Years ago, late on Friday night we used to listen to a Little Rock radio station, KAAY, where the DJ went by the handle of the ‘Wolf Man’. Well, this is about another Wolf man by the first name of Tom. He happens to be a Canadian with a PhD from Ohio state who goes by the nickname of the Nozzle Guy.

If you have never read his columns you should start, as he has a very good handle with what is happening in the application and spray world. He explained drift better and more completely than anyone else has in his 2021 column. He just wrote one after Horscht Co. allowed him to preview their new high clearance sprayer. They had been delaying this launch in the U.S. until all U.S. and international patents were granted, for fear of major thievery.  

[Editor’s note: One entry point to Tom Wolf’s articles is at this link.]

Meanwhile, he has been following the development and spread of herbicide resistant weeds and the challenges of making proper applications of the right herbicides in windier conditions, like we have been seeing in recent years. There have been numerous improvements in booms, sensors, shutoffs and so on.

Another major step has been the development of the new optically equipped, smart ID software and algorithm enhanced systems that as they move thru the field they spot a plant, ID it against a large proven data base, and then apply a burst of herbicide to individual or spots of weeds. Amazone has been doing this for years and did have sprayers and a dealership in Illinois. Mr. Wolf mentioned that two companies will be testing operational sprayers in the U.S. in 2022. If postemerge herbicide supplies are short this season and these shortages exist in 2023, it would be nice if you use one of these machines.

At the IPS show one company had a mock-up of a boom section that will be attached to their machine for field trials.      

Nitrogen Needs and Thoughts for 2022

A high percentage of corn growers who typically apply anhydrous in the fall heard of the threat that supplies may be short and that prices would be moving higher. Countering that was the acknowledgment that applying N closer to plant uptake offered better N efficiency.

For both parties and for the former who have been split applying using UAN with Y-drops, we still have to get the facts before we can plan our spring time application activity. Will N be available or do split 82% fall/spring Y-droppers or should spring UAN users apply 100 lbs. of UAN or AMS and seek alternative sources for the remainder? Most growers have heard of read about both Pivot and Envita microbes. I have worked with and know more about the latter. We saw the Envita plot by the ISU FEEL Lab last Aug and it looked great.

Two weeks ago, five of us visited the lab of an incredibly seasoned and smart chemist/microbiologist. His thoughts were he has found that both fixed N, but at different times, early or late in the plant growth cycles, and that herbicides and fungicides applied during their lifetime could determine success or failure of each microbe in fixing enough N for the grower.

He further explained and said that having the greatest number of different N fixing microbes in the field along with a high WEOC (water extractable organic carbon) as a food source would be the best alternative. Growers forced to this likely need to have their own SPAD meter to take readings in August. Look up ‘At Leaf’ for their $269 meter or Minolta’s for $2,700.

In that light, an interesting tidbit from the plant genetics and soil microbial field from the University of Illinois researchers is that over time most N fixation was done by what are now called ancient microbes. Older corn lines, often dating to the time before the creation of inbreds, produced root exudates which attracted and hosted N fixing microbes.

When plant breeders began their selective corn breeding they were oblivious to these microbes and over time bred out for this hosting ability. Cheap synthetic nitrogen served as a substitute, and record yield improvements were seen thru today. Now with $1/lb. N and knowledge of these microbes, there are thoughts that breeders and soil micro people may want to slant future genetic improvement on reawakening these ancient symbiotic relationships.