Renewable Farming

Consultant Streit: Is that predicted corn yield really out there?

As we enter the last half of September in our march to the start of harvest we seem to have two widely differing camps. On one side are the absolute lords of the high yield predictors who continue to insist that record yields are in every acre’s future and we will be drowning in excessive amounts of corn and soybeans. On the other side are farmers, crop advisors and custom applicators who have walked these same fields to see the waterholes, light stands, green snapped plants, lost nitrogen acres and tipped-backed ears to recognize there is only a slim chance it will happen.

Then to add to the suspense, we have seen much of NW Iowa get heavy enough rains to have large ponds in many fields, making most corn growers nervous as to whether their ‘now dead for three weeks’ stalks will stand until the combine makes it through those fields. Farmers to the south along I-80 are seeing stalk problems in fields. In much of Iowa, many growers had very slow going harvesting fields last fall.

Yield Predictions and Reality

One topic I tossed out a few weeks ago was that there seemed to be a serious disconnect between the yields projected by USDA and NASS, versus actual field observing individuals. That was illustrated again in the last week as the NASS figures showed that 26% of the Iowa crop was mature as of last weekend. Given the fact that a high percent (up to 90%) of the corn plants in the fields south of Hwy 3 were dead as of Sept 8th, after that 90+ F Tuesday with a strong south wind, does that mean that 64% of the plants died before they reached maturity? If they meant it, they finally are getting things right.

But does that mean they expect lower yields due to loss in grain fill days? If so the percent rated good to excellent needs to be lowered by a like percentage. Let’s see what their explanation might be. The early corn yields I am hearing about across the Cornbelt seem to be that the early wet soils plus the excess heat during June and July place a lot of stress on the plants. That is exactly what crop modeling by several ISU agronomists predicted. Extreme heat early coupled with the extreme moisture stress during the early vegetative period plus the heat during grain fill were the factors they reasoned would reduce grain fill. 

The Bayer and Monsanto Buyout

The downturn in commodity prices has put a serious dent in farmers’ income. Therefore belt tightening has been ongoing for two seasons now and the effect is trickling up to both seed and herbicide companies. But unlike farmers, they can usually pass the bill along to their customers. Their ROIs have been on the decline, thus we have seen three large mergers among former rivals.

None of these have been blocked yet, but final approval is still needed on some of these. We saw Syngenta get bought by Chem China months ago. This represented losing some of our seed sovereignty in that the U.S. companies Syngenta merged with or purchased over the year are now outside of U.S. control and may not function with our interests in mind. But having veto control over a Chinese and Swiss merger may have been outside of U.S. control.

Having two huge companies like Bayer and Monsanto combining is a huge move with long term implications. Again, food and ag security is an issue. Even the Peruvian natives understand this. One company has been moving in the right direction and the other not so much. One employs smart, people friendly people with no ego problem. The other, not so much. With weed and insect resistance eroding the value of some of the traits and seeing consumer backlash against some of their products the latter party’s value had likely peaked.

Many people questioned whether it was a good marriage. Two different cultures and personalities exist. The former is developing new greener and biologically friendlier products while the latter shut down their biological division just before it got to launch its promising products. One has a huge interest and stake in futuristic research and the other has a one track mind.

In the end both parties were being advised by the Bank of Rothschild, and big money usually gets what it wants, which in this case was likely shielding from health related lawsuits. Let’s see what the JD says about the deal. Senator Grassley and others need to recognize this and protect U.S. farmers and consumers. Most of the people in those two groups recognize that monopolies are very seldom beneficial to the consumers as choices disappear and prices for goods increase.      

So what does a person do on a beautiful Sunday in central Iowa? How about traveling to Guthrie County on Sept 18th to look at corn that is still grass green and still filling the kernels to an extreme depth while most of the surrounding fields are dead or nearly there. (My wife was going up to watch a grandson play soccer in northern IA, so I was free). Two of us did that to view corn that was sprayed with a new product (BioEmpruv) meant to keep the corn green and healthy.

We were looking at the 113 RM corn hybrid from a company out of Johnston, IA that had been planted on May 9th on fields on a low floodplain as well as rolling fields surrounded by trees on several sides that normally are disease incubation chambers. It received a small dose of the BE in-furrow followed by the rest of the 32 oz at tassel applied by a copter along with a generic triazole. Except for small southern rust lesions on leaves in certain areas the plants were still healthy and the ‘not yet black layered’ kernels were still filling. Ear size was huge with most of the kernels barely dented. Ear weight was phenomenal.

Right across the fence, ears on the brown corn appeared on course to yield about 80 to 100 Bu/A lower.

Our observation was that the use of certain N stabilizers in with the 82% and top dressed 46% acted synergistically to help the plants stay green and filling. A farming friend explained this by relating that ammonia is used in slaughtering plants to sterilize the floors and walls. Ammonia can be sprayed on plants to help kill bacteria and sterilize the leaf surfaces. In addition we are experimenting to see if we can extend residual control using patented polymers or UV protectors? We shall find out yet.    

Early and late last week I was with two farmers 85 miles south of IA City who had finely crafted their crop nutrient program utilizing soil applied macronutrients along with foliar micronutrients the soil and tissue tests indicated were low. They were already combining the April 6th to 9th planted hybrids last Monday. Their disease management program was about the same as that used in Guthrie County. Yields so far have been very good with extremely good stalk quality. As in 225+ Bu/A and higher.

During the Guthrie Center field visit we split stalks in a neighboring untreated field. We found larger black cavities within the stalk where the black lesions were visible on the outside leaves and leaf sheathes. There was little strength left and stalk lodging was going to be an issue.         

I took pictures and movies with a good Canon HD camera to capture the sights to use at meetings as more farmers are beginning to recognize there has been a problem with corn plant health in recent years. No one has come up with a good explanation or a solution and corn growers deserve that.  

 Rotted Shanks

As you scout your corn fields for the final time prior to harvest it is typically beneficial to squeeze the stalks to see if they are either soft or rigid. Rigid is good and being spongy and soft indicates that earlier than normal harvest is advised. If there are lots of brownish or black spots on the stalk, it is usually an indication that the stalks will be rotted. In quite a few fields the plants were beginning to die and decay in early August. Check to see if any of your fields fit that category.     

Crop consultant Bob Streit        (515) 432-0907