Renewable Farming

Crop consultant Bob Streit’s heads-up for the 2022 crop season

It is the start of a brand new year and many areas with agriculture start with a clean slate. In many realms the slate is not clean and there are more unknowns that normal. There are lots of supply chain and input supply questions that we may not have final answers on or about until the season gets close to starting.

January 10, 2022 By Bob Streit What we do know is that grain prices are much higher than at the start of 2021 and about five years prior to that. Are we in the midst of a commodity super cycle blowoff, or have there been enough weather challenges to lower available grain supplies? Have recent USDA crop reports been tweaked to keep grain prices down and keep food price increases somewhat in check?

We saw a sizeable increase in bean prices as our production competitors in the two major grain producing South American countries now have to deal with hotter and drier weather. If the days of 105-degree weather materialize, even the irrigated corn grain and seed fields could zero out. We have seen that in person and saw that center pivots with any adequate water supply could not keep up with plant demand.  

More than one person has suggested that so much of the heavily forested area in Brazil has been cleared that it has changed the weather, rainfall patterns and cycles. Clearing of heavily forested slopes in several of the Hawaiian Islands has changed their rainfall patterns and amounts. Yield checks made in several months will provide factual documentation for corn and bean yields in those two or three major grain producers.  

Making Preparations for the 2022 Growing Season

After a few years where a wider assortment of planter add-ons and updates were available, many farmers evaluated where they were at with their planting equipment, decided their planter frames were in good shape, and added on down pressure equipment, newer seed drop equipment and high speed capability in the off seasons. However, for the coming season there may be enough uncertainty about availability of parts that any on-the-fence operators may not want to have their planter torn down in case of not being able to get the retrofit equipment they had been promised.

In most cases, the majority of operators have the planting capacity to cover the acres they need to in the expected planting windows. In 2021, early planting often did not pay as soil temps took a nosedive in late April and early May. More are now asking about any mixture of carbon, microbes and minerals that can be applied in-furrow to warm those few inches of soil by ten degrees or so. For the past few seasons a product by CarbonWorks has been used in Minnesota with good results. It is called RSTC-17. There are also others that involve sugar and microbes.

Regenerative Ag

The word used now by futuristic thinkers as they draw up their fertility and soil treatment plans is Regenerative Ag. Too many firms and growers have jockeyed to be considered the most sustainable in what they did without any substantial improvement in the long-term soil health arena in their operation or within their state.

Now that more companies have been exploring the wide and complex world of soil biology, the thought or proposal to trim inputs to increase ROIs is not thought of as heresy. Improving soil quality rather than just maintaining the status quo is their goal.

Bob Streit

One partnership on display at The Big Soil Health Conference was a new soil testing lab near Kearney, Nebraska. Lance Gunderson, longtime testing lab veteran, opened his new Regen Ag Lab in 2019. Growers and consultants can send this lab their cover-cropped soil and forage samples for analysis. What they can measure is the expected N release from the above and below ground contribution to crop available nitrogen for the upcoming season, using the Haney test.

Backing him up and continuing to hone his ideas will be Dr Rick Haney, who retired from his USDA post down in Texas. What Lance and his customers have seen in recent seasons is that farmers in central Nebraska who have planted cover crops have fixed enough N in any above ground foliage, plus grown enough legume covers that fix N in the biological portion of the soil, that they have seen sizable N savings in recent seasons.

Now at a time when N costs have reached $1/Lb, they have been seeing even higher savings. What each grower can do with representative fields is better calculate available N in the cover crops and contained in the  soil biology fraction. Fine-tuning N needs versus supply can be alarge economic issue in 2022.

At that conference it was interesting to hear personal stories from growers who started out on their own, using older and smaller equipment, and worked years with different cover crop rotations out of necessity. They now find themselves having soils that have become highly productive and profitable.

Where some of this is going can be speculated upon, but work at both the U of ILL and with a soil microbiologist at New Mexico State firmly suggest there are ancient microbes that functioned better at releasing minerals and fixing N 80 to 100 years ago, but have been turned off due to the use of certain products or the advancement of newer genetic families. The question those scientists ask is, can those ancient microbe be resurrected and cultured to serve their original purpose again?

Major Questions for This Season

In a season where our largest grain trading partner is still our greatest adversary, there are still many unknowns about the coming season. Big will be fertilizer supplies and their availability to move products when and to where they are needed. So much of the disruptions still appear to be orchestrated, but you and I don’t get to see the ports or facilities to get the full picture of what is happening. Forced vaccination requirements could or did pull many truckers off their jobs. Never discount the actions of the longshoremen as well.

A high percentage of the anhydrous that would have been spring applied got applied this fall as the ground stayed thawed until late December. If natural gas supplies remain adequate we should see production of UAN rebuilt. We are seeing several universities discuss the possibility of seeing second-year beans being planted if N shortages persist. My view is that beans yielded extremely well in 2021. If dry conditions west of the Missouri river are in effect yet in April and May, it could result in more beans being planted. The better than expected corn yields this past year were a gift and could easily have gone the other way.   

What strategy could best be used to control rootworm damaged in first and second year corn is still in question. Many of the traits did not do the job and planter-applied products did not impress. The market is still open for a longer residual post-emerge product. Any bean field with lots of large escaped waterhemp plants that attracted the egg laying adults may be the fields needing the most help.

The Iowa Power Show

It is hard to believe but the large indoor Iowa Power Show (renamed the Iowa Ag Expo) is only three weeks away, Feb. 1-3 in Des Moines. Normally it marks the halfway point of winter. Having 60 and 70 degree temps thru mid-December changed that perception. Being there and seeing what new products or attachments should make it worth attending.

To Do List:

Research into what the high yield soybean growers are doing to boost yields. Simply aiming for cleaner fields while ignoring plant nutrition and plant physiology is not going to do the job. Maintaining high nutrient levels thru the late R periods are key. With $13 to $14/Bu prices there will be financial rewards for astute growers who figure out a few more important steps.

In corn, maintaining optimum plant health through the normal black layering date is important.

Have you heard any real good explanation as to what Tar Spot is and how to manage the crop to avoid problems with it? We may have a few pictures and leaf analyses of it at our booth at the Iowa Power Show. 

You can reach Bob at 3728 Pleasant View Road, Ames, Iowa 50014 (515) 709-0143