Renewable Farming

Full-season fertility and biologicals offer an edge in a tight-margin season

As I have stated before, on corn following soybeans, I would sooner seek high yields and better profitability by choosing a lower or non-traited hybrid and use half of the savings on in-season fertilizer, micronutrients, foliar fertilizer or products to keep the plants as green as long as possible.

Dec. 17  By Bob Streit — Based on what we saw in the 2016 growing season and earlier, I would also include spending on products that produced higher Haney soil quality scores. The yields over 240 bu. corn were primarily produced where Haney scores were 10 or higher.

In December, there were too many conferences and meetings to attend or speak at. There was another seminar Tuesday Dec. 13 at the Gateway in Ames with five speakers on crop production and weed control.

In this one and most of the others I have been, attendance was at the top end of expected tallies. Strong farmer showing indicates that getting educated for the coming growing season is on most peoples’ minds. Being well versed in most applicable areas is still the best way to make the crucial decisions about what products to choose or which production scheme is most likely to fare well as producing the most favorable ROI.

As in last season, most growers are not hearing any financial forecasts that portray that 2017 will be a rosy year. Instead many are hoping that the dry weather that positioned itself over the southeastern delta states strengthens and moves north and a bit west for next season and trims the yields in that part of the country.

It is anyone’s guess as far as what will happen next season.

Input prices have finally declined in the areas of fertilizer and machinery. A few herbicide prices dropped measurably and enough to help in the budgeting.

Land rents have been the big targets for many people, but with outside investors believing that a 5 percent return on investment was guaranteed on land purchases, and now with gross revenue down significantly, many of them still don’t want to recognize that the majority of growers are having to make tough decisions about which rental pieces they may have to drop.

Last spring when a University of Illinois survey asked growers how long they would continue to rent a piece of ground if they were going to lose $50, $75, $100 per acre each year, the authors were surprised at how many would stick it out and keep farming it. What might we see in the near future?

There will be more conferences through the rest of winter. The Iowa Power Show is scheduled for late January. Then the Triumph of Ag will follow in early March for the western Iowa and Nebraska crowd.

The ISU crowd was very good with many good sessions being held on a wide variety of topics. Due to the willingness of the Midwestern Land Grand Universities to hear what was occurring in neighboring states researchers from Purdue, Illinois, Wyoming and Arkansas were invited to make presentations.

Included were talks about high-yield soybeans by a Pioneer agronomist. Ironically, practices as tested and perfected by Kip Cullers, the pronounced soybean-growing king of the last decade, were discussed.

The last time I saw a presentation given on his growing practices, Jim Specht of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was saying that whatever Cullers was doing had no chance of working. In reality they worked perfectly, except most people did not know what questions to ask.

Cover crops and how to maximize their value was another topic. As more growers value their nutrient scavenging properties, more decide they need to raise their Haney scores, some decide using them offers the best chance of managing their waterhemp seed bank, and they figure out how to manage the timing in a corn/soybean rotation, they will continue to gain in acreage.

In a similar vein, but where the presenters were more inquisitive, and the topic was weeds, they were looking at more holistic approaches and trying to figure out how herbicide use could be integrated into systems where other control steps were used to lower seed banks and emergence.

They are starting to recognize the treadmill that farmers recognize they are on. With zero new herbicides being introduced in recent years the harsh reality is hitting us in the face. There aren’t going to be any new bullets for a while.

Plant diseases were discussed with the newer and somewhat sporadic one in corn being southern rust. It tends to be more of a problem in warmer and wetter seasons.

The spores have to blow in from the south where the inoculum develops.

The presenter was from Arkansas and the disease is much more common in their fields if they have a wetter-than-normal growing season. This season the disease began to show up in July with the heavy infections showing up in August and September. Any fields in the southern half of the state located in a valley or by trees seemed to have many of the light rust-colored lesions appearing on the leaves.

It typically arrived late enough that yields were not affected. In worst case scenarios in locations along and south of Interstate 70 the disease can quickly destroy all the green tissue in a field and hurt yields and standability severely.

Seed selection

December through January is typically the time period where corn growers gather as much information as possible in making the majority of their seed decisions.

Based on reports from different DSMs the trend seems to be to seek new and high-yield potential hybrids, but target by field and expected pest pressure in deciding what traits, if any, to purchase.

Still there are growers who hate to leave their security blankets of previous seasons, mostly if they are raising second-year corn.

This is where walking research plots, taking notes and making rankings of like maturity hybrids helps to solidify which families do or don’t have the agronomic characteristics suitable for your farm.


Insect control

The most troubling insect problem to fight on a regular basis in much of the Midwest, if voted on by farmers, would be corn rootworms.

When populations are high, the losses can be 20 to 40 bu. or higher. And based on what we are seeing, they are constantly evolving to defeat the liquid or granular insecticides, rotations, or genetic tinkering that we use to defeat them. In next week’s column I will discuss them and what could be used to help manage them.

In the meanwhile — stay warm.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or