Renewable Farming

Time to evaluate this season’s crop and next spring’s plans

By crop consultant Bob Streit, Boone, IA, Oct. 27 –– The beginning of November is here, and any day we don’t get snow is a blessing. There are typically about three to four weeks before the soil begins to freeze hard enough to bring tillage to an end. Long hours spent now doing fall tillage or getting fertilizer spread will put you one step ahead in the spring. Thus there are few hours to spare in the rush to get outdoor tasks done. The urgency to complete outdoor work is not as great south of I-80, but there is no guarantee that the door to fall weather won’t slam shut after December 1.

Last week I mentioned attending one day of the World Food Prize conference in Des Moines. Even though the goal of honoring a famous ag person from Cresco, Iowa is great and noble, most of the people in attendance did not seem like the type that could hop into a tractor or combine cab and know how to operate either one. I was waiting that day to hear any mention of the ag economy which is predicted to slow dramatically and has operators of all sizes wonder how to cut their budget enough to please bankers who are being told to not let any accounts to get further down the wrong path. Neither did I hear about the bird flu which seemed to peter out with the warm spring with the many bird growers still hanging on while no specific answer was coming from any USDA person that made any sense.

I had mentioned that there were many attendees from Africa who have finally become producers and entrepreneurs. They know where they have come from and an idea of what they would like to accomplish. In the rest of the crowd, there are hopefully the leaders who will be able to develop the answers on how we will work our way out of this down cycle by developing new uses for the products we produce. Will there be incentives to diversify a bit from the two major crops we produce towards some better grossing/netting IP crops?

Economics 101

After spending time in South America, China and Europe over the years, and getting to work a bit in the Ukraine this year, I realize we have to recognize that some of those countries do a better job of imitating the Germans and studying why they are the top manufacturing and exporting wizards in the world. The Deutsch companies do a great job of sending their reps into countries around the world to interact with their customers and ask what they need and how they could improve the quality and usefulness of the products.

If the customers tell them they want only one type of widget or food, then they produce for that need. They don’t try to bribe the officials or club the citizens over the head with threats of suing them in the world court if they don’t want xyz products. The producers in Brazil, Columbia, Chile and the Ukraine seem to be ahead of us in remembering business Rule #1. Who seems to be driving us over a cliff?

Since we just had the World Food Prize ceremony in DM, people need to be asking who we are producing the food for, to simply take to market or to feed and nourish people and animals? There should have been a discussion on the current health problems, s uch as the autism, cancer and obesity rates in the U.S. versus other countries. This is not to throw water on the parade, but to have foster discussion on the issue. Are we from North America or from an African country known as Egypt where many people live near De Nile.


Bird Flu

On the front page of the DM Register last week was a big question about any return of the bird flu to the Midwest. Will it or won’t it show up again? There is now a vaccine that is being built in supply. But typically viruses mutate fast enough to cause flu vaccines to be only 20% to 25% effective. Does that means that 20% to 25% of the birds could be protected or does it means a 25% chance that it could be effective?

The manner in which no outside veterinarian or knowledgeable person seemed able to give input or ask a question of the authorities has not helped to convince the affected bird owners that any of the point people had a great handle on things. Any dissenter who offered the idea that whatever it was came thru the feed was shut down rather quickly. If that was the case, what might prevent a replay? Now if we use the vaccine, how many countries are poised to respond by deciding they would just as soon get their chicken from the large co-ops in western Parana that we saw four years ago in that trip? We saw the large Ag co-ops setting up corn producers to supply corn to local bird producers who then saw their slaughter plants process 250,000 to 500,00 bird per day with those frozen birds shipped to 20-plus EU countries.

One very good, experienced biochem person who is very good at immunology has a well founded idea that boosting the sulfur based amino acids to supplement the immune systems would be a much better way to go, and would also boost rate of gain and feed conversion ratios. Any interested poultry producers could contact me on that if they like.      

 Harvest Progress

The NASS figures compiled for last week guessed that the corn harvest for the main western corn producing states was in the low to mid 70% range. The eastern states are slightly ahead of us. Within our state the majority of the remaining corn acres are in eastern Iowa where planting progress was slower last spring. In many of those unharvested fields, stalk quality has continued to get worse. Lodging percentages in the worst of them is 90% or higher in spots. Thus, the combine speed is slow and the operators get to choose if they should run the snouts on the dirt and risk tearing them up, or if they should just abandon the collapsed stalks and ears. The big question as of Monday night was how much rain may arrive in the next few days as remnants from Hurricane Pat.

There are still lots of people asking why yields in many situations were not as good as was expected, or why stalk quality was reduced. The strategic answer might be that growing corn was simple fifteen to twenty years ago. Corn and soybean breeders worked to develop inbred parent lines that transferred one or multiple genes for disease resistance into the new varieties. They prided themselves and strived to develop the better combinations of yield, standability, drydown and plant health. Farmers would recognize the better combinations and voted with their pocketbooks by developing a fondness for the hybrids that could hold market share for five or even seven years.  

I was making a list of the major diseases affected corn in Midwest fields in the last two to three years. I came up with about ten leaf and stalk fungi, three root fungi and lastly three bacterial diseases. We still have to find out what threat Tar Spot and Bacterial Leaf Stripe will bring. Complete reliance on using fungicides like they have in Brazil for their major diseases proved that the rapidly evolving pathogens could break thru a new family or mode/site of action in a few seasons. For that reason there are experienced crop advisors who are suggesting that everyone needs to ask the proverbial question as to what is causing our crops to be so susceptible in the last seven years. Now is the time for investigation, thru soil analyses done this fall, examination of tissue tests taken last summer, and the field scouting and ID work next spring — while there is still time to take curative action if needs are identified.

If your corn did not yield as hoped, and excess water was not the over-riding issue, or if stalk quality took a big hit, what proactive steps might you initiate for 2016? Remember the old staying about doing the same thing over and over.

Fertility Programs

When budgets don’t work, an often immediate response is to eliminate fertilizer applications and rely on residual levels. Would that be a wise move? While that is a practice that does occur, but not looked at favorably, the only way such a practice should be followed is if a solid soil testing program was in place and documented that levels are high enough that the chance of generating a yield response via a fall 2015 application is low.

By getting a more complete soil analysis from each field, it may be easier to pinpoint if lack of any specific micronutrient may be the low stave on the barrel that is limiting the return on all the other minerals in the soil. Regular soil tests that include analyzing the micronutrient levels and possibly the Haney test may suggest that the best ROI would be generated if the soil biology could be stimulated by seed, in-furrow or foliar applied microbials. More efficient foliar programs also have a place with the right products and if the proper rules are followed. This is the concept that Perfect Blend was built around. If soil biology could be stimulated, the availability of all the nutrients would be boosted and yields would increase much more than with the same dollars spent only on N-P-K.  

Good luck on finishing harvest and getting the rest of your fall work completed!

By Bob Streit, Boone, IA     515-432-0907

Published Oct. 27, 2015