An Up and Down Fall Season

Up and down is about the best way I can really describe the entire season. We’re suffering through some pretty disappointing markets, so that tempers our excitement from some of the good yields we saw in many fields. On the other hand, we had some areas that got pounded with all sorts of bad weather- early season hail, too much rain, high winds, more hail… and those fields paid the price at harvest. Diseases like Sudden Death Syndrome and Northern Corn Leaf Blight- to name a few that thrived in the wet weather 2014 brought us- trimmed the “top end” off of many fields, and in some areas they cut much deeper than that.

Most of us were pretty happy to see the Clones beat the Hawks in football… then the wheels pretty much came off both teams football seasons. A lot of us were excited to see the KC Royals get to the World Series; then pretty bummed to have them come so close but not quite take the title. I’d like to say we’re optimistic about the KC Chiefs playoff chances… probably a stretch to use the term “optimistic” though. And we got off to a pretty good start on dry fertilizer and fall NH3… then boom, the door shut on the NH3 anyway. As long as the snow doesn’t pile up too deep we will likely be back at the dry fert and lime next week.

Now that we are just about done picking corn, it’s a great time to line up some time to sit down with your seed suppliers. Those early pay discounts and preliminary orders may need some adjustments after we analyze our own yield data and take a hard look at local yield trials and plots. Double check what traits you may or may not need and see if there are a few opportunities to increase production or decrease seed costs depending on your needs. It’s also a great time to give the fertility plans a good look; if possible build up deficiencies and talk over how to approach the most efficient use of your fertilizer dollars given the economics we are dealing with.

It’s been another interesting year; looking back at the 2014 blog entries really illustrated the up and down nature of the season. I want to thank our readers, and we especially appreciate all of you who mention how much you enjoy the blog in conversations we have throughout the year. Have a great Thanksgiving and let’s look forward to (and hope for) a great 2015 crop (and Crop Watch Blog) year.

Fieldwork finished

I believe that fall fieldwork is over for the time being. Our air temperatures got down to 9 degrees on November 12. There was some fieldwork on November 11. That fieldwork included fall ammonia application and tillage on corn stalk fields.

It seems that winter has arrived a little early. There has been snow in the air the past three days. The frost in the soil is down to about three inches.

Our growing season – for much of my area – was marked by some really heavy rainfall amounts in June. Much of that excess rainfall was received on June 14 to June 17. There are official rainfall amounts of 12 to 14 inches for the month of June. Emmetsburg, for example, was listed as 16.3 inches for the month of June.

The excess rainfall in June caused a lot of problems. One problem was the obvious loss of nitrogen from the soil profile. Farmers that were able to apply extra N in late June were rewarded for their efforts. However, that excess rainfall also reduced corn yield potential by reducing root growth and limiting leaf growth. It was very common to see corn plants at harvest that were only 4-5 foot tall in those poorly drained areas.

Our rainfall was moderate for July. There was also an area that developed some dry conditions. That dry area was in parts of Dickinson, Emmet, Kossuth and Winnebago counties.

Of course everybody wants to know what the yields are. It is also quite difficult to generalize. However, one generalization that can be made is that many farmers are disappointed in their final corn and soybean yields.

It is very common to hear a farmer say that yield levels ranged from 110 bu/a to 190 bu/a on corn. That same farmer will discuss 35 to 55 bu/a soybean yields. Also – there has been very little discussion on really high corn yields. There was some thought we would see some 220+ bu/a yields in some areas – but for the most part that did not happen.

Some of the factors that limited yields this year:

    - excess June moisture/poor drainage.
    - dry conditions in some areas late season.
    - widespread- but not real severe – Sudden Death Syndrome in soybean.
    - Goss’s wilt and Northern corn leaf blight in some corn hybrids.
    - frost on September 13 and 17.

Some factors that did not develop this year were:

    - very little damage from corn rootworm.
    - soybean aphids were present but not real severe.

We are also very thankful for good harvest weather. The outlook was pretty gloomy in early October. However, harvest weather turned around after that – and conditions were very favorable from October 5 to about November 11. Much of my area missed the widespread rain that occurred on October 13-14.

We also witnessed some good corn grain dry down – as corn grain moisture declined from the high 20s in early October to the upper teens by late October.

Harvest winding down

In my 10 county area in central/west central Iowa, the soybean harvest is over 95% complete and the corn is probably over 80% complete, with pockets well over that.

Field work and anhydrous ammonia application have begun. As we look back over the harvest season there are two things that are evident.

1. The fields with enough slope were not as adversely affected by the excess rains and so yielded better than the flatter fields with excess rains. This was especially true for soybean yields. Soybean yields ranged from mid 20s (bu/a) to high 70s. Much of the variation had to do slope and rainfall patterns. Corn ranged from 120s to 250+. Much of the variation had to do with rainfall patterns and to a lesser extent slope.

2. Although many acres of both corn and soybean were either planted late or replanted late with maturity coming after prime drying weather, there really hasn’t been a problem with grain quality in central Iowa. The test weight of corn has been less than the last few years, but still well within number 2 corn range. The slightly lighter test weight will shorten storage shelf life.

3. Corn rootworm damage was at the lowest level in decades. I did not get one call on this and when I was in fields, I checked for and found no significant damage. Overall, a very good year for many soybean and corn growers, with some exceptions. I don’t think we will set a new state average yield for either crop, but many farmers are very pleased with their yields.

Corn harvest in full swing

SB harvest is complete in NW Iowa. Yields were really kind of all over the board this year. 50-75 bu/ac is what we saw this year. That is quite a range but lots of factors contributed here. In general the heavier “better” ground didn’t actually yield better most of the time this year. With all the rain we had in the early summer, some heavier soils were wet for an extended period and we know beans don’t like “wet feet”. We generally don’t fight SDS here but white mold is a factor many years and this year that again was the case. It came on late and most of the early varieties seemed to have minimal damage from the disease but fuller season varieties had more damage in general. We also had several light to moderate frost events that burnt some of the fuller season bean plants before they were done and that hurt some yields as well. We did seem to get good responses from fungicide applications to beans again this year.

Corn harvest is in full swing as I would say we have 60% of the corn out. Yields seem to be 20-30 bu/ac off of last year from what we have been hearing and seeing. The last couple years 200 bu+ has been common but this year 200 bu field averages are rare with 170-190 bu being recorded. Thankfully, it seems to be drier than the ‘book’ says it should be. The corn got froze several times and I think that dried the leaves early and the stalks don’t seem to have much juice in them either so the dry canopy and the weather seem to have pulled grain moisture down nicely. Stalks are weak but we have been able to take advantage of the good weather and the higher risk fields are generally out now.

Good harvest weather

Our great fall weather continues for us in northwest and north central Iowa. We have had about two weeks of really good harvest weather.

I would say that most of the soybean harvest is complete. The soybean harvest started out really slow in early October. There were some farmers that had to quit harvesting soybeans because of excessive grain moisture. However, that changed in mid-October – as soybean grain moisture got down to the 10-11% moisture area.

Soybean yields are in the mid -50s for lots of people. Of course there are yields that far exceed that – but usually those are fields that may have been continuous corn for a few years. Often you do not get that complete story when you hear those really high soybean yields.

There have also been some fields in low to mid 40-bushel/acre area. Those yields have been in areas that received some of the 15+-inch rainfall in June. Some of those fields did not recover very well from that excessive rain in June and some of those same areas had some dry weather later in the season.

Corn harvest is about half complete in much of my area. Corn grain moisture is in the upper teens. There is some discussion in the country that farmers may delay harvest – to a certain degree – to take advantage of some of the field drying that is occurring. The weather forecast looks good – and farmers are willing to take a little risk on pre-harvest losses to save some drying costs.

It costs about $9.00 per acre to remove one point of moisture from 200 bushel/acre corn. That is based on 1.5% shrink and a commercial drying cost of $0.045 per point of moisture. You can use this info to assess the potential pre-harvest loss. It takes an ear of corn in 100 foot of a 30-inch row (250 square foot) to equal one bushel/acre loss.

Bean harvest nearly finished

Harvest is in full swing in my area. I would say that the soybean harvest will wrap up this week. We have had really good weather since October 14 – for soybean harvest and for corn grain drydown.

We missed the predicted widespread rainfall that affected most of the Midwest on Monday October 13. Only small amounts of rainfall were received – so most farmers were back in the field on October 14.

We have seen some good soybean yields. I think there will be a fair amount of whole field averages in the mid 50 bushel per acre area. We had a good rainfall in August and that is usually a good thing for soybean production.

Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) was present in a lot of fields this past summer but was not real severe. So SDS was a minor factor that might have reduced soybean yields a small amount.

Farmers who have completed soybean harvest are hard at work on the corn harvest. We have had 38 Growing Degree Days (GDD) since October 14. That GDD figure is only slightly higher than normal for that time period – I thought it would have been higher than that. Growing Degree Days can be used to estimate corn field drydown. It usually takes about 25 GDDS to reduce grain moisture by one point. However, I think our good drying conditions last week – sunny, windy and low humidity – may have reduced grain moisture more than what the GDDs predict.

Farmers are reporting that grain moisture on corn that is currently being harvested at about 19- 20%. However, I also hear reports that there are fields that are still in the low to mid 20s for grain moisture.

So it still could be a long fall. However, everybody is really thankful for the recent good weather.

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