ROCHESTER, Minn. (DTN) -- A theme seems to emerge during each Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour. There's no question that the 2015 theme centered on USDA's August numbers and trying to determine if the crop is out there.
Katie Micik and I wrote about that topic consistently last week and I'm exhausted on the topic. So I'm exercising my editorial rights and writing this blog based on a few of the agronomics that keep creeping back into my after-tour thoughts. I followed the western leg of the tour through South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.
1. Variability -- The prolonged wet season has made for one of the strangest cropping seasons I can remember. Planting date is huge this year throughout most of the Midwest. Cornfields planted early (Easter) look good, particularly if they were supplied with and took up enough nitrogen. Variability from field to field and even within fields with wet holes, etc., will factor into final yields.
2. Weed control -- Last year I was pretty hard on the Nebraska farmers with regard to waterhemp. I'm taking no credit for the cleanup, but my best guess is these boys and girls found residual religion. Maybe they had a few more windows to time post applications than we did in central Illinois -- part of the fun of crop tour is trying to guess why a field looks as it does. Occasionally, we have a local farmer come by and fill us in and those I talked to indicated pre-emergence products worked until they broke and they got post sprays down while weeds were small. With all the resistance out there, it's tempting to think every spot that shows up in a field is resistant, but we saw more than one case where it was evident the weeds growing to the row where the sprayer shut off.
3. Diseases -- Corn leaf diseases aren't a big surprise given the wet and cloudy weather we've had this summer. However, we saw a lot of them and sometimes fields right next to each other were dramatically different. Something worked -- hybrid disease tolerance differences or fungicides -- but definitely need to assess stands now to apply to decision making for 2015 hybrid selections.
Soybeans were remarkably clean. I expected to see a bunch of white mold, but it reared its fuzzy head in only a few fields. I did see several fields with the beginnings of Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) and have seen more popping up over the past few days.
4. Insects -- Bugs were pretty much a no-show. I found a few Western bean cutworms in corn tips. Corn aphids were starting to make a mess in a few fields. Grasshoppers were nibbling the tops out of the soybeans on field edges. Noticeably absent were corn rootworm beetles we typically see in both corn and soybean fields this time of year -- guess they aren't skilled at the backstroke.
5. Weather or Not -- My Red Wing boots may not recover from this tour. We were cold, wet and muddy through most of the tour and it was obvious that many regions had been that way a lot this summer. Southwestern Iowa (along the Missouri border) was obviously some of the hardest hit as there was evidence of extremely late planting. We saw soybean fields planted July 25 that were far from closing the row and that same area had experienced 14 inches of rain in the 10 days prior to the tour. We saw isolated hail damage in every state except Minnesota. Wet, drowned out spots will influence final yield tallies. Some of those are weed infestations
6. Dryland Delivers -- I'm not sure I've ever seen Nebraska so green in August. There have been several years on this leg of the tour that so many fields are harvested that we have trouble finding a corn and soybean field together to sample. Also, we typically walk into irrigated fields and expect to pull our big yield samples. This year that didn't happen -- dryland yields were often similar to irrigated. Pivot corners were still green.
7. Maturity Matters -- I'd estimate 40% of the crop we saw was at dent. I've heard concerns about late-planted crops making it through frost. However, overall the crop was much further along than say, 2013 when we found corn in Minnesota that had yet to pollinate.
8. Nitrogen needs -- Your slits were showing -- evidence that multiple applications of nitrogen is more popular or perhaps there was more effort made to get another shot to a hungry crop? Nitrogen deficiencies were showing up in many areas and in some fields the plants appeared to be beginning to cannibalize themselves. Driving back home to Illinois, I couldn't believe how much the crop had changed over the week. We've dried down fast here and harvest is already underway. A few farmers have told me no amount of nitrogen would have helped -- the root systems just weren't reaching down to grab it. Kernel weight has likely taken a hit here --along some dreams of yield busting crop.
Overall, my impressions of the 2015 season is the Midwest is producing a good, but not a great, crop. Our natural tendency is to hold last year up as a yield goal, but truth is, we just weren't dealt the same cards in 2015. Still, my big surprise for this tour was the health of the crop looked much better than I expected. The farmers -- both on the tour and along the roadside -- were out looking and assessing and questioning what happened, so they can learn and tweak things for next year. That's exciting.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
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