One has to notice all the signs that spring is on its way and at times it seems like late spring and late April weather. The days are getting longer and 60-degree temps are getting common.
The buds on the plum trees are beginning to swell and the first robins have appeared. Though we may still have a snowstorm or two the signs of spring are definitely here. All the prognosticators of a very cold winter missed the month of February and March by a large margin.
Whether it stays and will be conducive to timely fieldwork and planting remains to be seen. Most of us have heard the predictions for a cold and wet April, with possible planting delays. We will just have to pay attention to the Arkansas moisture situation in about four week before we make any predictions on that time period.
Two weeks ago I mentioned that the night crawlers and earth worms that spend their winter months curled up in their little burrow below the frost lines sense the warming trends and started forming their trails in the mud. Another indicator that has been noticeable has been the flocks of migrating birds.
First it was the cranes with their weird chirps and long necks and legs when they flew over about two weeks ago while traveling mostly at night. Now the geese have been doing the same in their large V-shaped formations. Why this may be important is that the first notification of a bird flock having been documented with the N7 strain of the bird flu came out on Saturday after it was confirmed at the National Lab in Ames.
They still needed to identify the N and H part of it and so far it is H7N9. While this was expected, it's not welcome to the many farms, feed companies and towns that depend heavily on the poultry business in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and other states. Producers who moved birds closer to grain supplies, may have to live with an extreme sense of worry for the near future. Based on communications so far the disease has been detected in China, Canada and Lithuania.
Bird flu anyone?
More poultry feeders may need to learn that certain flocks seemed to have missed the infectious disease when it swept through last time. Since then a DVM team at the University of Leipzig in Germany has been studying the functioning of the gut microbiome of poultry in their studies and been able to create much better bird health if they keep higher populations of Lactobacillus and a few other good microbes in the bird's GI tract.
Besides promoting better bird health, better gains and increased feed efficiency also results from including these cultures in their diets and sourcing their corn and beans from conventional markets. Just like in humans, 70 percent of the immune system is in the gut and stomach. Bad grain going in results in health problems. Thus a healthy diet is critically important.
In this last month before the planting season is upon us there are debates going on as to whether more corn or soybeans will be planted in 2017. The price ratio has been favoring more bean acres and their cheaper input costs were making many Midwest farmers decide to plant more bean acres than in 2016.
Slow shipping due to muddy roads in much of Brazil was creating delays in getting beans shipped from their northern ports served by BR136. That has not changed much and pictures from the muddy areas come with the request to not share them.
However there are many acres that could swing either way. If we end up having an early planting season many Midwest farmers with organic matter over 3 percent, wet soils or SCN and SDS problems, feel they are more capable of raising 180-plus bpa corn than they are of consistently raising 60 bpa beans, thus generating more dollars per acre.
They also have fewer insect problems and no SDS problems if they chose to plant corn versus soybeans. The main detraction is the higher input costs and additional acres to handle and dry this fall. The prospect of there being 5 million more bean acres and a corresponding loss in corn acres is causing the marketplace to begin rewarding prospective corn acres.
Worldwide demand has been strong.
One other factor that favors planting corn is that there are growers who are tired of the prospective broadleaf weed battle they may have to fight with waterhemp and now the new Palmer amaranth.
Nitrogen costs are lower than we have seen them in many seasons, and that helps with budgeting. Now the challenge is to figure out what, if any, stabilizer to use and if making split applications make sense. The analogy of not dropping all the feed in the bunk on day No. 1 of when the steer hits the feedlot, instead feeding them every day as they consume the feed is accurate.
But what is the best program or product should a person rely on to stabilize their N, or time the applications so its availability matches crop uptake. There are growers who rely on humates, sulfur or molasses to fix N, modes that have a degree of efficacy. There is a lot more data on using molasses than has been made public. Having more tall, wheeled, dry box spreaders to top-dress urea offers a quick and easy method of making an in-season application.
In the commercial fertilizer business the most commonly used stabilizers are N-serve/Instinct, AgroTain and Nutrisphere. All have their different characteristics, advertising budgets, marketing programs and rebate programs to persuade buyers.
We see the latter often used to persuade research staffs at places of education to recommend one over the other. Science can be bought.
I had the chance to visit with one of the two people who ran the N timing and stabilizer testing program at Purdue back in the late '70s and early '80s asking him what the best performing product was that they ever researched. He said it was one from BASF called DMPV. It stabilized the N for 5 months, was not caustic, had no toxological problems and was safe to soil biology.
But the company's market survey team determined stabilizers would never be widely used in the U.S. In today's climate the identified need exists so the product is working its way through EPA to test its effect on soil biology, which seems strange since the most widely used herbicide is patented to kill many more good soil microbes.
Their head of N stabilizer research said DMPV may be marketed in the U.S. by the late teens.
In our fields that yielded over 300 bpa, the stabilizer used was Nutrisphere. Keeping a portion of the N as ammonia until late in the season seems helpful in fighting plant diseases. This could also include foliar applications of slow-release forms of ammonia-based liquids - think PT 21 and Kugler's KQ-XRN.
Questions about cover crops arise continually. The younger farmers who think a bit more holistically seem more devoted to them as they work to improve the soil and may serve to make weed control in soybeans easier.
In past years we always looked forward to new herbicides that would help us control new weed problems. That is no longer the case. Currently the cereal rye and multiple species mixes make more sense planted after corn going into beans, which is opposite of what fits our climate the best. We still need a new burndown product to terminate cover crops and that is being worked on.
In recent years planting into standing rye followed by crimping after the beans have emerged either using a pre-Authority-type mix or a post application using a PPO product looked very good. More acres of both will be planted this year to determine which program works best.
This final month
In these final few weeks most operators will be making decisions about items such as how they will construct and purchase products for their weed, insect and disease control programs.
It is time to identify what problems represent the greatest risk to maintain or increasing production, then determining the best program or product can help you solve or treat that problem.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or www.CentralIowaAg.com.