Axle Deep in Uncertainty -- No Pain, No Grain
Jun 21, 2013
Spring 2013 has been a real doozie. It all started with a very late season blanket of snow after a few lucky growers found a narrow window to put seed in the ground. Anyone who missed that window found themselves plagued by sticky soil followed by saturated soil followed by ponding that has lasted into the present day in some cases. There are a lot of fields out there with decent emergence and generally healthy looking plants flanked by bare spots in low lying areas made inhospitable for early plant growth by excess rainfall.
A Butler County, Iowa grower pulled me aside last week to show me a picture from his phone of his John Deere axle deep in mud with a planter in tow. He said, "Dude, it was hard enough to plant this year, and now we can't get in to replant. I've already switched to a 103 day corn... this is what happened when I tried to get out there on my first pass." That farmer is considering putting the bald spots in his fields to hay to try and recoup his losses. "But then, I've gotta bale more hay," he chuckled.
The Butler County grower was initially concerned with nitrogen loss. His worry then shifted to waterlogged plants. "Now I'd be happy just to make a single pass across the field," he said. His sentiments reflect the thoughts of a lot of corn growers and the barrage of crop threatening conditions has been nonstop. But these are the conditions that prove the resiliency and perseverance that has earned the American farmer the title of the best producers in the world.
Allow me to take a moment here to encourage you to examine your level of stress. Moving forward toward a profitable harvest is going to take some careful forethought, and some crafty farming. Stress has a real effect on brain activity and studies have shown that decision fatigue can reduce your patience for thinking things through fully. While we are all at the mercy of the weather, we must be careful not to let stress rob us of our decision making abilities when we need them most.
Having said that, I believe the best response to a stressful situation is understanding your position and your options. Corn futures have trundled along with little strength as the market looks for some fresh demand news. Meanwhile, investors have a hard time shaking the notion that 'rain makes grain', apparently not fully understanding that too much rain makes pain, not grain. The crop will recover -- corn is a wiley grass after all -- and the expectation is for crop prices to improve by harvest.
We have covered these issues with an eye toward agronomists' assessments and recommendations. To help you get your head around how to proceed, I have provided links to stories we have featured this spring. Many of them come straight from extension agronomists and may help set your mind at ease. Cover cropping can help salvage nutrient in bald spots. A few cuts of baled hay can put a little extra cash in your pocket if you have strips and bare spots where the corn didn't take.
We may be axle-deep in uncertainty right now, and the forecast for hot dry conditions for July and August may show us the other end of the precipitation spectrum before combines fire up. So don't let the uncertainty overwhelm you. If you do not yet have a plan to replace potentially lost N or for what to do with those fallow acres, click around the following links and see what agronomists and experts have advised so far. And if you need a headline to make you feel better, I offer this from May 20's Inputs Monitor, "Weakness in December Corn Limits Upside for Nutrient."
What the Color of Corn Can Tell You
Agronomists Advise a Shot of N for Rain-soaked Soil
Iowa State University Extension: Nitrogen Loss -- Spring 2013
University of Illinois: Nitrogen and the 2013 corn crop
Don't Let the Rain Wash Away Your Profits
Cover Cropping Considerations for Fallow Ground
Cover Cropping Prevented Plant Acres
Photo credit: D Michaelsen, Inputs Monitor