Douglas County Agriculture update for November

By Larry W. Dallas, President
Douglas County Farm Bureau

Harvest is pretty well finished in Douglas County on Nov 22. There are only a few fields left to harvest as you drive around. Tillage ahead of next year’s crops is proceeding and fertilizer applications are being made. A relatively new fall activity for some is a herbicide application on unworked bean stubble in fields where corn will be planted next year. This is to prevent winter annuals, weeds that start growth this fall and complete their life cycle next spring, from being a problem during planting. The big areas of purple flowered plants we have seen some of the past springs are pretty but they are very nearly impossible to kill with tillage in the spring after they are well established. These weeds interfere with planting and make seed for the next year because they complete their life and go to seed early in the spring. A relatively inexpensive herbicide application leaves a clean field next spring and much better planting conditions. Fall tillage of bean stubble can kill these winter annuals, but they may become established anyway with the proper weather conditions in the fall. A wet and warm spring can lead to weed growth on nearly any field ahead of planting.

The major plant nutrients of phosphorus and potassium are applied usually based on soil tests for those nutrients and most often ahead of the corn crop. The soybean crop is left to scavenge what it needs from what is left by the corn. Much of this fertilizer is applied in a dry form with global positioning technology placing the right amount needed in the right place in the field. Thirty years ago we applied that fertilizer ourselves with tractor drawn trailers broadcasting a set rate on a whole field. Now it comes to the field on a truck and is spread by an applicator with technology to vary the rate as it runs through the field. The other nutrient corn needs in large quantity, nitrogen, is being applied to fields too, out of the white tanks going up and down the country roads. Nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas through the Haber process that yields anhydrous ammonia, the contents of the white tanks. Three to five percent of the natural gas used in the world is made into nitrogen fertilizer each year. Nitrogen applied in Douglas County might have been produced in Kansas and sent here through a pipeline or made in Jamaica and moved up the Mississippi River on a barge. Most of the potassium used here comes from Canada via rail. Phosphate fertilizers could come from Russia, Morocco or Florida. Agriculture relies on foreign trade as much for our inputs as we rely on trade to move our corn and beans around the world. The excellent transportation system in this country gives us an edge on a lot of our competition, both moving inputs to us and our production into world channels.

I talk a lot about government reports and the effect they have on the grain markets. We had another surprise in November as the US Department of Agriculture told us the country would raise a record corn crop in 2017. The USDA releases a myriad of reports; acreage reports, production reports, and supply and demand reports about the grains. Livestock farmers get hog and cattle numbers reports, frozen meat storage reports, and poultry and egg production reports. The whole of the agriculture and food industry is trying to figure out how much there will be of a given commodity, what the demand for that product might be and how that will affect the price of that commodity or its end product. And they are trying to figure that out before anyone else does. Estimates are being made about the size of the South American soybean crop that is still being planted. Some private forecasters are already projecting the 2018 corn and soybean acreage mix for the US, with those crops not to be planted for four to five months. The biggest variable and the one hardest to figure out, weather, is handicapped as well, with varying success. The parts of South America that were dry are now turning wet and areas that were too wet to plant earlier are now drying out. Despite pretty good rain amounts in this area for October and November, the field tile and the small streams still don’t have good flow. Does that mean we can expect drought here next growing season or will the winter bring soil moisture back to needed levels? There is a report for that too. The US drought monitor map comes out each Wednesday.

The equipment we used this fall is being cleaned up and shuffled into the back of the shed. We are listing the repairs we need to make before next fall and thinking about what can be done to make us more timely or efficient in the next harvest. Prices are looked at and the crop acreage mix is being considered. Nitrogen on a field this fall makes it unlikely that the farmer will plant beans next spring with that fertilizer investment made. That planning most likely started last spring already when the herbicide for the 2017 crop was chosen. The years don’t really break into twelve month long pieces but flow one into the next with a decision this year figuring off of one made a year ago and influencing another to be made six months from now. Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month.

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