Douglas County Agriculture: June 2018

By Larry W. Dallas, president
Douglas County Farm Bureau

June started out as May ended, dry and warm. Some parts of the county were quite dry before the rain that started the second weekend of the month. The amounts varied, and it over performed in some areas. The southeast part of the county got up to 7 inches. There was a lot of ponding. Most of the corn seems to have come through OK, but I have seen many soybeans that got too much water and will die. Also there is disease showing up in areas of bean fields that are low and waterlogged. Strips of beans are turning brown and losing their leaves as phytopthera, a common soil-borne disease of soybeans takes hold. This is always present in the soil and becomes a problem when conditions are right. The USDA weekly survey is giving corn and beans nationwide the highest ratings on record, although it is pointed out that those ratings don’t have a high correlation to final yield. Wheat is turning and that harvest should begin shortly. That would be a week or two early.

The most pressing task we have left is to finish spraying soybeans. The beans are growing rapidly as are the weeds. Big weeds are hard to kill, and we want to get back in the field to finish applying herbicide. On the positive side, the soybeans should soon canopy the rows and suppress more weeds from sprouting. There is equipment to clean up and mowing to do. Our first cutting of hay was completed ahead of the rain. Some hay fields that were mowed in late May will need to be cut again very soon. The interval for best quality on alfalfa hay is usually around 28 days.

I was recently asked while drinking coffee in Flesors if farmers were concerned about herbicide-resistant weeds. I answered that concerned is really not a strong enough word. The topic of many meetings, magazine articles, university research and one-on-one conversations is the difficulty of keeping our farm fields weed-free. We talk about weeds and crops being herbicide-resistant, but what we really mean is herbicide tolerant. The herbicides we use have several modes of action. Some inhibit shoot growth to prevent germination. Some interfere with enzymes that help with photosynthesis in the plant. A corn plant with a corn herbicide sprayed on it has to metabolize that herbicide so it will not hurt the plant. Soybeans or any crop species work in a similar fashion. Cold weather in particular can interfere with that process. Slow growth leaves the plant susceptible to the herbicide longer and may damage the plant. Weeds are the same. Some can naturally metabolize certain herbicides. We have always looked at the weeds in a field and chosen herbicide to kill the weeds in that field. The nonselective herbicides like Roundup made that decision easier because it killed virtually everything except for the herbicide-tolerant crop. Roundup was never strong on morning glories for instance and another product would often be added for good control of those vines. Use of the same product year after year selects for weeds that can tolerate that herbicide and eventually leads to a population that cannot be controlled. The pigweed species are proving to be particularly hard to control. These have male and female plants so that the plants can hybridize between each other and produce new genetic variants. They also produce millions of seeds. This is all proving to be an expensive problem for farmers, both in the reduced yield caused by the weeds and the costly herbicide combinations needed to control the weeds. Herbicides we quit using when glyphosate (Roundup) came into common use are being dusted off and used in combination to fight Roundup tolerant weeds.

There have been three food recalls in the news recently. One was a cereal, one melons and the third romaine lettuce. I think these occurrences actually point out the safety of the U.S. food supply because food recalls are so infrequent, especially when you consider the sheer amount of food that is consumed each day in this country. The bar for a food recall is fairly low. Only two people have to be sickened to trigger what is called an incident. Two of these problems were traced and resolved fairly quickly. The e coli problem in romaine lettuce has proven harder to run down but it has been traced to a certain growing area. Our food supply is safe, abundant and reasonably priced. Any problems are generally quickly resolved. As a farmer, I empathize with the romaine lettuce farmers in Arizona. They have acres of a crop they can’t sell at any price, after incurring all the costs of production. They do have the chance to raise another crop fairly quickly in that climate anyway.

We have been moving corn to the elevator between spraying beans and rain showers. Corn especially becomes increasingly hard to maintain in good shape as we get into the heat and humidity of summer. It is easier to move it to town and let someone else worry about quality issues. With the grain bins empty, we can start to clean and repair them for this year’s crop. The commodity prices are not really conducive to making sales. Prices have not responded well to all of the talk of tariffs and trade disruption. We have lost about 20 percent on soybean prices in the last month and nearly that much in corn. As noted above, crop conditions are very good right now. It will be hard to rally prices without some very favorable news on the trade front or a weather problem over a pretty big area. Corn in this area will begin to pollinate around the first of July and should have a good moisture supply. A rally in corn prices will be even less likely if we get through pollination with no problems.

Thank you for reading this month’s installment of Douglas County Agriculture. There are still sprayers and mowers on the roads so drive carefully. Every corner on the country roads is now a four way stop since the corn is shoulder high. Be safe.

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