Douglas County Agriculture May 2019

By Larry Dallas, president
Douglas County Farm Bureau

I am writing this a little earlier than usual hoping we will be in the field later on when I would usually do it. We are at a standstill again on fieldwork and trying to do everything we need to have done when the weather does let us work.

There has been some fieldwork done in Douglas County by May 10. Some nitrogen has gone on, herbicide sprayed and some corn planted. It still has never been fit to do very much. Most of the work done has been on fields with drainage tile systems that remove excess water. Other areas of the state have more planting done and other states are making some progress. Nationwide this year is the second slowest start to planting since 1993. That year was one of very slow planting progress and large areas of the upper Midwest were not planted because of persistent wet weather.

I get daily articles from the University of Illinois Ag Economics Department. One of those this week was a statistical study of late planting years. Their list of late planting years includes some I remember very well. One was 1993 when I remember the film of a complete two-story house floating down the Mississippi. In 2009 we had a cousin get married on May 16. We were not done planting beans yet that year but it had rained and we were able to go.  2009 went on to be a nightmare fall as well with a muddy harvest and very high moisture corn.  2019 to date has had higher rainfall than both of those years. The upshot of the article was that we can still have good yields but the odds of that decrease every day.

This article dealt only with corn. It is only in the last few years that early planting of soybeans has been emphasized so it would be hard to do a study on late planting of beans. The yield benefit of planting soybeans has been noticeable so there should be good data on that in the future. The yield penalty for planting corn late is probably greater than for soybeans but it is real for both crops.

The markets are still taking little notice of the slow planting progress. Trade matters have overshadowed the late planting news and everyone is sure we can put the crop in the ground with only five or six days of good weather. They overlook the five or six days we need before that to get things dried out. Even the days without rain are overcast and chilly, not what we need to dry things up.

I talked last month about genetically modified crops. I notice that the oatmeal box says it is non – GMO. That is not surprising since there are no genetically modified oats. Any loaf of bread will be non-GMO as well. No genetically modified wheat is approved for sale.  In both cases, that is assuming an ingredient made from a genetically modified plant has not been added to the oatmeal or bread. Non-GMO has become a feel-good advertisement more than an actual statement about the contents of a package.

I recently noticed that Campbell’s soup labels have a link to good information about genetically modified crops and food made from them. It is whastinmyfood.com. The company explains their view of GMO crops and has information about what ingredients may be made from genetically modified crops. Campbell’s points out they do produce organic foods as well, for those who prefer that.

In my discussions of genetic modification, I hope at least one thing has come through. Companies do this in response to specific problems. Genetic modification is expensive and complicated. The testing and EPA registration is long and exacting.  Corn borers and corn rootworms have caused countless dollars of injury and loss to our corn crop through the years. Control of these before genetic modification involved dangerous insecticides that usually had to be applied before we knew we had a problem. The insertion into the corn plant of a naturally occurring organism, Bacillus thuringiensis, that kills specifically insects, means that the corn plant protects itself. Modifying soybean plants to allow the use of non-selective herbicides on them lets us maintain weed-free fields that yield more and are easier to harvest than the weed-choked fields we had in the past. There would be no papayas without genetic modification of those plants to resist a fungus that had defied all other controls.

There is a responsibility that goes with the use of GMO crops. To prevent insect resistance to the organism inserted for corn rootworm control we had to plant areas of non-resistant corn along with our resistant corn. If a beetle happened to be resistant to the Bacillus thuringiensis, having beetles nearby that were not exposed to it made it more likely two resistant beetles would not mate and start a group of beetles that could not be controlled. Now that refuge corn is mixed into the resistant corn and spread through the field, instead of planted in a separate strip or block.  The temptation to use the same non-selective herbicide year after year on soybeans because it worked so well and was cheap has led to weeds that are very hard to control. Resistant populations have built up and spread. Herbicide combinations that are not cheap are needed to give us the clean fields we like to see.

Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month. My explanation of genetic modification was pretty short but I hope understandable. Remember that we eat the same food as you do and wouldn’t grow something we wouldn’t consume ourselves.

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