Much of the soil in a large area of Iowa hasn't had a real good drink since last June. The dry weather pattern this past fall and this winter is a result of the La Nina weather system. Weather during a La Nina tends to be drier in the central Corn Belt. At the moment the LA Nina pattern continues to be strong. Farming operations should consider various options for dry weather.
The crop insurance deadline to sign up for coverage for 2012 is March 15. Kelvin Leibold, ISU Extension farm management specialist, says, "Without question this is the most pressing management issue facing farmers at the moment." Crop Insurance helps farmers manage all weather conditions-- too dry or too wet. Leibold says, "It's important to understand your cash flow needs and how you want to manage risk with crop insurance."
The 2012 crop insurance premiums have been reduced making it more cost effective. "Trend Adjusted Yields" is a new option that allows producers to buy more bushels of coverage. According to Leibold it's important to think in terms of insuring gross income. Information on crop insurance can be found on the Ag Decision Maker http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/ and the FarmDoc http://www.farmdoc.illinois.edu/cropins/index.asp web sites.
Review your marketing plans for both old and new crops, as subsoil moisture is low
He also suggests that farmers review their grain marketing plans for both old and new crops. Finally, he reminds growers that the FSA ACRE program is still an option for 2012. He recommends farmers visit with their local FSA office to learn the factors that must occur for ACRE program payments to be made.
Subsoil moisture reserves are very low at the present time. Soils in Iowa generally hold 10 inches of plant available moisture in the top five feet. "This year we have soils with 3 to 4 inches of plant available moisture at best," says Gary Hall, ISU regional Extension director based at Mason City in northern Iowa. "A corn or soybean crop requires about 22 inches of rain and moisture reserves during the season."
John Holmes, ISU Extension field agronomist at Clarion, has several crop management tips for farmers to consider for these dry conditions. Farmers should consider planting drought tolerant corn hybrids. If it is dry at planting time and the outlook is for a dry growing season, use the lower end of the recommended corn seeding rates (plant populations). Another thing to consider is planting depth. Plant at 2 at 2 ½ inches but no deeper. And reduce the number of tillage trips if possible. Each trip removes roughly ¼ inch of soil moisture. No till methods and strip tillage methods will save moisture.
Consider using early pre-plant herbicide program to ensure herbicides get activated
Farmers should consider using early pre-plant (EPP) herbicide programs to ensure the herbicides get activated prior to weed germination. EPP programs apply herbicides in late March or early April with hopes of receiving an activating rain prior to weed germination, notes Holmes.
Insect management is important in a dry year. Corn rootworm feeding will hurt corn due to the loss of moisture absorbing roots. The good news is many diseases are favored by wet conditions. Expect disease pressure to be less if dry conditions continue.
Many of the same things that affect corn in a dry year also affect soybeans
Many of the same things that affect corn also affect soybeans, says Holmes. Plant soybeans at 1 ½ inches to 2 inches but no deeper. Expect soybean stands to be uneven if surface soils are dry. Soybeans can tolerate small gaps within rows without yield penalties. Soybean cyst nematode (SCN) is much more damaging to soybeans in dry years. Often serious yield reductions result from SCN infestations in dry years. Plant an SCN resistant variety.
Although soybean aphid reproduction is slowed or even halted in hot, dry conditions; it seems that soybean aphid is usually a problem in dry seasons. Farmers should scout fields for soybean aphid feeding and treated if the economic threshold is reached. The same weed control issues will be common in soybeans as in corn. Farmers should consider using an early pre-plant program to insure residual herbicides get activated prior to weed germination.
Alfalfa and pastures are big users of soil moisture, manage your alfalfa fields
Alfalfa and pastures are among the biggest users of soil moisture in our area. Soils in established alfalfa fields are very dry now and can be expected to remain drier than soils under corn or soybeans. There really isn't much that can be done to manage established alfalfa fields. Cut the plants higher than normal to conserve moisture. Potato leaf hopper is always a problem in dry years. Farmers should watch fields for leaf hopper feeding and watch regrowth to insure leaf hoppers aren't severely stunting the plants. If soils are dry this spring, planting alfalfa wouldn't be recommended because seedlings desiccate quickly under dry conditions.
The 2012 growing season promises to be a challenging one. Low soil moisture will most likely continue to be short of available moisture unless a dramatic turnaround takes place in weather patterns. Suffice it to say that soils are currently very dry in some areas of the state and farmers will need to manage their crops accordingly.