Flying above Northern Iowa, pilots see green fields that will leave farmers with plenty of spare change this fall. They also see brown fields; in some places, dry crops stand just miles away from their lucky green neighbors.

Flying above Northern Iowa, pilots see green fields that will leave farmers with plenty of spare change this fall. They also see brown fields; in some places, dry crops stand just miles away from their lucky green neighbors.

From new equipment and treatment techniques to state-of-the-art forecasting, the modern farmer has an ever-increasing array of choices to help him or her get a great yield. But nature isn’t always fair; this year, Mother Nature played favorites.

Subtle local differences left certain areas too moist in the spring. Others were too dry during the growing season, and some areas received just the right amount of late-season rain to help crops make it to the finish line in good shape.

George Cummins, an agriculture expert with the Iowa State University Extension Service said, “Across the area, I?have farmers who tell me they’ve got the best crops they’ve ever had, and I have other farmers who have had real problems, and in some cases, total wipe-outs.”

Cummins said the number of “problem fields” is proportionately higher than usual this year.

Inconsistent harvest expectations are due in part to local weather differences. Hail storms and flooding in the spring delayed planting in some areas, Cummins said.

“We had three very narrow planting windows this spring,” he said. “It was wet early, and then we had a hard freeze that took down a lot of the alfalfa.

Timing is critical during planting season, and Cummins said that the people who planted early and late in the season are getting the best results.

“Generally, people who got in [planted] early and late have good stands. The crops there don’t have the problems that May planting did.”

According to Cummins, a lot of farmers who had hundreds of acres of crops to plant started to worry in late-April that it was getting late, so they began planting while the top of the soil was dry, but the ground beneath it was still wet.

When farmers enter their fields with large equipment while the ground is too wet, the weight of the machines compacts the soil, causing problems later in the season.

Ag-experts call this problem “compaction.” Compacted soil can make it more difficult for the seeded crop to emerge from the ground. It can also lead to poor rooting, which leaves crops more vulnerable to poor weather conditions.

“If we keep getting rain periodically, there is a chance that we’ll get a lot of compaction.”

Compaction can take a toll on next year’s yields. However, Iowa’s cold winter causes the ground to freeze; when water freezes, it expands - luckily, this corrects some of the compaction problem.

Though there have been some unusually dry areas in the region, Cummins said overall yield expectations for corn are only 5-10 percent below average.

This year’s mixed results are not all due to the weather. Other factors, including pest control and new seeds are keeping some farmers ahead.

New chemicals and genetically modified seeds can produce a better crop in worse conditions, but they also cost a lot more. Finding a balance between cost and yield is an ongoing challenge.

Cummmins said the advantages of genetically modified seeds come at a high price.

“Seventy to seventy-five dollars an acre is not uncommon,” he said. “Farmers are planting more of these improved seeds, and they’re paying for it.”

If all those new choices aren’t making things complicated enough, farmers also have to decide if they want to purchase crop insurance. Ethanol and other products that create a market for value-added crops are increasing farmers’ earning potentials, but between more expensive production costs, risk management insurance, and increasing land leases, a lot more is invested in the process.

“The stakes are higher, and risk management is much more critical.”

Contact Kirk Klocke at kirk@charlescitypress.com or (641) 228-3211 ext. 27

Charles City Press