Corn/Soy drought meetings draw nearly 450 farmers
Two meetings on Monday, July 23, organized by Wisconsin's corn and soybean growers programs drew nearly 450 people who wanted to learn more about how to deal with the ongoing drought in southern Wisconsin.
In Janesville early in the day the session brought in 180 people and in Waunakee in the afternoon, organizers Bob Karls, Nancy Kavazanjian and Bob Oleson expected 100 but attendance swelled to at least 250 people.
Farmers in attendance heard from corn and soybean production experts, an attorney who advised farmers on how to deal with forward contracts if they won't have corn to deliver and a panel of crop insurance agents who talked about the impact of crop insurance on harvest decisions.
Joe Lauer, the University of Wisconsin's corn agronomy specialist, is in charge of planting 13,000 test plots at 14 locations in the state. "At one or another of these locations each year we'll see stress, usually drought," he said.
But this year in the southern two-thirds of the state, it's more severe and widespread. It normally takes 20-24 inches of water or 550,000 gallons per acre to produce 150-200 bushels of corn per acre, he said.
That includes water that was stored in the soil from winter snowmelt, summer rains and irrigation if that is part of the production system. Typically the wettest months are June, July and August. "If you want to pray for anything, pray for an inch a week," he told farmers.
That's especially important for corn plants that still have the chance to pollinate.
While the water needs of corn sound like a lot, Lauer said corn is "an efficient plant for the amount of water it uses."
With this year's drought, in most fields, corn has used up the available moisture from the soil profile and has long since become drought stressed. The heat hasn't helped either.
Corn plants, like people, are happiest from 50-86 degrees, which is where the corn does best - turning sunlight into plant cells through photosynthesis. Above 86 degrees the plant spends more time on respiration and burns energy keeping itself cooled.
"We don't get any photosynthesis when it's excessively hot and this year with all the heat, the plant couldn't get enough water to cool itself down," he said.
The high temperatures mean that some of pollen from corn tassels hasn't been viable and plants haven't reproduced, or made corn grains, very well.
All the normal things in corn production seem to "go out the window" in this stressful situation, Lauer said.
Some plants are losing lower leaves and in trying to pollinate not as many cells are produced in the ovule, where the silk takes the pollen. There has been so much stress for corn plants by drought and heat that even if good conditions prevail for the rest of the summer, a lot of damage has been done.
Lauer said this year won't be like 2005, when a timely "million dollar rain" on July 19 created a very good, high grain yield off "little bitty plants." That year brought a record Wisconsin corn yield even after early season stress.
For many fields this year pollination is already past and the ship has sailed on grain yield, he added.
He advised corn growers to estimate the pollination that has occurred in their fields and if it stands at 50 percent, they should let it go to maturity. "You can get 2-3 tons of dry matter from those kernels by letting them go rather than trying to plant any other crops.
BARREN CORN HOLDS FORAGE VALUE
Even if fields are barren of corn cobs, the field value of the corn as forage doesn't diminish greatly by just letting it stay in the fields, he said.
The two peaks of quality for silage come at flowering and at maturity under normal circumstances but if the plants are barren, the quality will stay the same as it was at maturity, he added.
Lauer said farmers who have harvested barren corn for silage in Illinois are finding nitrates at 1,000 parts per million (ppm) or less. "You don't have to worry until it reaches 2,000 ppm," he said. "Right now most are low in nitrates and you will push off 40-60 percent of nitrates through ensiling."
Lauer talked with the large group in Waunakee about the value of standing corn for use as silage.
"This is one time guys, where we can't gouge each other. We need to be able to work together to be able to get through this."
While some are advising farmers who need feed to grow other crops like oats for a double crop, Lauer put in a plug for corn as a double crop as long as it is planted by August 1.
In 2003 he documented the harvest of 7.6-9 tons per acre of corn silage, but even in a poorer year than that he feels corn should be able to produce 2.1-3.4 tons per acre.
Russ Raeder, from Wisconsin's Farm Service Agency (FSA) told farmers that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated emergency loan programs at lowered interest rates.
Local FSA offices can help farmers determine if they can harvest Conservation Reserve Program land in their area to feed their own livestock and the state Department of Natural Resources is making marsh hay on public land available to farmers who need something to feed their cattle.
A panel of crop insurance experts talked with farmers about how to handle insurance issues, including making a claim, assessing strips in the field and how to handle the selling of drought-damaged crops to neighbors.
They said it's very important for growers, if they have enough land in one county, that they open a claim soon because larger claims - $200,000 or more - will have to be reviewed and that takes time.
Farmers were advised to have their records up to date and work with their agent to speed up these reviews.
Even if farmers have corn production so low they decide it isn't worth running the combine through it, they need to have an adjuster appraise it, the panel advised.
It needs to be appraised if farmers are planning to feed it as high-moisture corn or silage.
Farmers who may still have grain from last year in their bins will want to get an adjuster to measure and document that before any new crop is placed in the bin on top of the old. If that isn't done it will be assumed that that leftover grain is part of this year's harvest, they cautioned.
Farmers who don't have insurance were advised to document their harvest in case there is an FSA disaster program.