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Weather tops early 2012 crop anxieties

Jeff Caldwell 11/07/2011 @ 10:32am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

For a lot of farmers, it wasn't the best crop year they've ever had. There were a lot of good soybean yields and not quite as many good corn yields, but with most of the 2011 crop in the bin, some are reflecting on what went well, what didn't and what will be major stressors going into next year's crop.

Most farmers say weather tops their list of concerns for next year's crop already, though maybe that's because memories of an unruly Mother Nature are still fairly fresh in a lot of farmers' minds.

"On the (modestly) bright side, though the 2011 weather stress was severe, we did get a crop. Thirty years ago such weather would have damaged yield much more," says University of Illinois Extension agronomist Emerson Nafziger.

The dry conditions in Nafziger's state were the culprit of bumper corn yields (last month's USDA Crop Production report shows an average yield for Illinois of 159 bushels/acre). But, even though virtually all of that state's crop is harvested, worries about this dry growing season aren't over.

"Normal rainfall from November through March ranges from 10 to 18 inches as we go from northwestern to southeastern Illinois. So if we get close to normal rain and snow over the next five months, soils should be fully recharged as we come into the spring," Nafziger says. "Still, it could be late winter until we see tile lines running again in some areas, and a dry winter could leave some fields short by spring."

A major drawback of the dry conditions moving into next year is in the soils' ability to take up nutrients. That puts a premium on soil testing next spring. In the meantime, use moisture between now and next spring as a gauge for what your fertilizer needs might.

"Where soils are dry now, where corn yields this year were lower than normal, and where corn this year will be followed with corn next year, you might want to take soil samples before applying N next spring to see if nitrate-N has carried over," Nafziger says. "Normally both the top foot and the second foot are sampled for this, and then an average amount of N per acre is calculated; adjust next year's rates if there's an appreciable amount carried over."


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