The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

August 14, 2013

Helicopters and airplanes help area farmers

By Mary Lou Hinrichsen Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald

---- — DEWITT -- Planting date, soil temperature, rain, sunshine, bugs, fluctuating market prices -- Clinton County’s farmers are up against a multitude of issues, many of which they cannot control.

Enter airplanes and helicopters, both of which have been busy in local skies recently.

Farmer Dustin Johnson of Elk River Township said he had scouted his fields looking for early signs of fungal infection or plant injury to decide whether to spray.

“Aerial application is expensive, but if we can protect the yield that we have worked long hours to achieve, we want to make that investment,” he said.

Ground rigs are used, too, he said.

“They can apply at higher pressure to get into the canopy of the crops. They have high ground clearance, but some high side hills and taller hybrids do not allow those machines to go through without causing serious damage to the crop.” he said. “The ground is usually drier this time of year so compaction isn’t usually a big deal.

“Some planes will be seeding cover crops in the coming weeks. We will put (cover crop seed) down before harvest to give the cover crop a head start. We do that on our farms to help build soil fertility and help fight erosion over the winter and early spring. On fields that we will harvest early, we will just plant the cover crop seed conventionally with planters or seed drills.”

Johnson also said the current season is very important to young farmers.

“This is the time that some farm leases are being decided. While some may be renewing with existing tenants, other folks may be looking for a change.”

According to Ag Decision Maker, published by Iowa State University, the cost of producing a 145 bushel per acre crop of corn following corn will be $5.19 per bushel. To harvest 185 bushel an acre will require inputs costing $4.90.

“In the short run,” the report says, “cash income must be sufficient to pay cash costs including seed, fertilizer, chemicals, insurance, cash rent and hired labor, as well as machinery, fuel and repairs, plus interest on operating capital. In the long run, income should be sufficient to pay all costs of production.”

The cost of having a helicopter spray a field is reported to be $11 per hour, plus the cost of the product being used. Having the spraying done by an airplane is usually about $1 less per hour.

Iowa State University professors Roger Elmore, Mahdi Al-Kaisi and Elwynn Taylor reported in a weekly crop update that many agronomists are reporting not only shorter corn plants than normal, at least in some parts of Iowa, but more variability across what usually appear as uniform fields.

They noted that after farmers finally got in their fields to plant, following a wet spring, an estimated 1.5 million acres per field work day had been planted by May 13th -- “probably the most we’ve ever accomplished.”

“Then soil temperatures fell below normal during the five weeks when most of Iowa’s corn was planted, and considerably below what we experienced in 2012. We know that small differences in soil temperature and moisture affect both above- and below-ground corn growth. Root depth follows the downward progression of temperature increases. Generally, roots do not grow in soils much colder than 50 degrees F.

“We’re used to seeing corn ‘as high as an elephant’s eye’ by the 4th of July but that didn’t happen this year.”

So what?

“Plant height itself is not necessarily a good indicator of corn yields if light interception is near complete at silking. However, if the upper canopy leaf areas are reduced by the cool temperatures of this spring, grain yield will be reduced.

“The yield in 2013 is likely to be compromised by the delayed planting and possibly by the cool and wet soil conditions experienced early in the growing season.

“An early frost would be detrimental.”

DeWitt-area farmer Joe Dierickx has another concern:

“Maybe the biggest development is the fact that corn and soybeans will be imported to the Midwest from South America and eastern Europe.

That announcement caused corn prices to plummet more than $1.22 per bushel, and soybeans dropped $2.40 per bushel.

“This is significant, as the fall prices will not support some of the high rents people might be paying.”

Dierickx was referring to an announcement by Smithfield Foods, Inc., the world’s largest pork producer, that it will import corn from Brazil. A Wall Street Journal article on July 24, 2012, said, “The worst drought in decades battered the U.S. corn belt, leading to tight supplies and sharply higher prices.

“Analysts say it is unusual for a U.S. livestock producer to import supplies from South America, although it could be cheaper to buy and ship corn from there to the eastern U.S. than to get it by rail from the Midwest.”