Blogging by the Bushel
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Archive for April, 2011

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

Easter is right around the corner and like any holiday I find myself reminiscing about past holidays when I was growing up. I remember the first time I saw the Easter Bunny. The pictures are there to prove the like most children I screamed. I kind of miss hiding and finding Easter eggs.  As a child I always remember getting so excited when my sister, brother’s and I would find and open all those colorful little plastic (we didn’t use real eggs) shells to see what sweet treat waited inside. (We never had enough eggs to hold all the candy so dad got all the extras!) Of course as we got older the Easter bunny had to be trickier about where to hide them. We knew all the usual spots so the game had to move outdoors. Like a pack of hound dogs on the trail of an escaped prisoner we would eventfully locate them all.

This was the fun part of Easter. The one thing all of my siblings, cousins and I alike agree that we will never forget though is my uncle Jack. Now, I will warn you this is kind of a cruel prank to play on children, so please don’t think we are a mean family, but we will never forget it. I can’t remember exactly how old I was but I remember one Easter my Uncle Jack brought a fluffy rabbit tale into the house and told all of us kids that he shot the Easter bunny. Talk about traumatizing. Needless to say we still talk about this every Easter. Now that Jack is a grandpa we always tease him and ask him if he is going to do the same thing to his grandchildren. Can you believe that he says no? No matter how traumatizing our experiences may be, every family has their own memories and own traditions. But as Easter draws near, let us not forget the real reason behind it and that it celebrating our savior rising from dead.

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

This photo was emailed to me this morning and the subject line on the email was NW Iowa on Twitter this morning. Gotta love mother nature!

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

When temperatures broke 80 degrees two weeks ago and just recently the sun was shining, I am sure someone somewhere started to seriously considering planting corn or was planting. While current planting date data and conventional wisdom can both help identify the best time frames to start planting as the calendar move forward do not forget about one key factor and that is early season cold stress. If you look at the 10 day weather forecast a red flag should be thrown up.  Now I am no agronomist, so below is some data that I found on Iowa State University’s Agronomy Extension website that will help to explain things in more detail.

Early season cold stress

Frost and highly variable soil temperatures are two factors that can place corn under significant stress after planting. The amount of stress experienced will vary based on whether the corn seed has imbibed (absorbed) water, started growth but not yet emerged, or if the seedling has emerged above the soil surface.

Variable soil temperatures have little effect on the first phase of corn germination, water imbibition. Seed will absorb about 30 percent of its weight in water. The time required for radical emergence is directly related to temperature; it increases linearly if soil temperatures are between 46 and 90° F. Little, if any, mesocotyl or coleoptile growth occurs in soils cooler than 60° F. See Photo 1. A constant soil temperature of 86° F optimizes seed germination and seedling emergence.

Photo 1: Corn Seedling

Researchers determined that a swing of soil temperatures of 27° F (soil high temperature-soil low temperature = 27 °F) will particularly affect mesocotyl growth.   It is possible that corn planted in early April will experience this range of temperatures, especially in Ohio and Indiana. Large temperature variation occurred in 2006 across Iowa. See Figure 1. Seed placed into the ground, yet not emerged, can be injured from a cold period. The drop in soil temperature in April 2006 caused erratic and uneven stands across the state, with crop development varying up to 2 growth stages often. Seedlings adversely affected by wide swings in soil temperatures will have stunted and distorted leaves and may or may not emerge from the soil (Photo 2).







Photo 2: Seedlings affected by fluctuating soil temperatures

Recovery from a frost event

On the other hand, emerged corn seedlings are relatively resistant to cold weather. Air temperatures near 30° F may kill or damage exposed above-ground tissue, but the growing point of the seedlings remains below the soil surface until approximately the V6 stage of development (six collared leaves visible). Recovery from a moderate freeze is usually rapid and nearly complete when the growing point is below ground. Frost injury on very young corn plants surprisingly has very little effect on yield if the plants survive the frost (Photo 3).








Photo 3: Seedlings affected by frost showing tied-up and off-color leaves.

When poor growing weather follows an early season frost, corn seedlings may occasionally die. Seedlings that have been killed will begin to rot. Check for rot by splitting the seedling and looking for dark, water-soaked tissue. Yet, young corn plants that only had above-ground tissue damaged will resume growth, if the growing point was not killed. A hasty decision to replant would be ill advised. Wait a few days to see if growth resumes. If the growing point is not damaged, a new leaf should emerge in 3 to 4 days.

Appearance of reddish-purple leaves

Another symptom of cool air and soil temperatures, combined with wet conditions, is a purplish tint to corn seedlings. Purple leaf coloring is more pronounced in some hybrids’ genetics than others. Most often though, the leaf purpling is related to stress experienced by the young seedling and/or restricted root development. Phosphorus unavailability is often mentioned as a culprit for the purple leaves. Phosphorus deficiency will result in reddish-purple leaves, yet it is not likely the primary cause. A reddish-purple tint on leaves can be due to anything that disrupts sugars within the plant. Cool and/or compacted soils, as well as shallow planting, can each create the opportunity for purpling to be expressed in corn leaves. If root development is restricted (due to temperature or seedbed problems), then the observed symptoms are simply an expression of this since the plant is not developing normally.

Any root restriction that may be causing this purpling is most likely temporary and seedlings should regain a healthy green color as weather conditions improve. As such, yield should not be affected. It is good practice to check a few plants after they ‘green up’ to ensure that root development resumes and is not hindered in any way.

Herbicide influence on development

Seedling stress caused by environmental factors should be identifiable from herbicide-induced influences. There are instances, though, when the two are interrelated. We know that corn seedlings weakened from cold weather will have a heightened sensitivity to herbicide injury. Postemergence herbicide applications should be evaluated carefully until corn begins to demonstrate “normal” growth and development. If weeds are small and growing slowly, there is likely sufficient time to allow delayed application timing. However, if weed pressure is high, and if weeds are large relative to the optimum size for control, growers should consider the risks of crop injury and the benefits of weed control before making a herbicide application. Often, the benefits of early weed control, thus protecting potential corn yields, outweigh the risks of herbicide injury to a previously stressed crop.

Growth regulator herbicides such as 2,4-D and dicamba are of particular concern. If these herbicides are applied in combination with other translocated herbicides, such as sulfonylureas that require surfactants or crop oils, the potential for injury increases significantly. Contact herbicides such as bromoxynil also may have a higher risk of significant corn injury if applied to stressed seedling plants.

If weeds are small, rotary hoeing or careful cultivation may be a better management option than a postemergence herbicide application. Each field must be evaluated to determine the best weed control strategy.

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

It was no surprise that in the April USDA report corn ending stocks were steady from last month.  However, this move confused an already confused market. USDA analyst shifted 50 million bushels of demand from feed to ethanol. It was reported that some 2010-11 feed demand would be filled with wheat in the Southeast and early corn in the South. Traders had expected the estimate of corn ending stocks to reach about 590 million bushels because March 1st stocks had been reported about 175 million bushels lower than expected.

Now the next big question is what price will ration corn? In the next two or three weeks, the corn market may focus on rationing supplies before the focus shifts to weather. What price will ration demand is a tough question. May corn futures up to $7.40 plus in early spring didn’t ration demand, and livestock prices have even gained since then. Conventional wisdom says that it will take something more than that. One analyst noted that “We’re in a very rare time in history when price returns on produced products are keeping pace with cash production cost increases.”  What he meant by this was grain prices have climbed this past year , but ethanol producers, cattle feeders and pork producers are still making profits. You don’t have to be a financial genius to know that there is a price at which producers will cry uncle and back away, but that price has not been seen yet.

Like corn the USDA left ending stocks in the April report unchanged at 140 million bushels, but it appears that rationing may have developed in the soybean market. Export sales have eased lower in the recent weeks as the South American crop progressed. In fact, in the week ended March 31, export sales had not reached the weekly average needed to meet USDA’s projection of 1.59 billion bushels before they were trimmed in the April report to 1.58 billion bushels.

As the calendar keeps moving closer and closer to later April and then May the market should begin to shift focus from demand for existing supplies to spring planting conditions for the new crop.  Late winter and early spring weather in the Dakotas and Minnesota will offer bulls prospects of corn planting problems. If remember back to the March prospective plantings report nearly one-third of the added corn acreage would come from increases of 450,000 acres in North Dakota and 850,000 acres in South Dakota. At that time there was still snow on the ground but now the ground is wet and there is some flooding going on around the red river.  The Red River flows north between North Dakota and Minnesota. Even if the acreage does get planted, farmers run the risk of yields being reduced thus keeping stocks tight. In the mean time keep your eye on the 15 day forecast as it could provide us with a glimpse into where this already volatile market may go next.

Anna Kaverman

Mercer Landmark

It is no secret that farmland prices are on the rise at auctions and private sales across the Midwest, with buyers being lured by high commodity prices, low interest rates and the possibility of better returns than other investments.  In fact the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago reported that the average value of “good” Illinois farmland rose 11 percent between January 2010 and 2011. One loan officer said prices in Central Illinois are up 25 percent since last fall. The value of agricultural land in the upper Midwest has doubled since 2002, according to data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. 

To put it into perspective a little more just recently 30 bidders and a few dozen speculators all crowded into a community building in Illinois for an auction. Little did they know history would be made that night. On the block were two tracts of land near Sanford Illinois. One 36 acre tract was considered “prime” farmland.  By the time the last bid was called, the 36 acres sold for $420,000.  That’s a whopping $11,519 per acre! The $11,519 price was believed to be a record for McLean County and supposedly its smaller size and location drove up the price. The buyer declined to comment but was defined by the auction’s organizers as “a local investor.” One farmer was quoted as saying “That’s too rich for me,” as he settled for the larger but less valuable tract at a mere $6,364 an acre.

This rapid pace of growth has caught the eye of regulators, who are leery of potential bubbles in the wake of the housing crisis. According to Yale University economics professor Robert J. Shiller U.S. farmland may turn into “the next big speculative bubble” as prices climb. As a result the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) recently hosted a symposium noting the farm sector’s vulnerability to a severe correction or a rise in interest rates. With all this being said there are still some who are skeptical of the bubble. Gary Schnitkey, an agriculture economics professor at the University of Illinois, said he would get concerned if interest rates began to rise or “something very unusual” happened, like a trade war that pinched off imports and exports.

Like in Ohio and Indiana many of the buyer’s in Central Illinois are farmers themselves and are reaping the benefits of higher commodity prices. They have extra cash from marketing crops at high price.  It is not just farmers though.  There are a few investors in the mix too. The concern for regulators is that farmers could be taking on too much debt as they gobble up more and more expensive land. With all this being said we cannot forget that each farmer’s situation and operation is unique.  Buying ground can be a risk, but most of the farmers are not leveraging themselves to the hilt to buy it in the first place.  So even though the possibility of a farmland bubble exists, bubbles are social epidemics and forecasting any kind of bubble is difficult at best.