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STU ELLIS: Farmers' battles goes beyond any trade war
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STU ELLIS: Farmers' battles goes beyond any trade war

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Markets are tumbling downhill because of all of the White House tariffs on imported products are expected to draw retaliation from our trading partners.

Already, $1.60 has been clipped from soybean prices due to Chinas’ promise of reciprocal trade action that puts soybeans in the crosshairs. 

But if farmers did not have enough to worry about, the 2018 cropping season has delivered a bushel full of challenges to corn and soybeans.  And each has the potential of wiping out a major portion of a crop yield.

A cold April, a hot May, a hotter June, rain here and dry soils there have created an environment beneficial to pestilence and harm to the crops in the field. Yes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly assessments of crop production and development have projected this to be one of the best crops ever, but there are some gremlins tucked away under the crop canopy which are not far from making a visible entry to the world.

Thanks to torrential rains 10 days ago that left as much as 8 inches of rain on some farms in Eastern Illinois – leading to flooded fields -- many soybeans are showing evidence of sclerotina root and stem rot. A more common name is white mold, which has benefitted from prolonged wetness of leaves muddy soils and high humidity. Soybeans begin to wilt, and the yield potential rapidly declines.

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Phytophthora isn’t just a seedling disease, it’s a soybean disease that can show up at any growth stage. Early reproductive phases are stressful and can open pathways for infection and plant mortality.

University of Minnesota plant disease specialists say treatments can be beneficial. In all areas where phytophthora root and stem rot has been a problem, resistant cultivars should be planted. Soybean varieties can have resistant genes as well as field tolerance to phytophthora, but not every variety is resistant, and not every field has been planted with a resistant variety.  And most critical is the impact of white mold on yield.

Another disease liking wet and warm soybean fields is rhizoctonia. That is another fungus being found in soybean fields this year. Affected plant tissues tend to appear reddish-brown and will have a corky, almost dry-rotted look to them. In addition to killing germinating and emerging seedlings, rhizoctonia can produce stem cankers. Cankers are sunken lesions that are typically located at or near the soil line.  Some fields may be protected with the use of seed treatments, but the fungicide will soon be used up and diseases will return to attack the more mature plants.

University of Illinois plant pathologist Nathan Kleczewski is telling farmers that just because they used a seed treatment does not mean they won’t have a soybean disease. He said they have a limited window of protection. Additionally, farmers could have disease because they planted a highly susceptible variety, and the environment didn’t favor seedling disease development until later in plant growth.

While it is fortunate that those diseases stay in a soybean field and don’t bother the corn in the adjacent field, corn has its own pestilence problems. Currently, corn fields are beginning to show the evidence of its own yield robber in the form of gray leaf spot. It will develop lesions on leaves that prevent photosynthesis which is so important for the production of sugars that form the basis for the starch in corn kernels. And a corn plant with green leaves that have turned into a mass of gray spots will not produce an ear worth harvesting.

It can be prevented with a fungicide spray, and crop dusting airplanes will soon be seen over many corn fields. Most of the early planted corn will be showing its tassel during the next two weeks, and that is the time the crop should be sprayed.

As one can imagine, fungicides, crop dusters and the battle against crop disease means production costs go up as crop values go down.

Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene. In addition to his weekly column, you can view his “From The Farm” and “Harvest Heritage” reports on WCIA 3 News.

 

 

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