Most of us know Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” As I write this article, I can see 2020 raising her hand, smiling and saying “Yep! That’s me!” Social issues, pandemics, major weather and environmental events, insects, disease, growth abnormalities, etc. Here’s my attempt at summarizing 2020 without saying “I’m ready for next year, it can’t be this bad,” as I did in 2019.
To start the year, COVID-19 made an impact on pre-planting preparations and planting windows came early with some of the better soil conditions we have had the last couple of years.
Early Growing Season
Although April and May were abnormally cool, some growers were able to start planting. However, the forecast didn’t look all that favorable for growth and development in early April so many held off for more favorable forecasts. This being said, I’m not sure April planted soybeans were aware they were actually in the ground. Cool soil temperatures delayed germination and emergence for quite some time. In some instances, emergence did not happen for 3-4 weeks after planting. Some of these areas took so long to emerge that the beans actually resembled early May planted soybeans.
A Mother’s Day frost gave some an opportunity to replant fields, and I don’t have to tell you that’s not normally an opportunity we want. More rain caused some of those areas to flood again causing a third replant and making growers show their true versatility by spraying a pre-emerge herbicide, post-emerge herbicide and running a planter all at the same time when usually at least one of those three duties are complete. Rains and cool temperatures caused planting to spread out into June for some growers.
Timely rains kept nutrients flowing in June. Earlier planted beans canopied later than normal and June planted beans never did canopy in some cases. This and the addition of having a wet spring made weed control difficult. Depending on the timing of application, residual herbicides were rendered less effective due to either temperature, an abundance of moisture or not enough moisture to get into soil solution. As if weed control wasn’t hard enough already, not being able to spray a key herbicide for about a week made control even more difficult. Some fields saw more weeds or different weed species than they have in a long, long time.
As flowering went into full swing and July rolled around, the heat and dry weather came with it. For some, July 3rd or 4th would be the last rain they saw for a few weeks. The blessings of a “million dollar rain” came at the end of July and early August, but along with that came some very high winds and hail; although just a small amount of what Iowa saw, it was enough locally to cause some heartache.
Late Season Events
Continued dry weather and high instances of Sudden Death Syndrome start showing up as well. Disease species were plentiful, but thankfully many were not able to thrive. Walking fields late summer, you could likely see about every soybean disease known all in the same field. White mold, Sudden Death, brown stem rot, stem canker and Cercospora, just to name a few, were all ones I could find in fields no matter the planting date. Thankfully, environmental conditions did not favor large area spread of these diseases; fungicide applications still made for a respectable return on investment.
Late season insects didn’t want to be left out, so bean leaf beetles decided to come back late and chew a decent amount of tops off of soybeans. In some areas they even began to move to the pods, increasing the opportunity for seed quality issues, or even clipping pods, causing pods to drop to the ground. Although it was dry, spider mites were not a major concern in 2020. Just another puzzling piece to the year, one which I will not complain about!
As harvest got started, bean yields were pretty good, but certainly not record breaking. The dry August took a lot of the top end potential off, but the beans were still able to create respectable yields. Because of the rain timing during pod fill (or lack thereof) and time of emergence, April planting dates and early May planting dates have not shown much of a difference. Late May and early June have not been as strong, however. With those distinct planting times, harvest moistures have matched. With a nice and warm stretch in late September and early October, beans dried rather quickly. Thankfully, growers were able to harvest much earlier in the morning and harvest until later in the evening, allowing great progress and timely soybean harvest.
Due to the prolonged plantings, harvest moistures have been variable as well. Early plantings were getting down to 9% harvest moisture in some cases while later planted fields or replanted areas were still holding onto leaves and green beans when an early frost hit in September. Thankfully, the frost wasn’t heavy and was isolated to low areas, but two weeks later another frost was a killing frost, causing some of those replants to lose their leaves quickly. This killing frost caused some green and yellow beans to be harvested. With the ability to blend a majority of these areas with the original planting date in the field, average field moisture was acceptable.
At the time I’m writing this blog, we are in a fire risk. These last few days have kept rural fire departments very busy with field fires caused by minor sparks from discarded cigarettes along the road. With wind speeds of 20-25 mph and gusts of 37+ mph, fires spread rapidly and jumped over roads without much issue. Thankfully, no injuries have been reported, but standing crop and equipment losses did happen, including a fire truck unable to get out of the field in time.
It has been a wild ride, 2020. From the beginning to the end, it will be a year not easily forgotten. The year of Murphy’s Law has shown how little differences in planting dates, inputs or overall decisions can impact a crop. As soybean harvest is wrapping up for many, there’s still plenty of corn to harvest before we wrap up this crazy year. Family, neighbors, friends, and/or colleagues are what make farmers so resilient, and each of these resources were needed at one time or another this year. As I wrap up my final blog as a Soy Envoy in 2020, I’d like to thank all of you for what you do. Essential doesn’t even begin to describe a farmer or rancher.