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Karl Guenther Column: The drought continues it's effect on corn, pest management

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Drought-damaged ears of corn and dry, brown stalks are seen in a field near Georgetown, Illinois July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Karl Plume
Drought-damaged ears of corn and dry, brown stalks are seen in a field near Georgetown, Illinois July 24, 2012. REUTERS/Karl Plume

 We’ve been hearing - - and experiencing - - for months now, the speculations and the experiences of crop damaging, even crop destroying drought.  Earlier just this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a thing called “Secretarial Disaster Designations”.  It’s a map based document depicting total all crop disaster incidents, and a county by county depiction of 598 counties designated “primary”, and another 290 contiguous counties.  Designation, in this case, is “...designated for 2013 crop disaster losses.” - - for the Crop Year 2013.  Obviously, that covers crops already planted, for harvest this year, as well as crops to be planted and harvested in 2013..  The good news is, Michigan, and our neighboring states are well to the north and east of the most severely drought stricken areas.

There’s more good news coming down the pike, as I understand it, from researchers at Michigan State University.  Did you even know  - -  I didn’t - - know, that during last summer’s drought in Michigan - the worst in the last half-century - Michigan State University researchers nearly doubled corn production on state test farms, near East Lansing.  Here are the numbers. Irrigated corn yields increased 135 percent (213 bu/a) on conventional 30-inch row spacings; and increased 174 percent (268 bu/a) on 15-inch row spacings.

 I don’t really know how much there is to know about this production development, but there’s a tremendous opportunity to ask those critical questions, coming up at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, on Friday. (Jan 25th)  It’s this year’s installment of Ag Action Day.  It runs 8:00am until 4:00pm, with specific sessions at 9 and 11 in the morning, and 1:30 in the afternoon.  There will also be a Trade Show Exhibition, and an opportunity to take the Restricted Use Pesticide Exams.  That’s the general picture - - it’ll cost you 20.00, and that includes lunch.

The listing of programs and sessions begins with Impact of changing weather on corn and pest managementwhich suggests to me, a good opportunity to talk face to face with some of the experts on this matter of significant escalation of crop yield, in spite of drought. 

I can tell you a little more about it, “as the story is told to me” - -   The process is called subsurface water retention technology, and it uses contoured, engineered films, strategically placed at various depths below a plant’s root zone, to retain soil water. Spacing of that membrane also permits internal drainage during excess rainfall, and provides space for root growth.

Now - - here’s some frosting on this interesting cake.  Water-retaining membranes are expected to last at least 40 years, and can be installed quickly and cost effectively.  The concept best works in most field and horticultural crops, including cabbage and cucumber and potatoes right here in Michigan.

If you want or need more than you can find at Ag Action on Friday, email Bradley Shaw, MSU Technologies - - he’s the tech manager, atshawbr@msu.edu.

Karl Guenther is a retired farm broadcaster at WKZO and can be reached atkhguenther@charter.net. He is a member of Michigan Farm Bureau and an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting.

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