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9/13/2010 - 9/19/2010

VeraSun Corn Suppliers Must Respond to Preference Demand Letter by Sept. 30

By Kelvin Leibold, extension farm management specialist and Erin Herbold, Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation

Iowans who received payment for corn or other services from VeraSun within 90 days of the company’s filing for bankruptcy on Oct. 30, 2008 received preference demand letters at the end of August. The letters came from one of two New York law firms and demand that the supplier return a percent of the payments received from VeraSun during that 90-day period.

While the letters and the legal issues surrounding them may be confusing, the advice given by legal experts at a meeting in Charles City on Sept. 16 was simple. Suppliers must respond to the preference demand letters by Sept. 30, 2010; they must take action now.

Iowa State University Extension held the Charles City meeting and one in Fort Dodge a week earlier to help farmers better understand the legal issues and the required response associated with the letters. For the convenience of those unable to attend either of the meetings, ISU Extension videotaped the Charles City session. The video will be available to view on Monday, Sept. 20 as an additional resource on the ICM News homepage.

Steve Moline, of the Iowa Attorney General’s office, told those attending that letter recipients must keep three things in mind. “Do not ignore this matter. Seek advice of a bankruptcy expert before making any payment or offering to settle. And gather and copy all of your VeraSun transaction documents for your attorney so a response can be formed immediately,” Moline said.

Erin Herbold, staff attorney with the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation (CALT) at Iowa State, outlined the suppliers’ legal options and discussed the defenses suppliers have. “Suppliers who did nothing wrong are being asked to provide information to the trustee to establish their defenses,” said Herbold. “Some will have strong defenses and the trustee may cease further inquiry; some suppliers will have partial defenses that may provide room for negotiation for a lower settlement; and some will have no defense.”

Herbold continued with explanations of the three traditional defenses, but to determine a supplier’s best defense, she referred back to Moline’s three points. “Gather documentation and get it to a bankruptcy lawyer immediately, there isn’t any time to waste,” she said.

Bankruptcy attorney Joe Peiffer, Cedar Rapids, provided a list of documents that suppliers should gather for their lawyers. Those documents include:
• Copies of all documents and/or correspondence received from VeraSun regarding how and when it would pay for corn purchased from corn suppliers.
• Copies of all scale tickets for corn sold to VeraSun at any time, not just the checks in question.
• Copies of all settlement sheets for all corn sold to VeraSun at any time.
• Copies of all contracts for sale of corn to VeraSun with delivery before Oct. 31, 2008.
• Copies of all deposit tickets for checks received from VeraSun at any time.
• Copies of all checks deposited from VeraSun.

“These documents need to be provided to your bankruptcy attorney immediately so the attorney can draft a response to the preference demand letter by the Sept. 30 deadline,” Peiffer said. “Failure to respond to the preference demand letter could result in the supplier being sued in bankruptcy court in Delaware.”

View the full presentations made by Peiffer, Herbold and Moline, as well as their responses to audience questions from the ICM News homepage on Monday, Sept. 20.


Kelvin Leibold is an extension farm management specialist. He can be reached at  641-648-4850 or by emailing . Erin Herbold is a staff attorney for the Center of Agricultural Law and Taxation. She can be contacted at 515-294-6365 or by emailing

Seven Tips for Improving Crop Insurance Coverage During Harvest

By Steve Johnson, Ag Business Management Specialist

As the 2010 harvest gets started, a great deal of yield variability can be expected in many fields. Farmers with crop insurance coverage need to be organized in order to submit timely claims for indemnity payments or provide records for Actual Production History (APH).  Seven tips to help with crop insurance coverage during harvest include the following.
Notify your crop insurance agent.
Contact your agent within 72 hours of the initial discovery of damage and no later than 15 days after the end of the insurance period. The end of the period is the earlier of total destruction of the crop on the insured unit, or harvest of the unit or Dec. 1.

If you initially discover damage within 15 days of harvest or during harvest you may be required to leave representative samples of the unharvested crop for inspection by a crop insurance adjuster. The samples must be at least ten feet wide and extend the entire length of each field in the unit. An optional unit will typically be an individual field within a section of land by separate ownership.

Keep records organized.
In case of loss or APH audit the insured farmer must keep records separate for each unit. Enterprise unit coverage is common and it combines the production of all fields of that crop in the county together. Optional units will be combined if the production is commingled, which often occurs when insured farmers get busy during harvest.

It may be necessary to keep production separate for each farming practice, type of crop and variety depending on the crop being harvested and crop insurance coverage in place.

Measure old-crop grain.
Production stored on the farm from previous years must be measured by a crop insurance adjuster prior to adding any new-crop bushels. For bushels stored on the farm and not at a loss, keep written records of bin markings, truckload identifications and combine monitor records in case of a future APH audit. For loss situations, when production from more than one unit and/or insurable and uninsurable acreage will be stored in the same storage structure, an inspection by an adjuster should be requested.

Specify load information.
Maintain a ledger by crop and record the loads of production by unit and field number, and date of harvest. Identify the truck or wagon used to transport the grain to the storage structure and the estimated volume of each load.

Retain evidence of delivery.
Production delivered to a commercial elevator or processor will require evidence of the delivery amount. Individual load tickets alone will not suffice, but a load summary and/or settlement sheet is required for verification of 100 percent of the production delivered, not just the insured farmer’s share.

Individual load tickets may be needed in addition to the summary and/or settlement sheets and can include specifics such as the farm identification. Have available written third party verification or settlement of a claim as much as possible.

Maintain records of production fed to livestock.
In the event production must be fed prior to a claim being worked by the adjuster, the insured farmer is responsible for maintaining detailed records. That is a formal, consistent, written record system of fed production.  You need to have the records available at the time the claim is prepared.

Keep in touch with your agent.
Cooperate with your crop insurance agent and the adjuster in an investigation or settlement of a claim. You need to understand the emotions that come with harvest--and always practice farm safety.



Steven Johnson is an extension farm and ag business management specialist. He can be reached at 515-957-5790 or by emailing

Corn Stalk Nitrate Interpretation

By John Sawyer, Department of Agronomy

Interpretation of Test Results
You’ve gotten results from corn stalk nitrate samples collected this fall. (Corn stalk nitrate analysis form.)  Now, what do the results mean? The stalk nitrate test is based on the concentration of nitrate-N in the lower corn stalk (8 inch segment from 6 to 14 inches above the ground) when the plant reaches maturity (See Cornstalk testing to evaluate nitrogen management, PM 1584). In general, a larger amount of plant-available N in the soil during the time period before plant maturity results in a greater concentration of nitrate in the lower stalk. However, the stalk nitrate-N concentration can be greatly influenced by other external and internal plant factors.

An example is precipitation/soil moisture. It has been known that drought conditions can result in elevated nitrate in the lower stalk. This can be due to nitrate uptake late in the season in combination with a much reduced grain fill or missing ears. For chopping grain silage, the long-standing suggestion is to raise the cutter bar and leave more of the stalk portion with high nitrate. While results of the stalk test are reasonable in this situation, that is high concentrations indicate more N than needed in a drought affected yield, the results should not be extrapolated for normal production years. Similar but opposite situation for extremely wet conditions (like many fields in 2010); where stalk nitrate concentrations would be quite low due to excess rainfall and N losses. Another example is high grain yield and/or combination with a long and slow grain fill. Nitrogen taken up by the plant is directed to developing grain, so nitrate does not accumulate. Of importance for test interpretation is to monitor fields for multiple years before making adjustments in N management. 

These external and internal factors complicate interpretation of stalk nitrate test results, and make specific interpretation from low to optimal concentrations difficult (less than 2,000 ppm nitrate-N). The test also does not predict an amount of under- or over-N supply, that is, how much to change N application rate. Interpretation at high concentrations is more definitive, as concentrations greater than 2,000 ppm nitrate-N more consistently indicate excess N available to the plant. If high levels are found for several seasons, and with no drought reduced production, then the interpretation becomes clear that N inputs (fertilizer/manure) are too high and there should be adjustment to more moderate rates. Continued monitoring in future years can indicate if high stalk nitrate concentrations are no longer found after adjustment in rate.

Research Evaluation
The stalk nitrate test should help guide future N applications toward economic optimum rates. To evaluate the potential for this, and to examine complicating issues related to interpretation, a dataset from many sites and years of N rate trials (N applied at multiple rates from zero to 240 lb N/acre) was used to plot the difference in applied N fertilizer rate from the economic optimum N rate (EONR) versus stalk nitrate concentration. This N rate differential is how far a specific applied N rate in the trial was from the EONR. For example, if an applied N rate was 160 lb N/acre, and the EONR was 110 lb N/acre at a site, then the N rate differential was a positive 50 lb N/acre (an excess rate). If an applied N rate was 80 lb N/acre, and the EONR was at 125 lb N/acre, then the N rate differential was a negative 45 lb N/acre (a deficit rate). If an applied N rate was 120 lb N/acre, and the EONR was 120 lb N/acre, then the differential was zero (at the economic optimum rate).

Figure 1 shows that when stalk nitrate concentrations were above 2,000 ppm (especially well above 2,000 ppm), almost every time the N rate was greater than the EONR. However, when concentrations were less than 2,000 ppm, the N rate differential from EONR spanned a wide range from deficit to excess. This means interpretation and potential for future rate adjustment is not clear. Figure 2, which shows the stalk nitrate concentrations on a log scale (visually “expands” the low concentrations and “contracts” the high concentrations), highlights the large variation in stalk nitrate concentrations at near optimal to deficit N and the difficulty in trying to provide specific adjustments in N rate based on the stalk test when concentrations are less than 2,000 ppm. From this type of data analyses, it is clear that greatest confidence occurs in interpretation of high (excess) concentrations, and less confidence can be placed in low concentrations or in specific rate adjustments.

For any N test, perfection should not be assumed. Also, each test will have specific strengths and weaknesses. For the stalk nitrate test, the strength lies in interpretation of high concentrations. This means the test is best suited for understanding when N applications over time are greater than crop need, and an economic and environmental benefit can come from improved application rate.


Figure 1. Graph showing the relationship between corn stalk nitrate-N concentration and the difference in N rate from the economic optimum N rate (EONR). Positive N rate values indicate rates greater than the economic optimum, negative values indicate rates less than the economic optimum, and zero is at the economic optimum rate. Data from J. Sawyer with N rate response trials with continuous corn (CC) and corn following soybean (SC).


Figure 2. Graph showing the relationship between corn stalk nitrate-N concentration and the difference in N rate from the economic optimum N rate (EONR). Stalk nitrate concentrations were converted to a log scale. Data from J. Sawyer with N rate response trials with continuous corn (CC) and corn following soybean (SC).



John Sawyer is a professor with research and extension responsibilities in soil fertility and nutrient management.

Minimize Amount of Corn Left on the Ground Behind Combine

By Mark Hanna, Department of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering

Leaving corn in the field during harvest always results in a yield penalty. A recent soybean Sudden Death Syndrome article shows data that suggest corn kernels may be one of the most likely sites for survival of SDS pathogens with potential to harm subsequent soybean crop. 

Harvest loss and disease pathogen survival are both reminders to combine operators of the need to take time periodically to look on the ground behind the combine for harvest losses. Over half of corn harvest losses occur at the cornhead and are not able to be measured by grain loss sensors on the rear of the combine. Two corn kernels per square foot or a single three-quarter pound ear in 436 square feet (0.01 acre) equals one bushel per acre of corn loss (see Profitable Corn Harvesting, PM 574).

In-field checks suggest that loss due to machine harvest should be no greater than one bushel per acre if corn is standing reasonably well. Be particularly aware of dropped ears as hundreds of kernels are lost in a single ear drop. Finding just one ear by kicking through residue in a 20 x 22 foot area behind an 8-row cornhead equals one bushel per acre loss. Ear-saver tabs or shields commonly found at the lower end of stalk rolls should be maintained and excessive harvest speeds avoided to keep ear losses down. 

Shelling of corn kernels when the butt end of the ear is allowed to contact stalk rolls is another common way kernels are left in the field. Deck or snapping plates that shield the stalk rolls should be adjusted appropriately for ear size in the field. A good starting point for today’s corn hybrids is about 1 ¼ inch gap between plates to allow stalks to move through between deck plates, but ears to be snapped before contacting stalk rolls. It may be advantageous to allow a slightly wider gap at the top/rear of plates so that stalks don’t wedge.

On newer cornheads, the gap between deck plates is often hydraulically adjustable from the cab, so there’s little reason not to adjust as conditions change. A key is to take a few minutes periodically to check and measure losses on the ground. Perhaps disease pathogen survival offers another reason to limit corn loss in the field this fall. 


Adjust the gap between deck plates on the corn head to avoid shelling on stalk rolls.


Mark Hanna is an extension agricultural engineer in agricultural and biosystems engineering with responsibilities in field machinery.

Towards a Successful Harvest: Stalk Rots and Standability Issues

By Alison Robertson, Department of Plant Pathology

It’s hard to believe the 2010 growing season is almost over. Most of the corn across the state is nearing or at black-layer, which means it is time to scout fields for stalk rots in an effort to evaluate standability and plan a successful harvest.

Stalk rots are likely to be an issue this growing season. We have seen significant blighting of the leaves in the upper canopy predominantly from Goss’s wilt, northern corn leaf blight, gray leaf spot and anthracnose top dieback. When significant leaf blight occurs in the upper canopy, the risk of stalk rots increases. Furthermore, overcast conditions, such as we had throughout most of the grain filling period, favor stalk rot development. Since stalk rots reduce standability, fields in which greater than ten percent of plants are affected by stalk rots, should be scheduled for an early harvest. 

In Iowa this year, we have had reports of bacterial, anthracnose, Fusarium and Diplodia stalk rots. Incidence (percent infected plants) ranges from field to field and is likely a function of genetics. It’s a good idea to identify what stalk rot is predominant in the field to help with hybrid selection in subsequent years.

While all stalk rots result in rotting and shredding of the pith tissue, they each have their own identifying characteristics.

Bacterial stalk rot
This stalk rot rarely occurs in Iowa, however this year we have had several reports of the disease from across the state. Bacterial stalk rot is favored by high temperatures, high relative humidity and heavy rainfall or irrigation. The most characteristic symptom of this stalk rot is the foul odor when you spilt the stalk. 

Anthracnose stalk rot
Dark streaks on the outside of the stem are characteristic of this stalk rot (Fig. 1, below). 

Fusarium stalk rot
No discoloration occurs on the outside of the stalk, but the nodes may appear white due to growth of the fungus on the outside of the stalk. A pink discoloration (Fig. 2, below) may be seen in the pith of infected plants when the stalks are split open. Sometimes Fusarium stalk rot may be confused with Gibberella stalk rot (because of the pink pith tissue) or with Diplodia stalk rot, however no black specks can be found on the outside of the stalk tissue.

Diplodia stalk rot
The identifying characteristic of Diplodia stalk rot are tiny black specks (pycnidia) buried in the outer rind of the stalk at the lower nodes (Fig. 3, below). Diplodia may be mistaken for Gibberella stalk rot because of the black specks; however, the black specks associated with Gibberella stalk rot can be easily scraped off with a thumb nail. Furthermore, the pith tissues of Gibberella stalk rot are often discolored pink to red.

Scouting Tips
• Target fields that have had significant foliar disease.
• Target hybrids with low stalk rot and/or standability scores.
• Evaluate at least 100 plants per field (20 plants in 5 locations).
• Use the “push test” or the “pinch test” to determine standability. If 10 to 15 percent of plants lodge or are rotted, schedule an early harvest.


anthracnose stalk rot

Figure 1.  Black blotches and streaks on the outside of the corn stalk are diagnostic for anthracnose stalk rot.


fusarium stalk rot

Figure 2.  Light pink discoloration of the pith tissues may be evident with Fusarium stalk rot.


diplodia stalk rot

Figure 3.  Pycnidia (tiny black fruiting bodies) buried in the rind at the lower internodes are diagnostic for Diplodia stalk rot.



Alison Robertson is an assistant professor of plant pathology with research and extension responsibilities in field crop diseases. Robertson may be reached at (515) 294-6708 or by email at

This article was published originally on 9/20/2010 The information contained within the article may or may not be up to date depending on when you are accessing the information.

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