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Friday, August 28, 2015

Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

I was attending a meeting in St. Louis as Hurricane Katrina came to shore.  It was close to a year after my retirement from USDA.  As news reports came in, I thought that perhaps some of my experience could be put to use in Louisiana.  I sent a resume to FEMA and I had a phone interview shortly.  It took until almost Thanksgiving before I heard from them again.  I left for Orlando the day after Thanksgiving to report for mustering in and training.  After a week of 11 hour days training in Florida we reported to Baton Rouge.  I spent most of my time inventorying properties that had repetitive claims for flood insurance.  I went all over Louisiana and saw a lot of devastation everywhere.  The second picture below, sums it up.  A house sitting on a pickup truck in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans.  Tom Brokaw reported from in front of that house a year later.  The mess was still being cleaned up.

The people of Louisiana were very nice to me.  I made the acquaintance of Rodger in the third picture down and we worked together many days.  I still hear from him from time to time.  I worked 6 days a week 12 hours a day until Christmas.  After Christmas, We did 11 hour days and got Saturday afternoons off.  I stayed in Port Allen across the river from Baton Rouge after Christmas.  The people below also became friends and even invited me to their superbowl party.  I was also able to celebrate Mardi Gras season in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  Despite news reports to the contrary, I never met anyone who treated me badly.

It is gratifying to see the ten year anniversary reports on television showing how well the area has recovered.  I am proud to have been a small part of that effort.

Why did we need to save New Orleans?  It is an area that is very important to commerce and agriculture.  A large portion of our agricultural exports go through New Orleans.  A large part of a our petroleum imports come through New Orleans.  The port of New Orleans extends up the Mississippi River as far as Baton Rouge.  There are 47 refineries located in the area.  If we did not restore New Orleans, we would have needed to build a new port and all that infrastructure somewhere else.  A new city would like not have been any safer from hurricanes than New Orleans, and would have been much more expensive.

Having lived through the flood of 1993 on the Mississippi River, I saw first hand what it takes to recover from a major disaster.  Some people asked me how long I thought it would take to recover in Louisiana.  I told them that it would take at least 5 years until you could look around and say, "It looks like we are recovering."  I said it would take 10 years until things really felt "normal" again, but it would be a new normal.  I am sure that 10 years later we can still find damage, but it is good that the people are back and that commerce continues to move in Louisiana.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stalk Nitrate Testing

As we see corn get more yellow every day, we might want to know how we came out on nitrogen.  One way to make that estimate is to take a stalk nitrate test.  The test should be done after black layer or maturity.  I took Stalk nitrate test and also pulled soil samples for nitrogen analysis. It is possible that the tests will not match.  The soil test gives you a chance to do extra thinking about what might have gone wrong, or right.  No-Till Farmer has an article on late season nitrogen assessment.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Seepwater Damaged Crops

It seems appropriate to follow yesterday's blog with pictures of crops damaged by seepwater near  Portage Des Sioux, MO.  The seepage controls mentioned yesterday are meant to preserve the integrity of the levee.  They do not keep seepwater out.  These are large fields and only shows part of the damage.  There are very good crops in the same field, but how do you make up for large areas of zero yield.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Levees are more than meets they eye

Dr. Ken Olson and his Co-author Lois Wright Morton have written a series of articles concerning flooding especially in southern Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky based on experiences in that areas during the flood of 2011.  Olson and Morton have done  good job of talking about the effects of flooding on soils and agriculture.  In the latest article they explain how Slurry trenches and relief wells are installed to strengthen Ohio and Mississippi river levee systems.  Click on the link to see how there is more than meets the eye when it comes to levees.  The seepage control is an important component of the system, are often not visible at least to the untrained eye.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Hay Time

Whole fields of corn are maturing.  SDS is spreading in soybeans.  We have heard several reports of harvesting, but no yield reports.

Humidity is down and rain is several days off, so weather is perfect for hay.  I saw 3 people working on hay this afternoon.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Getting Residue to Break Down

Why do we want residue to break down anyway?  Some say we want to release the nutrients.  That may be especially true in the case of nitrogen. More likely we don't want to tie up the nitrogen with residue breakdown because we want it to be furnishing nutrients for our crop.

No-till Farmer ran this article on residue breakdown , but it offers little in the "how" department. One of the reasons I see for wanting residue to break down, is for soil warmth and aeration.  If we are in a high residue cropping system, if the soil is completely covered, it may keep soil wet in the spring. Properly done vertical tillage can help break up the residue and start decomposition in three ways.  One is that we make the pieces smaller. Two is that we mix in small bits of soil which contains microbes that inoculate the residue to decompose.  Three is that we expose a bit of soil to allow improved air and water movement.  Keep in mind that vertical tillage should be shallow and should not bury residue.  Another tool that will have the same effect is the Aerway.  If those tools are not available, a very light disking could help.  The disk should be in the ground an inch or less.

Some people like a bit of UAN over the top to break up residue.  The shortcoming is that it is really a waste of nitrogen.  Something else to keep in mind is that the root residue in the soil maybe more of a drag on yields in corn on corn than the  residue on top. Perhaps a small amount of nitrogen incorporated would help with that issue.  The residue on the surface is not really the problem with nitrogen tie-up, because it has limited contact with the rooting zone.

Good drainage is also important for good residue breakdown.  Tile drainage will promote better aeration, but even good surface drainage can help.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hey National Ag Statistics Service

Just curious if National Ag Statistics Service considered any fields that look like this or worse.  This is between Gillespie and Litchfield.