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Monday, January 16, 2017

War on Crop Residue

2017 marks my 40th year in the business of soil management. In 1977 when I started working s a soil scientist, there was still a big question as to the effects of conservation tillage on crop yields. Farmers led the way in proving that top yields could be had even with high surface residue. In the past year, I have noticed that there seems to be a war on residue.  Tours at John Deere and Greg Sauder's Yield Center 360 both unveiled tillage equipment that looks to imitate moldboard plowing without moldboard plowing.  Burying residue seems to be becoming accepted management.It was refreshing last week to attend the National No-Till conference and see that there are still people out there that are interested in leaving residue on the surfacefor soil health benefits and erosion control.

Last week I read an Article in October Prairie Farmer "Residue Impacts on Corn Yield". The Article list 5 problems with crop residue that I will attempt to debunk.

1. Residue saps moisture.  While residue sticking down into the planting slit can wick moisture, a well adjusted planter will overcome that issue easily. Residue other than in the planting slit covers the soil and conserves moisture. 

2. Insulation effect.  Residue can keep soil temperatures lower than bare soil. This issue can be overcome two ways.  One, light vertical tillage can cut up residue and get it to decompose a bit to get some bare soil.  Two, Row cleaners move trash away from the planting area allowing soil to warm up as needed when seeds are planted.  The added bonus of the insulation effect is that as temperatures rise into the summer, crop residues keeps ground and field temperatures closer to ideal.

3. Toxic Environment. They say that too much decomposing residue adds toxins to the soil.  Residue on the surface is not a problem.  Incorporated residue could be a problem, especially in a corn on corn situation.  Rotate to a different crop.

4. N and P Stealer.  There are lots of ways to overcome this. Adequate P levels in the soil will reduce P tie-up.  Nitrogen may be tied up, but once again. adequate fertilizer N will help to make nitrogen available when the crop needs it.  Residue on the surface is not the culprit.  Cover crops can also help. 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Maximizing Soybean Profits.

ne of the highlights of the national No-till Conference was listening to Marion Calmer discuss his soybean production  methods.  Calmer is a manufacturer of narrow row corn heads and an on farm researcher.  He uses replicated strip studies to test his ideas and the ideas of others.

I have written several times about soybean population research.  The point is that extremely high population soybeans do not provide any economic advantage.  In fact, in Calmer's six year study, Yields were nearly the same no matter what population he planted.  He admitted that he is reluctant to plant less than 75,000 plants even though his research would support as low as 50,000 plants per acre.   For every increase in population by 25,000 plants per acre he says it costs  an additional $10 per acre with no return.  If you are looking to save money in the coming year, look at cutting back populations.  If 75,000 plants per acre makes you nervous, try cutting back 25,000 from wherever you are.

He also compared 30 inch rows to 15 inch rows.  The 4 bushel per acre advantage of 15 inch rows is huge.  If you are still planting 30 inch row soybeans it is a costly production method.  He admitted that there might be an additional gain of 1 bushel per acre if the soybeans were drilled.  A few years back he was drilling his production acres.  He has switched to 15 inch rows in the past few years.




Friday, January 13, 2017

Responsible Nutrient Management

We have spent the past three days at the National No-Till Conference in St. Louis.  Not only is this a great No-Till Conference, but it is a great crop production conference.

At the Luncheon on the first day, Responsible Nutrient Management Practitioners we awarded for their diligence in taking care of their soil nutrient levels.  Jason Carter, Mike Werling, and Mike Taylor were recognized for their nutrient management programs.  Jason Carter is using chicken litter to build his soils up.  His program also includes annual soil testing to measure progress.  As his soil has improved, he has cut back on chicken litter.

Mike Werling is looking at economics and applying fertilizer at modest rates to maximize profits.  He soil tests every three years.  Cover cr ops are also a component of his program.  Werling uses less than one pound per bushel of corn to produce high yields economically.

Mike Taylor makes sure his soil tests correlate with soil types on his farm.  He also uses cover crops and lower than average fertilizer rates to produce higher than average yields.  He uses variable rate technology as appropriate and also applies in row fertilizer to spoon feed his crops.  He is using No-till and cover crops to improve organic matter levels on the topsoil.

Friday, January 6, 2017

TO Do List for 2017 Growing Season

It would seem we might be too late to implement new management plans for 2017.  Things like Field drainage are already done or scheduled, but if you can afford the investment, now may be the time to get on your contractor's list for next year.  Hybrid selection is likely done.  Prairie Farmer offers other tips that can still be implement in their 10 tips article.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Planting Corn in Cereal Rye Cover Crop

We have seen issues with planting corn into cereal rye cover crops.  I have always thought that killing the cereal rye early could help.  Researchers at Iowa State University have found that cereal rye supports the growth of microbes that can be damaging to corn seedlings.  They found that earlier kills worked better.  They also suggest that nitrogen at planting time can help promote healthier corn plants.  We have also found that with low soil test sulfur, rye can create a sulfur deficiency.  Sulfur at planting is also a good idea.  See what they say about reducing the risk of corn seedling disease and yield loss after cereal rye.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Happy Birthday Dad

I went to see my Dad yesterday.  His 88th birthday is Sunday and with dicey winter weather in the forecast for later in the week, yesterday was the day to take his gift.  Dad is in good health both mentally and physically.  He was proud to have passed his annual driver's test. He lives in town, but his mobility is important to him because he goes to see Mom in the nursing home almost every day and then drives out to the farm to putter about.  Dad has always been a fan of 2 cylinder John Deere's.  Grandpa bought  a Model AR in 1941 and that tractor is still on the farm.  The one below is a Model A that was built in 1937 or 38.  It was given to him with a broken pedestal.  He welded and braced the pedestal and at some point a year or 2 later we put in new rings and painted it.  The loader was built by a neighbor.  The tractor still runs and it starts by cranking the flywheel.  Dad is still better than anyone at starting it.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Controlling Diseases in Wheat

We grow the Soft Red Winter varieties of wheat in our area.  The crop was more popular in the past, but wheat is still the third largest acreage in Illinois.  In the southern part of the state crop rotations that include wheat are the most profitable assuming that double crop soybeans are also in the mix.  At this time of year it is easy to look across the wheat field and think that it looks great.  A wet spell in the spring can change all that.  University of Nebraska put out this article about Controlling Diseases in Wheat. Published in No-Till Farmer