Search This Blog

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Everybody talks about the weather. So why not me.

Actually, You should check out Dave Murray's spring forecast for the St. Louis area.
In Summary, Dave says we will have a cool wet March, then a dry April with average temps, followed by a wet May.

The good news is that with only 4 inches of frost in the ground, we may have a window to do some some spring tillage. In general, I am against Nitrogen application this early South of Springfield. If you insist, use a Nitrification inhibitor such as N-serve. Right now there is no rain in the forecast till Saturday, so this could be a good week.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Frost in the ground

I just did 2 probe checks for frost. The first check in the lawn showed only minor frost, maybe an inch deep. In the tilled garden where most of the soil is bare, frost was about 4 inches thick. I was expecting another layer deeper, but that deeper frost must be thawed. The good thing about thin frost is that water can percolate through the soil and move deeper. This will shorten the saturation time when the weather warms and dries out.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Farmers Supporting Farmers

I suppose everyone has heard about the Yellowtail Wine issue where they supported Humane Society of united States (HSUS). Yellowtail eventually backpedaled. Do you know what your favorite charity does with it's money? Obviously people make donation when a group sounds credible without checking them out. Today, Pilot Centers was shamed into withdrawing support from HSUS. They stand to lose a lot of fuel sales to Livestock and Grain haulers.

Closer to home, it amazes me when farmers do not support other farmers. There have been several recent applicants for Livestock operations that have been opposed by neighboring farmers. How can you do that? Even if you are not a livestock farmer you have to support them, after all they buy your grain. If they were close you might even get some high quality fertilizer (manure) out of them. What can farmers be thinking when they don't support their neighbors? What can businesses be thinking when they don't support their customers?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Farmworks Day 2

Day 2 I chose to concentrate entirely on mapping. The training was very good both days. Instructors knew both the technical and practical. We were happy yet have taken some map boundary files with us because after being shown how to get them into farmworks, we still did not remember a step. They spent lots of time talking about how cool farmworks is for grid sampling. I made some remarks I probably shouldn't have, although I did nos say what I was thinking. That a trained monkey can do grid sampling. The trip home was uneventful and nothing to see as far as farming, except that any corn left in the field is really starting to deteriorate.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Farmworks Training

I am attending Farmworks training in Bloomington. I am learning just what a powerful tool it is. We are using onl a small part of it in using just the mapping. I saw one farmer with nurse tanks hooked to tractors. Not sure what he might be doing with weather being wet and cold. He will be ready when he gets a window.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is it spring yet?

Along about this time of year we start to think some warm weather is a sign of spring. Unfortunately, there is no spring like weather in the forecast yet. Then when that warm weather hits, we think we should do something outdoors. We need to remember that saturated soils may take a little time to dry out, so don't rush things. Our average date of last frost is in mid-April. Do you need to put off plant corn until then? I would say not. There are conditions where seed will rot in the field, but on the whole if the field is fit to plant moisture wise the last few days of march or the first of April, go for it. I have seen some really good corn that was frozen off at the ground early, but the growing point was below the surface. I have seen good corn come up through the snow. If we should be lucky enough to have early corn planting, keep in mind that there is no particular advantage to early soybeans. Soybeans planted May 10 do as well as soybeans planted April 20.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Carbon Sequestration

Cap and trade does not seem to go away. Farmers, and midwestern farmers in particular have some opportunity to sell carbon credits in return for their good tillage practices. When I was a college student, the body of knowledge said we could not increase organic matter in soils with common cropping practices. In fact, we knew we had depleted organic matter and released the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. My college Mentor Ted Peck said that soil organic matter had reduced by half. He thought that more Carbon Dioxide had been released by tillage than by burning fossil fuels. At that time organic matter seemed to be in equilibrium in the soil.

As tillage was reduced or eliminated, we found that we could increase soil organic matter. With high yields in the midwest and with no-till farming practices, soils have potential to exceed their original organic matter content. Reduced tillage increases organic matter in the soil more slowly. Cap and trade proposes to pay for increasing or sequestering carbon. Is this a good deal? Probably not for the energy companies paying for it. Probably not for the consumers who pick up the cost.

Will it reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere? Who Knows? Will it change the Climate either way? Who Knows? Al Gore? Do you trust a politician as a scientist? Do you trust Hollywood actors and actresses as scientists?

On the other hand it makes sense to do what we can to conserve our resources. Improved air quality might be a bonus to doing something to conserve soil, water, and fertilizer. Tillage needs to fit your knowledge level and management ability. If you are thinking about no-till or doing it, then you might be giving benefits to society and not just to yourself.

I would like to tell you what to say to your legislator, but I don't really know and I am a scientist. In General I would leave things alone until there is some compelling evidence that we should spend the money.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cover Crops

Why should you trouble yourself with planting cover crops? As their name implies, they provide cover that reduces winter erosion. What else are they good for? They tie up nitrogen that might remain in the soil. The nitrogen in the cover crop will slow release in the coming year thus providing the added bonus of putting nitrogen in the soil when the crop needs it. Root systems from cover crops can help reduce the negative effects of compaction. The roots can also penetrate restrictive layers such as E horizons and claypans. Annual Ryegrass is the leading cover crop at this time. My friend Dan Towery is a leading expert on annual ryegrass. Check out his blog.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Weather Spotter

We went to weather spotter school last night. I am outdoors so much, it seems like a good idea. IT was interesting learning to read the clouds. I hope I can see what I need to see when it is for real. I can see why the NWS only accepts confirmed tornado sightings from spotters. I suppose this would not be for you if you are the type that hides in the basement.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


This is supposed to be about where I have been and what I have seen. On Monday I travelled south to Belleville. Snow cover ranges from 1 to 4 inches with some bigger drifts in places. Farming operations have been halted since the new year. A few fields have corn still standing. The condition is getting worse with more ears dropped and stalks have broken off. Not much else Ag Related to say. Soil moisture is still excessive although I don't think the small snowfalls we have had have done much to add to the moisture over the past two weeks. This is a good thing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

White Corn

Clarkson Grain Co. is looking for producers to grow white corn. This is a product that you will get a premium for planting. Contracts are for acres and not bushels. Corn is to be delivered to Cerro Gordo this year, but next year there will be a facility in Greenville as well. This year's customers will get first shot at a contract next year.

Going with value added products like this makes sense. It looks like the White Corn premium is better than the Non-GMO premium. Producers who are looking to diversify without a lot of changes to their operation should consider something like this. for more information.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Grain Storage

The final presentation on Thursday was on grain storage. The bottom line is that storage will pay for itself in less than 2 years. This sounds like an excellent investment to me. I think it is more difficult than that to justify almost any piece of machinery. The speaker said that temporary storage is not the answer. He said that storage should include drying floors, fans and heaters, and stirators. Also, include some capacity for expected yield improvements over the years.

Another topic was keeping the grain in condition. Once again I am not an expert, but the key is drying the grain down and making sure it stays dry. General changes in weather are times when grain can out of condition, so be especially cautious when winter turns to spring. Spoiled grain is nearly worthless.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Climate Change

Illinois Climatologist Jim Angel gave presentation on climate change in Illinois. His data did not show any particular trend other than there have been wetter and dryer periods and there have been warmer and cooler periods. He did touch briefly on the fact that the Arctic ocean is melting. I recently read an article on freight navigation in the Arctic Ocean. Much like the airlines, ocean shipping that uses the Arctic Ocean can save time and fuel. I guess there may be something positive from the warming.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nitrogen Management

Dr. Fernandez made his presentation on Nitrogen Management on Thursday. It was interesting to hear him discussing some of the same things i have learned since starting to work with Randy. He talked about how much N the crop needs. Corn takes up about 1.2 pounds times the number of bushels, hence the old benchmark recommendation. Fernandez suggested trying the PSNT. He also talked about stalk tests at black layer time. Another part of the presentation focused on the N-Rate Calculator. I like the PSNT and the N-Rate Calculator. Both come up with useful decision making data. You should be looking at the economics of it and trying to add some number values to what is actually going on in your fields. Here is the link to the N-Rate Calculator.

Friday, February 12, 2010


The second presentation yesterday was on marketing. I DO NOT PRETEND TO BE AN EXPERT but some things were discussed that make sense. First off, some things that might help to make some sense of the market are things such as the value of the dollar, energy prices, and supply and demand. I don't keep track them much because I consult on tactical matters and marketing falls into the strategic realm. One thing I do tout the importance of is knowing your cost of production. If you know your cost of production then you can look at parts of your fields that are producing below the break-even point and try to figure out what to do about it. Drainage, additional fertility, disease or insect management are all things that might help a producer to avoid those no-profit zones. Getting back to the marketing issue, knowing the break even point also can help you decide when to sell some of your crop. you also need to account for a bit of profit so that your family can make it through the year without maxing out the credit cards. Everyone wants to hit the peak of the market, but that is a hard target. Hitting the price where you make a decent profit on the other hand may be a bit more realistic. I would not say to sell it all at once, but just keep in mind what your are trying to do. Remember this old gem. "You can't lose money making a profit."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Agronomy Day

I attended Macoupin Montgomery agronomy day today. I think I got enough information for fave days of blogging. I will just go in order of presentation. The first presentation was discussion on how research is collected on insect infestations. IT was interesting to see how it is done. A minor shortcoming was that explanations on how to use the data were sketchy at best. 2009 did continue the recent trend showing declining corn borer populations. This decline is attributed to Bt corn. It will be interesting to see if the bugs win or if we win.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Many Soybeans to Plant per acre

Tom Bechman of Prairie Farmer Magazine lays it all out for you. Well done article.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

How often to soil sample

There are lots of ideas about how often to soil sample a field. Some say every four years is often enough. Some say every crop cycle. In other words, in a corn soybean rotation, every 2 years. Our service provides annual sampling. Why is that needed? It allows us to track your fertility every year. It allows us to monitor your field every year for other soil health issues that we may see. It also takes the guesswork out of how much fertilizer you need. You don't have to worry about how much last year's crop took off, or how much fertility is left. By having the data you know where your fertility levels are. Also, the more familiar we are with your fields the better we can advise you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Corn Yields

Record yields this year are very hard to explain. Stands were uneven which we know cuts into yield. Corn was late which usually cuts into yields. Conditions were wet all year which usually brings disease pressure. One thing we do know. Corn never ran out of water. Dad always said that water is the most important nutrient, not nitrogen. Interesting how he gets smarter as I get older.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Glyphosate Resistance

Glyphosate resistant weeds have been in the spotlight for the past few years. We see it all the time in waterhemp, marestail, lambsquarter, and giant ragweed. The clue is dead weeds next to untouched weeds. Sometimes you will see weeds touched but not dead. I have been saying for a number of years that Roundup corn is not helping the situation. If you have to plant roundup corn because of genetics and seed availability what should you do. Keep using your soil applied herbicide. Try to avoid the roundup. Look for other herbicide resistant genetics such as Liberty Link and 2-4D Resistance which is on the way. Avoid using roundup on the corn ground. Use it only as a last resort. On soybeans, roundup may be the best choice, but spray weeds early, and make sure you use the full rate. Follow-up of need be with more roundup to kill escapes.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rain Pattern Continues

Rain fall here today. Turning to snow. I keep looking for the weather pattern to change. So far our rainfall excess continues. The disadvantages of excess moisture are obvious. For this year I think we could get by on 25 inches if it is timely. It does not look like that will happen.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nitrogen Management

Nitrogen is the most difficult nutrient that we try to manage. When the soil gets above about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, nitrogen becomes dynamic. Lots of N fertilizer contains at least some N in the Ammonia form. NH3 applied to the soil quickly becomes NH4+ and attaches to clay particles. As soon as temperatures are warm enough, the ammonia form is converted (nitrified) and becomes easier for most plants to take up. It also is very soluble and can move up and down in the soil profile with water. It is also subject to denitrification and converted to nitrite, nitrous oxide, and N all of which escape to the atmosphere. The hard part is predicting when all this will happen and how it will affect the crop. These changes are all subject to weather. The most certain way we have to manage nitrogen in my opinion is by using the pre-sidedress nitrogen test (PSNT) and sidedressing. The downside of that is that the window is pretty narrow for sampling and applying. With Nitrogen costs fairly high and environmental concerns needing to be addressed, minimizing fertilizer nitrogen is important. I also think that in order to push the envelope on 300 bushel corn, we will need to look at getting the N to the plant when it needs it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Build and Maintain Vs. Nutrient Sufficiency Approaches

I was going to attend an online course on Build and Maintain vs. Nutrient Sufficiency Approaches to recommendations. After some online research, I probably won't. We really seem to follow more of a build and maintain philosophy even though we don't really take that approach. The sufficiency philosophy says put on only what you need in order to grow a crop this year. We might do that in a given year, but that tends to run down the soil in that on a good soil you can get by with less than the crop takes off until the levels get down to where you are forced to add full removal rate. Sufficiency does not allow any flexibility for years like the past few when prices go out of sight. While we don't continue to make deposits in the soil bank until levels are at a huge excess, there is merit in having a small savings account.

Sufficiency is a good way to manage Nitrogen since it is impossible to build up anyway. The N-Rate calculator takes the sufficiency approach.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Horst Bohner a Canadian Researcher found only 29% of sites responded to Fungicide. I have seen lots of similar results. I think the fungicides work when there is disease pressure, but I would be hard pressed to say they should always be used. The hard part is predicting when there will be disease pressure and then making a timely application.