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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Scenic obsolescence

Yesterday I took the day off from sampling and blogging to fulfill community service obligations.  I have been a member of Kiwanis for 22 years.  Kiwanis is the only service club dedicated to serving the children of the world.  Two or three times a year we raise funds so we can continue to help kids in our community.  Saturday was peanut day.  I spent the day standing on hard surfaces, which wore me out.  Then it was trick or treat time.  Seeing the little ghouls and goblins is always great fun. 
One of my favorite things to photograph is corn cribs.  These cleverly designed buildings have become obsolete, replaced by grain bins. 

I don't usually photograph barns because every seems to have a barn collections. This barn however caught my eye.  The sundog in the photo seems to add to it in a way because the barn is a dim image of its former self.  I saw this barn and it made me curious about it's past.  Barns are now replaced by livestock confinement buildings and pole barns. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Grafton - Jerseyville

Went west today.  It was a beautiful day.  Soil Temperature at 4 inches was 44 degrees.  Air temperature went as low as 30.  I did not see anything needing harvested today.  It seems nearly impossible for it to be done before Nov. 1.  Lots of fertilizer going on.  I expect Nitrogen to start Monday if it stays cool at night.  I would rather wait another 2 weeks, but I know people are antsy.  I was on a farm today that had some well maintained terraces and Grassed Waterways.  A retire NRCS guy always likes to see that stuff.  Also some great no-till. The no-till ground was the softest I have probed this fall.  Ground was in very good shape.  Dry fertilizer and lime were the main activities today. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010


We have notice sulfur test levels going lower and lower each year.  For the past 2 years, Dr. Fernadez at University of Illinois has been researching crop response to Sulfur.  He has found as much as a 50 bushel response to sulfur.  If you have not looked at it, you probably need to find out your sulfur levels in your soil.  Some common sources of sulfur are Ammonium Sulfate, elemental sulfur, and gypsum.  15 ppm is thought to be the critical level. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I worked east of Brighton today.  There was one small field of corn that needed to be harvested.  I saw lots of deer stands, but no bow hunters.  Soil was moist.  Not sure how much rain fell, but it was enough for now.  Wheat is looking good in the area.  Tillage seems to be done for now. The main field activity was spreading fertilizer and lime.  I think some may be waiting to do it after applying nitrogen.  Soil Temperature was 50 degrees at 10AM.  The state wide map is still showing soil temperatures over 60 degrees on bare soil.  I was checking soybean stubble.  Cooler fall-like temperatures may lower the temperature later this week. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


I had a short afternoon of work in Irving.  Weather is on the mind today.  The storm blew through this morning and left 1/10 of an inch of rain.  More would have been welcome at this point.  Dust was flying where chisel plows were running.  The tillage was looking good at this point.  It is dry enough for deep tillage to do some good. 

Monday, October 25, 2010


I worked south of Valmeyer today.  There is lots of wheat sowed in the American Bottoms of Monroe County.  Most of it was looking good.  This is a contrast to the USDA wheat condition report that says it is the worst crop in years.  I saw one field of corn to be harvested and a few fields of double crop soybeans that still have green stems.  I worked in mud for the first time this fall.  I was in a wet area and about a half inch of rain fell through the night.  Some of the wheat ground I worked on had just recently been planted and it was rough.  Rain will help get it out of the ground. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Baled stalks

These bales of cornstalks were rolled up between Carrolton and Greenfield.  These stalks will be used as winter feed for cattle.  This could become a more common sight as we move toward cellulostic ethanol. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Made a circuit today

First stop was North of Carlinville.  Early harvested corn was rutted.  Soil Temperature at 9:45 was 50 degrees.  Stopped at a field west of Hettick and soil temperature was 50 degrees.  Then on to Greenfield.  Sampled 2 small fields.  I went south to Piasa and sampled some corn ground that was just harvested.  I saw a field of horseradish being harvested near Rockbridge.  Finished the day North of Shipman on a newly harvested soybean field.  Then back to Hillsboro.  I did not see any unharvested corn fields. I would have to say corn is 99% done, because I know there are some little corners yet to do.  Soybeans appear to be about 98% harvested.  Horseradish was just getting started.  I saw wheat out of the ground at Piasa.  It looked good.  Lots of fertilizer being applied, but dealers are showing restraint for the most part on nitrogen.  That is good. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Filter Strips

 The photo below shows the area where I worked today.  Most of my sampling was in the valley of Coop Creek in the far background of the photo.  I was a great day with great fall colors.  Soil temperature was 50 degrees at 10AM.  That was in soybean stubble. 
The photo below is immediately adjacent to Coop Creek.  It shows a grass filter strip along the creek. Filter strips are very effective in keep pollutants out of the water. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Livestock Management

Below is a state of the art dead animal composting facility.  As hard as producers try to keep animals healthy and growing, from time to time They lose one.  One of the best ways to dispose of them is by composting.  Note that the facility is covered to prevent seepage of polluted water.  This producer is using sawdust to provide  a carbon source.  One the process is complete, the compost can be tested and used for fertilizer. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


It was a nice cool fall day in Brown County.  Harvest is almost done with lots of rough looking tillage already done.  I don't mind the roughness, but I worry about the compaction that was caused down deep. 

Today was the first reading of 50 degrees on the thermometer.  Warmer weather is expected this week so it would be good to continue to hold of on Nitrogen application although technically it is a go. 

Lots of farmers in the area where I worked are also deer hinting outfitters.  I saw lots of deer stands on the edges of fields. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Soil Moisture and temperture.

Cut a Wide swath today

I started my day in Fillmore where soil temperature at 10AM was 55.  Crop progress was excellent and I worked on a customer who is done.  He had lots of wheat sowed.  I have seen more wheat sowed than I have seen in many years. 

I went to Staunton and then to Livingston.  Progress was good in those areas too.  It was interesting that everywhere I worked today, I could see the Coffeen power plant. 

Illinois Crop Report came out today.  Harvest progress around the state is progressing at record pace.  I found myself working on land that did not get done until November 27 last year an I know I was wearing insulated Carhart Coveralls.  It was interesting that 62% of the people were reporting short on moisture.  My observation is that topsoil moisture is OK in undisturbed and no-tilled areas.  Chisel plowing has caused all the topsoil moisture to go away in those ares that are tilled.  We could use a bit of rain, but wheat seems to be emerging without rain.  I would not call it short.  I don't keep records, but it seems we have not had any rain to amount to anything in over a month.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sampling Philosophy

We  pull soil samples by management zones.  Zones can be determined a number of ways or a combination of ways.  Soil types can be a good place to start.  We like to use landscape position as a criteria.  Yield zones can sometimes show variability well.  Yields from several years that are normalized work best.  We like zones as apposed to grid sampling because a grid sample too small of an area, even if it represents only 2.5 acres.  In order for grid sampling to work, grids would need to be smaller than one acre.  That would be cost prohibitive.  Pulling plenty of cores per sample improves the representative nature of the 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.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I worked in the American Bottoms around Valmeyer today.  Harvest is progressing about like everywhere.  Still a little corn standing, Some beans are still a little green, some ripe ones being harvested.  I saw wheat out of the ground for the first time.  Other areas had wheat sowed and some was being sowed.  Monroe County is traditionally atop 10 wheat producer in Illinois.  Weather was wonderful.  Red tail hawks are beautiful soaring on a day like today.  I think I saw a Peregrine Falcon as well.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I had views like the one below all morning.  A wonderful cool fall morning in Illinois.  I was working in the Fillmore area today and soil temperature at 10AM was 58.  Why was it warmer than yesterday?  The ground was drier.  Dry ground warms faster than wet ground.  Not sure if the bean stubble vs corn stubble had anything to do with it.  Just proves you need a thermometer to check each field.  Today was the first time since fall of 2007 that I used a hammer to sample.  The ground is not extremely dry, but just hard from compaction.  IT is cracking so that will help on the surface at least.  Tillage now that it is dry would help too.  Just keep conservation plans in mind.  There were still some soybeans with green leaves, so harvest could stretch into November but 80% of beans were done and maybe 95% of corn.  Field activities include harvesting corn and soybeans, fertilizer application.  Lime application, and wheat sowing.  Yes I saw my first drill in the field.  I know many are sowing, I just have not seen them. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tiling at Greenfield

 I worked in a field that was having drain tile installed.  This was 12 inch tile to provide an outlet for an adjacent farm.  The tile helps to remove saturation from the soil  Those who think things are drying out should note that water was still running in an old clay tile.  I thought it was fortunate to be able to get these pictures while I was sampling.  The last 3 wet years have made more and more people realize the value of drainage tile.  It seems that as the harvest winds down, people are taking advantage of the relatively dry weather to improve their land.  This was one of several I saw today. 

Tiling Machine installing a 12 inch main

The depth of the tile is controlled by this laser

Old clay tile on the right will be connected to new plastic on the left.  Note that water is running in the clay tile.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I think it might be time to lighten up a bit.  Today I was working south of Jerseyville.  I was about 1/4 mile from one of my favorite orchards and country store.  I have had a taste for some of the Firm Gold apples that are found in that area.  I was finishing up a field before noon and so I decided to ride my 4 wheeler down a field road to the store and pick up some apples.  When I got there I told the owner I hoped he had some of the Firm Gold apples because I have been wanting to work in the Jerseyville area all fall so I could get some.  He said' "And you rode your 4 wheeler all the way here to get some?"

Soil Temperature was 65 degrees at 10 AM.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Soil Temperture and Nitrogen Application

When Anhydrous Ammonia is applied to the soil it grabs a hydrogen ion from water and becomes ammonium. ammonium attaches to the clay particles, but when temperatures are warm, bacteria begin to work on the NH4 and turn it into Nitrate. This is called nitrification. Nitrate is available to plants, but also moves with water in the soil down into the ground water and into tile water. When Anhydrous is applied when soil temperatures are above 55 degrees, nitrification occurs. If you apply on warm soil, you will lose nitrogen. I like to see anhydrous applied at 50 degrees just to allow for a little variability. To find out soil temperature, checking it yourself is best.   IN the fall always use nitrification inhibitor. 

Illinois State water survey tracks soil temperature, but not sure how close together their sample sites are.   Click here to see the site

A map from the site is below. 

Monday, October 11, 2010


One of the things I hope to do with this blog is bring you things that you might miss unless you look closely.  I was riding across this field when I noticed that the very top of the soil was drying out.  The ground was undisturbed so moisture was good.  Then I looked closer and noticed that all the dry soil was actually worm casts otherwise known as worm poop.  The earthworms eat the residue and help decompose it.  They then deposit the nutrients in the form of worm casts, sometimes right on the surface.  A few of the casts were large ones indicating nightcrawlers, but most them were small.  There are a number of species of smaller worms like red worms.  In any case there was lots of worm action in this field.  I find it especially interesting because I know this customer is not a no-tiller.  Usually no-tillers will tell you how much worm action they get, but I found there is lots of worm action even in a tilled field.  I would not have noticed it except the conditions were just right.  The lighter colored soil is the worm casts. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bond County

We took a little trip to Greenville today to visit Marcoot Jersey Creamery south of Greenville.  We bought some of their delicious cheese and cheese curds.  They also sell Milk produced and bottled at another dairy.  They sell cheese, ice cream and butter from their dairy as well as meat.  It was and impressive operation and I wish them the best. 

My crop report is that once again it looks like about 95% of the corn is harvested.  75 to 80 % of soybeans are also harvested.  It looked like most farmers were taking a rest from harvest because we only saw one combine in the field.  A lot of the remaining soybeans are ready to harvest but the field below will not be ready for a week or so.  We saw several fields with various states of greenness, so harvest will not be done for a while even though it is progressing nicely.  Also saw 2 fields of grain sorghum that are not ready to harvest. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I worked in the Wrights and Carrollton area today. Soil is drying out much more than I expected although I can hardly say it is dry.   Tillage would go well with a minimum of lumps.  I took the soil temperature at 10AM to see where we are for nitrogen application.  fall Nitrogen should not be applied until soil temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  This is despite the fact that the IL Agronomy Handbook says 60.  The reason for 50 is that at 60 it is very likely to get warmer at some time.  At 50, we hope it will stay below 60.  Remember to use Nitrification inhibitor.  Soil temperatures will be pretty variable.  Today is was 58 in corn stalks.  Chiseled ground will be much warmer.  Hang in there guys.  With the good harvest weather, there is bound to be a window to apply your anhydrous.

Meantime get a thermometer like the one below for less than $10 at Walmart.  It needs to have a probe 4 inches or longer. 

Friday, October 8, 2010


I worked north of Fillmore today.  The landscape looks very open by now although there are still plenty of soybeans to harvest.  Corn was still being harvested as well, but it is 90% done.  I sampled soybean ground all day. 

The ground was not particularly dry, but it is getting very hard.  Combine and auger wagon tire tracks were especially hard.  Ground seems to be working better now for those who are tilling.  Moisture content seems about right for tillage now, even deep tillage if you want. 

We should be thankful for the wonderful harvest so far.  I don't usually comment on markets but it was interesting how much USDA downgraded the corn crop and what that did to the market.  If I remember the numbers correctly, the shorter new crop just about made up for the extra old crop corn we found a few weeks ago.  I think the downgrading of the yield is pretty reflective of what is actually going on.  It might drop more because the later corn will not be as good as what is harvested already.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Drainage in Athensville Greenfield area.

Worked in Greene County again today.  Weather is great for harvest.  I got a yield report from customer today.  He said corn yields were as low as 50 in flat fields and as high as 220 in rolling fields.  Soybeans are good everywhere.  The range is wide, but all good.  Yields are running between 55 and 80.  Not too shabby. 

Soil is drying out better than I expected.  It is finally getting dry enough that tillage will not harm it.  I have seen number of fields moldboard plowed this year.  This will add lots of air and speed up microbial action.  It will also release extra nutrients.  The down side is that moldboard plowing increases erosion potential.  Soil blowing is almost always a problem at some point.  It also decomposes organic matter at an accelerated rate.  In addition, it compacts the whole layer at whatever depth it is plowed at.  I think the negatives outweigh the positives. 

He mentioned that he had one field that had a drainage system on half of it.  He said the drained half outyielded the undrained half by 50 bushels per acre.  Push your pencil on that.  You could have put $250 toward drainage this year alone with $5 corn.  Drainage is considered a long term investment, but it can be recovered fairly quickly.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It was a beautiful day in Central Illinois today.  Lots of field work was being done.  I am wiped out because most of what I sampled was already chisel plowed.  The last field I tried was not, but I put a corn stalk through an ATV tire and had to quit.  It was quite an adventure getting the Honda loaded with the left rear off of the rim. 

The sunny clear weather is great for the hawks and vultures. I tried a picture with no luck.

I did get a picture of a Track tractor with a disk chisel.  The interesting thing about it is that it is red and appeared to have John Deere Guidance system.  The question is why guidance with tillage tools.  Actually this is where it can pay off.  In a tractor cab it can be hard to see exactly where the machine you are pulling is tracking.  The guidance system cuts down on overlap saving power and fuel.  It pays off pretty fast.  It saves about 5%. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I spent most of the day close to home in the Witt area.  Harvest is going about as fast as it can.  Not much corn left.  Beans 50% done.  Some late beans were nipped by the frost.  Some were not.  The ground was not extremely wet where I worked today, but compacted by harvest and tillage equipment.  Soil Moisture seems to have reached a level at least in some areas where tillage will do no harm. 

Yield reports on soybeans good.  Corn is all over the board but I think when we are done we will have a good crop, but not a near record crop.

Monday, October 4, 2010

West Alton - Shipman

Went to West Alton today.  Very few beans were harvested.  One farmer who had harvested said moisture is 15% with lots of beans still green.  Even the big farmers have not started.  It will be 2 or 3 days yet.  I heard that more was harvested further west. 

Shipman area, just about any field work that can be done in the fall was underway.  Tillage, corn harvest, soybean harvest, fertilizer and lime spreading.  I hope no Anhydrous application.  Soil temperature is 55 degress, but it will go up later this week.   That is why early nitrogen application is not a good idea.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Soil Water

Soil water is an important part of the soil. Yes soil. Soil is made up of organic matter, Mineral particles and pore space. Soil water is found in the pore space. Ideally around 50% of the pore space is water when the soil is at field capacity. (More on that to come). The other 50% is air. The air is important because it is needed by the microbes and invertebrates the live in the soil. Oh yeah - that means the soil is alive.

When soil is saturated that means it contains too much water. When the soil is saturated, if you dig a hole in it the hole fills up with water. This water is called gravitational water. This means the water will flow in the soil under gravity. If I say the soil is saturated, you should think - too wet. If soils are gummy, they are probably saturated. Working saturated soils causes compaction. Gravitational water is removed by tile drainage. This is a good thing because the gravitational water uses up all the pore space in the soil and plants cannot grow into it, so the water is unavailable.

When I say the soil is very moist, that means it is probably at or around field capacity. That is the moisture level where tile will no longer remove water. The closer to field capacity the soil is, the easier it is for the plant to take up the water. Moisture still moves when the soil is below field capacity, it just moves more slowly and from areas of higher moisture to areas of lower moisture. Water can move at this point by capillary action. Roots have enough air to function and plants can use the water.

When the soil gets dry, eventually you will see corn leaves rolling during the day. At night, evapotranspiration slows down and the plant can catch up on its water needs. When the plants no longer recover at night, the soil has reached it's wilting coefficient. Rain or irrigation is very critical at this point. The plant will probably not yield to its highest potential even before these symptoms persist. The soil will still look like it has some moisture in it.

A good bit of water is not available to plants because it is held too tightly to the soil particles. To find out moisture content, soil has to be dried 24 hours in a very hot oven. Then it needs to be weighed before it can pick up moisture from the air.

I used Buckman and Brady 7th edition to make sure I did not leave anything out. Yeah, it is old, but these things do not change.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Roodhouse Scottville

I had a good idea for today's blog but forgot it. Does that count as writer's block? That leaves me with what I did today. Sampled between Roodhouse and Scottville. About half the crops in that area are harvested. More corn than soybeans. This is behind most of the areas I have visited lately. Not sure why. Soil was very moist, but not saturated. I will need to explain soil/water terms sometime. I did not see any wheat planting going on. We had a little bit of rain this morning that dampened the harvest, although corn was being harvested right next to where I was working. I also saw some people chisel plowing in the rain. THe rain was over by the time I got to the area I was working.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nitrogen Management Part 3

Last night I tweeted that a colleague has done a lot of stalk testing late this summer to determine the fate of nitrogen. He found out that every field he tested had run out of nitrogen. I was also visiting with a friend along the road in the evening. He said his sloping fields were his best yielding. In fact they were extraordinary. He said he had a flat field that looked excellent all summer, but when he harvested it the yields were below average. In fact he said he had never harvested corn that looked so good and yielded so poorly. How does all this fit together? I told him about the stalk tests and he said that he thought he had run out of Nitrogen too.

Where did the nitrogen go? My hypothesis is that it was dentrified because the soil was so wet most of the summer. The sloping ground was at least not saturated as much so it yielded better. Dentrification is a biological process where bacteria use the oxygen in the nitrate form of nitrogen as an oxygen source when the soils go anaerobic. This renders the nitrogen unavailable to plants. It either leaches or evaporates into the air as N2, NO2 or N2O.

One of my tweeps asked how can the nitrogen loss be prevented. First - it is difficult given the extreme conditions. What might have helped. Nitrification inhibitors even in the spring. This keeps the nitrogen in the ammonium (NH4+) form for a bit longer and keeps it attached to the clays. Another thing that would have helped tremendously this year is tile drainage. Tile drainage would have at least minimized the saturated conditions. Another thing that might have helped some, is sidedressing nitrogen after the corn is up. A nitrate test before sidedressing would have been good information to have as well.