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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bald Eagles

I had business today  in the Columbia Illinois area today and on my way home I drove on the levee to see what I could see.  Several Bald Eagles were soaring as I drove.  I tried pictures, but no luck with that.  I did catch these 2 roosting a rather large tree.  You can barely see the white heads on a large tree branch.  Most of the Bald Eagles in Alaska and Canada make their winter home on the Mississippi River withing 100 miles north and south of St. Louis.  When the river gets icy they move further south.  Ar first when they made their way to our area they would concentrate around the locks and dams because of easy fishing.  They are still in those areas, but they have spread out some as well.  Seeing them in person, it is easy to see why such a majestic animal was chosen as a symbol of our country.  We now have a few nesting pairs in our area and they stay here year round. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Soil Grinding.

It is our goal to collect and test a sample that represents the actual fertility levels in the field we are sampling.  Today, my son is grinding samples for his master's project so I thought I would pass on how we assure we have a uniform sample to analyze.  Our normal sampling procedure is to pull 10 to 15 cores per sample area.  Usually we crumble the samples and take out about a cupful to send to the lab.  Sometimes when the soil is very wet or very high in clay or both, it does not crumble well.  After we dry the samples, we can either send the whole sample to the lab or if we want to save some space and weight, we can grind the samples ourselves.  The samples are ground and thoroughly mixed at the same time.  From the  sample we send to the lab, many of the tests use a 5 gram sample that is scooped out of what we send in.  When we send crumbled samples, the lab grinds them for us to assure thorough mixing and uniformity.  One thing you might want to look into is if your lab grinds the whole sample.  If not, then your tests may not tell you what you want to know because they do not have a representative 5 grams of the total sample. 
Grinder is on the right with samples waiting to be ground.

This what the inside of our grinder looks like.  Most are some variation of this. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

4R Nutrient Stewardship - Nitrogen

Now for the 4R nitrogen stewardship and management.  As I have said often here, nitrogen is the most difficult nutrient to manage.  It is critical for high yielding crops, but availability is affected by many environmental and biological factors.  In order to be the best stewards possible, we need to consider all those issues in our nitrogen management.  Nitrogen is critical for all the grass crops grown in our area including corn, grain sorghum, wheat, oats, and etc.  The crops start to need the nitrogen near to when it starts the grain production cycle;  in corn, right before tasselling.  In wheat, right before boot stage.  This means that nitrogen applications made closer to when the crop needs it will have the most likelihood of be utilized by the crop.  Also consider that later nitrogen applications require less nitrogen. 

All that said, I am hard pressed to say that fall applied nitrogen on corn is a good idea at any time, but there are some circumstances where it might meet the 4R criteria.  Fall nitrogen applied late in the fall when there is little likelihood of nitrification taking place might be ok as long as nitrification inhibitors are used as well.  This year, suppliers were as restrained in that regard as I have ever seen.  I hope it keeps up.

Urea is a form of nitrogen that has the potential to go awry.  First, it should not be used in the fall.  Second, consider urease inhibitors.  Third, incorporate immediately. 

What makes nitrogen management even more difficult, when you apply, is seen as a time management issue as well.

The ideal would be to use the presidedress nitrogen test on corn and sidedress all your nitrogen.  Some say that timing and weather make this a dicey proposition.  Sampling technique is also critical to get accurate tests.  It is probably also a good idea to consider potential release of N from organic matter.

What about the "new" amino N test developed in Illinois?  So far the literature review of the technique gives mixed results at best.   Some say it gives them an idea of what to do, others say it does not correlate with response to N fertilization at all.  If it does work, we need more consistent results in order to make recommendations.

Some say split applications are good.  I think it may have some merit in low exchange soils, but why not put on all of your N at the time when you would have made the last application.  This will give the most bang for the buck.

Monday, December 27, 2010


We went to Grafton yesterday to enjoy the ambiance of the Grafton Winery.  Grafton is located at the confluence of the Illinois River and the Mississippi River.  Until sometime after the flood of 1993, It was know as a quaint fishing village with fish markets, antique shops and a one or two bed and breakfast's.  It  has become quite the tourist community and development outside the floodplain has increased the population a great deal. 

The photograph shows a towboat pushing a full tow of grain barges up the Illinois River.  There are numerous barge loading terminal elevators located on the Illinois River where grain is loaded and shipped to New Orleans where it is transferred to cargo ships and exported around the world.  About half of Illinois grain reaches export markets because of the convenience of river transportation.  The river also makes higher prices available to Illinois farmers because of the inexpensive water transportation. 

I should also explain that a full tow upstream of St Louis consists of 15 barges and a towboat.  The towboat actually pushes the barges.  They are not pulled as the name implies.  Fifteen barges arranged in a 3 X 5 pattern can lock through a 1200 foot lock chamber.  There are only 2 1200 foot lock chambers on the Mississippi River.  When using the 600 foot chambers on most of the river, the tows have to be broken in half and locked through separately.  This slows the process of locking through considerably because of needing to break them apart and then re-connect them.  There are 27 locks and dams between St Louis and Minneapolis - St. Paul.  They are of huge importance to Midwestern agriculture.  At some time and point, River transportation grinds to a halt as ice blocks the River either by freezing over or by the buildup of ice flows on lock gates.  Yesterday there were a few flows, but it looks like grain is still moving. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

White Christmas in Illinois

Irrigation rig near Valmeyer, IL 

My Truck

Front yard

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ramsey - Vandalia

We took a little trip to a quilt shop in Ramsey today.  I know not really ag but it is rural lifestyle and time to lighten up from the technical stuff for a day.  There were a few people trucking grain, but farm activity is as close to a standstill as it gets.  There is still a little snow on the ground in fencerows.  We went to Vandalia to pick up last minute groceries.  I enjoyed the sunshine on my face as I waited in the parking lot. 

The Alpaca below was in a small pasture with about 10 Alpacas.  They were close to the fence when we drove by, but when we went back to take the picture this was the only one I could get.  It does serve to emphasize the opportunities for small and specialty farms.  Also note that this is the 400th post of my blog.

I would like to thank all my readers for your support and wish you all an outstanding Christmas Holiday.  My sons will be home sometime with us and for the first time ever, both as married men.  Next blog will be Sunday evening.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

4R Nutrient Stewardship

The Fertilizer Industry in the US and Canada has recently developed the 4R Nutrient Stewardship concept.  More information can be found on the Fertilizer Institute Web page.  Ford West made his case for the concept at the CCA meeting last week.  Someone asked him if he thought we were not already following that concept in making our recommendations.  He responded in a positive way. 

I think the concept was developed for two reasons.  To emphasize to the public that we know what we are doing, and to stress to consultants and fertilizer dealers the need to be mindful of environmental stewardship in making our recommendations.  The whole idea begins with having good scientific data to make good decisions.  Reliable Soil Sampling techniques, Reliable laboratory data, and reliable interpretations of the data are needed.  Right now, in Illinois, the Illinois Agronomy Handbook says that once in 4 years is often enough to sample.  Since sampling "error" is the most likely source of error in  soil testing, is that often enough?  We prefer yearly sampling to allow us to tweek fertilizer amounts applied every year.  We also get a much better picture of trends.  You could make a case for every other year in a corn soybean rotation where fertilizer is applied on corn only.  Less often than that does not follow the $R concept in my mind.

The idea of fertilizing according to what the crop removes is easily carried too far if not backed by data.  Environmental factors such as microbial activity play a big role  in nutrient availability and soil test levels.  We need yearly data to capture what is going on with those variations.  I have seen soil test levels go up with no fertilizer applied and I have seen levels go down with no crop grown.  Soil Balance is an old concept, but still a good one.  If one test level is too low, it does not matter what the other levels are.  In the long run, an effort to bring all levels to an ideal   makes management easier for the producer and the consultant.  Properly implemented variable rate application can help us manage our soil and balance fertility levels. 

Nitrogen management is a whole blog in itself if we are to follow the 4R concept.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Compaction and No-Till Farming

Continuing my series on the CCA convention in Springfield. 

Dr. Sjeord Duiker of Pennsylvania State University spoke on Soil Compaction, Reduced Tillage, and Some Cover Crops.  He has done a good deal of research on the topic, which my readers and I both consider to be important.  Soil compaction is an issue whether soil is wet or dry, because it changes the air, water and plant root interactions in the soil.  In wet weather, compaction will reduce air in the soil even further and speed up denitrification.  It will increase runoff.  In dry conditions, compaction can slow down root penetration and reduce available water capacity. 

Dr. Duiker's research has lead him to conclude that No-Till Farming is the best farming method to keep soil in good condition.  I probed lots of compacted soil this fall.  Even to the point of developing extreme sore shoulders.  The least compacted soils I probed were soils where the producer used no-till, very minimal tillage, or used a No-till Ripper.  Dr Duiker was not as excited about the No-Till Ripper as I am, but he did admit that it was preferred over most other tillage tools. 

He attributes a lot of compaction problems to moldboard plowing, large grain carts, and high tire pressure.  He says to avoid compaction problems: Reduce Tillage, Use Radial Tires with lower pressure, Try to keep weights below 10 Tons per axle.  Use larger Tires, and use cover crops.  He did not mention controlled traffic patterns, but with RTK technology, that is also a possibility to consider.  He found that some radishes put down their roots as deep as 16 inches and do an excellent job of breaking up old tillage pans.   Alfalfa can also do the same with its taproot.  My old friend Dan Towery promotes Annual ryegrass for its positive properties as well.  check his blog listed on the right hand panel of mine.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fertilizing for 300 Bushel Corn

Gyles Randall of University of Minnesota made a presentation on Wednesday about fertilizing for 300 bushel corn and 100 bushel soybean's.  He was both entertaining and informative.  His first topic was - Can very high corn yields be produce with very low soil Phosphorous.  The short answer is no.  His data showed that with a 50 lb per acre P test, good yields could be produced no matter how much additional fertilizer was added or how.  Low P test was 20 bushels per acre lower even with more P added and no matter how it was placed.

This has an interesting implication for producers who are giving high cash rents.  We hear that many of those paying top dollar are "mining" the nnutrients in the soil by not applying Phosphorous and Potassium.  This data would lead me to believe they may be cutting their own throats in the long run. 

Dr Randall also discussed nitrogen management.  He is concerned that higher nitrogen rates needed to grow high yielding corn will also lead to higher nitrates in surface and ground water.  Right now, split applications show no advantage, but in the future we may need to look in that direction,  He also thinks that precision application with chlorophyll sensors hold promise.  I agree on that issue. 

Dr Randall also anticipates Sulfur, Zinc and Manganese issues.  Dr Randall has a longer article that looks very worthwhile in the Fluid Journal That was publicized today. 

My conclusion is that farmers and agriculture researchers are always striving to increase yield and profitability.  Both are challenges that I expect those of us involved in agriculture to meet.  Food, fiber, and energy demands lead us in that direction and currently the corn plant seems to be the best equipped genetically to meet the demand.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Litchfield, IL Prairie View 2010

This Photo was taken Saturday from the I-55 overpass just north of the Litchfield IL exit.  I think I will make this a monthly shot for 2011 to show what is going on in the area if anything.  Sort of a long term time lapse.  As you can see, right now nothing is shaking as expected.  I did see one semi hauling grain on the nearby country roads. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Amazed to Be Recognized

Thursday,, the Sucessful Farming website, recognized the top ten from their A-List in 2010.  I am honored and gratified that they include my blog on their list.  I appreciate the comments and the link.  I would like to have everyone read all my blogs, but under the same assumption they use, I will give you some of the highlights over the year and maybe the life of my blog.

First the top three in hits.
1.  Vertical TIllage
2.  One of my favorite topics - Nitrogen Management
3.  Really kind of a surprise - Soybean Vein Necrosis

Some of my better photographs.
1.  Got Stuck
2. How wet is it.
3. Vertical TIllage 2
4. Blue Skies

Some good ones that have not had many views.

1. Nitrogen managment
2.  What is Mature Corn
3. Working with Nature

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sulfur Fertilization

Dr. John Sawyer of Iowa State University presented their data on sulfur fertilization at the CCA meeting yesterday.  He said their best response to sulfur fertilization came on sandy soils.  He was disappointed with soil test sulfur being used to determine response.  His experience was that the test level was not a good predictor, but I am wondering if other factors could be involved.  It did seem that about 20 pounds per acre was the break point for economic payoff.  His did briefly discuss Illinois research as well.  I have seen the research plots during the growing season and there is a much bigger visual difference than the yield data would indicate, but still it is something we should be considering.  Common sources of sulfur are gypsum, ammonium sulfate, and elemental sulfur.  Check out my previous post   as well.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

CCA Convention

I attended the Certified Crop Advisor Convention in Springfield, IL today.  It was my first time at this event and I was very surprised at the size of the meeting.  Presenters and topics were very diverse.  It was refreshing to hear from private industry and out of state presenters.  I will be attending more of these events in the future.  I saw customers, potential customers, and colleagues.   I have material for several blogs. 

One of the presenters, Emerson Nafziger, analyzed the past growing season as relates to corn production.  Many producers and agronomists have blamed hot summer nights for the disappointing corn yields.  My observations on September 10 were that disappointing yields were related to wetness and nitrogen loss.  September 10 Blog  .  Emerson must have read my blog because his analysis was similar to mine.  He admitted that hot weather might have played a small role, it was wetness and running out of nitrogen that was the biggest contributor to the lower than expected corn yields. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Road Trip

I took a road trip to Patterson today.  Really not much to report on.  Fields are snow covered and there is lots of tillage done just like everywhere I have been this fall.

I know we have still not celebrated Christmas, but most people are looking ahead to spring planting season.  What are some things that might make a difference in the operation for the coming year?
1.  Some sort of autosteer.   If you are still manual steering, you could save a good bit of money just by not overlapping as much.
2.  Make sure you  have top quality planter parts.  Brushes, tubes, meters, etc.  Good accurate seed placement can make a big difference.
3. Row shutoffs.  If your planter is bigger than 4 row, row shutoffs will save on seed costs and help reduce endrow overlap.
4.  Nozzle shutoffs for your sprayer.  Cuts down on chemical waste and overlap.  It is a greener way to farm. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Animal Premise ID

Animal Premise ID is in the news this week.  The idea seems to be more controversial than it should be.  I am hard pressed to say why.  Several years ago I observed an emergency exercise for a foot and mouth disease outbreak.  The most difficult thing to do was to find all the livestock in the county.  A premise ID would protect the producer and help isolate their livestock in times of a disease outbreak.  It takes only  a few minutes to register.  I think that even 4-her's should be taught how to register their operation.  Yes it is more government getting into our business, but it seems much less intrusive than full body scans in order to fly.  Go for it. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Erosion and drainage.

December 2010 Crops soils agronomy magazine reports on research concerning how subsurface hydrology affects soil erosion.  It appears to say that saturated soil erodes more easily than unsaturated soils.  This research confirms a practical idea that we have known for a long time.  Grassed waterways are constructed to protect the land from erosion.  In order for them to work properly, tile must be installed about 1/4 of the way across the waterway.  On the surface, it does  not make sense because it appears that water is running off too fast and needing to remove it from the subsoil should not be a problem.  However, in order to prevent erosion in the grassed waterway, saturation needs to be kept to a minimum.  I have advised many people who were repairing waterways that job would not be complete without tile.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Relics of the past

Corn cribs must be seen as critical to the economic development of Illinois.  They come in many styles, sizes and shapes.  In most cases they are abandoned.  In some cases they are under utilized storage buildings.  It is very rare to find one still used to store corn as the last photo shows.  Ground ear corn is still a very good feedstuff for feeding out beef.  The top two photos were taken last week on my way home from Peoria.  The bottom one was taken 2 or 3 years ago. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Valmeyer Yesterday.

Sorry I did not get to post yesterday.  Went to Valmeyer and worked outdoors a bit.  Weather was pleasant for winter.  Took a few probes and found the ground to be moist, but did not go deep.  Water standing  in the sloughs was frozen.  Visible ag activity is minimal at this time of year.  There is still lots of construction delays.  bean ground I worked on was disked and looked ready to plant in the spring.  Tomorrow might be snow pictures. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Soil Condition

Most of the time I probe 7 inches deep.  From time to time I do an investigation for a septic tank filter field.  By law those borings must be at least 5 feet deep.  I like doing them to keep my soil classifying skills sharp.  I also like the chance to examine soil moisture to a depth of 5 feet. 

Yesterday was one of those days.  I was working within 5 miles of Hillsboro.  The area I was working was an old pasture and soil moisture was just where we want it in the winter.  Even though it has been 2 weeks since we had much rain, a wetting front was still moving through the soil at a depth of about 3 feet.  Soil moisture is at field capacity in the upper 5 feet.  This sends us into the growing season with moisture just about as good as it can get.  Why do I say it sends us into the growing season?  With evapo-transpiration almost non-existent in the winter, soil moisture will not change much until crops and or weeds start growing in the spring.  If we do not get excessive early spring rains, soil moisture should be perfect at planting time.  What all this means in terms of next year's crop is that a complete crop failure is unlikely at least in my area.  I would be curious about moisture in the drought stricken parts of southern Illinois.  I suspect they could still use a little more rain before spring.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Soil - Not Oil

Soil, Not Oil, Is Essential to Sustainability

By Henry Lin - Pennsylvania State University  -
Published in Soil Survey Horizons - Fall 2010

The unsung hero of our planet
  is quiet, invisible and hidden underground
  yet it gives us everyday food, fee, fiber, and fuel

The underappreciated gift from nature
  is fragile, sensitive, and complex
  yet it is the home to the largest biodiversity on Earth

The crucible of all terrestrial life
  is fundamental, conservable, but hard to be renewed
  yet is suffers increasing wounds from anthropogenic impacts

The hidden half of the world underneath feet
  holds a key to global sustainability
  yet has no price tag while oil holds extreme high price

However, it is soil, not oil
  that feeds the world
  and controls environmental quality

Without soil there would be no life
  without soil, there would be no oil
  without soil, there would be no sustainability

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Windmill Farm

Photos below show the windmill farm north of Lincoln along I-155.  Noe of them were taken from the highway.  I went to East Peoria today for a meeting of the board of directors of the IL Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.  Other observations along the way is that there is lots of ground fall tilled this year.  I hope we don't have high winds this spring.  I did see a few fertilizer trucks either on the road or in the field spreading fertilizer.  It was a very cold day today. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Manure Management

I have been the author from time to time of Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans for livestock producers. I h ave not done enough of it to have it seem routine, but I have developed a decent working knowledge. There are some considerations that I like to incorporate into my plan.

Usually Hog and Chicken manure is high enough in phosphorous that over time, soil P levels will increase. This is especially true if manure is applied to meet the crop nitrogen requirement. I prefer to spread the manure around to different fields in different years to minimize the buildup of P. I also like to have the nitrogen applied at such a level that some fertilizer N will be used as well. Overall N can be reduced a bit because fertilizer N will speed up mineralization of the manure.

In No-till situations, manure can still be knifed in and meet the no-till standard most of the time. One reason to incorporate manure is that N loss will be greatly reduced. This extra N will more than pay for the trouble by reducing the need for fertilizer N. Whether your operation is big or small, Manure needs to be used in an environmentally sound manner. Not being sensitive to the environment comes back to haunt farmers in so many ways.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Late Fall

Sumac is a great subject in the fall.  Leaves are the first turn bright red.  Seedheads provide great late fall color.   

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wheat Condition

This field of wheat looked to be in good condition with a dusting of snow on Thursday.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Biomass Fuel

Winter is the time to catch up on reading.  Today I picked up my October issue of Crop Soils, Agronomy News.  The magazine contains a great article on biomass.  As an alternative to fossil fuel, biomass is being touted in some circles.  Many people think of using biomass to make ethanol, but that is only one of many ways to get the energy out of biomass.  Maybe the most efficient in terms of total BTU's is burning the stuff directly.  University of Wisconsin at Madison is getting set up to do so by 2013. 

There are lots of biomass fuels out there.  It seems that some of them are going to waste now.  How about we chip all the Timber slash and burn it.  What about corn cobs.  I have seen some pretty neat looking inventions to separate corn cobs from stover and use the cobs.  Why?  Lots of BTU's per pound in the cobs as opposed to cobs and stover combined.  Also, keeping the stover in the field provides erosion protection. 

Surprisingly, there is some long term research available to simulate what happens to the soil when all the above ground portion of the plant its removed.  ARS plots near St. Paul MN have had corn removed as silage for 19 years.  The removal does show a degradation of soil organic matter as compared to removing grain only. 

What about using CRP land to grow biomass.  Wildlife people are against it, but sooner or later, those contracts are going to run out.  If farmers could sell the biomass maybe every other year, they might be more inclined to renwe the contract and continue to provide permanent cover on highly erodible ground.

What about fertility?  Soil Test, Soil Test, Soil Test.  Fertilize, Fertilize, Fertilize.

To me this is an exciting topic in agriculture right now.  I will probably blog more on the topic. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

N Rate calculator.

The N Rate calculator has been on line for 4 or 5 years now, but I am not sure how many farmers use it.  I guess you could say this is a followup to Yesterday's blog about regulation. 

Many farmers have been using a yield based N rate for 30 to 40 years.  That approach says that you should apply N at the rate the crop will need to make a given yield.  Yield potential should be based on a five year average on that farm or field.  We have many farmers approaching a 200 bu per acre potential.  A corn crop uses about 1.2 lb of N per bushel of yield.  that makes for easy math.  200 bushel corn should have 240 lb of N applied. 

Researchers in the Midwest have been looking for other ways to make the nitrogen decision for about 10 years.  Research data was collected from hundreds of sites to develop the data needed to determine the ideal N Rate.  That data was plugged into the model that runs the price based N rate calculator.  N Rate Calculator .  Using $820 per ton anhydrous and $5 per bushel corn, the N Rate that will maximize profit in central Illinois is 168 pounds per acre.

Where does the extra nitrogen needed to make 200 bushel corn come from?  It comes from soil organic matter.  Before Nitrogen fertilizers became commonplace, everyone could see the value of the high organic matter soils in central Illinois and northern Illinois .  We have overlooked that value with a one size fits all approach for many years.  Using the N rate Calculator will set you on a track that is both economical and environmentally sensitive.  Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin all have their data included in site.  Missouri participated in the studies, but is still wrestling with the data.  I say, at least take a look at it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nutrient Management Regulation

Nutrient management regulation is here with the finalization of rules in Florida.  Unfortunately I can't find anything on how the proposed water quality standards will be implemented.  It is difficult to tell what kind of hardship might be created.  FLORIDA WATER QUALITY STANDARDS
Another article in Agrinews talks about a group targeting Ag pollution in Illinois.  Ag related pollution I used to believe we could hold off regulations by good stewardship practices, but it looks like regulation is in our future.  A TMDL study is currently underway on the Illinois River.  This study could result in Florida-like standards in Illinois too.