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Monday, January 31, 2011

Food Consumption

 Whenever I go to the grocery store I am amazed at the abundance and variety of good food we have available to eat.  Just like most people I get most of my food from the store.  My garden only provides a tasty interlude.

Recently it occurred to me that it might be interesting to put food consumption in terms of my little  town with population of 5000.  My annual per capita consumption figures are from USDA in 2000.  I did the math to convert to daily consumption.  I suspect it has not changed a lot since 2000.   

It takes 2685 pounds of red meat daily to keep us fed.  That is the equivalent of approximately 5 fed steers or 20 fed hogs each day.  In addition, we eat 905 pounds of chicken per day.  That is about 200 big broilers.  We also consume 8123 pounds of milk per day.  That is about 1000 gallons.  Some of those milk products are cheese, dry milk, etc. 

Fruit and vegetables needed to keep us going is 9685 pounds.  Add 2740 pounds of cereal grain, 2080 pounds of sugars, and 1015 pounds of fat.  That is one huge amount of groceries to feed one small town in Illinois every day.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Agriculture in the Lower Rio Grand Valley

Citrus Grove

Grain Handling facility

Sugar Cane field

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Apple Scab

Our meeting opened with a presentation by Dr. Dan Cooley of the University of Massachusetts.  He was advocating the use of sanitation to postpone the need for fungicides in apples.  He seemed to think his technique could postpone fungicides by one or two application cycles.  Dr. George Sundin was the next presenter and he was advocating early application of fungicide to control apple rust.  After listening to both of them, I got the idea that an early application might postpone the need for further applications a few weeks.  I asked Cooley about my idea, and he thought it was a bad one, but it seems to me that it would start the rust season very clean and then use scouting to decide on further applications.  I am no expert, but could not resist posting my ideas.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Brown Marmorated Stinkbug

One of our presentations in Michigan was on the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.  You may recall a blog on the redlined stinkbug last summer.  Well yet another invasive stinkbug may be upon us.  Tracy Lesky made the presentation.  She works for ARS in West Virginia.  Yes it has already been found in Illinois.  Yes it eats corn and soybeans along with a number of fruit and vegetable crops.  Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) seems to have the typical shield shape of most stink bugs, but none of the natural enemies. 

The only really effective controls seem to be the banned or soon to be banned organophosphate insecticides.  BMSB seems to develop a tolerance to other insecticides rather quickly.  It would probably be good advice to say that if you find any stink bugs you should identify species or have someone from Extension Service identify them to make sure you do not have one of the hard to control invasive species.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sometimes it is a hodgepodge.

First I want to call attention to an article I came across today.  American Society of Agronomy  published a news release highlighting Cornell research showing cultural and yield advantages to narrow row soybeans.  I put the link in here because of a recent blog where I commented that I had seen other research show little difference between 30 inch rows and narrower rows.  I still think narrower is better. 

I also wanted to post some photos of the beautiful Kettunen Center near Tustin, MI.  I have found Michigan to be a beautiful state and my recent trip to learn about managing pests in fruit was no exception.  The center is a 4-H facility.  While I am not an expert on fruit production, I will be sharing my thought on some of the information presented a little later. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Yield Data Analysis

So you finally got around to looking at those yield maps.  What do they mean?  My first question for you is, "have you set up the display so that you can see 'break-even' points?"  This takes some work.  Most yield maps have to be adjusted manually to see the land where you are not making money. 

You also need to try and figure out causes of low yields.  An easy one to spot is drainage.  Drainage is also one that you might be able to fix before planting especially in land going to soybeans.   If you cannot get the tile man to commit, at least improve the surface drainage. 

Do you have a fertility problem?  If you do not have soil tests that were samples with trouble zones separate from good zones, that is a first thing in the spring job.  You could still get the information needed for a variable rate application.  Do major nutrients look OK?  What about sulfur?  What about boron?  Maybe you need to target some areas to tissue sample during the growing season.

What about nematodes.  Soybean Cyst Nematodes are always a threat.  Corn nematodes are making inroads.  Start to make scouting plans now to see if you can spot anything during the growing season. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Is Bt safe to eat?

Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacteria that produces a natural insecticide.  A gene from Bacillus thuringiensis is implanted in corn to cause the corn to produce the insecticide and reduce the use of artificial insecticides.  Bacillus thuringiensis has been used by organic producers  since the 1950's to protect their crops.  It is a soil bacteria that is found in trace amounts in all root crop foods like potatoes and carrots.  Here is a good article that goes into more detail.  Bt Corn safety

Monday, January 24, 2011

2010 Final Rainfall

I am at the Michigan Fruit growers IPM class today.  No time to write about it now so check out the final rainfall stats for Illinois.

2010 rainfall played a big role in what we produce in Illinois as always.  There is not much we can do about it, but it is interesting to look at it.  The extremes in Illinois were wide with  Fulton and Henderson counties receiving 20 inches more than average and extreme southeastern Illinois receiving 20 inches less than average.  Does this tell us anything about 2011?  I am not sure, but I would say that southeastern Illinois is most vulnerable to a drought.  2011 is a La Nina year, so it is a possibility.  I am a bit surprised to find that even with generous amounts of rain the southeast, not much catching up was done.  The good news is that evapo-transpiration is slow, so any rain that falls this winter should be there for the spring. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Setting up a farmstead wide network

I know that many of you are still struggling with dial-up, so maybe this will whet your appetite for hi-speed even more.  If you do have high speed and you already have a wireless network you may want expand it to go farm wide.  I just read an article from last summer about a company named Ayrstone Productivity, LLC  That is offering equipment to expand the reach of your home network.  Their product can set you up to use your wireless connection as much as 1/2 mile from the base.  Metal buildings do interfere, but the interference can be overcome.  I could see where this would be really handy for downloading yield data without taking out the card.  It might be good to have a netbook or I-pad in the shop to be able to order parts while outdoors.  I could see that use in livestock situations too, especially dairies.  Looks like it might be worth a look. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

More on fertilizer regulations

Catching up on my reading this weekend I ran across this article in Farm Week News on EPA regulations.  Be sure to read Doug Scott's comments in the green box.  It fits right in with my comments on Tuesday about the New Jersey Regulations.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Can be done about high cost of cattle feed?

Grain prices and high demand must be a problem in Illinois.  Cattle numbers are up a bit and it makes sense to raise and feed cattle in Illinois.  We have land that is better suited to grass production than rowcrops, but finishing the cattle on corn is can be expensive right now. 

Cattle producers need to ask if they are getting the most out of their grassland.  If you are raising and feeding alfalfa, monitor the soil potassium.  Maximize alfalfa production by maintaining high potassium tests.  a really good alfalfa crop can use up as much as 400 pounds of potash in a year. 

Feed your cattle grass for as long as you can.  You can get a good corn-fed flavor out of your beef with only 60 days of corn.  Intensive pasture management can double grass production.  If you are not using intensive grazing, check with NRCS about getting EQIP funds to help you get started.  Keep water tanks close to grazing paddocks.  Close water increases grazing efficiency. 

Think about adding warm season grasses for summer grazing.  Switchgrass and Eastern Gamma Grass are good choices.

Graze those cornstalks.  Cattle will glean gran and browse on crop residue as well.   Provide some winter shelter.  Even a dense windbreak can help. 

Try distillers grains.  Distiller's grains are especially suitable for a portion of your cattle ration. 

All of the above can help you grow cattle with less expensive feed costs. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Further into spring

So you read what I had to say about early planting corn.  What about soybeans.  First, there is no research that shows any particular advantage to April planted soybeans.  That said, I know lots of people who planted some or all of their beans and in April in 2010 and yields were tremendous.  I think you are taking a chance on cold and maybe even frost until May 1 or so.  You should consider the weather forecast and make your decision accordingly.  Palle Pedersen a respected agronomist specializing in soybean production says that planting early maximizes the plant's capture of solar energy. 

Another thing to consider is soybean populations.  Again paraphrasing Pedersen, he says his research has shown that populations between 75,000 and 200,000 show little difference in yield.  It looks like an advantage to have an early canopy although recent researchers have shown no particular advantage to rows narrower than 30 inches.  Past research as shown the best yields in no-till drill beans.  I like the narrower spacings, but we have many customers who I consider to be good farmers who are still in 30 inch rows.

The reason population does not make a huge difference is that the plant branches out when there is space available.  I know this from my youth because we always looked for widely spaced plants to take one to the fair for best podded soybean plant. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Looking ahead

So if you are like me you are getting burned out on winter meetings and you are looking ahead to spring.  You may be thinking about how early you can plant corn.  When people would ask my dad when he plants corn, his response was "when the ground gets dry enough".  Yeah but what if that is the last week of March.  First thing is that last year nitrogen was applied right before planting.  If you followed my advice and did not put on any nitrogen in the fall then you have that to do.

So April 1 rolls around and the nitrogen is on and the ground is dry.  Then what?  Soil temperature is 34 degrees Fahrenheit.  That is cold.  Corn will not germinate.  Yes you are taking a bit of a chance planting that early, but we have seen corn planted on March 29 that yielded well.  Did it yield as well as corn planted on April 15?  Probably not.  If you are the nervous type, it may require nerves of steel to wait the potential 3 weeks to see if the corn is going to emerge and have an acceptable stand.  On the other hand, we know the advantages of early planting vs June planting.  Modern crop protectants do seem to help. 

We think that cold soil is not a problem as much as cold then warm then cold again.  If you can get the seed to pop, it seems that the corn can stay in the ground for a while. 

Would I plant corn in cold but dry ground on April 1.  Yes, with my fingers crossed. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Jersey Fertilizer Bill

New Jersey recently enacted legislation to curb lawn fertilizer usage in the state.  The purpose of the legislation is to reduce nutrient levels in surface waters in order to restore ecology.  The bill  included a ban on phosphorous fertilizers in lawns.  This law is much more specific than the TMDL law due to take effect in Florida.  I am not sure how long the water will be monitored to determine if more measures are needed.  I think this is another warning shot to agriculture to clean up their act.  Right now the bill only affects development, but look out.  If it has some measurable success I look for other states to follow suit, perhaps with EPA prodding.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Organic VS Non-organic

I guess I am taking on a controversial topic today.  Last week's class on Integrated Pest Management gives me a little courage.  First let me say I have no problem with eating organically grown stuff.  My problem is paying the premium to buy it.  Research has shown that for the most part it is no healthier to eat organic than it is to eat conventionally produced food. 

Another problem I have with organic is that it is not chemical free.  I think that is the consumer assumption.  Chemicals are just different and it is thought that they are safer, but some of the metals used as crop protectants may not be safer.

Then there is the question of supply.  Can we grow enough food to feed the world if we go organic.  I know that some say we can.  We just need to give up meat.  First, I do not want to give up meat.  Second, some places grow grass, but won't grow edible crops, so I think we will always have meat at some level.

Another consideration is that demand drives the market.  Farmers will produce what the market demands.  Right now there is enough demand for conventionally grown crops that farmers are unwilling or unable to add the extra labor needed to grow organically. 

What about quality?  I don't know for sure, but something tells me I am more likely to bite into a worm or a rotten core if I buy organic.  That also drives up the cost.

My last question is, "Can we maintain nutrient balance in soils and maintain the necessary fertility to sustain organic production?"   I know there are organic fertilizers, but I am still not sure about balancing nutrients. 

To me there are more questions than answers before I support a ban on pesticides. I think we can do better on our pesticide use and I think we can learn from organic growers.  If not, then I wasted a week in Madison.  Without some solid facts, I would say that world population growth will cause us to continue our current production methods.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Litchfield IL Prairie View January

As promised, my monthly picture showing farming activity from the I-55 overpass in Litchfield.  Not much change from last month

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I travelled from Madison, WI to Dekalb, IL last night to visit my son and his wife.  Sorry I missed blogging..

This morning I spotted this farmstead near Malta.  The nice corn crib and the farmstead windbreak caught my eye.  On closer inspection I found the windbreak had older trees and was a little open.  A new row or 2 of trees without taking out the old ones would improve it a lot.  Why is this important?  Energy savings are substantial with a good windbreak. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Econmics of Farming

Kelly Robertson Wrote a great blog about things that pay and do not pay when trying to gain an edge in the business of farming.  I cannot improve upon his remarks, but  have  few thoughts of my own. 

USDA appears to be making some attempt to recognize hobby farmers as farmers.  I remember in some hard years my dad joked about being a hobby farmer, but he manage raise 3 sons and send us to college with a little help from Grandpa.  He was trying to make a living at it and did OK.  Mom only worked off the farm sporadically.   That is not a hobby farmer.  On the other hand what about a 2 income family who farms weekends.  If the farm is a tax shelter is that a hobby farm?  What if they make a profit?

Does it matter how big they are?  I don't think so, but I made a comment some time back that if you are not trying to make money farming, then you are a gardener or a pet owner. 

Kelly's remarks also cause me to remember when Ike Leeper started a maximum economic yield contest.  It was very interesting to see who won the contest each year.  The participants met quarterly and I would venture that all of them changed their operation a bit because of what they learned int he contest.   I would be great to restart that tradition and get farmers cooperating instead of competing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Integrated Pest Management

Since the class I am attending this week is about integrated pest management, I thought an explanation might be in order.  Integrated pest management is about using the right crop protection product on the right pest at the right time.  You don't use the product if you don't need it.  Less dangerous products are becoming more popular too.  This procedure should be followed whether in corn, soybeans, apples or grapes.  There are still farmers who apply to prevent certain issues instead of scouting for them.  Time constraints sometime dictate that.  The crop scout, no matter what the crop, can help the farmer to use his time and his crop protection products appropriately.  6 sprayings are not unusual for apple grower.  If he can cut back on one or 2 sprayings, the theory is that it is better for our health and the environment.  It looks like I am going to work toward being a part of that. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I am sitting in classes listen to specialist talk and thinking WOW!  these guys have pHd's and are reading me all these facts and I need to be a generalist and put it all together.  Having a CCA says in a way that I am capable, but fruit growing is different than crops.  WOW!.  We studied insects yesterday and diseases today.  We will be doing the same for grapes tomorrow.  There are some really great teachers and some really great students.  I hope I get phone numbers for everyone.  The plant pathologists and the entomologists only need to know their specialty.  I am going to MI in2 weeks for more of the same.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Madison, WI

I took a 300 mile trip to the North country to attend the Midwest Integrated Pest Management course for Fruit.  today was action packed and tomorrow will be the same.  learned about insects affecting fruit trees today.  his stuff is pretty complicated and you are dealing with high value crops so it is even more complicated.  We had some very interesting problems to solve at the end of the day.  Watch my tweets for more.  I am really stepping out of my comfort zone here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Soil Surveys and Precision Agriculture - 2

So after Friday, your question must be how to get accurate boundary lines if we want to use soils as a basis of management zones.  First let me tell how not to.  Drawing circles around grid points won't cut it at all unless your grids are around 75 feet.  That is cost prohibitive. 

How do I do it?  First I look at the field.  I ride the boundary and then transect it as needed on my ATV just to see where the lines should be.  I have found it useful to spot where I think the boundary should be from a distance and then ride to the point and put a flag.  I use that method on subtle landscapes.  On "flat" ground, I try to separate highs from lows.  On sloping ground, I separate ridges from sideslopes.  Sometimes I use a probe to see if soils in a tentative management zone are similar enough to group them.  I separate by color and texture mostly when I am probing.  After I define the major zones in my mind, then I use my ATV mounted GPS to map them.  On areas bigger than 10 or 11 acres, a straight line is used to subdivide so that most areas are 10 acres are less in size.  My smallest zones are around an acre, but most are closer to 10 acres.  That is just a practical thing.  If there is  a way to use remote sensing to subdivide and maybe group smaller zones, that is ok. 

The next test is actually sampling.  Each core is examined to make sure it is similar to other cores in the sample.  I toss anomalies.  If opportunity for another subdivision shows up then I add it.  Sometimes when I am seeing some difference, but it is subtle, I will use the soil survey boundary if it looks ok.

Kelly Robertson gives excellent details on zone sampling in his blog. 

Soil zones should also be compared to yield zones to determine their usefulness.  When using yield maps, multiyear data is most useful.  Single year data may or may not be significant.  I am sending you to Kelly again to see what goes wrong with zones and grids.   His comments about what goes wrong with yield maps is excellent.  Calibration is the key.  You don't want field level accuracy with yield maps. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hogs on Pasture

You don't see this every day.  This was in December.  When I was in FFA 40 years ago we would farrow hogs in confinement, but brood sows were kept on pasture much like this.  Some think this is environmentally friendly or a good organic practice.  In this case there is no harm done, but in the "old" days there were far to many hogs in streams and etc.  Farrowing on pasture is definitely not the way to go.  To many lost to predators and sows laying on them.  Soil Survey for Precision ag will continue Sunday evening.   

Friday, January 7, 2011

Soil Surveys and Precision Agriculture

This looks to be a long blog and it may come across as tirade, but I hope my USDA friends will take it for what it is.  Keep in mind that this is written by a USDA trained soil scientist who has also tried to use soil surveys over the years.

I often hear and read about trying to use soil survey maps as the basis for developing sampling zones, seed rate zones, or other precision uses.  At the meeting I attended earlier this week, (Kelly Robertson's Summary) One of the topics of discussion was precision agriculture.  It seemed that many were trying to use soil survey maps for management zone boundaries.  When I was an undergraduate I worked closely with soil fertility professor Dr Ted R Peck.  Peck said that soil maps were not accurate enough for soil fertility work.  I think this a generalization, but it has merit. 

Since the 1960's soil survey has tried to use Soil Taxonomy to define soil mapping units.  The number of soil series has at least doubled in that time frame.  In the mid 70's Ted Peck explained soil survey by saying that we already know all the soils in Illinois.  The guys doing the soil survey are just defining the boundaries between them.  Doubling the number of series indicates this might not have been true, but still Ted had a point.  The most important thing the soil survey can do for farmers is to define the boundaries between landscapes and management units. 

Most "modern" soil surveys are mapped on a scale of 1:24000 to 1:12000.  Lots in Illinois were done on a scale of 1:15840 , which is 4 inches to a mile.  Limitations of scale affected the size of map units that could be shown.  The fact that modern GIS allows display on any scale gives an illusion of accuracy that is not there because of limitations of mapping scale.  Other things that affect the original product were use of unrectified photos as base maps and poor quality photos used as base maps.  I hate to say it too, but the individual who made the map affected it's quality.  Some were too concerned about taxonomy and not concerned enough about landscape.   

When considering the accuracy of the soil survey, you should also consider what happened to maps after the original line placement was made on the base map.  Boundary lines were hand traced to make a map unit overlay.  To digitize those lines, they were often scanned and the lines stretched to fit imagery.  How well that was done can affect accuracy.  I am not saying there is no quality control, I am just pointing out the potential for inaccuracies. 

I have found that sometimes small mapping units are "off" from where they should be.  Sometimes boundaries are off 100 feet or more. 20 feet may be tolerable but the more accurate the better.  Sometimes boundaries on the landscape are gradual so a line in a particular place is not a huge deal.  Soil surveys can be a very useful tool to learn about a farm, but may or may not be good for precision agriculture.  Some counties are better than others and some landscapes are better than others.  My opinion is that soil surveys should be evaluated and adjusted by a professional before they are used. 

Later I will discuss specifics about developing management zones for precision agriculture.  Yes soil surveys can be useful.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Farm Futures Summit - 2

I will start with what I consider the highlight of the conference.  Getting to listen to Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh of Kansas State University.  Mentioned during his introduction was that he has visited with every president since Harry Truman.  He is a National Treasure.  I was a bit late getting into a seminar and sat in the back next to an old guy chewing on a cigar.  He introduced himself in a very congenial way. 

The first part of Dr. Flinchbaugh's speech was a "Mad as Hell"  outburst in which he scolded Republicans and Democrats alike for their partisanship.  He claimed that partisanship has lead to problems unsolved.  He thinks that the new Congress may change that a bit because of split leadership between Congress and the Whitehouse.  After that he was eloquent in his discussions about farming, the national economy and the world economy.  His figures show that our economy is growing but still very fragile. 

After dinner, the keynote speakers all filled a panel moderated by RFD channel's Max Armstrong.  Maybe the first question from the audience was "what political situation should farmers be most afraid of?"  Most of his earlier speech had focused on domestic issues so I was surprised to hear him say foreign policy.  Most of the other members of the panel agreed.  The free discussion was great and there was no name calling when there was a difference of opinion. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Farm Futures Summit 11-1

I just returned from the Farm Futures Summit in St. Louis MO.  As most of you know, I seldom comment on the business side of agriculture because my main expertise is on the technical side.  I guess you could say I did something that I advised in my blog on Monday.  I tried something new.  I am still not an expert on marketing and management, but I was certainly exposed to a bevvy of experts. 

Speakers I listened to were Dave Nanda, Todd Branson,, Willie Vogt, Mike Boehlje, Kelly Robertson, Darrell Dunteman, Barry Flinchbaugh, David Kohl, Bryce Knorr, Arlan Suderman, Kip Cullers, Bill Courser, Jerry Moss, Don Bennett, Joe Haartung and Frank Raasch.  One highlight of the conference was listening to a panel of the keynote speakers answer random questions moderated by the attendees after dinner.  Max Armstrong did a great job moderating.  I hope you picked up on the tweeted highlights.  While many of these speakers are well known in the agricultural world, it was the first time I had heard most of them. 

I will share highlights from some of the best speakers in subsequent blogs.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rural Lifestyle

What is a rural lifestyle?  I am not really sure.  Is it being able to grow your own food?  I know many farmers who do not even have  a garden, but who could say they are not leading a rural lifestyle.  Does rural lifestyle mean knowing and caring about your neighbors?  I went to a block party in Evergreen Park, IL with my son and daughter-in-law last fall.  I was surprised, amazed and pleased to see how many people on the street knew my son and daughter-in-law and seemed to genuinely care about them.  This in near the center of 12 million people.  Is it enjoyment of "wide open spaces"?  I suspect most users of national parks and wilderness areas are "urban" dwellers. 

Thomas Jefferson extolled the virtues of an agrarian society.  Jefferson's comments on the value of agriculture seem to me be idealistic even in his day.  Jefferson had a lot to say on the virtues of people who work the land. 

I grew up in a small town and recently read a newly published history.  Valmeyer had a population of less than 1000 and almost everyone seemed to be involved in agriculture or one generation removed.  I think the values we were taught have served us well whether we stayed in the area or moved on.  Small town people are sometimes looked upon as naive or undereducated rubes, but I would venture that people from "home" have done well no matter what their chosen field of endeavor. 

I currently live in Hillsboro, IL and I see the same values here.  One of the reasons I have stayed here was to give my children the chance to experience a community where people work together to get things done.  Many lament that the "agrarian" virtues have disappeared, but I say they are valued so much that they are found everywhere.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  What is new about it?  January 1 is just another day as the earth makes it's way around the sun.  Astronomically it signifies nothing.  If nothing else it is the day you put up a new calender.  If you are involved in agriculture, you better be looking at what you can do differently in 2011 to update your operation.  That goes for consultants, ag suppliers, advisers and farm managers as well as producers.  If we are standing still, we are falling behind.  You don't have to be an early innovator to keep up.  Sometimes it is good to let the early innovators fall on their face, or perfect the technique.  On the other hand, do not wait to long to embrace what is new.   

So where should you go in 2011?  I don't know.  Every operation is unique.  For me every customer is unique.  Yesterday I read a blog about a failing farm.  While I sympathize with the people that are going through the stress of not being able to make a living like they always have, I also am curious as to what was being done on this farm that is innovative?  What specialty niche markets were explored?  What "new" or different technology might have made a difference?  What does their management team look like.  Could a marketing consultant have made a difference.  What about a crop consultant?  I have had family members experience the pain of losing the farm, so this is not meant as criticism.  Maybe it is more of warning.

I will spend a good bit of time this winter attending meetings that will qualify as continuing education credits for my professional credentials.  The real reason for attending all those meetings and seminars though is not just to put numbers on the computer, but to find out what is new out their. How can I help clients "keep up".  I know there are many ways to keep up, but I am always a bit surprised at the low attendance at such programs.  I will have a different list by spring, but here is an attempt to suggest some things that might make a difference to individual producers.

1.  Steering systems reduce costs by preventing overlap.
2.  Ditto for planter and sprayer shutoffs.
3.  Only a few management zones needing different treatments can make a difference in fertilizer costs so try VRA..
4  Precision seed placement can help maximize yields.
5.  Should some of your land be used for a specialty crop?
6.  How can you cash in on the locally grown craze.
7.  Are you managing timber or is your timber land just a "waste".  If you see it as wasteland, maybe you need a forestry consultant.
8.  Market your crop to make a profit.    Peaks come and go, but profit keeps you in business. 
9.  Top yields often involve fungicide.  That said, learn when to use fungicides.  Fungicide resistance is just as prevalent as  weed resistance. 
10.   Don't say "we have never done it that way".  Instead say, "I will try that on some of my acres."
11.  Expand your circle of friends, suppliers and consultants. 

I could go on, but I think you get  the idea.   I will be spending the next 2 days in St. Louis attending the Farm Futures Conference to find out what is "new" in agriculture. Follow my comments on twitter in the sidebar.  I hope to bring home lots of blog material.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Levees and Agriculture

I grew up under the "protection" of a levee system in Monroe County, IL.  My family has lived on the same farm for over 150 years, so you can imagine how much our lives and livelihoods depend on levees.  Levees to relieve agricultural flooding date back to before the Civil War.  Grant took Vicksburg by marching around the city on the levees on the Arkansas side of t he river.  In those days farmers built levees that protected the low lying areas by connecting ridges, so protection was minimal.  Groups of farmers formed levee districts and worked on building levees with shovels and tumble  scrapers pulled by mules or horses.  Everyone was given a number of hours of labor to provide based on their acreage that was protected.  The highest river stage in St. Louis in the 19th century was in 1844.  In 1927 there was a huge flood on them Mississippi River that changed the course of flood protection and the history f our country.  The flood was so devastating in the south that Congress determined that Federal involvement was warranted.  

Levees in my home area were federalized in the late 1940's and 1950's as  a result of flooding in the 40's.  The levee below was built around 1960.  During the flood of 1993 this was one of the levees that held.  The thing is that just because the levee does not beach, there can still be internal flooding.   

During periods of normal river levels, internal water is moved thru the levee in large gated culverts.  During "high" water, internal water must be pumped into the river using high capacity pumps such as those located in this pump house.  The pumps usually barely keep up with the accumulating water and are very expensive to run.   

Seepage is always a problem during floods.  It is OK as long as soil ins not carried along with the water.  Soil movement can undermine the levee and cause it to fail.  Below is a relief well that operates as and artesian well during flooding.  It is supposed  to reduce the risk of seepage by giving the water a controlled path to follow.  Seepage and flowing relief wells at to the internal water that needs to be pumped out.  Floods during the growing season almost always lead to some loss of crops even if the levees hold.  Prior to 1003, the last time that the levee broke in my home area was 1903.  On the one hand, we felt pretty secure behind the big federal levees.  On the other hand we always realized the need to maintain them.  Most routine maintenance is done by the local levee districts. 

Levees help us to maintain our livelihood in the river valleys just as irrigation projects help farmers in the west.  The acreage of cropland protected by levees increases as you move south.  South of the confluence of the Ohio River, there is an elaborate system of floodways and flood gates that can be used to relieve downstream areas.  New Madrid Floodway is a big one.  Morganza Spillway  and the Bonnet CarrĂ© Spillway .  While the cost of all this is high, The value of the protection is much higher.   Flood protection is not a sure thing.  It is just a tool we use to minimize impacts.  On the Mississippi, the level of protection is high, so when there is a failure the failure is big.  Farmers cannot live without flood protection