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Monday, February 28, 2011

Cool Technology

Today I tested a new setup for map display and possible mapping in the field.  We were able to acquire a Sony Toughbook last fall to possibly use in the field.  Today I loaded up all our data on it and installed Global Mapper to test GPS capabilities.  I took a few minutes to figure out the setup, but it was less than a half hour.  I used a Garmin 10 for a receiver.  The Garmin is connected by bluetooth.  Once I got it set up I loaded photos and maps and took it to a nearby field.  The display worked well.  Not sure about battery life.  It looks like we can get a lighter plug-in to work.  The display was good on a  cloudy day.  I need to get a screen protector.  This thing can display aerials, soil maps, USGS maps.  Zone maps, prescription maps or anything else you can think of.  The ruggedized tablet is the expensive part, but if you do not need ruggedized equipment in the cab or truck, this would work fine on any laptop.  Data is free or make it yourself.  This looks like good potential for record keeping to me.   I did not check the mapping capabilities today, but it looks like it can be done.  I am looking forward to using this equipment.  It is very inexpensive except for the Toughbook.  A standard laptop brings down the cost considerably.   

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Urban Gardening

Urban Gadening is a wonderful way for people to learn about growing food.  It is also a great way to provide inexpensive food to economically disadvantaged people.  I have always enjoyed gardening.  It gets me outdoors in the ealry spring to work the ground and see what I can grow. 

The down side of urban gardening.  I recently read an article that said chances are good that disturbed soils in urban areas contain heavy metals.  Lead is the most common culprit.  Even though lead is not essential in any way, plants will take up lead.  Green leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach are among the worst culprits.  Things like corn, beans, squash and other plants where we eat seeds or fruits are less likely to be contaminated.  A special test is required to test soils for lead.  300 ppm is considered acceptable, but some states say it should be no higher than 100 ppm. 

You can also avoid lead contamination by maintaining pH near neutral and by thoroughly washing all vegetables to remove possible contaminated soil and dust. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Snow in Central, IL

Yesterday we awoke to snow.  The trees were well decorated.  This photo was taken in the afternoon at the Adams Sanctuary in Springfield.  It is 40 plus acres of wooded land right in the middle of Springfield.  Several years ago the Audubon Society toyed with selling it for development, but public outcry caused them to decide to improve it instead.  One thing I noticed was brush piles.  If you want rabbits, brush piles are a necessity to protect the rabbits from predators like foxes, wild dogs, bobcats, wild house cats,  and coyotes. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Valmeyer, IL

I went to Valmeyer yesterday and it was a dark and murky drive.  Rain was falling as I went down and fields were looking very wet.  Monroe county is traditionally a leading wheat producing county.  Most of the wheat was looking quite good for the end of February.  The field below is in the bottoms north of Valmeyer.  The photo also gives you some idea of how bad the visibility was and in the middle of the picture you can see staning water.  The past weekend I also went through Washington County another leading wheat producer and the wheat there was looking good too. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Glyphosate effects on Crops

This paper looks into questions about how Glyphosate - tradename Roundup affects the plants it is mean to protect.  The article presents a balance view on the subject. 

Soybean inoculation

Today I ran across a 2010 article on soybean inoculation.  Bradyrhyzibium japonicum help soybeans to fix nitrogen from the air.  In the past it has been common practice to inoculate soybeans with the bacteria.  Inoculants were studied over the midwest from 2000 to 2008.  The probability of break even was 59% in Nebraska, 25% in Minnesota and Indian and 4% in Iowa.  The probability of achieving break even status was even less if soybeans had been grown recently.  In fields where soybeans have not been produce the payoff is big with almost a 15 bushel per acre increase in yield.  If you are breaking out pasture, or going to soybeans after many years of continuous corn I would say inoculate.  If you are in a corn soybean rotation, inoculations will probably not pay.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Today I attended a Soil and Water Management Seminar put on by Extension Service.  Overall it was a well doe program focusing on using biomass for fuels.  However there were other topics of interest as well. 

Dennis McKenna of the Illinois Department of Agriculture put together some interesting information about hypoxia.  the hypoxia zone varies from year to year, but it is always there.  The zone consists of areas in the Gulf of Mexico with less than 2 ppm of oxygen.  The low oxygen is caused by algae blooms that are fueled by nitrogen and phosphorous in deposited in the Gulf out of the Mississippi watershed.  The Hypoxia Advisory Committee says we need to reduce Nitrogen and Phosphorous in the Gulf by 45%. 

USGS says Illinois is the number one culprit.  It would appear that tile drainage is a big contributor to the problem at least of Nitrogen in runoff.  One interesting note was that even in areas where no fertilizer N was applied, nitrogen loss was still higher than desirable just because of high organic matter in Illinois soils.  Dr. Fabian Fernandez also has data that shows that Illinois Soil Phosphorus levels are higher than the agronomically justifiable level of 35 ppm on over half the soils in Illinois.  When P levels get that high, even small amounts dissolving in runoff can be a problem.

Where is this headed?  Maybe regulation, especially of P.  It looks like some incentives may be used as well.  Alternatives that could help reduce the Nitrogen problem are:  reduced usage, no fall application, cover crops, constructed wetland filter, and bioreactors.  Alternatives to reduce dissolved P are:  do not apply if levels are above 35 ppm, use sediment basins, use filter strips, till to reduce surface levels of P.  It is clear that in order to achieve national goals in improve surface water quality, there is a good deal of work to do.  It would appear that producers need to be even more careful than they have been in the past in order for goals to be accomplished without affecting production levels.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fairview Heights.

Yesterday we went to Fairview Heights by way of Litchfield.  We took Route 4 south at Worden.  Fields were very wet from the rain.  The good news is that National weather Service estimates we had around a half inch of rain. Water standing in the fields is a sign that soil is saturated.  The good news is that the water should go away fairly quickly.  Another good thing about the rain is that is should help take the last of the frost out of the ground.  The soil in my yard has firmed up now.  I suppose we will have typical early spring weather for now.  I am not sure how this moisture fits into the La Nina pattern.

On another happy note, the winter wheat is looking good.  It is still dormant, but seems to be developed about where we want ti at t his time of year.  If the freezing and thawing is limited and there is no heaving we should be off to a good start.

Grain Bins

Sorry faithful readers.  I was working on taxes and forgot to post last night.  My post was to be a short one anyway.  I just want to remind everyone that this is a time of year when grain bins need to be monitored at least once a week.  Changing temperatures can cause problems.  I fond this article that goes into more detail

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Litchfield Overpass

Here is my monthly picture off the overpass north of Litchfield.  December and January had snow.  Maybe next month will have some green. 

Melting snow and ice is making it very sloppy on the top. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Time to get the planter ready

I suspect than when weather warms up some planters will be pulled out of the shed to get them ready for that warm dry first day of planting.  Having the planter ready is the first step to having an even stand.  An even stand is important in order to maximize photosynthesis.  Precision Planting has a list of things to look at before you get serious about planting.  There is also a video on the right hand side of the page. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vertical Tillage 3

Maybe I have not made myself clear in the past, so I will say it.  I think that in general keeping residue on the surface in crop fields is a good idea.  I can see we might have needs to manage the residue and the soil both in some way.  In September I passed along this information on a no-till ripper I ran across.  While we do not endorse any products, we do like to let people know when something works.  In November I gave More information on the in-line, "no-till" ripper. 

At my consultants meeting in Florida I listened to a presentation by my fellow consultant Bill Lehmkuhl made a presentation on vertical tillage as well.   Tools he likes are in-line rippers like the one I featured for deep tillage and shallow vertical tillage tools that chop up residue but do not move a lot of soil. He says the tool should just level off the deep tillage work and run just about the planting depth.  He says if it looks like a disk, it will probably create too much compaction.  He did not indicate any preference for coulters as long as they run straight and not at an angle.  He did discuss using an Aerway in certain situations as well.  I also like the Aerway when properly used.  Baskets or harrows behind can provide some levelling as well and help hold the residue in place during rain events.

Bill's major emphasis was that you need to do some digging to see what kinds of problems you need to correct before you do anything.  Also he said  to make sure that the machinery is doing what you want it to do.  A broom can be a useful tool to see what is going on with your vertical tillage tool.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wildlife in Grain Country

Last week I took a trip around the county not expecting to see many interesting things, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I saw a good bit of wildlife.  I saw several redtail hawks, but they are difficult to photograph so no pictures.  I even saw one catch a mouse or vole.   I also saw a coyote and thought I could zoom in on, but when I stopped he quickly went from a  walk to a run.  I was able to get good shots of some geese foraging in a corn field and another of turkeys foraging shown below the geese.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Variable Rate Seeding

So you have been reading about variable rate seeding and it sounds like a good idea.  Here is my take on it.  First, this should not be the first thing you do with GPS technology.  If you do not have some sort of steering guidance get it and use it for a year or two.  You can jump in with row shutoffs on your planter and sprayer any time.  The systems seem to work well and save money on seed and crop protectants. 

How many years of yield monitor data do you have?  You should have at least 5 years of data and pay someone else to look at it and give you a second opinion on interpretations.  Maybe even use the yield data to analyze profitability.  Use the yield maps to collect soil fertility data.  Yield zones make the most sense to me.  You should look at soil survey maps and see if they tell you anything about your problem areas.  If you can overlay yield maps on soil maps and see if they match, you might be able to use soil boundaries as zone boundaries. 

Before you try variable rate seeding, correct the fertility issues in your zones.  You also need to correct drainage issues.  Spending money on drainage will make you money in the long run, and maybe even in the short run.  Drainage is a depreciable expense so spread the cost out over several years.  Figure out if you have spotty nematode problems, weed problems or some other issue and see what can be done to protect your crop from those issues. 

Does it sound like you should have started on this 10 years ago?  It should.  Yes many of you have  a lot of other things you should look at before you start on variable rate seeding.  The high tech guys other there who have all the other issues taken care of might be ready for it, but I am not sure. 

Consider the past year for example.  Sandy bottomland soils outyielded the heavier soils nearby by a lot.  Would you have cheated yourself with lower populations?  Some say don't back off on lower yielding soils, just kick it up on higher yield areas.  Make sure you have good zone boundaries.  Watch your monitor as you plant and see if the yield zones match the landscape.  Look for areas to correct in the future.  Also remember that  you will need to soil sample often and use your zones to determine where to pull the samples. 

Am I sold on variable rate seeding?  I think there area  lot of things you can do before trying it.  If you think you are there then go for it.  With the high cost of seed corn, getting the most out of your seed makes sense.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bio Mass for fuel

Using biomass for fuel is in the news and literature a lot.  The idea has lots of merit because it seems we leave a lot of energy in the field.  Also, we have forest and grassland that has potential to contribute to our huge appetite for energy.  CRP land has potential as well, but there are political issues with CRP. 

Disadvantages of biomass are that it is relatively bulky.  That makes transport a problem unless we convert it to a higher energy product near the source.  Right now, the inoculant needed to convert biomass to alcohol is not available. Another option would be smaller power plants designed to burn local biomass. 

What about the source.  Crop residues could be used, but right now the residue helps to maintain organic mater content of soils which is important for tilth and nutrients.  Perennial grasses could be grown on more marginal lands.  Things like miscanthus and switchgrass are being considered.  I prefer native species like switchgrass.  There are fast growing timber species that might be useful as biomass fuel.  In the timber realm, I like the idea of using up slash in the forest, but there again you are removing nutrients and organic matter that will eventually return to the soil. 

The problem with using CRP land is that the wildlife lobby does not want to lose cover.  I see potential compromises, but I am not sure they are possible.  I would rather have the land stay in permanent cover than give it up to corn production.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oregano for cows?

Have you ever thought of seeding oregano with your alfalfa?  It sounds like a possibility.  Environmentalists and EPA point to large ruminants, especially cows as a source of greenhouse gases.  In the case of cows, most specifically; they produce methane.  Penn State researchers have found that a little over a pound of oregano per day can reduce methane emissions from cows by as much as 40%.  Sounds crazy, but who knows?   Another reason you might consider oregano is that it increases milk production by 3 pounds per day.  It stands to reason that it could improve finish and condition in beef cattle as well.  There are over 40 different species of oregano and researchers are now looking at which my have potential for commercial production.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


I have had this idea to explain a bit about silos for my non-farm readers.  I have 3 vintages of silos shown below.   Silos are used to store chopped corn for cattle feed.  Mostly they are used on dairy farms.  These photos are on dairy farms no longer in operation.  The first one below is a silo constructed of ceramic blocks.  These are sometime called widow-maker silos because if mortar is not done properly they can come apart when climbing them.  There are not a lot of these left.   

Silage is a fermented product.  The chopped corn is packed in tightly and the fermentation process helps to preserve it.  It is sort of like making sauerkraut, but does not smell as strong.  Silage is an excellent feed because it is high in roughage and high in calories too.  The fact that the grain is included in the mix makes it very good feed. These kinds of silos are still very common.  They are called concrete stave silos because they are constructed much like old wooden barrels; they are slabs of concrete held together by steel hoops.  They are very sturdy.    

These blue silos are technically not silos because no fermentation takes place.  They can be used to store chopped hay, or high moisture grain as well as chopped corn.  The blue silos are actually a patented building called a harvestore.  They were first built by A. O. Smith.  When they are filled, air is evacuated and they are tightly sealed so that stored crops do not spoil.  It is sort of like a canning process. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Glyphosate resistance

I don't think I can blog too much about glyphosate resistance.  In 1996 after working on wetlands and stormwater for a number of years, I worked briefly in production agriculture.  It was the first time I had seen Round-up Ready crops.  I was amazed.  I was also concerned about relying entirely on one herbicide for weed control in all crops.

About when I started my consulting career in 2005 we were starting to hear about glyphosate resistance.  A few weeks after planting time when sprayers start to run it is fairly easy to see.  Dead weeds next to live weeds.  Pretty much if it is resistant, I have seen it.  Waterhemp, giant ragweed, marestail, and lambquarters.  I am also curious about wild sweet potato although it grows so fast it is hard to say. 

Follow the strategies in this brochure to address glyphosate resistance.  Follow them even if you don't think you have resistant weeds.  You will put off the invasion.  Even Monsanto is endorsing these strategies.  Glyphosate is an important crop protectant to have in your arsenal, but using it only once in 2 years or less will help prevent future problems.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Organic Nitrogen Sources.

One of my favorite topics has been nitrogen management.  I recently had a discussion with some people about the value of organic nitrogen sources in pollution prevention.  Some of them did not realize that organic sources of nitrogen can cause nitrogen pollution just as commercial fertilizers can.  Organic producers often look to manure or legumes (AKA green manure)  as a nitrogen source.  A strong argument can be made for using such sources to reduce the need for commercial fertilizers in conventionally grown cropping systems as well.  Keep in mind that organic sources of nitrogen go through the same nitrogen cycle as commercial fertilizers.  Organic nitrogen it too complex for plant uptake and must be broken down to nitrate and ammonium forms of nitrogen.  The ammonium for is further broken down to nitrate which is the preferred source of nitrogen for most plants.  Once the nitrification (transformation to nitrate) occurs the nitrogen is just as subject to loss from leaching or denitrification as commercial fertilizers are.  The good news is that organic nitrogen is slower release.  The bad news is that organic nitrogen is not foolproof.  Over application is still possible.  Also be sure to take credit for organic nitrogen when you are using legumes and manure along with commercial nitrogen.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Winter Manure Spreading

Some time ago I promised to take a lap around the county from time to time.   That was my mission today.  Who would have guessed I would have seen so many interesting things in the middle of winter. 

One of the interesting things was this field being spread with liquid hog manure.  This is a practice that is discouraged but not illegal in Illinois.  The only real requirement is that the field be less than 5% slopes.  This one easily meets the requirement.  Other things that can minimize the risk of spreading on snow or frozen ground are:  Apply where there are residue or cover crops, Leave some borders not applied, Watch your setbacks on water courses and waterways closely, Keep mud off the roads.  A commercial hauler was doing this work. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I ran across and article today about Gypsum.  It is in a regional agriculture publication that will go nameless in order to avoid embarrassing the guilty. Gypsum has been used and misused for many years as a soil amendment.  As all soil amendments, its use can have merit in certain situations.  It is not a one size fits all product by any means.  Gypsum is calcium sulfate.  It occurs naturally but is also an industrial by- products. 

The reason why it is an embarrassment it the the writer calls it a liming material.  Liming materials are used to alter soil pH.  Gypsum has no effect on soil pH.  It is useful because the calcium in gypsum can improve levels of soil calcium which is a primary plant nutrient.  Calcium is also important in maintain tilth especially in soils with high clay content.  An additional value of Gypsum as a soil amendment is that it contains sulfur.  Sulfur is also a primary plant nutrient.  With soil test levels dropping for sulfur, it becoming important to look for a reasonably priced sulfur source. 

Bottom line is that you should use gypsum as a calcium and sulfur source, but not as a liming material.  As always, consider soil test levels before applying any amendments. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Water Quality and Drainage water.

Removing excess water from cropland is an ancient practice.  It has been refined to a point of great efficiency in Europe and the United States.  Cropland drainage was developed with little or no thought to its effect on downstream water quality.  In recent years, with hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and reduce water quality in general, researchers and the public are taking a look at how we can improve the quality of our drainage water.  Farmers may see this  in a negative light, however, with the beating agriculture takes regarding water quality, we should be looking at what we can do to improve the quality of our drainage water.  In a short but thorough article in the the November December, 2010 issue of the Soil and Water Conservation Society Journal, Strock, Kleinman, King and Delgado look at the many ways of improving the quality of the water as it leaves the farm.  I cannot improve on the article or condense it.  It is worth the read at this Link.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Impacts of ethanol production.

The September-October Journal of Soil and Water Conservation contains an article on the impacts of ethanol production.  Respected researchers from around the United States wrote the article.  They found some positive impacts and some not so positive. 

The positive impacts are that as ethanol production has increased, farm income has also been affected positively.  The increased income has also reduced the amount paid in farm program benefits.  Ethanol has also had a positive impact on other commodity prices because of acreage shifts to corn production.  Substitution of ethanol for methyl tertiary butyl ether as an oxygenation additive is also seen as an overall positive for the environment.

The increase in corn production has increased the demand for nitrogen fertilizer.  A negative side of that could be increased demand on energy.  They project some increase in erosion because of land shifting out of  CRP.  The shift does further reduce government budgetary demands.  Non-fertilizer chemical usage has also increased.  (Editorial comment - this should not be a huge issue if chemicals are used properly) Bring new or CRP land into production will also increase carbon emissions both from energy use and oxidation of soil organic matter. Ethanol use also has lowered demand for petroleum. 

Researchers drew no conclusion as to whether ethanol production has an overall positive or negative impact.

My comments:  Given the overall economic conditions in the our country and the world right now and the huge demand for energy, I think we need to continue to use a portion of our corn crop for ethanol.  Research and development is also needed to continue to develop other alternatives to fossil fuels as well.   

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Prairie Picture

This restored prairie is located near the Alton Developmental Center.  80 species were planted in the prairie making a very diverse restoration.  There are now over 130 species in this prairie. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Soybean Cyst Nematode and pH

One of the reasons I write this is that I get journals that the average producer does not receive.  Often the technical jargon makes it difficult for even a crop consultant to read.  As I have said, I am catching up on my reading.  I ran across this summary of soybean cyst nematode and pH in the Crop, Soils , Agronomy News.

Here is another reason to apply lime by variable rate.  researchers at Iowa State University have found that high soil pH often correlates with high cyst nematode populations. They are not sure if the soil pH affects the suitability of the soybean plant to serve as a host or if the soil pH has a direct effect on the cyst nematodes.  It really does not matter.

Here is what I would do about it.  See if you can outline those areas most affected by nematodes with a GPS.  Soil sample the good areas separate from the infected areas.  If the affected areas are high pH, then you need to avoid liming them using variable rate technology.  Lowering the pH over time will also help with nutrient availability in those areas.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Dirt, The Movie

I got my new Crops, Soils, Agronomy News today.  The cover article was about the credibility of soil scientists and the need to promote the Profession.  My big three professional credentials are Certified Professional Soil Scientist , Certified Professional Soil Classifier , and Certified Crop Advisor.  I am proud of my affiliations that provide my credentials.  Professional credentials tell you that the professional cared enough to take a test, spend a little money, and most importantly, continue to learn about their profession in order to keep up with the newest developments. 

The article pointed out that Dirt, The Movie helps promote soil as the source of all life and helps to promote the profession of soil science.  I was fortunate to see a pre-screening of the film at the Soil and Water Conservation Society annual meeting in July of 2009.  I think I might have mentioned it then.  The movie is cleverly done and combines animation with documentary types of discussions.  While I took exception to a few of the assertions, I think it is a great, entertaining, and educational tool.  View the film and then ask a soil scientist questions about it to clarify certain points.

If you need professional assistance with soils, someone with one of my certifications might be able to help you.  One of the key points of being certified is that you follow ethical standards.  The key standard to me is that if you don't know the answer, you disqualify yourself.   All of my credentials cover certain aspects of soil science.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tillage in long time no-tilled fields.

Researchers in Nebraska looked at whether or not long term no-tilled fields were harmed by tillage.  Sometimes tillage is the most economical way to control certain perennials or to reduce stratification of nutrients, especially phosphorous.  They found that over a five year period, soil properties were not changed very much by tilling once as opposed to not tilling.  The only property that was affected negatively was the soil microbial community.  Also, they found that in the time period studied, that nutrients became stratified again.  I saw nothing in the study that convinced me that a one time tillage operation would be particularly beneficial to a committed long term no-tiller.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


So what do you do while waiting out the great blizzard of 2011.  A blogger needs to catch up on his reading for one thing.  We are caught in that awkward time where we are getting caught up on paperwork and taxes.  Meetings continue, but maybe you are tired of the circuit already. 

I hope you are ready for spring planting.  By now your inputs should be bought or at least have  price locked in.  Yes I know that nobody will be doing much for 2 months, but selecting seed varieties.  Buying herbicides and fertilizer, and planning on your weed control strategy should be complete.  I hope you are managing to control resistant weeds.  I also hope you know which varieties you might need to scout for diseases. 

After attending my recent classes in Wisconsin and Michigan.  I am more convinced than ever that we need to manage for pest who will resist our crop protection products.  We spent a lot of time discussing how long certain products might be used before resistance develops.  Keep in mind that the number of new products on the horizon are small.  Developing new crop protection products takes time and money.  I hope that the companies that have increased the price of their products are investing the windfall in research and development.

I could ramble on, but I think this is enough for a day.