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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


By Randy Darr - President - Soil-Right Consulting Services, Inc.  

October first of this year Soil-Right celebrated its 25th year in business.  My goodness that makes me feel old.  Over the last couple of months on the days when things were going well, I have had the chance to think back on the struggles of starting a business fresh out of college, the joys of success, the disappointments of failures, raising a family along with all of the other activities of living.  This evening I had the unfortunate task of attending the visitation for a long time client.  It wasn’t one of those tear jerking events of a person passing to the next life too soon.  It was a client in his 80’s who had lived a good life, raised a large family of good people.  He took a chance many years ago and started a machinery company.  Now it is one of the largest dealerships in the area.  His sons and grandsons are running the operation now along with their farm.

The reason I mention this is because 25 years ago Walt was the first client that I began working with that called me first.  I was green and hardly knew what a crop consultant was, but, he trusted me to help him.  I will always have a special appreciation for him and his family.  I am so thankful for the friendships that I have been able to make through this adventure of helping people get and keep their soil right.  I am most thankful for being in an industry where more often than not people care about each other.  Agriculture is the greatest industry in the world, where people care and friendships are long lasting.    

Carpe Diem,

Randy Darr, CPCC-I, TSP

Monday, November 28, 2011

Staunton and Sorrento

I had 2 small patches to finish sampling in the Staunton and Sorrento area today.  The ground was firm enough because it was not tilled, but it was very wet.  The soil wetness made it seem like spring sampling.  One field I sampled was where a client tried some narrow row corn.  I think he had to wait on someone to harvest it.  The other client, I talked to a bit.  He was pleased with yields over all, but they did not sound great.  He did have some wheat that made 50 bushel in June and then he double cropped with soybeans and had 37 bushel soybeans.  He should have made some money there. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Forms of nitrogen fertilizer

We sometimes are asked to name our favorite form of nitrogen fertilizer.  I don't have a particular favorite, because each form has its advantages and disadvantages.  Will a particular form guarantee higher yields?  I probably cannot guarantee that.  Some forms have distinct advantages for certain uses or methods of application.  AY-204 is a 1986 Bulletin from Purdue University that is still relevant.  It does a good job of covering the various forms.  It does not discuss manure or compost as a nitrogen source.  Organic forms such as manure and compost, add microbes and other nutrients that can make them a superior nitrogen source, but the nitrogen is the same no matter what source.  The nitrogen is the most available for plant growth in the nitrate form.  Microbes get the nitrogen to the nitrate form.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Farm Sale

I attended a farm sale in Monroe County today.  717 acres sold at auction.  619 acres of it, about 580 tillable,brought over $6500 per acre and all sold to one bidder. about 340 acres of it was pretty good farmland for the Mississippi River bottoms in that area.  The rest of it was very wet.  Crops have been limited in that wet ground in the last 4 years.  98 acres unprotected by levees sold for a little over $2100 per acre.  Compared to $10,000 per acre land in the Illinois Prairie, this sale was probably about comparable.  There were over 200 in attendance, but only about 40 had bid numbers.  A very limited number of people were bidding.  One or 2 more serious bidders could have driven the price up a bit by putting in higher bids on the better ground.  The farmland part of it was bought by local people.  I am not sure about the hunting land.  The seller's agent seemed happy with the price.   

Friday, November 25, 2011

Precision Conservation

I just got my latest edition of Journal of Soil and Water Conservation.  The issue features "Recent Advances in Precision Conservation."  The idea of precision conservation is not a new one.  The father of soil conservation, Hugh Hammond Bennett invented the Land Capability Classification System in order to show how each acre of land has a limitations for particular uses.  Precision Conservation follows in the footsteps of Dr. Bennett's work.  He would be proud to see that his ideas live on and are still being refined by modern ideas and technology. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Monroe County, Illinois

This is a view of the Fountain Creek Bluff Near Fountain Gap in Monroe County, IL.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  See You Late Friday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Farming the Averages

Since I began consulting, I have become more aware that we farm the averages.  What do I mean?  Corn after corn has a 5 to 10% yield drag over corn after soybeans.  That is on average.  Some growers are successful in maintaining good yields on those conditions.  No-till corn seems to take a bit of a yield hit, but good no-tillers don't take the hit.  30 inch row soybeans take a 10% yield hit over narrow row soybeans.  Why are there so many 30 inch rows?  If you look at most research results you will see a scatter to some extent on the raw data.  What might all this tell you?  If you are looking at a certain practice, you might be able to make it work on your farm even if research shows it is not the best on average.  One use for your yield monitor might be to do some on farm strip trials.  Be sure to calibrate them well.  You may need to do some manipulation to get the results to display properly. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Greatest Tractor of all time? is running a greatest tractor of all time contest.  Click here to check it out. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Small Machinery

Sometimes we think that only large farmers can use the latest in farming methods.  The inline ripper below has 3 shanks so that it can be pulled by a smaller tractor.  It is not exactly new, but it is modern. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011


I know I have mentioned horseradish before.  Collinsville, IL bills itself as the horseradish capital of the world.  There was a time when 80% of the United States Horseradish was produced within a few miles of Collinsville.  The production has been reduced a bit.  The production area has also expanded a bit, but still most  horseradish produced in the United States is grown within 50 miles of Collinsville.  The part we eat on our prime rib and in our shrimp cocktail is a large root below the ground.  It is ground up for the tangy condiment.  You can celebrate horseradish at the  International Horseradish Festival.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Increase soybean yields

Are you looking for improvements to make to your farm for next year?  One of the things you should consider is narrow row soybeans.  No-till Farmer has compiled recent research data that shows a yield advantage to soybeans in rows of 15 inches or less.  This confirms past research showing similar results.  I know that some people don't like the uneven spacing in drilled beans, but soybeans are much more adaptable to uneven spacing than corn.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Silage Blower 2

Contrast this with the Blizzard I loaded a few days ago.  It uses a power takeoff to run the fan that pushes the silage into the silo.  It is also on rubber tires instead of steel. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Longhorns in Illinois

I ran across some Texas Longhorns today near Brighton, IL.  They are located on a small ranchette that also has alpaca and goats.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I finished up mapping and sampling a new customer today close to home.  Lots of anhydrous ammonia is being applied.  Temperature and moisture are good for now.  A wet spring plays havoc with fall applied nitrogen.  Wheat is looking good in the area, but that is not unusual.  Spring is the critical time for wheat.  Disease control is critical.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Birds!

Much like the Alfred Hitchcock movie, the birds were thick on this field.  We pulled in to our customer near Freeburg and there were blackbirds everywhere.  It looked like most were grackles, but we could see a few redwing blackbirds and undoubtedly, there were some starlings.  As we rode across the field on the 4 wheelers, they seemed to stay about 75 yards away.  In the corn fields, it was not so obvious just how many there were.  On the more bare soybean stubble as below, they were easy to see.  In some of the bare trees, the blackbirds made it look like the trees had leaves. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Old Silage Blower

Check out this old silage blower I noticed today.  I am curious as to how long it has been there.  I have been coming to this farm for 5 years, several times a year, and i just noticed it.  It has steel wheels and was driven by a belt pulley on a tractor.  I love the name. Blizzard.

Ed Scholz, @scsfs , provided the following information via Twitter.  4 those who may not know-the corn was brought to the "Blizzard" whole-the "Blizzard" then chopped it and blew it into silo! neat!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Night Sampling

With Standard time in order and shorter days, I recently ran out of daylight trying to finish sampling a customer.  The headlights showed the way across the field and the GPS kept good track of my location.  Still seemed a little dangerous with ruts and rills in my path.  A curious neighbor came out to see what was going on too.   

Friday, November 11, 2011


I ran across this small field of turnips today.  They will be used for winter grazing after the cattle ore done grazing corn stalks.  Turnips are planted after corn or in the corn as early in the fall as possible.  Note also, the solar panel being used to electrify the fence.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I went north today.  Harvest is virtually done.  Wheat is sowed.  Nitrogen is being applied, in fact that was the main farming activity observed.  Keep in mind that only 2 forms of nitrogen should be used in the fall.  Ammonium Sulfate and Anhydrous Ammonia are the only forms that are safe to apply in the fall north of Illinois Route 16.  All others contain nitrates which are subject to leaching.  Di-ammonium Phosphate is also used in the fall mainly as a Phosphate source, but the nitrogen content should be considered in the overall amount of nitrogen applied.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November at the overpass north of Litchfield

This completes a year of Litchfield overpass photos.  They demonstrate the cycle of farming in south central Illinois.  They were taken all in the same general direction off of the first overpass north of the Litchfield exit on I-55.  This photo shows that tillage is fairly typically done on half or more of the land in our area in the fall.  You may also be able to see the ditch cleanout work along the dark line in the middle of the picture.  Drainage is much needed to produce our bounteous crops in this area.    

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Farm Bill

Work on the new farm bill is well underway. I hope the farmers in my audience are tracking it better than I am.  We like to think that our commodity groups and farm organizations are looking out for us.  There is power in groups representing large constituencies, but there is also power in the individual.  I am not sure what kind of ratio congressmen use, but I have heard from several that letters, emails, and phone calls from individuals weigh much more heavily than contacts from groups.  Congresspersons expect to hear from groups, but when individuals get involved, that adds more weight to opinions.  Learn what is going on in the debate and then get a hold of the guys who will be voting for you.  Keep in mind that many of them will be home for Thanksgiving and will have office hours.  Meantime, here is an update from one source.  Check it out and track down more information.  Also, do not hesitate to call on your farm and commodity groups for updates.  I am sure there are many who blog on farm policy.  One good one listed to the right is Farm and Ranch Country by Bill Graff. See what Bill and others are saying.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Deer Track

The owners of this farm are managing it for trophy.  Judging from the deer track below, they are having some success. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Nitrogen Management 2011

With many people using fall applied anhydrous ammonia, now is a time of year to stop and ask what you are doing and why.  This article on 20 ways to save on nitrogen is interesting.  Some of the 20 items are contradictory, but it just shows there are different ways to manage nitrogen.  One thing they do not mention is nitrogen testing.  I believe you should do at least some testing to at least learn what is happening with nitrogen in your soils.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Field Fire

I spotted this field fire on Wednesday.  It was contained by tillage.  You can see one of the tractors on the right. 

Friday, November 4, 2011


I worked near Eldred today.  Harvest seemed pretty much over in the Illinois River bottoms.  I saw fields with nitrogen applied and a few nurse wagons on the road.  It seems a bit early, but soil temperatures have been holding at 50.  Use nitrification inhibitors.   We see lots of nitrogen loss when we test in the spring, so really do not like fall applied nitrogen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Old Stuff

This is a wagon lift that was used to lift the front wheels of a wagon to dump corn into an elevator that conveyed it into the corn crib.  It had a pulley drive that attached by a long wide belt to the belt drive on a tractor.  Often the tractor was one that had to be started by hand by turning the exposed flywheel.  you can see grape vines growing up the cables that lifted the wagon. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wheat condition

Wheat is looking good this fall.  The picture below is in the American Bottoms between Valmeyer and Columbia. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Big Red Tractor

This tractor with chisel plow was stopped by the side of the road.  Lighting was good and it was not moving, so an easy shot.