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Saturday, December 31, 2011

My choice for blogs to look at again.

Here are some of my blogs that I consider well written, but did not have huge readership.  If you missed them check them out. Have a great Holiday. New Blog Monday.

Soil Surveys and Precision Agriculture

Soil Surveys and Precision Agriculture - 2

Midwest Fruit IPM final Report

Postal Service in Rural America

Soybean Inoculation

Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Five Photographs this Year

Door County Cherries
Farm Progress show
Difference that soil type makes
Winter in Montgomery County
Mississippi River From Danzinger's Vinyard and Winery, Alma, WI

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Correction of Imagery for soil mapping

I just read an article entitled "Considerations for atmospheric correction of Surface Reflectance for Soil Survey Application" by Matthew Levi and Craig Rasmussen.  It was published in Soil Survey Horizons.  Methodology is available to adjust photo tones that may be "off" because of camera angle, sun angle, and clouds.  The authors had trouble getting the whole system to work because their images did not meet all the parameters required for correction. 

My take on this issue is that it is possible on many circumstances to use a number of images to make decisions about soil line placement and soil boundaries.  How is this done?  The miracle of Google Earth.  Google Earth has a large number of images available.  Not all significant features show up in images every year.  I have been successful in identification of significant soil features by examining a number of different images.  The miracle of this is that Google Earth is available at no charge.  Features can be digitized and saved as KML or KMZ files.  A good GIS such as Global Mapper can import the KML or KMZ files so you can make them a part of soil  management zones. 

Relying on only one image for designation of management zones can be misleading.  Multiple images can be useful in identifying problem areas.  Camera angle, crop cover, time of day and time of year can all affect the usefulness of remote sensing data.  In addition, some data is only useful on the day it was recorded.  Infrared comes to mind.  Timing is everything in Infrared for ag interpretations.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Blogs in 2011

 These are my top blogs in terms of page views.  A lot of the traffic is based on links and Re-tweets.  Thanks to my readers for helping me out. 

July 17 Toughbook Update
February 12 Silos
March 8 Wheel Trencher
August 31 Vertical Tillage at Farm Progress Show and September 1 Vertical Tillage at the Farm Progress Show 2
March 21 Contrasting Soils

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Corn on Corn

I just read some articles about the poor performance of corn following corn in some areas this year.  This should come as no huge surprise.  One of the things that researchers track long term is continuous corn and corn on corn rotations.  Results usually indicate something like  a 10% yield hit.  I have heard lots of people say they do not have that problem, but 6 years in a row with even performance and then a year with a 60 or 70 bushel hit would certainly set your average back at any yield  level.  Does this mean you should not grow long term corn.  Certainly you should consider the consequences.  We have one customer who has grown corn continuously since 1954.  Am I going to tell him to switch off?  I don't think so.  I look at what he is doing. He maintains high soil test levels.  He has well tiled fields.  I bet he watches which hybrids work best in continuous corn.  If you decide to go for it, do so with realistic expectations.  If you can't stand the risk, then switch to a corn soybean rotation.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Litchfield Overpass in Review

January 15

February 18

March 29

May 5

May 30

June 16

July 8

September 2
October 6

November 9 I am more proud of this series in retrospect that I was as I did it.  The photos were taken through the year from the first I-55 overpass North of Litchfield, Illinois.  As I look in review, I am thinking I need to find another place to give an overview of the passing of the seasons in farming.  I actually started the series in December of 2010, but left that one out as it is the wrong year.  You can still find it in the archive.  I do wish that I had a good mid-August picture, but I was in Missouri most of August. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Meramec Caverns Barn

These barns used to be more common, but there are still farmers willing to to use the Barn or Barn roof as a billboard  This one is along I-55 North of Edwardsville.  Have a Wonderful Christmas.  Probably no new posts till Monday morning.  Looking at some kind of year in review next week. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nutrient Management

Illinois Soybean Association posted this information about updated nutrient management standards by NRCS.   I cannot improve on the information, so just check it out.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Irrigation water management

I found the Link to this video on  Most places in the Midwest, we are blessed that we can grow wonderful crops without irrigation.  Some sandier soils can benefit from irrigation, but we do not really have issues with supply in the groundwater.  Some parts of Illinois do not have any reliable aquifer, but in the major river bottoms water is plentiful. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Weather Extremes

This year brought us the unfortunate experience of extreme wet and extreme dry and hot. An article in  Scientific American says we can expect more of the same.  It is interesting to see what "experts" think about our weather and climate.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Deep Banded Fertilizer

Lots of people are using various methods in applying fertilizer in bands.  People we are in touch with have found that it offers no real advantage in yields.  University of Illinois researchers have found the same thing.  Prairie Farmer has published the results recently.  Environmental benefits may go to the banding in strip tilled fields.  As Phosphorous levels increase in the soil surface, so do the chances that dissolved phosphorous will get into surface water. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What happens when corn residue is harvested

When crop residue is removed from fields, what happens to fertility levels.  Residue removal certainly has a number of implications.  Harvesting silage, baling stalks, and removing residue for biofuels, all have implications for soil quality and fertility.  Crop residue partially replaces nutrients removed from the soil.  Properly managed, the residue can also contribute to the maintenance of soil organic matter.  Both are important to maintain soil health.  Organic matter provides a slow release nutrient bank and helps maintain the tilth of our soil. While I continue to stand by the need for soil testing, it is important to consider how much is lost by harvesting stover along with grain in the corn crop.  This article from Iowa State give you some ideas to consider about what is lost when corn residue is removed.  Don't rely just on nutrient removal charts to make your fertilizer decisions.  A strong soil testing program is a necessity in all fertility decisions. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Livingston County Courthouse

Livingston County Courthouse in Pontiac, IL has a beautiful Civil War Memorial.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Low yields and fertility

I recently read and article on soil fertility and drought.  It really applies to any low yield situation.  Generally, nutrients applied and not used by the crop, should be available nest year.  I would urge caution in counting on unused nitrogen being available.  If you think nitrogen might be available you should use a presidedress nitrate test to determine how much additional nitrogen to apply.  In our program we encourage annual testing for other nutrients.  With close monitoring, you will have confidence in your nutrient levels.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sidney OH

We travelled from Hillsboro to Sidney, OH today.  Soils looked very wet as we road across Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.  Driving around a bit in Ohio.  IT has been very wet fall and we saw corn still in the field and full wagons waiting to be unloaded.  It makes me grateful that we have been able to finish harvest for the most part in Illinois.  Creeks are running bank full and in some cases flooding for the whole trip.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Charting soil fertility

Today I am working on fertility charts for one of our customers who likes to keep close track of the trends in his fields.  It is a bit time consuming because the data has to be lined up correctly in a separate spread sheet before I copy and paste it into the spread sheet that makes the charts.  If you soil test less than yearly, I am not sure how useful the charting would be. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bio-tech yields

A study on biotech yields suggests that yields with biotech are not much better than yields without biotech.  This is somewhat surprising, but it is interesting that our hybrids have huge yield potential even without bio-tech.  The real importance of biotech is, how much did it save us on insecticide use?  How much fuel did it save?  How much soil did it save?  The soil savings especially as a result of roundup ready must be large.  Roundup ready allowed the producers to no-till much easier and at lower cost than past products.  It is too bad that the product is no longer effective in all situations.  It is time to move on to Liberty link genes or go back to residual chemicals where resistance is a problem.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Variable Rate Lime

I read an article about variable rate lime today.  One of the first uses of variable rate technology that you might want to consider is variable rate liming.  Soil pH controls the availability of all the essential nutrients to one extent or another.  I sometimes use maps like the one about to illustrate the need for variable rate lime.  In general what happens on full coverage applications is that some areas get too much lime and some the right amount, or some areas get the right amount and some areas not enough.  The map above shows that in general, the slopes have not gotten enough lime because they have higher clay content which in turn gives them a higher exchange capacity.  Higher exchange soils need more lime to move the pH.  Over time, a situation as shown above can develop.

Even if you do not have the equipment yourself, hiring someone to spread your lime by variable rate should pay off in savings on materials and in better crops through more favorable soil conditions.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


As a rule, I do not take barn photos.  Everyone does barn photos and I cannot improve on that body of work.  Today's photos come from Macoupin and Dekalb County.  I photograph falling down barns because they pique my interests and thoughts.  Barns were the center of the American farmstead until maybe the 1960's.  They were built for their versatility and to support the diversity of animals and crops that were a part of farming.  When I see a barn that has fallen down or is in terrible disrepair I am curious as to what happened.  Especially when I see large barns like these.  These barns look to have been part of a once prosperous operation.  What happened? 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dekalb Trip

I took a trip north to deliver a Christmas Gift to my son and daughter-in-law.  Because I  had some time to knock around, I visited Eureka on the way north.  I ended up wishing I had time to take pictures on the way north because there  were some great potential shots along Route 117.  My ride home I took another sidetrip  of sorts down route 23 out of Dekalb.  The overnight dusting of snow allowed me to take this contrasting photo near the Dekalb-Lasalle County line.  I had the time and inclination to take lots of corn crib pictures along the way.  I traveled on to Ottawa, Streator and Pontiac to the end of Route 23.  It could certainly compete for the title of the "Heart of Illinois Corn Country Route."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Postal Service in Rural America

Rural America is facing something of a crisis in reduced services and close post offices.  There is nothing new in history concerning the closing of post offices.  A familiar history of Monroe County, Illinois called Arrowheads to Aerojets documents the opening and closing of post offices in that little county.  Recently a small community in our county had their post office closed.  I had used that little post office in the past and the service was excellent.  After January 1 a number of other post offices face closure. 

I continue to use the postal service to ship soil samples because of the convenience of having shipping points all over and also because of the competetive rates offered by flat rate boxes.  Yes UPS and FEDX provide excellent service as well, but I hate to have to call for pickup and face an extra charge.  It seems to me that postal service needs someone to look closely at how to continue to provide its service in a business like manner.  The Citizens of the United States are it's stockholders.  Just like any other business, the Postal Service needs to find a way to keep our shipping and first class mail moving.  It is an amazing bargain to think that you can put an envelop in a mailbox and have it shipped all over the country for $.44.  It would be a bargain at twice the price.   Maybe we will be paying twice the price if the Postal Service is privatized.  What would Ben Franklin think?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nutrient Removal App

A nutrient removal app was recently introduced.  The app is free, and free sums up what it is worth.  What good is it to know how much was removed from your soil if you do not know what was there to start with?  Removal charts are based on averages.  They are not based on the reality of what happens in your field and in your soil.  So load up the app if you want to play with it, but don't forget the soil test is still the most important part of your fertility program.  When you can get an accurate soil testing app, then you might have something.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Winter Meetings

Today seemed like the first day of winter for a lot of reasons.  One is that I was reviewing my continuing education for my certifications.  In the past year I have accumulated a lot of hours because of the Midwest Fruit IPM class I took.  In addition, I went to a number of other classes that are continueing education.  Some count and some do not.  I am looking ahead to this winter and what opportunities are out there.  I am sure one of the highlights of the winter meeting grind will be Farm Futures Summit in St. Louis.  I just got my notice of Illinois CCA meeting coming up.  I went last year and it was not too bad.  It is open to the public too.  Illinois Corn Soybean Classics are coming in January.  Topics have some appeal to me.  I need to register soon if I am going.  Illinois Soil Management Seminar is one I went to last year.  If you are a Livestock Manager with over 300 animal units, you need to attend one of these seminars around the state once in 3 years.  I am interested in the 2012 Specialty Growers Conference  on January 11-13, but can't  find a full agenda. 
Illinois Grape Growers is also coming up. I hope to see some of you at some of these meetings.  I will probably attend a few vendor meetings as well.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan

I just finished my final exam for a class I took in Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning (CNMP).  The final exam was a plan that covered a dairy farm and 2 fields totaling 48 acres or so.  The CNMP's are written to help livestock farmers make decisions about facilities management and manure management.   They are required to be in writing for CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations with over 1000 animal units.  Smaller producers must still follow all the rules, but the pans do not need to be in writing unless they want USDA cost sharing to make improvements to the operation.

The plan I wrote was 40 pages long.  Who reads this stuff?  NRCS has invented a Producer Activity Document that is only 13 pages long.  It is supposed to be for the producer.  13 pages?  Still too long in my mind.   I have condensed it down to 2 pages for my customers in the past.  One sheet shows how much manure to apply to which fields and when.  The other sheet shows how much fertilizer to apply to which fields and when.  To me the most important part of the plan is keeping soil test p to date to make sure that nutrients are not over applied.  Controlling soil loss is also an important part of nutrient management. 

In addition to the effort required to produce the long document, I am concerned that a producer could hold me liable if he thinks he is doing what I told him to do and he creates some sort of spill or other environmental disaster.   I am not sure that I will ever do another plan like this as a consultant.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nitrogen Management

One of my favorite topics is on tonight.  No-till Farmer talks about growing a corn crop without nitrogen.  The title is misleading because the producer used cover crops as his nitrogen source instead of fertilizer nitrogen.  The fact that he grew 190 bushel corn using cover crops is certainly remarkable.  There is no listing of yields where nitrogen was added.  There is no mention of soil N tests or stalk N tests.  I would like to see data when something like this is published.

My friend Kelly Robertson also discussed the cropping season as relates to nitrogen on his Blog.  Kelly got his best results on sidedressing.  Kelly does a simple cost analysis that shows the value of using the correct nitrogen management. 

No system will work perfectly in any given year, but some N testing, some tissue testing, and taking some time to look at the results would be worth the time spent.  All this proves is that nitrogen management is not as easy as it looks, and that there is not a one size fits all plan that is foolproof. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Year to Date Rainfall

Springfield has been reporting below average rainfall for the year.  It did not seem possible to me so I checked out NOAA records.  The above map from NOAA shows above average precipitation in our area although Springfield is certainly blow average.  South and east of us is even more above average.  The gray areas are average.  Does any of this correlate well with crop yields?   I think our southern neighbors took a  pretty big yield hit in corn because of the  high rainfall.  I am not sure how the dry weather to the north affected crop yields. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Brush Cleanup

It was kind of a mundane sounding thing today but my brothers and I along with my son cleaned up parts of trees that had fallen into fields.  Many of our fields are surrounded by trees.  If we don't clean them up, we lose acreage.  I know it does not sound like much, but it is a continuous encroachment if we let it go.  We worked hard, but it was also an enjoyable family get together.  I am not sure I have ever cleaned up brush with my youngest brother.  This is just one of those winter time jobs on the farm.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Weather and Crop Report

Crops must be 100% done.  I know even our local laggards are done.  There are still a significant number of reports of topsoil moisture being short.  That is really hard  to believe now.  When I sampled on Monday, topsoil was saturated in my area. 

Wheat condition is over 80% good and excellent.  It also looks like everyone planted all the wheat they wanted to.  It will be interesting to see how this works out.  I have not seen any bad looking wheat.