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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Butler T Late Winter

This is the second of the year of my passing of the seasons series.  Not much change from January except no snow.  The soil surface is dryer too. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Maple Syrup in Illinois

I visited Funk's Grove today to try some of their Maple Sirup (Original Spelling by Webster).  
                                             Click on the link above to learn more.
They were Collecting maple sap and using pipe to move it instead of  using the hand labor of buckets

Pipes flow by gravity to a pump station

The pumps move the sap to collection tanks

Some sap is still collected in traditional buckets

Sap is processed in this building on the farm and syrup is sold retail directly to consumers. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

February Weather and Crop Report

I got my February Weather and Crop report today.  I was not overly surprised that 81% of the winter wheat crop in Illinois was reported good or excellent.  This is not a real surprise.  It is easy to have wheat looking good at this time of year if planting was timely and it is not too wet.  Timing of fertilizer application and fungicide applications will make or break the wheat.  Don't forget the sulfur.

Temperatures were 3 degrees above average in the south and graded to 5 degrees above average to the north.  No real surprise there either.  Precipitation was below average.  16% of the state is reporting short soil moisture.  Western Illinois is shortest with 35% reporting short.  18% of those reporting say West Southwest is short.  The three septic tank investigations I did in the past week were in Bond, Montgomery and Christian County.  Judging from what I saw, we are adequate.  I have not seen short in my area, but I trust that some of those in Western Illinois really are short.  I am not sure how this is interpreted anyway at this time of year.

USDA is forecasting a bumper crop based on what?  Large acreage?  It looks like the moisture reports might temper that forecast a bit.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Has Precision Agriculture Reached its Full Potential?

My short answer is no.  CSA News for February leads off with an article on Precision Agriculture in a Developing World.  The article says that precision agriculture is a relatively new idea, but I would contend that the idea is as old as farming.  How the idea has been implemented over the years is what has changed.  In the days when a farmer had 40 acres and a mule, he could give problem areas individual attention.  With modern farms we rely on sophisticated technology to take the right inputs to the right place at the right time.  It seems we started with the idea of putting fertilizer only where it is needed.  More sophisticated technology has made steering guidance seem essential.  Yield monitors give us the opportunity to look at the places in the field where we need to make some management adjustments.  Sprayer boom and row shutoffs help us save money on inputs like seed and crop protectants.

All of the sophisticated high tech tools will continue to grow, but they are kind of expensive even in our country for a small acreage grower to use.  Does this mean small growers do not need high tech?  Not at all.  No matter what the scale, precision for the most part is how to identify problem areas, how to quantify the extent of the problem, and how to get back to that area and treat it.  So what kind of equipment might be available use in developing countries or on small farms?  The above article holds hope for using cell phone technology.  Certainly another possibility is inexpensive GIS equipment such as is produced for hunting, fishing, and hiking.  Can every small or farmer or subsistence farmer afford his or her own equipment even then?  Probably not, but hopefully resources could be pooled or in the case of developing countries, some of the equipment could be share through some sort of governmental or charitable program?  It seems to me that in addition to having the equipment, training in use and interpretation is just as important.  I am planning to test my Droid2 this summer to see if I can use it as a soil sampling tool.  So far it looks like I will need to add a bluetooth receiver for it to have a chance to work. I think the potential is not limited to brands.  Apple products should have the same potential.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Large Sediment Basin

Sheet pile sediment basin protecting Lake Taylorville from sedimentation.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wheat Condition

Wheat is looking good.  It still has not broken dormancy.  That is a good thing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Stream Management

I ran across this small stream yesterday and thought it would be a good example for a stream management blog.  This stream has grass filter strips on both sides.  The filter strips help to filter out sediment, nutrients, and crop protection products from the run off.  This filter strip looks very stable, so it is also helping to stabilize the stream bank.  Keeping trees off the bank is not really a bad thing here.

I also want to point out that the stream has not been channelized in any way.  It looks like all the natural meanders are still there.  Farmers are often tempted to try to prevent bank cutting by straightening the stream.  Straightening will make the flowline steeper and can cause erosion  miles upstream.  If you straighten the stream, you will not only have stream bank erosion, but the bottom of the stream will also eroded.  stream barbs and bendaway weirs can help.  Sometimes rock weirs can work.  Cedar tree and willow revetments have been used.  Get professional advice before you try any of these.  Most stream stabilization work requires multiple permits.  Virgina has a nice guide.

The only stream stabilization work you should attempt on your own is removal of obstructions such as fallen trees.  Obstruction removal is best done as soon as possible to prevent destabilization.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Scenic Grain Bin

Goose Decoy mounted on a grain bin south of Taylorville

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Social Media?

Sometimes we should reflect a bit.  Why do agriculture professionals need to tell their story?  We need to show our customers and the public that we are looking out for the interests of both in the production of food, fiber, and fuel.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Soil Moisture Report

Early in the last 4 cropping seasons there has been speculation about a coming drought.  That speculation is once again in the news.  I don't make crop predictions especially at this time of year, but I will tell you what soil moisture is looking like and why that is important.

Saturday and again today, I did septic tank investigations.  Soil moisture to five feet is good.  Only one hole had a water table.  More spring moisture would not be a bad thing te rest of the month and into mid March.  Surface moisture is high in flatter areas and those area probably have at least a bit of a shallow water table.  Moisture att his time of year is a good thing.  It protects us from crop failure.  High temperatures and low rainfall ravaged our corn last year but most farmers had to harvest it.  The crop was not a complete failure.  Good spring soil moisture will not prevent a summer drought, but it can help us to have something to harvest even if it is not a bin buster crop.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fire Your Consultant?

I feel compelled to do one more blog on the National Farm Machinery show.  This hit close to home, so I had to write something.  The sign said "Fire Your Consultant"  The man was in a small booth and Was selling a biological soil treatment and a liquid fertilizer formulation.  He said that farmers do not need an expensive soil consultant to tell them what to put on their soils.  Just buy his magic juice and overcome all your soil limitations.  He had a crowd around him.

What is wrong with the picture?  First many biologicals just do not perform.  Most soils have maybe millions of species of micro-organisms in them.  If a particular species is not there it is usually because the soil does not have the proper habitat to support them.  There are some exceptions like legume inoculants, but you are creating the environment to support the bacteria by planting the legumes.  You cannot underestimate the value of micro-organisms in releasing plant nutrients, but the soil needs to have ideal soil test levels to support the right organism.  Just applying magic bugs is not likely to work.  I have no argument if you want to try some strips or better yet, some replicated plots on your farm to see if these things work.  It is possible.  Just don't quit all the other right things you are doing.

I guess I should not even need to explain this but there is just not a one size fits all for fertility.  Variable rate fertilizer would not be nearly as popular as it is right now if that were the case.  Nutrients are removed at different levels depending on yield, crop, soil type, drainage and a host of other factors.  The magic juice might be OK for a starter, but getting all your nutrients to their ideal level should be top priority before adding the magic juice.

DON'T FIRE YOUR SOIL CONSULTANT.  He or she can help you test magic products so you can make valid determinations.  Stick with sound management.  Your soil consultant should be able to tell you where you can cut back for a year or 2 and not cost yourself money or yield. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

National Farm Machinery Show Pictures

I don't think we could have filled this Heavy Duty Manure Spreader one time with all the manure in our chicken house when I was a kid.

Lunch Lines were long

Displays in the North Hall - Big toys and Bright lights

Enjoying Kentucky ag products at the relaxation station

Checking out the Big Iron

Friday, February 17, 2012

National Farm Machinery Show

I spent some time yesterday at the National Farm Machinery show in Louisville, KY.  Last time I was at the Kentucky Exposition Center it was for the 2001 National FFA Convention.  It has grown.  The show was an impressive spectacle of agriculture.  It sseemed that all the national agricultural vendors were there and a number of smaller ones as well.  I was attending to shop for mapping software.  I was surprised at how few vendors were in the building.  I was able to talk to some people and figure out what I don't want. 

The crowds seemed large to me but this was the first time I have been there.  Guidance systems, controllers, and so on seem to continue to make improvements and grow their market.  There is not much new in mapping.  It was surprising considering the size of the show, how difficult it was to find knowledgeable people.  I had questions about guidance systems and it seemed there was only one person per display that was knowledgeable.   Such is the state of that field.  The technology is ahead of the sales division.

I know that there are already mapping apps for Apple I-Pad and I was expecting to find some of those people in the building.  I guess there is not enough money in that for them to pay for a booth.  One vendor I talked to said he did not think an I-pad is rugged enough for the field.  I did not think of it at the time, but I could break an I-pad or 2 a year and still not be out as much as I am with his ruggedized field equipment.  I think I could make it work.   

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Just a Farm Dog?

To many farm people the farm dog is as much a part of the farm as the cattle, corn, soybeans or hogs.  The February issue of National Geographic had an article about a study of dog DNA.  Unfortunately, I could not find this part of the article on line, but it was the most interesting to me.  They divide all breeds of dogs into for different genetic groups.   Dog breeds have been selected for certain characteristics that their owners have found useful in making human lives better.  The 4 groups are:Wolflike, Herders, Hunters, and Mastifflike or guardogs. 

While each breed has some DNA from each group and some of the breeds are very mixed in grouping, some of the breeds in each grouping are interesting.  In the interest of quick reading I will concentrate on the herders that are most directly related to agriculture.  Some herders include Tibetin Terrier, Lhana Aspo, Pekinese, Shih Tzu, Irish Wolfhound, St. Bernard, Greyhound, Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, and Whippet.  A standard P\poodle is known as a hunting dog, but it also has a good bit of herder DNA.  Old English Sheepdog is more of a hunter than a herder.  A German Shepherd has mostly Masstifflike DNA.  That one really struck me odd as we had a German Shepherd mix that was a pretty good cattle dog.  I guess one conclusion might be that even though we train certain dogs to do certain things, it is not always in their DNA as much as we think.  There is a lot of interesting stuff about dogs on the National Geographic Web site.  Check it out.  The most common breed of dog is not a breed at all.  It is the mutt. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Read the fine print on the research

I ran across this research study on potassium and tillage.  The 2 year study concluded that tillage did not affect the corn yields.  They did have a double variable in that they as tested timing and application of potassium.  There was a yield response to potassium.  Does this mean you should always apply potassium?  By no means.  Look At he soil test levels.  Potassium was low in this study to start with. I would expect a response to the fertilizer.  This is a simple test.  There are far more complex issues.  Soil amendments are not one size fits all.  The first step in making decisions related to your soil is to get it tested.  Then you can decide if you need sulfur, gypsum,micro-nutrients, or any of the other amendments that are popular at the time. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Timber Sale

Today I drove past these logs by the side of the road and decide I have not done a blog on timber sales.  I some parts of Illinois, timber is an afterthought.  When Europeans arrived in Illinois, they settled in the part of the state that  had trees.  At that time, something like 20% of the state was prairie and trees were scarce.  The early settles wanted trees for construction material.

These logs are being sold for some sort of lumber.  Lots of timber in Illinois is turned into pallet lumber.  Higher value timber in Illinois consists of Black Walnut, Hard Maple, Red Oak and White Oak.  The value each depends somewhat on the popularity of furniture styles.  There was a time when walnut was the most popular.  Right now Red Oak is more popular.

Land owners who are considering a timber sale would be wise to bring in a forester to tell them what they have and mark trees for sale.  Sellers who use a consulting forester are more likely to get high dollar for their resource.  A consulting forester can also enhance the value of you timber by suggesting pruning and thinning needs to maximize production.  They can also tell you if your trees are ready to sell or if you might make more by letting them grow for now.  Large healthy trees will add more board feet per year than small trees.  Large unhealthy trees should be harvested to prevent deterioration.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why do we grow so much corn in Illinois?

I think most farmers know this, so I guess this blog is mainly for my non-ag friends.  The Midwest and Illinois in particular is blessed with the right soils and the right climate to grow corn.  Hot days that cool off at night is just what the corn plant needs.  Most of our soils do not need irrigation in most years to produce abundantly.  Soybeans are a perfect crop for alternate years.  This gives Illinois a competitive advantage in corn production.

Strides in technology and mechanization have made corn production nothing short of miraculous.  Corn is a photosynthesis giant in terms of capturing the sun's energy and converting it to calories and nutrients that humans and animals can both utilize.  Because corn has separate male and female parts we can select particular genetic traits relatively easily in comparison to many other crops.  While a good bit of the corn is the yellow varieties that are used for feed, fuel, sugar production and other general purposes, there is enough diversity to support corn for many other purposes as well.  Illinois produces lots of sweetcorn.  Sweetcorn is one of the most popular vegetables sold.  Popcorn is another variation that even Native Americans ate.  It is a good high fiber product.  High oil corn is just what it says it is.  Corn oil is one of our healthy oils.  White corn and blue corn are processed into corn chips, corn tortillas, massa, hominy and other food products.

Corn is harvested dry so it can be stored and sold all year around.  Most of us like having at least some fresh vegetables in the winter, so places like Florida, California, and South Texas grow many of our fresh vegetables.   The area south of the Mason Dixon Line has the perfect climate for cotton, so they produce a lot of our natural fiber.  Cattle herds in the west take advantage of the vast rangeland on the great plains to take advantage of that resource.  There was a time in our history when cattle were shipped to Illinois and Iowa to be fed out before processing.  Over time, we have come to realize that the dryer climate in the west makes it easier to deal with livestock waste out there.  That means we ship our corn west instead of bringing the cattle east.  That is probably a health advantage to the cattle too.

This blog is getting long so I will try to summarize a bit.  First let me say that I am all for locally grown foods, but we need to realize that crops have become more specialized because there are advantages to that specialization.  Yes there was a time when our farming practices were much more diverse and more diversity would be a good thing; but we need to consider the efficiency of crops to photosynthesize and grow.  I look forward to the day when midwestern farmers produce more specialty crops, but I don't expect that corn will cease to be the king of midwestern production.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Old Windmill

This windmill in Golden, IL was constructed to grind grain.  It is now a tourist attraction.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Land Use in the United States

My friend Denise Maxwell sent me this link to Land use in the United States statistics. One thing that caught my eye is that 18% of our cropland is used for something other than field or vegetable crops.  Some is in CRP, some is in pasture, some is failed crops.  Have we maxxed out on acreage available for corn production?  I don't think so.

Another thing is see in the statistics, is the amount of range land in the country.  How can we quit eating meat when we have so much land available for livestock production that is not good for anything else.  Release of greenhouse grasses by ruminants?  I say no net change in historic levels because wildlife such as deer, elk, and Bison have always been releasing greenhouse gasses in North America.

Forest is the leading land use in our country.  The demand for forest products is always there.  I am curious about how much of the forest land is available for harvest under current government policy.  How much of the forest land is un-harvestable because of terrain?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

St. Louis Area Tourism

One of my on-line tweeps, @JPlovescotton posted a tweet and blog about her desire to get to know her new home area of St, Louis a little better.  I made a few suggestions and she asked if I could turn it into a blog.  Because I try to keep my blog related to agriculture, I will put an agricultural spin on my suggestions.

I first suggested a float trip on an Ozark stream.  Current River is my favorite.  In addition to enjoying the outdoor relaxation with a few friends, she will find she is in the heart of Missouri cattle country.  There is very little cropland, but some of the hills support grass instead of timber, in fact a flyover this summer showed more open land than I expected.

The Ozarks also support one of the ultimate locally grown products in Missouri.  There is a nice collection of wineries in the St. James area and some of the growers sell fresh grapes in season as well.  Ste. Genevieve is another area to enjoy winery visits, tours and French heritage.  In addition, in Ste Genevieve you can cross that great highway of agriculture products, the Mississippi River on a ferry.  It is a great experience seeing the river up close and personal.

One of the things she could explore at the Cahokia Mounds World Heritage site in the Collinsville, IL area is what foods were grown and eaten by these Native Americans.  The site was a great pre-Columbian center of agriculture in the Mississippi River Valley,  Yes the Indians transported their products by water as well.  If she takes a little sidetrip trip up Route 157 and goes left on 162 back toward Highway 255 she should be able to spot a horseradish field somewhere in the area.  In addition, there are a few remaining roadside vegetable stands.

I also suggested a day trip to downtown St. Charles, Missouri, the first state capitol of Missouri.  The quaint shops and restaurants are pleasant way to spend a warm spring day.  To put an agricultural spin on the trip, drive toward Alton on Highway 94 past corn and soybeans growing in the rich bottomlands of the combined Missouri and Mississippi Valley.

Another must see is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, IL.  We all understand Lincoln's place in history as a wartime president, but he also supported canals, railroads and river navigation to help farmers market their products.  In addition, Lincoln is considered the founder of the United States Department of Agriculture.  Other Lincoln Heritage sites to see are his home, his law office, his church, and his tomb.  New Salem State park is also worth a look.  Most of the trip from St. Louis to Springfield on I-55 will give you at least a flavor of Illinois corn country.  Take a long weekend or a short week for this one or divide it up doing the Presidential Museum one day, the other Lincoln sites one day, and New Salem one day.  Enjoy a Horseshoe or a Cozy Dog in Springfield.

I meant to write a separate blog on this subject.  Over Christmas we took my son and daughter-in-law to the Schlafly Bottle Works for a birthday dinner.  Their menu featured a number of local producers and processors from the St. Louis area in support of the locally grown foods movement.  It was cool to see a former customer of ours listed as a local supplier of pork.  All the food was delicious.  I recommend starting with a sampler of the beers.

State Fairs in Sedalia, MO  and Springfield, IL both feature their states agricultural products and are just good fun.

I hope this gets you a good start Janice. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sustainable Agriculture

I attended a breakfast for agricultural leaders this morning at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey, IL.  The program was sponsored by their Green Initiatives Sustainability Program.  I was mildly surprised that I knew so many of the participants. 

The program was an open discussion on sustainable agriculture issues and how the college can support sustainable agriculture within their sphere of influence.  To their credit they did not get into any discussion to speak of to define sustainability.  It was interesting that there were no organic farmers in the group.  L&CC would like to provide some kind of education program for farmers that relate to sustainability.  There was no clear direction from the group as to what programs might attract and audience.  I would like feedback from my readers if possible on that issue.

Some of the things that came up in the conversation were:
  • Nutrient Management
  • Regulatory Pressures
  • Cost of Implementing "Sustainable" Initiatives
  • Economic Issues
  •  Social Media Usage
  • Precision Agriculture
  • Educating the Public
  • Promotion of Locally Grown Products
  • 4R's Nutrient Management initiatives
  • Nitrogen Management
  • Soil Drainage
  • Why do we grow so much corn in Illinois (potential future blog)
  • Ag in the Classroom
  • Cellulistic Ethanol
  • Other biofuels
  • Unforeseen Consequences
  • Need to Educate Politicians
I am looking forward to seeing where this program goes.  If the college can stick with offering solid information and steering away from telling farmers what to do it has potential.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Weather Spotter Class

Last night I took the National Weather Service weather spotter class for the second time.  I first took it because I spend so much time outdoors in the spring and wanted to have my reports accepted as factual.  Yesterday's class was a refresher, but material cover was much more thorough than my past experience.  Another difference was that a good bit of time was spent on safety.  This brings me to the relationship with agriculture.

Most farmers are in the same place I am in the spring during prime tornado season.  You are in the field when weather is threatening.  You might not care to take the time to actually report what you see, but it would be good to know what you are seeing for your own safety.  What does that dark cloud mean?  Are those low hanging ragged looking clouds going to bring a tornado?  The class was excellent.

In addition to reading the clouds, I justify my smartphone because of it's weather capabilities.  On my phone, the accuweather mobile app seems to work the best.  National Weather Service has lots more information than most other weather sites.  I am looking forward to having them set up for mobile phones some day.  I often look at radar to decide if I have time to finish the next field.  I could go on and on about this topic, but you get the idea.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Measuring Pesticides

Tom Bechman wrote a recent article on accurately measuring pesticides.  For  environmental and economical reasons, producers should make sure that pesticides are properly measured.  Rates that are too low can contribute to pest resistance.  Too high rates may contaminate the environment.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

American Bison

American Bison on Pasture North of Hillsboro

Friday, February 3, 2012

Agriculture lost a friend

Today I must recognize the passing a personal friend and a friend of agriculture.  Chuck Ellis died suddenly in his home on Wednesday afternoon.  His obituary mentions his long years of service to agriculture as the manager of our local Farm Bureau Manager.  Because he knew almost every farmer in Montgomery County, for many years he was called on to chair the nominating committee for the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District.  He was a good cook and his Bar B Q skills were well known.

He was a fine mentor to me as a young District Conservationist for Soil Conservation Service.  He provided me with a confidential and non-judgmental sounding board.  That is something difficult to find in this world. 

It should go without saying that a man loves his family, but Chuck always spoke warmly of his children and grandchildren.  His years of service to his community should tell you he loved humankind as well.   Rest in Peace Chuck.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Advantages and Disadvantages of Composting Manure

Why compost manure?  Manure is nutrient rich as it is, but must be applied to organic fields at least 120 days before planting.  Other reasons to compost manure are below. 

  • Concentrates Nutrients
  • Easier to transport
  • Composting Kills Parasites
  • Usable in organic systems.
  • Usable on land where food is grown for direct human consumption
  • Kills weed seeds 
  • No odor when spread
  • Loses about half the available nitrogen
  • Releases greenhouse gases
  • Need to have a composting area
  • Need to control rainfall runoff from the composting area
  • Difficult to do with liquid manure
  • Some manures might need a carbon source
University of Minnesota gives some good information on using compost and manure.  It is a good idea to test manure or compost before applying so that you know what nutrients you have.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Coshocton Laboratory Closing

Included in Secretary Vilsack's announcement of USDA closings was the closing of the Coshocton research laboratory in Ohio.  I suspect that the decision may have been based on the number of employees displaced instead of logical reasoning.  The laboratory has been a leader in soil erosion research and education since the 1930's.  Key information was gathered at Coshocton concerning No-till farming,  and the effectiveness of contour strips, nutrient management and cover crops.  I hope the functions of the laboratory have been assigned to other facilities.  The Coshocton Laboratory's contribution to sustainability in agriculture cannot be overestimated.