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Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Musings

I had a septic tank investigation scheduled but the people building the house  were no-shows.  That is aggravating.

I worked in the Morrisonville area today.   Corn yields were not great but pretty good for a drought.

It seemed ironic to work for an hour or so with sprinkles coming down.  I was glad to get done in that area however and so was my client.  I finished about an  hour after the combine pulled out of the field.   I always like it when we are able to give such prompt service.  I came home in a deluge. my phone got soaked and was not working right.  It is drying in some rice right now.

My sample bags also got wet.  I have been spreading samples out on my picnic table and shipping them the next day.  This weekend is not so conducive to that.  The samples are on shelves with a fan blowing on them.  It will take a few days till they are dry.  

Corn has been very clean so far this fall.  No sneezing from mold.  Rain might change that.

In general soils have probed nicely so far.  I have been carrying a hammer and using a probe with a heavy handle.  I hope I am done with that now.  I have not had to use the hammer much anyway. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Travelled to Pittsfield today

We made a sales call in Pittsfield today.  Probably at least 80% of the corn is mature.  Harvest was underway, but overall not far along.  75% of the soybeans have not begun to turn.  Even where fields are turning some of the low spots are still green.  Everyone is hoping that Isaac brings some rain. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Passing of the seasons August

My monthly passing of the seasons photo.  Most of the corn is mature in the photo, but none is harvested.  Soybeans are still green.  We are hoping that rain from Isaac will materialize this week and make the soybeans as big as ping pong balls. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Harvest moving along

I worked in the Virden area today. I would estimate over all that corn is about 15% harvested.  There was lots of machinery in the field and lots of farm traffic on the roads.  It is a time of year to be extra cautious driving in the countryside.

With Hurricane Isaac underway, there is a hope that extra rain might help the soybean crop.  It was my observation today that maybe 20% of the soybeans are turning yellow in my area.  Those will not be helped much by additional rain.  I am hoping that the soybeans that are still green will fill with big beans. 

The weather forecast is weird.  The greatest chance of showers for the weekend is 70%.  The national hurricane center says we could get 3 to 5 inches of rain.  How can that be?? 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Confined Animal Feeding Operations

Confined animal feeding operations are those that exceed 1000 animal units.  Animal units are calculated by multiplying the average weight of the animals by the number of animals and then dividing by 1000.  An animal unit is the equivalent of 1 - 1000 pound cow.  Livestock operations with over 1000 animal units must have a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP)  in writing.  Operations with 300 to 1000 animal units must have a plan, but not necessarily in writing,  however, any problem farms that come to the attention of regulators can be required to have a plan in writing no matter what their size.  All animal producers are required to follow regulations no matter what their size.  Animals on pasture or rangeland are not required to have a written plan.

I have been working on 2 CNMP's previously written in order to get them ready for Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to review so that I can renew my technical service provider's certification.  Included on the front page of the plans is the geographic location.  A law suit by an environmental group has prompted EPA to propose rules that would require livestock farms to register their location with the agency.  Time Magazine has an article on the subject.  There is lots of mention of Illinois in the article.   I am curious to know if EPA has enough people to do anything about inspection.  Livestock farms are usually easy to find if you just drive down the road.  Regulators just don't have the time or inclination to do so.  I can't see how another regulation can help the manpower situation. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Erratic Weather or Climate Chage?

It is interesting that when following the weather, lots of people seem to thing that whatever is going on this year, that is the way things are going to be.  We just came off of four wet springs in a row.  We have been looking at ways to cope with that wetness.  I cannot guess how many fields in our area have been pattern tiled the past 3 years.  Last year we experienced our first hot dry summer in some time.  Yields were reduced by the heat and dry.  This year we are experiencing a record drought at least in terms of extent.

It really makes little difference to farming practice whether we are experiencing erratic weather patterns or climate change.  As farmers and consultants we need to come up with way to cope with the volatility in weather patterns.  We have found that tiling is a great way to cope with excessive water.  What about dry summers?  UDSA's ARS in their latest issue of Agriculture Research is looking to two technologies that might help cope with ot dry summers.  One of them is no-till.  The other is drought resistant seeds. Check page 6 and beyond in the magazine.

No-Till helps cope with drought by reducing soil surface temperatures and conserving moisture.  In addition, no-till had some potential to sequester carbon dioxide which could help stabilize the climate.  I know it is anecdotal at this point, but one of my twitter friends, @Shiremanfarms is over 500 acres into corn harvest and is experiencing and average corn yield of 180 bushels per acre so far.  He is strip tilling and using cover crops to help him mange his soils.  He is also one of the people who has done a lot of tiling in the recent past.

The point is, I don't think we can mange weather volatility to our best ability by always expecting to do things the way we have always done them.  An Argentinian No-till leader is pretty much saying the same thing in this article

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fall Fire Season

It seems that harvest fires have begun to be a problem again this year.  We had a number of them in 2007 as well.  My brother's combine burned yesterday.  It was a total loss.  The accident was probably not preventable because it appeared to be started by a burst hydraulic hose.  Some of these fires can be prevented by keeping machinery clean and in good repair.  Prompt response can be essential as well.  Having tillage equipment available to make firebreaks can be useful.  Also, don't leave trash fires unattended.  A field fire was started in 2007 by someone burning trash. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Weather Change Coming?

I saw 2 really big dust devils today.  They always look cool in the fall with corn leaves twirling around.  Often dust devils area precursor to a change of weather, but other than rain in the forecast Sunday and Monday, I am not sure what change we might get.  Could this signify Isaac affecting Midwest weather?  Maybe for the good?

On another note I was sampling harvested corn this afternoon.   Soil was not as moist as stubble beans sampled earlier this week, so the rain must have done some good to the corn.  I am not sure if it is dry enough to affect potassium or not.  Luckily we have past years data to judge from too. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Yield Monitor Calibration

Corn  harvest has been underway in my area for over 4 weeks, but it is progressing slowly.  Lots of people have not started yet.  We are going to be harvesting grain under a wide range of conditions this year.  In order to get accurate data, good calibration is a must.  Yield monitors should be calibrated under a wide range of conditions.  Some years we need to simulate those conditions.  This year it will be necessary to actual take readings in the best and worst parts of fields and in areas in between.  Don't over calibrate either.  Adjusting after every load will not help unless conditions change drastically.  The Ohio State University has advice for calibration.  Use your search engine to find other information on calibration. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Much Rain Do We Need to Catch Up?

Average rainfall in central Illinois is about 36 inches.  At least for now we are below average.  So how much will we need to go into next year in good shape?  Do we need to make up all we are behind this year? 

This simplified Water Budget from US Geological Survey shows what happens to 36 inches of rainfall in a year.  The illustration says 25 inches is lost to evaporation, but that is not exactly correct.  Actually most of that is evapo-transpiration, or what is used and lost by plants.  Oddly enough, that is just about what it takes to grow a good corn crop in a year.  Very little water evaporates once it gets into the soil.  The summer fallow system of raising a crop every 2 years in the west illustrates that point pretty well.   If the soil is saturated, water moves into the ground water.  The USGS illustration says about 3 inches of water does this.  The rest is lost to runoff, but we only get runoff if rain falls very fast or if the soil is saturated.  Other sources of runoff are impervious surface like roads and roofs.

So how much water do we need to recharge the soil?  I calculated how much water a good soil in my area like Herrick can hold.
Herrick Available Water

      Depth        H2O/in.         in.

7 0.24 1.68

8 0.24 1.92

20 0.17 3.4

37 0.2 7.4

14.4  Inches of water 

Most of the good soils in Illinois can hold about the same amonnt as Herrick.  Some a little more and some a little less.  So we need around 15 inches of water to recharge our subsoil and be ready for next year's crop. Average rainfall is 3 inches per month.  some months more and some months less, so about 5 months of average rainfall will help a lot.  We are a little more than 7 months from planting so we could get more rain than we need for next crop year if we are just average.  Keep in mind that 15 inches of rain would put us about 10 inches shy of what is needed for a good crop.  That is why we need rainfall during the growing season as well. 

Now if you need ponds filled or wells recharged, you need more water than the crop will need.  A few months a little above average would be good. In 1989 it took us until about mid-April to get tile flowing and ponds filled again.  Every little bit helps, but we need to be patient as things might look a bit dry all winter.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

First Day of Fall Sampling Season

I had a client call me this morning to say I should start sampling his double crop soybeans.  They had about a 5% stand.  Topsoil was not wet, but recent rains and nothing growing had it moist enough that I did not have to use a hammer. I think it is probably moist enough that soil test levels will not be skewed.  Corn harvest was underway in the same area.  The auger wagon was not moving much, so I suspect very bad yields. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Do Full Season Soybeans Respond to Nitrogen Fertilizer?

From time to time we hear that someone is say nitrogen fertilizer on soybeans is a good idea.  Researchers check this out and most of the time find little if any response.  Maryland researchers recently published their findings.  It is the first article in the publication.  They found no response.

University of Missouri  published results showing minimal response by soybeans to nitrogen fertilizer.  USDA's ARS said that Nitrogen Fertilizer applied to soybeans in Alabama is a dubious practice.  This paper out of the University of Wisconsin in 2009 explains N use in soybeans very well.  They also conclude that nitrogen fertilizer is not needed in soybeans.  Wisconsin said that where they did a get a bit of a response to nitrogen fertilizer, some other factor was in play as well.

In conclusion, I would add that it looks like if you are worried about nitrogen needs for your soybeans, inoculation may be the way to go.  There is lots of research suggesting that inoculation may not be necessary in fields where soybeans have been grown recently, but it is an inexpensive alternative to nitrogen fertilization in soybeans. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Soil Health

USDA-NRCS is rolling out a new soil health campaign according to No-Till Farmer.  NRCS has been preaching soil health for 20 years.  I am looking forward to see if there is anything new.  Healthy soil is definitely important.  Practices that keep soil healthy also lead to higher yields. It is all about a healthy root zone.  There is a myth that healthy soil means organic farming.  Organic farming is not necessary.  Another idea is that no-till is needed to keep soil healthy.  I have seen healthy soils maintained using a number of techniques.  Some of them are simple.

  • Soil needs to provide good habitat for microbes and macro-invertibrates.
  • Healthy soils need to have the proper balance of nutrients to be healthy for plants, microbes, worms, insects, and a long list of other biota.  
  • Healthy soils cannot be tilled when they are too wet.    
  • Healthey soils are only tilled when necessary.
  • Healthy soils have adequate drainage.
  • Organic matter stability is an indicaor of healthy soils.
  • Soil erosion is under control on healthy soils
  • Crop rotations and cover crops can help maintain healthy soils.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weedy Soybeans

Weedy Soybeans
This field of soybeans has a very bad infestation of Water Hemp.  It takes me back to the days before regular herbicide use.  My weeds professor Marshall McGlamery used to remind us that "one  year of weeds gives seven years of seeds." 

Friday, August 17, 2012

300 Bushel Corn

No not this year.  It is just that it caught my eye because of two articles this month.  Dr. Fred Below is a big proponent of trying to grow 300 bushel corn.  Fred talks about what is needed in an Agri-News article.  He admits that water is always a big question mark.  We already know that we have the genetics to make it happen,  but how do we make 300 bushel corn commonplace.  Fred mentions nitrogen management.  I agree that next to water, nitrogen is the most difficult to control.  We need to find ways to keep nitrogen in the soil in stable form for a longer period of time.  Urease inhibitors, dentrification inhibitors, and timing are key.  I think we will see more sidedress applications and later sidedress applications in order to get nitrogen where we need it and when we need it.

Farm Progress publications is co-sponsoring a Yield Challenge contest to challenge producers to put their best into corn production.  We may not have the corn crop we like this year, but all farmers have to be optimistic about the future.   Thinking beyond water and nitrogen, precision technology may help us get to field size 300 bushel corn.  Why?  In order to correct problem areas that cut into yield, we need to pinpoint those areas and treat them.  Drainage and fertility issues are the most treatable.  How do we deal with sandy soils?  Use precision technology to put fewer inputs on them.  If they do not produce then stop pouring on the seed and fertilizer.  Does that get us to 300 bushel corn?  No but it is just good management.  Check out what Willie Vogt has to say a about precision this month.

I wrote a previous blog on fertilizing for 300 bushel corn.  

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cover Crops

An early harvest this year makes it a good year to try cover crops.  Cover crops can help improve soil tilth, take up excess nutrients, and improve spring planting conditions.  Annual ryegrass, and tillage radishes are especially popular.  If you are looking for "free" nitrogen, you might try a clover or hairy vetch.  No-Till Farmer has a good article with lots of information.

Cover crops can also help take up excess nitrogen and keep it out of tile water.  Here is an interesting video about cover crops.   This video has more information about specific cover crops. 

Its too late for this year, but Soil and Water Conservation Society is sponsoring Cover Crops - Practical Strategies for your Farm  in Altoona, Iowa on December 13 and 14. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is the combine ready for harvest?

Some producers are already starting to harvest corn.  With low yields and small ears expected, how do we get the most out of the combine?  This article from Iowa State University gives some advice.  Another issue is going to be standibility.  Stressed corn is subject to more stalk rots and just weak stalks.  Corn plants have absorbed nutrients and moisture from the stalks in order to make grain this year.  I know it is tempting to let it dry in the field, but people need to keep an eye on how it is standing.  With a short crop, you cant afford to leave any in the field.   If hot and dry continues, there may be a limited need for gass to dry, but if not we will may need to bite the bullet. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Weather and Crop Report

Illinois weather and crop report shows a little more corn harvested than last week.  I expect some serious move to harvest something next week.  Corn condition is pretty much unchanged.  Soybean condition is slightly improved.  Temperatures were cooler than average last week.  We have not said that in a long time.  Precipitation was under average for last week.  I took a little tour in Montgomery and Macoupin county today.  Green corn was laid over by recent winds.  Dry corn is losing tops.  All the soybean fields I stopped in were setting and starting to fill pods.  I am not going to say they are well podded, but with some more rain we could see a decent soybean harvest.  Moisture is so low that we cannot expect to get good pod fill with existing moisture. 

Tops are breaking out of dry corn.

Green Corn went down

Soybeans are podded

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Seed Industry and Sat Shots

Last week we heard a presentation by Denny Wickham of Pioneer on the seed industry.  It seems there are only a few big players out there selling under various brand names.  It was interesting to learn that certain brands serve certain purposes for the parent companies.  He also discussed the sharing of technolgies in the industry.  It seems it would be an advantage to keep certain trade secrets like in the old days, but I guess by sharing, everyone gets better seed.  On the other hand, some of the independent companies like Beck's and Wyfell's. Yes i know they are buying genetics from the big guys too.  Here is interesting paper on mergers.  One of the things that surprised me was that I have thought certain brands belonged to particular companies based on the genetics they use.  I was wrong more than right. 

We also had a good presentation last week by John Illich of Agri ImaGIS Technologies on satellite imagery they are making available.  The imagery is 5 meter resolution, so it shows about the same resolution that can be seen on a yield map made with a 6 row 30 inch corn head.  Prices appear to be reasonable.  I am planning to pay for the home farm and see how it might fit into the business as well.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Kentucky Dry Rock Fences

Kentucky Horse Country is a beautiful scenic area.  One of the things that will catch your eye is the "dry" rock fences built from local limestone with no mortar.  As you can see below, some of the fences are well maintained and some of them need some maintenance.  They are lovely either way.

Here is another blog that tells more. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

What about those USDA numbers?

USDA announced expected yields of 123 BPA for corn and 36 BPA for soybeans today.  The markets reacted, but the question is, how far off are those numbers.  I have heard private sources going as low as 114 based on some pretty solid numbers.  I do think some will have better yields than they expect.  A harvest report from Monroe County Illinois says that corn is running from 30 to 200 in the same field.  The producer is hoping to average 100.  Montgomery Co Illinois yield survey pegged the county yield at 83 BPA.  That is usually a good number  for the county average.  So what do you do if you need to buy or sell?  I cannot venture a guess.  My guess will be that we will not hear about the better corn yields for a little while yet.  We already know that there are fields without grain. 

Soybeans are even harder to guess.  Most of the bean crop would still benefit from rain.  The weather pattern is bringing scatted rain so we still have  chance to better that 36.  There will probably be dome zeros in the soybeans too.  How much damage did the extensive flea beetle infestations do? 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dissolved Phosphorous

My consultants' meeting in Lexington this week had a number of topics related to the environment.  Dr.  Tom Morris of the University of Connecticut Kicked off the topic with his discussion of disolved phosphorous in our surface waters.  Fingers are pointing to agriculture in relation to concerns in places like Chesapeake Bay and Lake Erie.  Some of those concerns are justified.

He pointed out that we all learned that phosphorous was only transported with soil particles.  While it is true that most phosphorus is move from agricultural lands in that way, there is a small amount of phosphorous dissolved in runoff that creates a big problem.  Livestock producers have been under pressure for a number of years to properly apply manure.  It looks like there is a threshold level of 150 to 200 ppm in soils that should not be exceeded.  Levels above the threshold can contribute to problem runoff even in fields that have not had manure applied recently.  He looks for this issue to stay around and he looks for it to be addressed at least partly by crop consultants.

Some of the consultants who work in the Grand Lake St. Mary's Watershed in western Ohio presented reports on their activities in the watershed. Their presentation tied in very closely with Dr. Morris's.  They pointed out that a lot of money has been spent on the problem already and a lot more is to be spent.  Even then it is unlikely to clean up the mess entirely.  One of the problems is that in shallow lakes like Grand Lake, nutrients continue to be mixed into the water from existing sediment even when runoff is clean.

My friend John McGuire put together a good summary of these issues for his blog in Farm Futures Magazine. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Farm Machinery of the Future

Dr Scott Shearer of The Ohio State University spoke at my consultants' conference speculating on future farm machinery.  According to his observations, certain machinery, planters especially, may be as big as they will ever get.  Weight and drawbar durability could  be limiting.  On the other hand he had some evidence that a 1000 horsepower tractor may be on the horizon.   One of his interesting observations was that a modern tractor has the durability to last 20,000 hours or more.  At 500 hours per year we are looking at a 40 year tractor.  The problem is that technology upgrades needed to keep it useful.  Technology upgrades are definitely possible though.   Look at what the Air Force has done to keep B-52's flying. 

Several times he mentioned compaction as a concern.  I suspect that this year would be a good year to keep a sharp eye out on the combine to see where compaction has cost you yield. Controlled traffic and lighter machinery is needed to control compaction.  

He discussed the fact that precision ag companies are getting more attuned to using off the shelf electronics on their equipment.  A case in point is that Precision Planting is using Ipads as monitors and data loggers.

Un-manned machinery was mentioned as a possibility in the future.  The downside is that no one is there when something goes wrong.  He mentioned a military Gator that will follow soldiers and carry supplies.  He also said that perhaps instead of being completely unmanned, one operator might control several machines in one field.

Most of his discussion centered on existing technology that needs refinement.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

International Conference

I am attending the International Conference of Brookside Consultants this week in Lexington, Kentucky.  We have heard from a diverse group of presenters.  Topics have included, new developments in precision technology, consulting in South Africa, dissolved phosphorous runoff, Ag Marketing update by Arlan Suderman, Out look on fertilizers, nutrient enhancement products, new phosphorous products, the seed industry, nitrogen testing, Audubon Society programs, and satellite imagery.  It has been a wonderful  networking opportunity.  I plan to devote blogs to individual topics as I am able later on. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kentucky Tobacco

Tobacco Field near Lexington Kentucky almost ready to harvest.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Nutrient Removal in Drought

Prairie Farmer ran thiis article on Nutrient Removal in Drought.  They quote Fabian Fernandez who is obviously reluctant to give definite answers.  And with good reason.  My biggest argument with Dr. Fernandez is that he never even mentions that a well interpreted soil test is the best way to determine fertility needs for the 2013 crop.  I say well interpreted because if you sample before we have some rain this fall your results might be off a bit.  Having your crop consultant help- with interpreting the results would be a good idea.  Last fall I found that after the crop is harvested, about an inch of rain will help with results.  wait about a week after the rain to give the soil a chance to reach a new equilibrium before sampling.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Lucky Rain

We had the good fortune to be in the line of thunderstorms last night.  The area in green and yellow got over an inch of rain.  Soybeans were putting out secondary growth this morning.  It should have been enough rain for the soybeans to set some pods.  We will need another rain like that to get them filled good.  Hoping the guessers are right and we get more tomorrow.  The air feels moist for the first time in 2 months and the air smells different too.  I did a Septic tank investigation on the south side of Montgomery County today where 6 or 7 tenths fell.  Water penetrated 3 inches.  Beans were looking perky in that area too. 
24 Hr Rainfall today

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I am working on two old CNMP's to bring them up to date so I can submit them to NRCS to become a technical service provider.  Requirements have recently been updated and what was redundant is now triple redundant. Ah bureaucracy  If you have livestock it is a good thing to know what is hap penning with the manure on your farm and have it thought out what to do when something goes wrong, but unless you have  a CAFO or need some financial assistance with improvements, I would say to avoid government entanglements.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Passing of the Seasons 8

Looking North Toward the Butler T.  This is at the intersection of IL 16 and 127.  Corn is burning up.  Soybeans are dropping blooms and pods.  Not a pretty picture.