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Monday, December 31, 2012

Less read posts

As much as I like to brag about the posts that everyone liked and read, there are always some that I think were well done that did not get a lot of looks.  I hope you will take a look at the ones below that you might have missed.  They still seem relevant to me. 

Ford Motor Company is using Kenaf for door bolsters.  The good news is that this is a crop that may have found a market.  I also like that one of our industrial giants is going for an intellegent "green" alternative.

This blog contains insights from Danny Klinefelter on the Future of Farming.

Dissolved phosphorous is a topic that most farmers are going to become familiar with in the future.  I hope you know something about it. 

I wish everyone a happy and prosperous new year.  I plan to start posting new material again on January 2.   I am headed to the Farm Futures summit in St. Louis on January 3 and 4.  I hope to pass along that information. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Illinois Farmstead

I spotted this farmstead near Clifton, IL in Iroquois County.  It has both a barn and corncrib, but both are abandoned. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Popular Guest Blogs

It can be a chore to write this blog some days.  My son Zach and Randy Darr made it easier with a couple of guest blogs, but the best guest blogger has been Eduardo Paim.  Eduardo is keeping us up to date with what is going on in Brazil.  While none of his blogs have hit top numbers, what he has to say draws a lot of viewers.  I also update him on our crop progress.  Eduardo's Blog has lots of information about what is going in in Brasil.  It is written Portuguese.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My pick of my Top 7 Photos of 2012

National Farm Machinery Show

Black Raspberry Season

Cabbage Harvest

Southern Illinois Peaches were outstanding this year

Fairy Ring was one that I Liked

Black Baldy Lunch Got Lots of Site visits.  The animals were wonderful to let me get this shot.

This old barn foundation in Brown Co is very scenic.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Top 3 posts in 2012

At this time of year, I like to reflect on what I have posted in the past year.  It gives readers a chance to look at somethings they may have missed and it gives me a small Christmas vacation.   Today I am looking at my top 3 posts of the year.  It is hard to predict what will get a lot of views when it is written although the drought blog appeared to be a winner when it was sent to me.  I wish everyone a relaxing holiday. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Composting Manure.  This blog was something I wrote because of writer's block.  It appears to have been a well chosen topic.

Parallels and Differences-Between 1988 Drought and the 2012 Drought (Thus Far…) was written by my son Zachary, meteorology grad from NIU.  It continues to have interested viewers.  Keep in mind that it was written during the drought so some things are just estimates to that date.

Red Tractor must be a popular Google search.

These are really diverse, but that is the way of my blog, so maybe it offers a good cross-section. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012


 I have seen this shot a number of times, but today I stopped and took the picture.  You can see the benches of the terraces and at the top of the hill, silouettes of tombstones in the cemetary.  This is on Route 16 west of Pana.  Merry Christmas.  The rest of this week will be a year in review. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

How much Nitrogen is left?

A big question this fall is, how much nitrogen is left in our corn fields.  University of Illinois did a study sampling around 130 sites.  How much nitrogen is left now is not really important.  The real question is, "How much will be left during the growing season in 2013?" On the up side, it is good to see U of I using real data instead of just guessing as they often do when it comes to nitrogen management.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Do you think we will have a drought of 2013?

I am making no prediction as to what kind of weather we will have in 2013 crop year, but some experts are predicting more dry weather.  How will you handle that?   The first thing I would do is to look at hybrid selection.  Some producers eliminated certain varieties because of 2012 performance.  That is not a bad idea.  Also ask your seedsman if there are any new varieties that perform better under drought stress.

Conserving soil moisture is also a good bet.  If you use tillage, use it sparingly.  If your ground is fairly smooth because of what you did this fall, consider a stale seedbed planting.  If you have not tilled, you may want to consider no-till.  In general soils that I have sampled have been in good condition for the most part.  This article posted by No-till Farmer has some interesting observations about no-till performance in 2012.   One of my tweeps in Scott County had good sucess with no-till this year. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

GPS Field Equipment

Since starting to work as a consultant it has become imperative that we have GPS equipment to keep track of where we are and to map sampling zones or in rare cases points.  The equipment has gotten better over the years. I will attempt to provide a brief review of each.  All of the equipment uses a Rammount setup for mounting tot he ATV. 
This is what was being used in 2005 when I started.
Hardware - IPAC
Receiver - NAVMAN sleeve or external plug in
Software - Farmworks Mobile
Reliability -  Fair
Durability - Fair
Ease of use - OK
Outdoor visibility - Fair
Accuracy - WAAS
Battery Life - 6 hours
Map Capacity - We had room for all maps on this.
Data Conversion required - None - Records Proprietary data but can be set to exported to shape files.
Comments:  This got us started, but it lost maps when recording.  It would would blink a lot.  I will never use this again. Cost was around $1200.  Plus Mount

I bought this in 2007 in search of less expensive equipment.
Hardware - Garmin 76
Receiver - Built in
Software - DNR Garmin to transfer and convert files to shape files.
Reliability -  Excellent
Durability - Not ruggedized but seems to be built to handle vibration. 
Ease of use - Good for what it is, but limited versatility. 
Outdoor visibility  - Excellent
Accuracy - WAAS
Battery life - 8 to 10 hours.  Uses AA rechargeables or alkaline. 
Map Capacity - Can load about 3000 acres of zone maps.  Has a memory card, but only uses Garmin Maps on the card.
Data Conversion required - DNR Garmin works well within capacity limits.
Comments:  I am still using this as a sampling tool.  I also like it for recording point data in septic tank evaluations.  It will record tracks, but if you start off with tracks already loaded you need to know that everything downloads back to desktop, so I do not use it for sampling and data collection at the same time.  Cost was around $350.   

I bought this in 2008 to replace IPAC
Hardware - Archer Juniper
Receiver - Have used Wintec G-Rays 1  Wintec G-Rays- 2 and Garmin 10
Software - Farmworks Mobile
Reliability - OK
Durability - Fair -- Ruggedized and handles vibration well.  We have had touchscreen issues related to dust and dirt. 
Ease of use - Good for mapping and Sampling
Outdoor visibility  - Fair
Accuracy - WAAS
Battery life - 6 hours. 
Map Capacity - Can load all of our maps and has a memory card.
Data Conversion required -None - Records Proprietary data but can be set to exported to shape files.
Comments:  I am still using this as a mapping tool.  It records polygons, lines, and points.  I don't want to tax this unit so seldom use for sampling.   Cost was around $1700 Plus Mount
I bought this in 2012. 
Hardware - Droid 2 smartphone
Receiver - Built in
Software - Locus Free App
Reliability - OK
Durability - Seems OK.
Ease of use - OK for sampling
Outdoor visibility  - Fair
Accuracy - Seems OK.
Battery life - 2 hours with GPS on.
Map Capacity - Can load all of our maps and has a memory card.
Data Conversion required - Required GPX format.  Need to convert polygons to lines and then export to GPX.  When you turn on a customer's file, you need to check box for each line or remember to use the check all box. 
Comments:  This a backup system for sampling only.  Won't use it unless nothing else works.  It is supposed to have mapping capabilities, but I have not tested it. $50 Plus mount
I bought this in November in order to assist customers who want to use one.
Hardware - IPAD2 WiFi
Receiver - Garmin GLO for IOS
Software - GISRoam - Also want to try iCMTgis ii. 
Reliability - Not tested enough
Durability - Good Otterbox Defender seems very tough
Ease of use - Seems OK for Sampling.  Not tested for mapping
Outdoor visibility  - Excellent
Accuracy - Seems to be WAAS equivalent.
Battery life -  8 to 10 hours. 
Map Capacity - Can load all of our maps.
Data Conversion required - Need to download Data Connect to transfer and convert files with GIS Roam.
Comments:Will use as a sampling tool for sure.  It is supposed to be good for mapping, but have not tested.  I would recommended getting a better IPAD than I got.  Need one with a cell card to insure internal GPS works.  I think the idea of using an off the shelf tablet is excellent and cost is reasonable compared to some of this stuff.    Under $600 including Mount. 

This was bought used.
Hardware - Panasonic Toughbook
Receiver - Have used Wintec G-Rays 1  Wintec G-Rays- 2 and Garmin 10
Software - Global Mapper (Windows NT) 
Reliability - Good
Durability - Ruggedized and handles vibration well. 
Ease of use - Good for mapping and Sampling
Outdoor visibility  - Good when set to black lines with white background
Accuracy - WAAS
Battery life - 3.5 hours, but it can be set to go to standby after 3 to 5 minutes.  If left off a couple of minutes when on standby, I can make the battery last 6 or 7 hours.  
Map Capacity - Can load all of our maps.
Data Conversion required -None - It records polygons, lines, and points.  I can finish maps in the field.   Finish works best when sitting in the truck.  I like this setup, but it is heavy.  I also have reports and Aerials loaded so it is pretty much anything I might need.  Cost about $2000 used.  Over $4000 new plus software. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Soil Moisture Report

Today I did a septic tank investigation south of New Douglas.  The site was all in Tall Fescue, some mowed and some not mowed.  Soil was moist to a depth of 34 inches or so.  It was pretty uniform across the 3 borings.  This is good news as it shows that over time, each rain continues to penetrate a little deeper.  I am still hopeful that at least in Illinois we will go into the growing season with 12 to 20 inches of water stored in the soil.  It would be nice if we can get tile flowing and ponds filled by spring.  I am not sure what it will take to get wells recharging too. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Brazilian Soybean Crop

Eduardo Paime:

I'm sending you pictures of farms that I visited on 12.15.2012 in a city with the name of Primavera do Leste in Mato Grosso, is 110km in the city where I live.
The rains are normal for now here for our region and the crops are growing well!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Herbicide Modes of Action

Bryan Young of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale had one of the most useful presentations of the program last Thursday at the CCA Convention.  He talked about how to manage herbicide resistance by knowing herbicide modes of action and active ingredients.  He present a chart that divides herbicides into groups that represent the modes of action and active ingredients.  Knowing how to attack your herbicide resistance in the past has involved a lot of research sometimes because of similarities in naming products and because of the almost endless number of brand names and combinations.  Here is the chart that Dr. Young presented.  Agweb has this chart which is similar.  You need to pick from at least 2 products from two different groups that are effective against the weeds you want to kill.  For example, do not use a group 9 product if you have glyphosate resistant weeds.  Here is a good explanation of what the mode of action terms mean.  This article from Iowa State University talks about where to find herbicide group and how to use it. The screen shot below shows where to find group numbers on the label. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Technology to Watch for.

My blog today focuses on new technologies that bear watching.  This is not an endorsement, just a suggestion to keep an eye on these things because they have potential to help with making crop production decisions.

Advanced Ag Solutions is offering an App Optimizer that appears to monitor moisture, rainfall, growing degree days and other factors to help make field by field decisions about in season nitrogen application, applying crop protection products and possibly where field work is possible in a given day.  I am not sure of cost.  The reliability of the model depends on the amount of data input.

Another such technology is Solum soil testing.  Solum obviously hits a chord with some producers. They call into question the value of current testing methods, but I am not sure what else they can measure against.  None the less, this company appears to be trying to change how we make soil fertility decisions.  This evaluation of their nitrogen methods adds credibility to Solum.   Again I am not sure of costs.   

Saturday, December 15, 2012


 My son recently completed the work require for his Master's Degree in Forest Hydrology and Soils.  I hope you will forgive a proud father for posting his son's Master's Thesis.  The abstract sums it up pretty well if you do not want to wade through the whole thing.  Nathan is currently working for Natural Resources Conservation Service in Arcola, IL.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ag Equipment

Todd Taylor of John Deere spoke to us yesterday about Nutrient Management from the Ag Equipment Perspective.  He discussion was actually quite generic when it came to "Big Iron".  He did discuss the positive effects of tillage regarding seedbed preparation and nutrient cycling.  His discussion went on to talk about 4R nutrient stewardship and the equipment that might help with getting nutrients to the right place at the right time.  He also talked a little about water management.

His discussion about electrical conductivity and using the Veris machine to make zone maps for soil sampling and nutrient application.  He also talked about soil pH manager and how it does a better job of mapping for lime than grid sampling does.  Both tools really point out that the grid a sampling that has been accepted as state of the art has weaknesses when we try to use the results in precision farming.  I have previously expressed my reservations about grid sampling as well.  The thing that the Veris and the Soil pH manager help people to do is to better define where the soil boundaries might be that affect crop production.

We overcome the weakness of grid sampling by trying to base our soil zones on the five factors of soil formation.  Many people who soil sample have not had the training to apply the five soil forming factors.  That is the reason for using some of the other tools mentioned.  One of those tools has been grid sampling.  Another tool that some mention is using soil survey maps.  The soil survey maps have weaknesses that I have previously discussed as well.  Those weakness are related to the scale of the original maps, the time allocated to do the work, and the quality of base maps especially aerial photos.   Perhaps I am biased because of my training, but I think I can make a good zone map that adequately characterizes the soil for precision applications by visually using the five factors and by using GPS to define the boundaries.  With any other method, in order to get the best maps, they should be evaluated by a trained professional and not just used as they come out of the "Machine". 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Illinois CCA Convention 2012

I attend the Illinois CCA convention in Springfield today.  It was a pleasant experience to visit with friends, both from the  past and from the present.  A number of social media friends were in attendance.  Networking is one good reason to attend such events.  As you know by now I share the experience from a knowledge gained standpoint as well.

Two presentations, both well done, and both on different subjects had a an interesting tie in.  Mike Gray made a presentation on Western Corn Rootworm beetle that was very interesting on its own merits.  He spent a lot of time telling us about the evolution of the Western Corn Rootworm beetle and the expansion of its range.  While his information was fascinating, he spent little time telling us what to do about it.  Fortunately his handout contained the information on Western Corn Rootworm management. 

Dr. Aaron Hagar made a presentation on Palmer Amaranth that was also well done.  Since I have a couple of blogs on the subject, I do not feel compelled to share a lot of detail.  What these two presentations had in common was how long these species have been on the radar screen for pest management specialists.  Expanding range and and observed adaptability of these species to resist control measures predate GMO crops and "big bad" Monsanto by many decades.   Both Gray and Hagar presented information about these pests expanding their range and adapting to new conditions that dated back to the 1950's.  So why did agronomists not "nip it in the bud" as Barney Fife would say?  It looks to me like both of these pests are so adaptable that management will continue to be a challenge.   I do think that we are learning the importance of postponing resistance to certain products whether they be GMO products or other crop protection products. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Living soil

I recently read an article by someone who investigated the ecosystem of a corn field.  The author visited acorn field in Iowa and said that the only living thing he found was the corn.  He implied that herbicides, insecticides, GMO crops and other crop protectants had turned the soil into a sterile environment.  The first fact is that yes, farmers are trying to eliminate competition from other species in terms of water, nutrients, and organisms that may attack the corn plant and reduce its efficiency to convert sunlight into energy. We seem to have done that very efficiently. 

On the other hand, the soil is still full of life despite all that we have done.  The soil is full of organisms.  Bacteria, nematodes, Protozoa, algae, insects, worms, and fungi all inhabit the soil below the surface.  The fact is that if the soil is sterile, crop growth would be nearly impossible.  Bacteria convert nitrogen fertilizer into forms available to the plant, whether the source is soil organic matter, fertilizer or manure.  All of the above also mention organism are essential in the breakdown of organic crop residues that are left in and on the soil.  This breakdown is essential for nutrient cycling.  Mycorrhyzae are are special fungi that are found in the soil.  They have filaments throughout the soil that help feed nutrients and water to the plant roots.  We all know about the value of nitrogen fixing bacteria to legumes.  Yes there are also some organisms that can be harmful to crop production as well.  One of the ways that we minimize their effect is to balance plant nutrients.  Another way is by using varieties that are resistant to the harmful organisms.  This does not mean that we eliminate the harmful organism. it means that we just reduce its harmful effects.  Sterile soil in a corn field?  Impossible!  To learn more read this from Colorado State University. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Conservation or Preservation

This is a blog I have been meaning to write for a long time.  We often hear people say they believe in conservation when they really believe in preservation.  When I was educated on the subject, conservation was defined as the wise use of our natural resources. Preservation on the other hand was viewed as a more radical effort to save a resource by not using it.  Merriman-Webster online adds to the confusion with this definition "a careful preservation and protection of something; especially : planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect"  that includes preservation. 

When we practice soil conservation, most of the time it means that we are using farming methods that do not degrade the soil resource.  When we conserve energy resources, it means we do what we can to keep energy use to a minimum.  In our homes, we use insulation, weather stripping, good windows, appropriate thermostat settings, and etc. so that our energy resources will last longer.  When we conserve forest resources, we replace trees that we use.  We might also practice things like thinning and pruning to improve forest production.  

When we decide we should not allow old growth timber to be cut, then we are practicing preservation.  We are not using the forest for consumptive use.  When we set aside wildlife preserves, we are practicing preservation.  When we change land use from cropland to permanent vegetative cover, then we are technically preserving the soil.

Both methods of resource management are appropriate under certain conditions.  I agree that we need to preserve something of our natural history for both aesthetic reasons and because we may find future utility in  some part of the ecosystem we choose to preserve,  Energy Conservation and Soil Conservation have immediate economic benefits.  Preservation may have an associated cost.  Sometimes preservationist and conservationist find common ground to work together.  At other times someone may consider himself a conservationist when he is making wise use of a resource, but a preservationist may think that conservation measures are not enough. 

Whatever side we are on, some flexibility in philosophies is in order in so that we can meet common goals. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Winter Traffic on the Mississippi RIver

The Corps of Engineers is taking a lot of heat right now because of their decision to stick with their river management plan and reduce the flow of water in the Mississippi River.  The plan is in place because environmental groups have pressured the Corps to re-create river flows that reflect a more natural flow pattern in the river.  Like many plans that get set in stone by government agencies, it looks like a severe drought was not considered in developing the plan. 

60% of the grain for export in the United States is moved by barge on the Mississippi River system.  This article highlights the advantages of shipping grain in high capacity barges.  The ground transportation system cannot be a substitute at the level needed to meet the needs of our foreign customers.   Those customers may go elsewhere for their grain if they cannot get it from the United States.  The State Journal-Register also had a great article today on the importance of the Mississippi River to commerce.  The River Industry and Agriculture leaders have appealed to President Obama to overrule the Corps of Engineers.  It is withing his power to do so.  This crisis just seems to be another thing that leads toward that fiscal cliff. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Morning Sparkle

I tried to capture the sun reflecting off the frosty tree branches.  I did not get what I wanted, but still got a cool looking photo. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

South American Soybean Report

By Eduardo Paim:

Here in Brazil everything is normal with the weather, it's raining good and farmers are happy with the development of the plant (at the moment).
In Argentina it is not well! Early planting of soybeans, failed rains (as in Brazil) and now it's raining a lot and they are not able to plant!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Passing of the seasons

This is my final passing of the season photo for 2012.  Harvest is finally over.  Yes the guy who was slow is notorious.  Every County has one guy like that. 

Butler T

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cellulosic Ethanol Plant.

I ran across the news that DuPont is opening a cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa.    This is a big deal in the world of agriculture.   DuPont is planning to use corn stover as the cellulose source, but if they can make it work with corn, it can work with any cellulose source.  The real potential in cellulosic ethanol is the fact that perennial crops such as Prairie Cordgrass and Switchgrass can be used as the cellulose source.  This gives farmers the chance to produce a crop on marginal cropland without contributing to erosion related problems.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cattle on stalks

I sampled a field today where cows were grazing stalks.  In the top photo they are all walking toward me to see what I am doing.  The cow in the bottom picture was not moving because she found an ear of corn as was eating it.  The cows get food value from the stalks.  For the cows, the ear of corn is like if you found a fresh donut in a bag of stale bread. 

Cows on stalks

Cows on stalks

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Squirrel Food

My squirrels preferred burr oak acorns to salted and shelled peanuts.  Tonight I added pecans to the mix too. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cleanup Day

We had our annual cleanup day at the Farm today.  We still have trees in the fields unlike many farmers.  Annual maintenance is necessary.  My Brother made a small video.  My two brothers and my son worked.  My Dad is also in part of the video, but he just hung out with us for a while. 

Burning Brush