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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Effects of Grazing on Streambank Erosion and Phosphorous Loading

Iowa State University researchers published a study looking at grazing effects on streambank erosion and phosphorous loading. They have found that stocking rates of cattle do affect sediment loading in streams. Although the paper seems to have conflicting conclusions, my interpretation is that while stocking rates can affect phosphorous loading and sediment loading in the stream, there are other variables that play a more significant role.  They found that annual rainfall and stream order played a bigger role in sediment and phosphorous loading.  They also implied that increased phosphorous loading might be more related to an increased contribution from manure.  One way to manage both sediment and manure contributions to phosphorous loading is to use intensive grazing to limit the amount of time the animals spend in any one area. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Passing of the Seasons

It looks like we are going backwards.  Snow is falling and some is left from our previous snow too.  White spots in the foreground are close in snowflakes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Brazilian Harvest Progress

 By Eduardo Paim:
Here in Brazil we continue to reap the good climate and good rains that will continue to produce the corn very well!
Today I talked with some soybean producers and their average is 50 bags per Ha, is a normal production! The average may fall because lots of rotten soybeans being mixed with good quality soy and it does not have soy in general of a good quality!
Not bad 50 bags per hectare but the producers wanted to reap this harvest 2012/2013 between 55 and 60 bags of general average!

In Argentina the climate continues punishing crops, this weekend it rained in the most important areas, but there were not many rains.

The weather here now is great for harvesting soybeans and for corn to develop.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Band or Broadcast

I just finished reading an article in Crops and Soils Magazine by Dan Clarke and Byron Vaughn about whether to broadcast or band fertilizer.  They started by explaining how elements applied in fertilizer can become unavailable.  They say that factors such as fertilizer incorporation, soil moisture and temperature can all affect nutrient availability.  I would add exchange capacity and pH to the list.

They outline 4 scenarios and how they affect crop response.

  • When fertility is high,  there is no advantage either way
  • Band can exceed broadcast when fertility is low and application rates are low, but the methods even out at optimum rates.
  • In cold wet soils, banding can beat broadcasting.  A combination of low soil test, dry conditions and poor incorporation of broadcast materials can throw the advantage to banding.  Another advantage for banding could be where pH is too high or low and exchange capacity is high.  
  • Broadcasting can have the advantage on soil with low exchange, proper pH and warm moist condition.
They conclude that banding is almost always just as effective or more effective than broadcasting.  They also say that there is merit in combining the two.  Finally they point out that sooner or later you need to replace nutrients removed.

That last line makes it clear.  There is no free lunch.  Lower rates will not sustain productivity in the long term.  Producers also need to consider cost and convenience.  Liquids tend to cost more.  You also have the issue of needing to handle fertilizer at the same time as you are trying to get planting done as quickly as possible.  Broadcast fertilizer can be applied in the fall or early spring when workloads are easier to manage.  I would tend to favor broadcast because of time and workload, unless fertility is extremely low.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stored grain

Stored grain is down this year, but if you still have grain in the bin it needs close monitoring.  Changing temperatures and humidity at this time of year make it easy to lose grain quality quickly.  Mycotoxins and other drought created problems can aggravate the problems.  I ran across this old Prairie Farmer article that has some good grain storage information.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Eagles in Illinois

We went eagle watching recently from Nutwood to Alton.  It seems weather has them scattered and likely north of us, but we did see a few.  I was able to capture this shot almost right overhead.  Over 4000 eagles from Canada and Alaska overwinter on Illinois and Missouri Rivers. It is always fun to spot one of these magnificent birds.  
Soaring Eagle

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grocery Shopping

Earlier this week I went grocery shopping in one of the "upscale" chains in the St. Louis area.   They carry a special product that we like, so when I am in the area, I stop in.  I am fascinated by the number and variety of Organic Products they carry.  While I don't walk all the aisles, If I need something other than what I am there for I will often buy it there.   I have found that their meat prices are outrageous.  I am not sure why except that this week most of the fresh meat was marked "Gluten Free".  Are they getting a premium because their meat is "gluten free"?  Don't the consumers know that all meat is gluten free unless it has fillers?  Looks like an unscrupulous retail gimmick to me or is it just caveat emptor

I also find prices on organic stuff to be simply outrageous.  $4 a pound for apples??

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nitrogen Rates

Are you still calculating your Nitrogen Rates based on 1.2 Times your expected yield?  That is only the start of what your might want to consider in deciding how much nitrogen to apply.  How much was left from last year?  You can find out by running a pre-sidedress test after corn is out of the ground.  What is your soil contribution to Nitrogen requirements?  The Illinois Amino Nitrogen test is supposed to tell you the answer.  We also have a proprietary test available to use.  Can you consider organic matter content of the soil?  Your soil releases a little over 20 pounds of N for each percentage point of organic matter.  Conservatively, you might be able to count on half of that as being released at a time that it would be usable to the crop.  What about credits?  Soybeans can be credited with 0 to 40 pounds per acres, but it is hard to determine where you should be.  Red Clover has about 60 pounds of N available.  Crimson Clover can be higher.  Hairy Vetch adds about 100 pounds of N.  Should I consider price?    Illinois Agronomy Handbook says to use the N-Rate Calculator.  The N-rate calculator figures your maximum return to N (MRTN) based on years of research.  All the Midwestern states have usable information on that web site.  Illinois has 3 zones to use.  I tell people south of Springfield to use the Southern Illinois rate if they are on light colored soils.  The calculator gives you an acceptable range to use.  Again I would tell you on light colored soils to go with the high end.  You can run a single scenario or if you click on the multiple scenarios tab you can run up to 4 scenarios.   Examples below assume a price for Anhydrous Ammonia at $820 per ton with various prices.  The top shows corn after soybeans rates and the bottom shows corn after corn rates.  Notice how the rate increases as the expected price increases.  I really feel that the N-rate calculator is not as useful if you are using manure, but it is the "legal" method because it is really the only recommendation recognized in Illinois Agronomy Handbook unless you use some sort of Nitrogen Soil Test.  If you are using manure, be sure to figure mineralization based on type of manure and method applied too.  The link above takes you to the N-rate Calculator site.  Click on pictures below to enlarge them. 

N Rate Corn after Soybeans

N Rate Corn after Corn

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Harvest Weather Improves in Brazil

By Eduardo Paim:
Here in Brazil the weather is good to harvest and have a lot of sun. We are no longer having problems with soy rotting in the fields. Certainly Brazil will have reduced production but the government of our country has not said anything! But you can expect that we will have less soy than the world is waiting for!
In Argentina the preudicou is dry enough and the reduction in production will be about 15%. I imagine that in Brazil the reduction in production is at least 10% overall.  We still do not have a winter maize area with heavy rainfall atraplhou soybean harvest and planting corn, now companies are delaying the delivery of seeds for planting corn proutores! The amount of acreage of winter maize should not be different from last year because many things have damaged the expected increase.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Crop Insurance Options for 2013

We are closing in on the time to make crop insurance decisions for 2013. Farm Week News carried 2 good articles about crop insurance options last week.  If you have cover crops or are planing for cover crops in 2014, you should read this article.  There is no substitute for visiting with agents, but it might help to read up so you know what questions to ask. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Spring Planting Underway

No not corn.

I spotted a vegetable grower planting today in Poag area in Madison County.  I could not see what they were planting, but looking at the pattern I suspect watermelons.  The melons were being transplanted into holes in black plastic mulch. The black will absorb heat to keep the ground warm.  A clear plastic cover on top of the plants will let sunlight through and hold the heat in.  Does this sound like a lot of work?  It does to me.  There were at least a dozen workers in that field doing everything by hand.  Why go through the trouble?  In the Midwest, local growers who can get a jump on the competition can get a premium for their fresh vegetables that come in early.  4th of July watermelons are a big seller.  Some vegetable producers are also using a high tunnel system to get a jump on the season. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Corn yield response to plant population.

Maybe this is too late to be timely.  You already have your corn bought and maybe paid for.  As we move toward spring planting season though it may not be too late to look at plant populations needed to optimize yield.  The assumption would be that optimizing yield also optimizes profit.  Purdue University researchers have looked at optimum populations and found that optimum populations might be less than your seed company is telling you.   I can think of some reasons for that.  Researchers might not be using the latest varieties.  On the other side of it seed companies might not looking at long term results under less than ideal conditions.  While Purdue scientists say the optimum population is between 31000 and 33000, I have seen other researchers find that 34000 to 36000 plants per acre is optimum.  In all this I see no mention of variety.  We know that certain varieties optimize yield at certain populations.  There is also no mention of soil types.  We know that some soils will support higher populations and yields. Bottom line is that you need to combine your knowledge of your farms and your seed corn agronomist's knowledge of his product to determine what works best on your farm.  Don't overlook using well calibrated yield monitors to document difference in varieties on your farm.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Swans in the Corn Field

I spotted these swans in a field near Royal Lakes in Macoupin County. 


Friday, February 15, 2013

Soybean Harvest in Mato Grosso

By Eduardo Paim:

The planting of the harvest season 2012/13 soybean, in Mato Grosso was down by 7.89 million hectares, more due to lack of rains in early planting of soybeans. This area certainly has been reduced by approximately 7 %. The state of  Mato Grosso should not produce 24 million tonnes, the first reason is that initial area was not all planted, and the second reason is that at the beginning of the harvest rains hindered us creating rotting in the soybean crop.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Food Safety Workshops

University of Illinois is giving farmers a number of opportunities to participate in Good Agricultural Practices workshops to give them training on handling food crops to prevent contamination.  The goal of the workshop is to prevent food-borne illness. This Prairie Farmer article provides more details.  In addition to on-site classes, a webinar series is also being offered.  Here are the details of the Joliet Seminar.  The Oregon, IL Seminar will be on February 19.  Here is the registration page for the Urbana Program.  The Registration for the Program in Springfield is here. Fresh vegetable and fruit growers should attend whether they are organic growers or conventional growers. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Weather Forecasting

I am still not caught up on my reading.  This was in July Reader's Digest.  It is interesting, but those of us who work outdoors really rely on the weather man.  We really want an accurate forecast so we can plan our week or even just the next day. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

University of Missouri says that it will take two years to recover from drought.

Randall Miles of the University of Missouri created a stir with a news release that said it will take 2 years to recover from the drought of 2012. I follow what he is saying to a certain extent.  I am not sure exactly what point he is trying to make.  I will concede that the US Drought Monitor generally shows drier conditions in Missouri than in Illinois, so that may support Dr. Miles premise. It is natural to be concerned about dry growing conditions, but Darrel Good pointed out last week that records seem to indicate that one extremely dry year rarely follows another.  In Illinois, our soil moisture conditions are improving to the point that crop production in 2013 will depend more on rainfall received during the growing season than on subsoil moisture at the present.  Also keep in mind that every rain no matter how small tends to infiltrate into the soil at this time of year.  We have virtually no evapotranspiration taking place until around April 1.  We still have  a lot of time and rain chances to recharge the soil.  I am not sure why he says we need 16 inches more than normal to add 16 inches of water to the soil.  It would seem to me that we need 16 inches of water to add 16 inches of water.  That is assuming no runoff, and we will have some runoff, but it will be minimal until the soil is saturated.

Jim Angel, Illinois State Climatologist posted this information about the outlook for the coming growing year. Angel also pointed out that January rainfall is above average despite a  lack of snow. Here is Angel's latest drought update as well.        
Dad always said it takes two years to dry out after a wet year.  My own unscientific observations have led me to believe there is some truth in that statement.  It might also stand to reason then, that it could take two years to fully recover from a drought.     

I tend to agree that it might take two years to get the moisture to flow in the soil as a continuum.  Just because the subsoil moisture is not connected to the groundwater does not mean we can't have a good crop.  At this point the drought is affecting river flows and wells more than crop potential in Illinois.  Yes we could use more water, but I think we also  have the potential to have a very good crop year.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cover Crops help Organic Producers

In recent blogs, I  have passed along some of the ins and outs of using cover crops.  No-Till Farmer carried this article on using cover crops in organic systems.  It seems to me that cover crops for organic growers are nearly a must.  Benefits include weed control and nitrogen management.  In addition, because most organic systems include tillage, cover crops can help preserve organic matter. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Does No-Till Really Sequester Carbon?

 Ken Olson sent me the following press release.  I have previously discussed his findings here in more general terms.  Olson has sometimes been criticized for discouraging No-till.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He knows the importance of No-Till in soil conservation and soil quality.  His concern is that claims about carbon sequestration benefits have been far over-stated or entirely misrepresented. 

Date: Jan. 31, 2013

Source: Kenneth Olson, 217-333-9639;
News writer: Debra Levey Larson, 217-244-2880;

New protocol recommendations for measuring soil organic carbon sequestration

URBANA – Increased levels of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), have been associated with the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, cultivation of grasslands, drainage of the land, and land use changes. Concerns about long-term shifts in climate patterns have led scientists to measure soil organic carbon (SOC) in agricultural landscapes and to develop methods to evaluate how changes in tillage practices affect atmospheric carbon sequestration. University of Illinois professor of soil science Kenneth Olson has used data collected over a 20-year period at Dixon Springs, Ill., to develop a new protocol for more accurately measuring the carbon removed from the atmosphere and subsequently sequestered in the soil as SOC.

“Many experiments comparing no-till to conventional tillage on similar soils have shown no-till to have higher levels of soil organic carbon,” Olson said. “So we know in general that no-till is often better than conventional tillage at building or retaining more of the organic matter in the soil, which is important to crop productivity. However, this does not mean that no-till is necessarily sequestering atmospheric carbon. It is often just losing carbon at a lower rate than conventional tillage.” This unexpected discovery was the result of Olson’s use of a pre-treatment SOC measurement method that compares change in soil organic carbon over time on the same plots using the same tillage methods. “This protocol does not assume that soil carbon pools are at steady state (remain the same over time), but measures SOC at the beginning of an experiment, at intervals during, and at the end of the experiment,” Olson said.

“Comparison studies with one treatment as the baseline (usually conventional tillage) or control and other tillage such as no-till as the experimental treatment should not be used to determine SOC sequestration if soil samples are only collected and tested once during or at the end of the study,” Olson said. The comparison method assumes the conventional tillage baseline to be at a steady state and having the same amount of SOC at the beginning and at the end of the long-term study, and this may not be true. No-till as the experiment treatment needs to be compared to itself on the same soils over time to determine if SOC sequestration has really occurred.

Olson compared two decades of data from previously eroded Grantsburg soils on 6 percent slopes to a 30-inch depth with low SOC content in an attempt to quantify the amount and rates of SOC sequestration, storage, retention, or loss as a result of a conversion from conventional tillage to a no-till system. Olson used both the comparison and the pre-treatment SOC measurement methods on the same plot area. His analysis revealed conventional tillage and no-till plot areas had less carbon (C) at the end of the study than at the beginning using the pre-treatment SOC method. According to the comparison method, no-till sequestered 4.1 tons of C per acre for a 17 percent gain during the 20 years of the study. However, the pre-treatment SOC method showed that the no-till plots actually lost 3.1 tons of C per acre, a 13 percent loss in 20 years. Thus, no SOC sequestration had actually occurred during the Dixon Springs study.

There were three major reasons why the comparison study approach was the wrong method for measuring C sequestration on the Dixon Springs plot area. First, the conventional tillage plots were not at steady state and actually lost 30 percent of the C in 20 years due to erosion and SOC-rich sediment being transported off the plots. Second, when the no-till and conventional tillage plots were sampled only once, it was not possible to determine the rate of change over time. Last, the effect of tillage equipment breaking down the soil aggregates increased the carbon available to microbial decomposition and the release of C to the atmosphere as CO.

“Field experiments must be designed to more carefully measure, monitor, and assess internal and external inputs,” Olson said. “The amount of SOC loss from soil storage during the time of the experiment needs to be subtracted from SOC gains to determine the change in net SOC storage. Further, soil laboratory and field methods for quantifying SOC concentration must be refined to reduce under- and over-estimation bias.”

Olson also recommends that the definition of SOC sequestration include a reference to the land unit.  “Soil organic carbon sequestration is currently defined as the process of transferring CO from the atmosphere into the soil through plants, plant residues, and other organic solids that are stored or retained as part of the soil organic matter (humus). The retention time of sequestered carbon in the soil (terrestrial pool) can range from short-term (not immediately released back to the atmosphere) to long-term (millennia) storage,” Olson said. The SOC sequestration process should increase net SOC storage during and at the end of a study to above the previous pre-treatment baseline levels and result in a net reduction in the atmospheric CO levels. I believe that the  phrase ‘of a land unit’ needs to be added to the definition to add clarity and to exclude the loading or adding of organic C derived naturally or artificially from external sources,” Olson suggested.

Olson concluded by saying that carbon not directly from the atmosphere and from outside the land unit should not be counted as sequestered SOC. The definition of SOC sequestration as defined with borders would mean any C already in storage and transported or redistributed to the plot area or field would have to be accounted for and does not qualify as sequestered SOC.  

“Any manure from outside the plot area or SOC-rich sediments transported and deposited from adjacent upland are just redistributed or transported C and not really sequestered SOC,” Olson said. “That C was already in storage and may in fact be released back to the atmosphere if applied to the plot. For example, decomposing manure loaded on a land unit increases the return of CO to the atmosphere and does not result in a depletion of atmospheric CO , which is the real goal. Because we often lack the ability to directly measure the total change in the atmospheric COas a result of C loading on a plot or field, we indirectly estimate it by measuring the change in amount of SOC being stored in the land unit.

“These proposed protocols are necessary to move the science forward and to attempt to address future predicted climate trends,” Olson said. “The amount of SOC sequestered as a result of alternative agricultural systems such as no-till and its effects on net SOC storage changes in the soil over time and the SOC released to the water and atmospheric pools need to be measured or calculated.”

Olson said that any future Cap and Trade program will require SOC sequestration protocols to be established. The method of measurement is critical if SOC sequestration is to be verified. “If landowners are to truly sequester SOC, they must be able to prove that net carbon gains have occurred over time in their fields and that the increased SOC remains permanently stored in their soil,” Olson said.

 “Soil organic carbon sequestration, storage, retention and loss in U.S. croplands: Issues paper for protocol development” was published online and will appear in the March 2013 issue of Geoderma.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Litchfield Soil Moisture

West of Litchfield on Friday I ran across this newly tiled field.  The good news is that the tile trenches appeared to be nicely settled which would indicate pretty good moisture.  The bad news is that I did not see any tile running although i have had reports that some tile are running in our area.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Brazil Rainfall

By Eduardo Paim:
I waited until today to send you news and new dierentes, but the rains are here every day for 3 weeks! Nothing has changed and the soybean crop continues to rot, the amount of soy spoiling is not much, but in 10 days if the sun does come out we'll have a big problem! We have abandoned farms where soybeans rotted and not because of too much  to harvest. In Argentina continues without good rains, but rain is forecast for the next days.

I added the map below.  You  can see the past 60 days accumulated rainfall in the interior of Brazil is very high.  Argentina is still dry.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Litchfield Agronomy Day

Extension Service put on a local Agronomy program today.  Usually it ends up being a repeat of other programs I have been to during the winter.  I like to go to visit with clients and potential clients.  Today, lots of information was new.  Robert Bellm spent a good bit of time discussing herbicide carry over and shared some products with potential problems.  He is most concerned about Flexstar.  Bellm suggested collecting some soils and checking it indoors by planting some of you potential crop in pots. 

Fabian Fernadez discussed revisions of removal rates for phosphate and potash.  He is lowering removal rates.  WE discussed this issue at our consultants meeting and consensus is that it is a foolish move.  Ad that to the case for soil testing every year.  Then you know.  He also suggested that producers should consider Nitrogen testing next spring to determine carry over. 

The most interesting program was by Carl Bernacchi.  He discussed his research related carbon dioxide use by corn and soybeans as a means to take advantage of high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.  They have proven that it happens.  They are now looking at was to translate the uptake into better yields.  Bernacchi thinks adaptive management is easier than trying to correct the problem.

Darrell Good did his usual good job in looking at the market outlook for the coming year.  He pointed out that a better than average year could easily lead to $4.50 corn prices in the fall.  He also talked about the likelihood of another severe drought.  His point is that this situation does not arise very often.  

Stephanie Porter lead a good discussion on managing aflatoxin.  Nobody would say that it won't be a problem this year, but they appeared to agree that the problem was mostly related to drought stress.  


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Corn Growth Stages

When reading advice about crop protectants, fertilizers and crop growth progress, producers need to understand the terminology.  Winter is always a good time to study.  Prairie Farmer ran a brief and simple article that I would like to share explaining corn development stages.  The drawing in this article depicts both the vegetative and reproductive stages.  University of Wisconsin offers more information about what is going on at the various stages.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Consultants meeting

Brookside Consultants from Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee met in Shipman today.  Topics of discussion were:
  • Foliar nutrients to help Clients Make Money in a Drought
  • Certified Livestock Manager Update
  • Biologicals
  • Rib Eye steak sandwiches, potato salad and some other stuff
  • Using the IPAD for Sampling and Consulting
  • Adaptive Nutrient Management 
  •  Building an Effective Farm Management System
  • Trending Soil Test Information  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Cover Crops Day Two

Cameron Mills kicked off the morning session I attended on Day 2. Mills talked about his use of annual ryegrass.  He stressed the need to plant when it is time to plants.  He says sometimes he might need to run some green through the combine, but that does not bother him much.  He has 30 inch row corn and narrow beans.  He likes drilling if possible but many times it is not.  He says vertical incorporation is ok with high residue, but it is not his favorite.  Likes airplane seeding. Seeding time is when soybeans start turning yellow, but before September 15.  Timing is critical and earlier is better. Winds need to be 7 mph or less.  He says not to mix seeds that have different sizes and weights such as peas and annual rye. His take home points about flying are:
  • Timing is critical
  • Soil condition when flying  is important
  • Plane elevation and pilot treetop level
      Mike Shuter had high clearance equipment that he uses for seeding, applying Nitrogen and seeding cover crops. He says your herbicide program needs to be geared to cover crops.

Dave Stutzman is using vertical tillage to incorporate cover crop seed blended with DAP.  He likes an Airflow spreader but says custom spreading works better with harvest.

Terry Taylor reaffirmed the need to seed early.  He says wheat is not a good cover crop because of disease problems. He says to use cereal rye instead. He added that producers need to make sure the implement you use for seeding will throw seed properly.

Ron Althoff pointed out that radishes need 60 day growing season.(Plant early).  He says ryegrass is a no brainer for cattle farmers.  Someone asked about roots in tile systems.  He says that it happens but.  Ryegrass roots are fine so not a problem. Radishes sometimes clog tile.  Althoff says that if you want to use Crimson clover as a nitrogen source you need to plant corn later because it does not grow in fall much.  The spring growth is what fixes the largest amount of nitrogen.  He says a good choice for first timers is oats and radishes. Others said first timers should try cereal rye.

Joel Gruver talked about his research with organic farming and cover crops.  He is renting machinery from local growers to simiulate real conditions.  Precision cover cropping is the strategic placement of cover crops. He says that cover crops are multifunctional. Gruver’s Cover crop management summary points are:
  •  Avoid haphazard management
  •  Anticipate planting windows
  •  Match species with objectives
  •  Make sure seeding equipment is ready
  •  Confirm seeding availability
  •  Identify realistic termination method
  •  Allocate labor 
  •  Have contingencies
Gruver suggested looking at Midwest Cover Crops Council website and using their decision tool.

Allen Williams is a farmer who is using farming systems comparison trials.  He has lots of covercrops comparison trials.  Williams would be an excellent resource for a beginner.  He is using organic and conventional farming methods.  He says if he gets in trouble on the organic fields and uses a rescue treatment, it only takes him 3 years to get the organic certification back. 

Ron Moore of the Illinois Soybean Association discussed the need for high quality soybeans.  That means high protein and high oil high yield.  He says they are focusing on three legs of sustainability; economic - environmental – social. Environmental performance is only one step. Moore shares a graphic on improvements in soybean sustainability.  He also suggested that farmers can use the Fieldprint-calculator to assess sustainability. 

The Agenda gives biographies of all the speakers and additional information.  Also be sure to click on all the links for more information.  

Points I took away from the conference:
  • Cover crops are all about soil microbiology
  • The goal is living roots all year
  • Cover crops require the same attention to detail as cash crops - maybe more
  • Match species with goals
  • Cover crops seem to be a perfect enhancement to no-till systems
  • One of the speakers  said to find a mentor or start a support group
  • Even though we talk about soaking up excess nitrogen fertilizer, the N may not be available in the next crop year unless there is a legume in the mix
  • Farmers need to do a lot of research before jumping in feet first
  • Long term cover crop adherents are still learning too

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cover Crops Day One

I have been asked a number of times recently what I know about cover crops.  Unfortunately until I attended a recent conference in Decatur Illinois, I had to respond that I know almost nothing.  I will try to sum up the gems of wisdom I picked up.  The conference kicked off with Dan Towery, Terry Taylor and Mike Plumer conducting an earlybird session that they called cover covercrops 101.  They gave a general summary of growing cover crops including details on what to plant and why.  Jim Gulliford of Soil and Water Conservation Society summed up their presentations by saying that “The goal is still the corn and soybeans.”

Doug Hanson of Pro-Harvest seeds kicked off the afternoon session.  Doug uses cover crops on his 80 acres farm to support a cow calf operation. One of his topics was cereal rye grazing.  He also uses oats and peas seeded in Mid-March to be grazed in early summer.  Annual ryegrass and white clover were used over seeding on pasture.  He worked it in with chain link and add alfalfa to the mix in May. Hanson wants a root in the ground 365 days for improved soil health. It cost him $8000 including some one time only costs to take off $9000 in forage.
Cameron Mills said he makes $1500 per acre in soybeans and cover crop rye forage.  He also got some nitrogen management benefit.  He says he got into cover crops because it made him more money.

Terry Taylor said his cover crops support microbes and beneficial macro invertebrates such as nematodes and earthworms.

Hal Brown says he is using oats and or crimson clover to boost radish growth.

Barry Fisher says we are trying to make happy soil.  A quality no-till system
needs a greater range of pathways for primary production and ecological processes. He say that researchers have a difficult time with cover crops because it is hard to have replicated research on a dynamic system.  He says more carbon in soil means less in atmosphere.  We are using atmospheric carbon to build organic matter.
Fisher says there are two cows worth of microbes in soil; Gotta feed the cows.  Rhizosphere is the area surrounding plant roots.  He says Albrecht found that it took 26000 gallons of water to support a crop on infertile soils.  It took only 5600 gallons  for fertile soils. No-till beat minimum till by 40 bushels per acre in  some of the driest areas this year.  Fisher says that cover crops can speed up the implementation of no-till.  He says that using cover crops creates a system of relentless pursuit of soil health.  He responded to a question about manure usages with a recommendation to look into low disturbance manure injection.   

Jim Hoorman introduced us to the term Ecological Farming. He says it combines no-till and cover crops. Hoorman says that microbes process 90 percent of energy in soils. He says that Natural soils give off sugar to feed microbes.  Keeping a continuous living cover on the soil helps to mimic nature.  His records show that Organic Matter has gone from 0.5% 15 yrs ago to 4.5% because microbes harvest and recycle nutrients.  Hoorman asked if anyone had ever seen how a cleared fence row will have much healthier crops than the surrounding cropland.  He suggested that we need to build organic matter in field instead of depleting fence rows.   

Hoorman says that nitrogen efficiency is about 30-40%.  He says that cover crops prevent loss of nutrients in micro pores.  He wants producers to us cover crops to mimic prairie. He discussed the importance of micorrhizae and how cover crops support them. He also discussed how Carbon to nitrogen ratios greater than 20 tie up nitrogen. 

The Agenda gives biographies on all the speakers.  Click on all the links for more detailed information.