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Friday, February 28, 2014

Watershed Planning

One of my most interesting activities as an NRCS employee was work in watershed planning.  A watershed is defined as all the land draining to a particular point in a stream or body of water.  As I am nearly caught up on my reading, I am back to March of 2013.  Today I read "The Upper Chester River Watershed: lessons learned from a focused, highly partnered, voluntary approach to conservation." 

NRCS and local soil and water conservation districts try to partner with other local interest groups and individuals to come up with locally viable ways to address resource concerns in the watershed.  Watersheds almost always cross political boundaries and have multiple land uses within them.  In order to get things accomplished a good deal of cooperation is necessary.  My advice on the topic is that when yo are invited to participate in such groups, take advantage of the opportunity.  Farmers almost always sit on the committee.  Usually everyone located in the watershed is invited to participate in public commenting.  You are missing a good chance to make the voice of agriclture heard if you do not participate. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Help for Honey Bees

One of the topics at our CCA convention in December was honey bees.  We hear a lot about neonicotinoids as a cause of honey bee decline, but that is only a piece of the puzzle.  Prairie Farmer released an article today about a USDA program to help farmers promote a healthful Honey Bee population.  Bees are a very necessary part of agricultural production.  Check with your local NRCS office to see if you can help protect honey bees. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Interesting Day

I spent a good bit of my morning today watching a customer who is retrofitting his planter with Precision Planting technology.  He is using their monitors, downforce controls, and meters.  It was very interesting how his crew reduced every task to some sort of and assembly line system. 

John Deere Planter

V-Set Meters

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rain Slowing Soybean Harvest in Brazil.

By Eduardo Paim:
Here in Mato Grosso all are now worried about the rains that did not stop falling ( two weeks); there are already producers who are losing because they can not harvest soybeans and grain is sprouting in the pod. I do not know yet say how much percentage is lost, but we need sunshine ! There are predictions of sunshine to this fourth forward , we hope ! The corn planting remains stalled because producers can not harvest soybeans in order to plant those fields to corn .
Freights have been very expensive because the rains have made ​​many potholes . I'm spending on average 1 hour to go 12 miles to get to the area where I grow chickens and dairy cattle.With good roads it was done the route in 25 minutes .
Below is a photo of a road MT , this is Brazil COPA .

I'm not speaking ill of Brazil, I just wish that one day the government wake up from their deep sleep and look at what matters. We should enjoy when they care for the treasure of the nation, its people!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Growing Corn after Corn

I have written on the subject before, so maybe this is review.  Researchers have pretty good evidence that there is a 10% yield drag if you grow corn after corn.  This does not mean that it will occur every year.  It also does not mean that corn after corn is a bad idea.  It just means factor it in.  It also means it is important to do everything right.
  • Corn after corn will work best in well drained fields.
  • Nitrogen management is critical.  Split applications may be helpful.
  • In the row fertilizer may be helpful.
  • Control rootworms
  • Control weeds
  • Scouting is more critical, for disease pressures as will as insects.
  • If you had hard to control diseases like Goss's Wilt last year, you should probably rotate away from corn.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Will Alfalfa Make it Through Winter

Winter kill in alfalfa is something to consider as we go into spring planting season.  Usually, vigorously growing stands of alfalfa with good fertility levels can make it through the winter.  Adequate levels of potassium and lime will help.

We are really just getting to the critical period for alfalfa.  repeated freezing and thawing can cause heave.  So far we have been mostly cold, so heave should be minimal.  Producers need to keep an eye on alfalfa for the nest month to see how it handles the coming weather.  In the photo below, you can see the taproot has been lifted out of the ground 2 to 6 inches.  Some of it is green, but it is unlikely to survive into the summer.

Damaged alfalfa is a good candidate for corn, because it will contribute a good bit of nitrogen to the crop.  Some temporary replacement may be needed to make up for lost forage.
Alfalfa Heaving

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Crop Insurance Time

We are closing in on the time to purchase crop insurance.  This Corn-Soybean Digest  article has information to think about and page 2 has links to decision tools.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Corn planting progress in Brazil

 By Eduardo Paim:

Talking to producers of Mato Grosso here they said that planting season maize was not very good this week because it rained a lot; they could not harvest soybeans in order to plant corn. I say that planting corn had delayed this week by 25% in our state.
We forecast of sunshine for next Tuesday onwards. Since the producers are unable to plant corn prices has improved internally, on average 3% compared to last week prices. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Check on Grain Condition.

Experts recommend that stored grain be checked often to avoid serious spoilage issues.  Checking on stored grain regularly becomes even more important when the seasons change.  Prairie Farmer recently published some tips from Pioneer DuPont.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wheat Condition

I traveled south to Waterloo, Columbia area today.  I was seeing lots of wheat fields for the first time in maybe a month.  Lots of the fields looked brown.  I did walk out into one field and close up the plants look OK.  Roots appear to be healthy, so I expect the wheat to grow when temperatures warm up.  The field was very muddy because there is still frost below the surface. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Soil Health

Today we attended an NRCS forum on soil health.  The forum was a web cast from the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Omaha, Nebraska that was underway.  NRCS has a big push underway to market cover crops and no-till farming for soil improvement and conservation.  This can sometime be a hard sell in areas like Illinois where we have productive and resilient soils. In the past economic data has been sketchy and there has been definitive test for soil health.  As cover crops work toward mainstream, research is being done on economics.  We heard from some speakers last month who mentioned a net gain of $30 to $200 from cover crops.  A soil test has also been developed called the Solvita soil quality test than can be used to look at soil quality based on biology of the soil.  We are associated with Brookside Laboratories in New Bremen, OH and they are one of three laboratories who current are capable of running the test.  We plan on running the test on selected samples in the coming season and learning how to use and interpret it.  After the presentations in Nebraska, we had a discussion of the issue with the local people in attendance.  In a meeting of about 25 we were among 5 who were non-government people.  For more information on Soil Health, click on the  link for NRCS material. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Update From Brazil

By Eduardo Paim:

Here in Brazil the rains returned in the drier areas since last Thursday (02/13). The problem now is that the rain is falling every day and does not let farmers harvest soybeans that were ready very fast due to many sunny days. Still not harming the quality of soy, but is leaving the beans lighter because soy wet and dry .. wet and dry all day and we cannot harvest. 
The area planted to maize is progressing well, looks like we'll have much corn crops. 10% of soybean and corn plant 9% in the same time it is harvested.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Planting Soybeans Early

Early planted soybeans have been getting some press in the last few years and probably with good reason.  We all know the research on corn planting dates points to better yields on early planted corn.  Michigan researchers have had similar results with early planted soybeans.  When I was young, someone asked my Dad when was the proper time to plant corn.  He said when the soil is ready.  That is generally true, except maybe in 2012 when corn planted before the last week of March was disappointing.  Fortunately that was probably a once ina lifetime experience.  In general, we plant corn first and for good reason.  It stands up to frost better than soybeans. 

My only cautions about early planted soybeans would be:
  • Treat seed
  • Don't plant in excessivley wet soils
  • Look at the weather forecast to see if soils are likely to warm above 60 degrees to help with germination.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Today I attended a class in Bloomington on Unmanned Aerial Systems.  Chad Colby was the instructor and he did an excellent job.  He went through regulations and also discussed products and pricing.  For the time spent, He was very thorough.  You may recall that I see the potential of the product for agriculture and own one.  Right now it is not legal to use one to make money.  Individuals can own and fly a drone as long as they do not violate airport airspace and they keep it below 400 feet.  I wrote more particulars earlier in the year.  If you get a chance to sit in on one of Chad's Classes, it is well worth the time and money.

Chad Colby

Quadricoptor Flown

Everyone in the class got to fly

Friday, February 14, 2014

Voluntary Conservation Works

Voluntary Conservation is having a positive impact on discharges from agriculture land in the Chesapeake Bay Area.  This Article in No-till Farmer quantifies the results.  I suppose some would argue that regulation is also involved in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, but the fact remains that USDA's conservation programs can play a vital role in helping producers implement practices that improve water quality for everyone.  I am not sure that the targeted fund made it into the new farm bill, but funding was preserved for conservation programs in the farm bill.  While Chesapeake may be a model for larger scale work, funding to address bigger project will also need to be greater in order to have an impact.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Passing of the seasons

North of  Litchfield still looks very wintery.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tighter Margins Coming

I am finally caught up to to current on my winter reading program.  Recent Ag publications have run lots of advice about controlling costs and managing the business end of the farm.  Farmers and some advisers are facing some real challenges as we move into this potential period of tighter margins.  I am sure lots of decisions have been made about the coming year, but maybe there are some places that you can cut back even in 2014 and certainly beyond.

One challenge is weed control and herbicide resistance.  If you have lots of weed pressure, weed control is not the way to cut back, but you still need to be smart about managing weeds.  Research has consistently shown that weeds cost yield.  The late Dr. Marshal McGlamery always reminded farmers that one year of seed gives 7 years of weeds.  In other words if you don't control weeds this year, it will bite you in the butt for many years to come.  Be sure and follow recommendations to use soil applied residual herbicides and multiple modes of action.  Also look at controlling rouge weeds by hand weeding.  A 4 wheeler could save a lot of steps in the hand weeding process.

A step that will either make you money or save you money depending on your situation, is to know your fertility levels.  Soil testing more than 2 years old is just not adequate for the kind of decisions you might want to make.  Consultants are readily available to help you with soil fertility if it is difficult to sample in a timely manner.  Your consultant should also able to tell you how to get the most bang for your buck on your fertilizer program.  Also keep in mind that even with lower fertilizer prices, you could easily save money by using variable rate technology to spread fertilizer and lime.  Spreading lime with variable rate technology also assures that your soil chemistry will be correct so that nutrients, especially micro-nutrients are available.

Another thing to look at is tillage.  Even if you are not ready to no-till, you should still ask yourself if a  particular tillage pass is needed.  If a ready to plant field gets rained on, there may be no reason to till it again before planting.  Plant in that stale seedbed.

The added expense of planting cover crops may not look like a good idea, but consider the long term benefits.  Cover crops can build organic matter.  Legume cover crops can help you cut back on your nitrogen bill.  Cover crops may also be a key to reducing the effects of compaction.  Cover crops might help you implement a no-till system and cut back passes across the field.

Another thing to look at is cutting back on nitrogen.  The N-Rate calculator shows you the maximum return to money spent on nitrogen.  A quick look says that that at $700 per ton anhydrous and $4 per bushel corn shows you should be using 160 pounds actual N.  Nitrogen testing and sidedressing can also help you cut back on N.  Should you go to variable rate nitrogen?  If you are have a techology you are comfortable with, I would say, go for it.

Some of the pundits point out that family living expenses may be a place to look at cutting back.  In order to get buy-in, you may need to involve the whole family in those decisions or at least make sure they know why the decisions are being made.

Decisions about machinery purchase and technology purchase may also require more thought than in the past few years.  Money spent on maintenance may extend the life of machinery and be another one of those long term decision.

Bottom line is scrutinize everything. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Precision Ag Terminology

There are so many terms in precision ag that are acronyms, that it is sometimes intimidating to someone try to decide what their needs are.  There are so many acronyms that it almost looks like government bureaucrats came up with this stuff.  Well maybe they did come up with some of it. Ag Leader  put together this brief article , Making Sense of Precision Ag's Alphabet Soup to help you out.  I could not do better myself so just click on the link. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sweet Corn Populations

Sweetcorn is a significant crop in Illinois.  Some farmers grow and sell it for the fresh retail market and others grow it for processors.  While the acreage is not huge in comparison to field corn and soybeans, you can't travel too far in the summer without seeing someone selling sweetcorn.  I read and article today out of the University of Illinois where researchers are looking at competition of sweetcorn plants with each other as well as with weeds.  It is interesting that varieties that tolerate weeds well do not necessarily respond well to higher sweetcorn populations.  They estimate that higher populations could mean and extra $200 per acre in value to farmers.  In much the same way that different corn varieties respond differently to higher plant populations, sweetcorn does the same.  They expect future research to look into both weed tolerant and high population tolerant varieties. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Worldwide Nitrogen Management

Whenever I find a major article in the popular press on agriculture, I like to comment on it.  This article on nitrogen in the National Geographic is actually fairly well done.  It discusses the need for nitrogen fertilizers in order to grow food in the amounts needed to sustain our population.  It also discusses the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers in some places.  One of the suggested methods to control nitrogen escaping from crop production is to grow food organically.  Organic growers maintain that they can grow high yielding corn organically, but they are either using lots of manure, or they are using legumes to produce the nitrogen.  First off, there is not enough manure to provide all the nitrogen.  The second problem is that some manure is not properly balanced in nutrients.  If you put enough hog manure on the crop for all of your nitrogen, you end up with too much phosphorous.  That is also an environmental concern.  The legumes are less likely to create an imbalance, but adding a year of clover to a rotation will reduce productivity as well.

One of the reasons I write so often about nitrogen management is that I think we need to manage it better through testing, timely applications, and variable rate technology.  Good nitrogen management is important both economically and environmentally.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cover Crops Presentation

The newest SoilRight consultant made a presentation on cover crops today at SoilRight world headquarters in Shipman today.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Filter Strips Reduce Atrazine and Metolachlor Pollution

With glyphosate resistance, the need to go back to residual herbicides has become apparent.  The downside of residuals, is that they can get into our surface water.  A recent study in Canada confirms that filter strips reduce Atrazine and Metolachlor pollution.  We thought we knew this, but it is always good to have affirmation.  As we return to residual herbicides, let's not neglect the filter strips.   In addition to the water quality benefit, filter strip are also good for wildlife.      

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dry weather and heat are hitting Brazil.

By Eduardo Paim: 
In the last 10 days, we are having problems with rain here in Brazil. We still have a lot blooming soybeans and grain filling , because planting was later. The percentage of plants that need rain is much higher compared to last year, yet we can not say that there will be reduction in production caused by drought. We need rain for the next 5 days. If this does not happen it will start to hinder development.
The lack of rain in the last 10 days came from too much sun.  In the state of Rio Grande do Sul they had reports of muds who died of heat. Here in Mato Grosso where I also have a farm, chickens are suffering from heat, everyday. We're watering the roof to help cool, the sun is very hot!
The sun these days is helping accelerate the harvest and more like 5 days we have too much soy in the stores , do not know if Brazil will achieve a good logistics , we do not have good roads and ports are bad . Soybeans available is still limited and hard fought here in RondonĂ³polis , the producer who has ready for immediate shipment soy receive U $ 24.00 per bag (soy for next week or March already has lowest price of U $ 22.40 ) . The multi are ready to bring down the prices of soybeans so that the supply increase.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Snow Pusher

I am a bit off topic today, but what the heck, it is winter and we have had a lot of snow.  I got tired of shoveling snow and decided to see if I could make something inexpensive to push my snow.  It is a 2 X 4 sheer of plywood and some 2 X 4's bolted to the hitch on my 4 wheeler.  It needs a bit of perfecting but it worked OK till I hit some of the ice piles that were still around from the last snow-fall.Yes I still had to shovel some, but it certainly made things easier and faster.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Nitrogen on Wheat

Wheat is not nearly the most widely grown crop in Illinois, but the acreage is significant.  Also significant is the potential for nitrogen runoff if it is not applied properly.  I have not seen it, but I have heard of several people applying nitrogen to their wheat in the past week.  This seems like a good idea from the standpoint of being able to get across frozen ground, but it is a bad idea from every other aspect.
  • Winter is not when the crop needs nitrogen
  • Runoff potential is high.  
  • Research shows that later nitrogen applications pay off in higher yield
Over the weekend we had over and inch of rain and most of it ran off because the ground is frozen.  That means most of the recently applied nitrogen went with it.

Research in Illinois has showed that applying nitrogen when it breaks dormancy or maybe a little after will pay off in higher yield.

My advice is to hang in there and wait. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Micorrhyzae help roots

This seems like a good follow up to my blog earlier this week about roots.  You may recall that I pointed out that roots contact about 1% of the soil, while micorrhyzae fungi contact about 10% of the soil and help bring water and nutrients to plants.  As I learn more, I am convinced that enhancement of micorrhyzae is important to carry yields to new heights.  According to No-Till Farmer a Canadian researcher is looking at inoculation of crops with beneficial micorrhyzae.  The research so far is showing that no-till enhances the survival of the beneficial fungi.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hypoxia and Nutrient Management

We have been hearing about hypoxia, or the so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico since it was first documented in 1972.  Environmentalists continue to push for a size reduction in the size of the hypoxia zone, and agriculture gets the blame for most of the problem.  This NOAA study indicates that they believe that 74% of the nitrogen load is from agriculture.  This Prairie Farmer article indicates that progress in addressing hypoxia is slow even after a 2008 plan was written to address the problem. 

This study out of Texas A and M University suggest that 25% of nitrogen in the "dead zone" is from corn and soybean production, and yet there are a lot of fingers pointing in that direction.  The main culprit is thought to be tile drainage.  A good bit of science has gone into how we can reduce nitrogen loads in tile water discharges.  Why does the nitrogen escape in our tile water?  One big reason is fall application of nitrogen.  Weather is also a big contributor.  Nitrogen losses are much higher in wet weather.  The companion article to the one above goes into particulars about nutrient loss and tile drainage.  the sidebar on that page lists best management practices that can reduce nitrogen discharges in tile water.

I would maintain that tile drainage can actually help reduce the problem in some cases because drier soils will not lose as much nitrogen.  Having said that, we still need to look to ways to make our nitrogen fertilizer more efficient and reduce losses even further.  It will be interesting to see if agriculture can work toward reducing discharges to avoid regulation. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cream Separator

This tool is located at Cracker Barrel in Decatur.  It was used to separate cream from milk.  Generally the cream was made into butter and used to trade in town.  The skim milk was mixed with ground corn and fed to hogs.  The technical name for the mixture is slop.  In the days when a cream separator was used, fresh milk was not as common as it is now because of lack of refrigeration.