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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Soil Fertility P and K

I attended a soil fertility seminar sponsored by Extension Service yesterday.  It was a telenet conference and well attended.  The presenters all gave science based, research data supported presentations.

Dr. Fabian Fernandez of University of Minnesota started the day discussing application rates and methods for Phosphorous and Potassium. He discussed the merits of banding vs. broadcast placement of fertilizer and how to soil sample in banded fields.  While I don't recall him saying it flat out, he advocated for multiple cores per sample.

He had research to support his saying that there is little difference in banding vs broadcast.  In one study he found that tillage method made a bigger difference than fertilizer placement.  Strip till did better than No-till.  He also said that you shoould not skimp on rate even if you band fertilizer.

He told us that we should avoid shortcuts when taking soil samples and use our soil test information to manage our P and K.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Weather Outlook

The big question at this time of year is whether or not we will have enough moisture to have another great crop year.  I know nothing about making those types of predictions except that we seldom string together 2 great years much less three.  A ProFarmer article quotes National Weather Service as predicting a drought in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fuel Problems in Brazil

By Eduardo Paim
Here in Mato Grosso to Conlheita is 35% on average between cities, we can say that the production could be better, at this time we talk about 51 production average of bags in the state, we were expecting average 56 bags per hectare. In the north of Mato Grosso was no hope of a better production when to harvest soybeans that was planted last, because these plants did not have problems of lack of rain in the phases of grain filling and flowering, but production is very low, contrary producers who do not understand what happened.

The strike of the trucks is causing disorders as already missing gasoline and Diesel in some cities in Mato Grosso, mainly in the north where we first began downtime. Here in Rondonopolis is already starting to run out fuel. Even with all the disorder that is causing most Brazilians supports this move because the country is entering a hole of corruption that has ever been seen in this country. Day 15/03 there will be a national strike to be the impeachment of chairs. Nor is there buying soy because exporting companies do not know when will transport soybeans are purchased.

I made a small stock of Dieesel, gas and petrol in my house.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Applying Nitrogen to Winter Wheat

I can remember  a time when nitrogen was applied to winter wheat in February.  Researchers have found that this is not a great idea.  There is some discussion about split application in wheat.  In my mind DAP applied in the fall constitutes the first application of nitrogen.  If the DAP is applied later in the fall, cold weather will help preserve the nitrogen for spring growth.  The early boost of nitrogen can increase tillering.  It is much more efficient to apply nitrogen later in the growing season.  Nitrogen can be applied well into April, putting on the crop when it is most needed.  Pioneer Seed looks at nitrogen on wheat and refers to Illinois research.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Winter Wheat Damage

After or even during a cold winter, there is always a question as to the whether or not to replace the wheat with another crop because of winter kill.  It is really way to early to even consider in Illinois.  You need to look at the wheat after it breaks dormancy to know what is best.  University of Kentucky offers advice on stand and tiller counts.  Keep in mind that if you have crop insurance you will want to consult with the insurance people before you destroy the crop and replant.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

When to Soil Sample

The short answer is, "When you can get a soil probe in the ground." There may be other things to consider, but if you are farming "new" land, that may be good enough.

We all know that good representative soil samples give us the opportunity to make fertilizer and liming decisions based on technical, scientifically obtained data.  How do we assure that data is valid enough that we do not short change ourselves on fertilizer and lime?
  • Pull soil samples in the same season every year
We usually start in Mid-March and work until crops are too tall in Mid-June.  In fall we start as soon as complete fields are harvested and continue until Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter.  We try to do the same customers at the same time of year, year after year.  Our first customer in the spring is always our first customer in the spring.  Producers tend to have similar timing in operations year after year.  It is surprising that year after year, we tend to sample the same fields on nearly the same date.  (yes I track that) 
  • Sample under similar conditions every year
This pretty much follows the seasonal reasoning.  Soil test results can vary depending on soil moisture and temperature, so we are likely to see results following a predictable pattern from year to year.

We are able to cover more acreage in the spring-summer sampling season than in the fall.  For the most part we can cover the land we want to cover better in the spring.  Individuals doing there own sampling can time sampling on their own.  In the fall, we are captives of the speed of harvest.

The graph below reflects some of the variation we see because of moisture and temperature from year to year.  It gives you a good idea of why we sample yearly.  If you do  not have frequently collected data, you never know where you might be as far as whether the soil test is higher or lower than it "should" be.

While sampling at the same time of year is important, if it has been several years since you have sampled, and you want to switch seasons, it may be a good time to switch.  Spring sampling has the added advantage that recommendations are available before harvest. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Killing Annual Ryegrass

No-Till Farmer published 8 Keys to Help No-tillers Manage Annual Ryegrass. The article says it starts with planting, but it is still timely because it talks about things like:

  • Get the water pH correct when you spray glyphosate
  • Spray to ryegrass after it breaks dormancy
  • Use an alternative herbicide if the glyphosate does not work the first time.
Click on the link to get the whole story.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Improving water quality with wetlands

As we move toward lowering the nutrient levels in our water, I expect that we will need every tool in the toolbox.  Journal of Soil and Water Conservation published an article in September on using wetlands parallel to a stream.  Researchers were from Wisconsin and found the practice to be effective.  Read about how they used enhanced wetlands for nitrogen removal in an agricultural watershed.   The practice is not a cure-all, but their data suggests that there will be streams where it is appropriate.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Year of Soil (Urban Life)

My 2015 Soil Planner has information about soils supporting urban life.  I once had the privileged of listen to Dr. Francis Hole speak and entertain on the subject of soil.  Dr. Hole's definition of soil is - "Soils is what we walk on."  That is one of the things I think of when I think of urban soils. He said that all surfaces imitate soil in some way.  One of  his examples was that a carpet imitates a lawn.  Another was that a sidewalk imitates a caliche soil.  Urban soils tend to be churned up and disturbed by human activity. Even when we use soil to support our human activity, it is still key to our lives.

The calender also mentions urban farming.  The term urban farming is gaining popular support.  While I don't believe that cities will feed themselves with urban farming, I applaud the effort.  growing things is therapeutic.  Some people like pets, I prefer plants.  I have been planting garden since I was an 8 year old 4-Her.  Growing food calms the nerves and gives a sense of accomplishment.  Not to mention the enjoyment of fresh vegetables.  There are no vine ripened tomatoes in the store.  You may find them in a roadside stand, but nothing beats growing them your self.  Continue to enjoy the year of soil. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Where are We Going with Precision Agriculture

Sorry, it has been a few days since I posted.  It is hard to have something to say every day.

Today, we had our annual meeting for our midwest consultants group.  We discussed the business aspects of what we do.  We also discussed what various big companies are doing with data management and decision making tools.  One of the things we covered was the flaws in what is being done.  I will not go into who is doing what well and not so well, but the discussion made me realize that we have a lot to learn. 

We started off with guidance and steering systems.  These systems worked better than most people imagined.  From there we went into yield mapping, variable rate fertilizer, and variable rate lime.  The precision fertilizer idea seems to be working out ok, but I have reservations about basing it on grid sampling.  I have written several times about that issue.  People also seem to want to use USDA soil survey maps for precision implementation, but I have reservations about that too. 

Then there is the idea of variable rate pesticides.  Only treat the corner of the field with the problem.  I worry that because if the problem is present in one part of the field it is likely in the whole field to some degree. 

What about variable rate nitrogen.  It seems logical, but just how do we implement that is up for grabs.  Do we use soil based modeling?  Do we use sensors?  Should it be yield based?  Can we forecast the weather well enough?  Can we collect weather data accurately enough?

Variable rate seeding seems like a no brainer, but our varieties respond to different conditions differently.  Weather comes into play as well.  Also, the various soils are good under different conditions.  If you can tell me the three month weather forecast accurately at planting time, I can do a really good planting prescription. 

Then comes the question of whether you should share your data and if you do, who should you share it with? 

We have come a long way, but we have a ling way to go.  Looking back on 10 years in the consulting business, I would not have guessed about where we are now.  I suspect in another 10 years, precision agriculture will look much different than it does now.  The consulting business is an exciting place to be.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Subsoil Phosphorous Problems

Dissolved phosphorous in our surface water remains in the news.  One of the problems with dissolved phosphorous is that it becomes a problem at relatively low concentrations.  With nitrogen applied at agronomic rates, losses cut into yields.  With phosphorous, the losses are probably having an effect on yields.  Phosphorous losses also run counter to the basics we learned in beginning soils classes.  We were taught that phosphorous does not usually  leave the field except with soil particles, ie erosion. 

CSA news this month has an article that talks about phosphorous losses from subsoil.  The article goes on to say that there is good evidence that soil drainage is a culprit.  We can prevent or reduce phosphorous losses with tillage, but then we risk erosion losses.  We solve one problem and create another.  This study does not look at soil phosphorous test levels, but other information I have seen says that dissolved phosphorous in surface water increases as soil test phosphorous levels increase.  Nutrient stratification is also an issue.  We apply phosphorous over the top, even in no-till situations, but the surface applied phosphorous then concentrates at the surface and dissolves into otherwise fairly clean runoff.

In many ways the idea of over applying nutrients to store them for later is past.
  • We need to reduce soil phosphorous levels where concentrations are high. 
  • Tillage may be a good management tool where erosion is low risk.
  • Manure needs to be applied to fields where the nutrients are need.  We can't just use the same field over and over as a disposal site.
  • Applying nutrients on frozen or show covered ground can increase the risk of nutrient runoff, even though it won't happen every time.
  • Keep soil test levels below 40 ppm Meilich 3 P.   
The above article concludes that we probably don't know enough about how to manage phosphorous to prevent problems. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Up Hill Prairie Fire

Yesterday we burned a restored prairie on a hillside.  you can see from the photo below that the flames are going high in the air and the fire is moving fast.  Uphill fires make their own wind, so when burning a hillside you need to be prepared.  We actually lit a backfire at the top of the hill first.  It was a really good burn.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Soybean Harvest Estimates in Brazil

By Eduardo Paim:

In the last seven days we have regular and good rains helping soybean crops not yet harvested. In all states of Brazil there was a lack of rain and this will certainly lead to a decline in production. News that in Mato Grosso do Sul state (next to Mato Grosso) soybean production should reduce by 50%, here in Mato Grosso are seeing average reduction of 15% in the beginning of harvest was released today.

It is too early to say the size of the reduction, since we have plantations of 60 bags per hectare, 40 bags and even 30 bags per hectare, and we are starting, failed rains early in the planting and harvesting it did start later.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Most Interesting Area I Soil Mapped

I worked on soil surveys in Madison, Lee, Bureau, and Putnam Counties in Illinois early in my career.  In my  7 1/2 years as an NRCS soil scientist I covered about 150,000 acres on foot looking at soils and attempting to map out the soils I was seeing according to the five factors of soil formation.  The area is part of Franklin Creek State Park near Franklin Grove Illinois.  Lots of geological formations converge near the center of the map.  The state park link above explains that there are three bedrock formations in the area.  The bedrock includes both sandstone 397F (Boone) and limestone 403F (Elizabeth).  Some soils have glacial till and bedrock influences 509D (Whalan) and 761F (Eleva).  361D (Kidder) is a soil formed from sandy loam Illinoisan age glacial till. 243A and 243B (St. Charles) are soils formed in loess underlain by old alluvium on a stream terrace the 570B is also a stream terrace soil, but contains more sand.  The area of 1776 (Comfrey) is a very poorly drained bottomland soil that is extremely wet because of a beaver dam in the creek. the 3451A (Lawson) and 8776 (Comfrey) areas are also bottomland soils, but they are not so wet that they could not be farmed.   To add to the extreme soil diversity of the area, The upper right hand of the map is 280B (Fayette), a well drained soil formed entirely in loess.  I spent a whole day near the center of the map looking at 160 acres of landscape that was very confusing at the time.  160 acres is normally 2 or 3 hours of work.

I don't remember every acre I ever mapped, but t his is one area I will never forget.  Some 25 years after the field experience I was sitting at a table having supper with NRCS State Soil Scientist Bob McLeese and Northern Illinois soils professor Mike Konen. Konen was tell McLeese about an interesting area he had been taking is students to because of the diversity of the soils.  As I listened to him describe the area, I realized that he was describing the area I had mapped many years before.  I told them about mapping it and how difficult it was to define the boundaries. 

It is also interesting that this ecological wonder is located less than a mile away from the Nachusa Grasslands, another ecological wonder.Click on the map below to enlarge. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

What Do we do about Dr. Oz

In November issue of Prairie Farmer Holly Spangler asks what we can do about Dr. Oz.  When you look at his education and qualifications, you would not think he would be spreading all the lies, half truths, and innuendo that he spouts.  Why he is on television is simple.  Ratings.  Why people believe him is a whole different story.  I wish I could say, but the only thing I can come up with is that he is on a mainstream television network.

People in the agriculture media, try to counter Dr. Oz's misinformation with blogs and news stories, but how many people read and or understand we are saying.  How do we get out the word in a way that the public will accept and understand.  The "and God made a Farmer"  Superbowl ad may have been the single most effective positive piece on agriculture ever.  We need more of that.  John Deere, Case IH, and other Ag suppliers need to get together and buy Supper Bowl ads every year.  It is the only way we can get our message out to the general public.  We need to promote modern agriculture in a positive way. I recently saw a Quickbooks Ad featuring a veternarian.  It is a wonderful depiction of someone in agriculture as a smart person who who loves her work. 

In addition, maybe it is time to take on Dr. Oz directly.  New Yorker Magazine and Popular Science have taken him on.  Read the Wikipedia article above.  He has been under fire since 2009.  The study published in the British Medical Journal says that 51% of his advice has no scientific backing.  Is his medical license vulnerable?  Maybe some of our farm organizations should go to the AMA.  What about a 60 Minutes expose'?  A whole segment of 60 Minutes devoted to food and nutrition seems reasonable.

We must keep trying to counter people like Dr. Oz.  There are a bunch of them out there.       

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Prairie Dogs

Today I ran across and article on Soil Change Induced by Prairie Dogs across Three Ecological Sites.  The Link is too the abstract, but the full article is available.  It is not really surprising that prairie dogs affect the soil. Animals can be a big part of soil formation in some of our soils.  Our rich prairies soils are not only affected by rodents, but by ants and worms as well.  I have seen worm casts as deep as 12 feet in well drained soils. (THat was as deep as we could get with the probe truck)  The animals mix the soil, move the nutrients, and breack down the organic matter so that nutrients are more available to plants.  Huge ant hills in prairies lead us to believe that ants also played a big role in formation of prairie soils. THe photo was taken last summer while on vacation at Caprock Canyons State Park near Quitaque, Texas. There is a large colony of prairie dogs right next to the road.  We had a great time watching them and trying to get a decent photo. 
Prairie Dog

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Improved Soil Condition is Good for Crops

The fact that improved soil condition pay off in better crops seems obvious, but South Dakota State researchers have 40 years of data to back that up.  They say the improvement is related to improved moisture availability.  In South Dakota, rainfall is an issue every year.  In Illinois, it is normal to have some moisture stress in the summer.  Greg Sauder is looking at irrigation and drainage to better control moisture issues.  I agree that we need to control excessive water, but I am not sure we realize the importance of moisture conservation too.  We can conserve moisture with cover crops and tillage practices that leave lots of crop residue on the surface. Another way to improve soil moisture availibilty ti to avoid soil compaction.  Click on the link above to learn more.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

New EPA CAFO rules

By Janette Swartz - Soilright Consultant.
I attended the EPA’s meeting on the updated CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) rules. I thought I would give an update on the notes I took from the meeting.  If there is anything to take away from the meeting it would be recordkeeping.  If you have a Certified Manure Management Plan keep records when applying manure to the fields. The first thing the EPA will ask for if they show up at your farm are your records.
They discussed some best management practices that you should implement:
·       It’s important to have the proper crop information.
·       Use realistic crop yields.
·       Know the nutrient values of your manure.
·       Use the proper agronomic manure application rates.
·       Properly dispose of any chemicals.
·       Protocols for proper spill prevention and control.
·       Annual reviews of practices.
·       Maintenance of records.
·       Maintain Soil Analysis.
·       Test manure at least once a year.

The land application fields should now be sampled twice within five years. The phosphate levels need to be maintained at levels lower than 300 pounds per acre. The new rules state manure applications are to be 50 feet from a grass waterway when applying manure unless there is a vegetative buffer. The setback from a residence for manure applications are a quarter of a mile, two hundred feet for surface waters, and a hundred feet from a tile inlet. Applications of manure on snow covered or frozen ground will require a written notice to the EPA by December 1st of that year.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Judge Rules that Manure is a Pollutant

A Federal Judge has ruled that a dairy farm in Washington is polluting ground water by over application of manure.  His ruling may change how manure application is regulated.  I suspect the case will go to the Supreme Court because the judge is ruling based on an act that specifically exempts manure application when it is used as fertilizer.  The Yakima Herald Republic seems to have the most complete story.  Click on the link. 

My comment is that farmers need to be diligent in how they manage manure and fertilizer in order to be seen as good neighbors.  In Illinois at least, Farmers must prove in their CNMP that they have enough land to properly apply the manure at rates that will minimize pollution.  The ruling also cites the fact that application records are incomplete.  One of the things we stress, is to keep good records.  One of our consultants works with a manure hauler who keeps application records on rate and location by GPS.  I am not sure how the plaintiff in this case proved that all of the pollution was caused by the dairy farm.  It seems to me that it would be a difficult case. 

This case certainly goes hand in hand with the case where the City of Des Moines is suing counties upstream for excessive nitrates in the Des Moines River. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Buy Local?

I am all in favor of buying local.  If there is a roadside stand selling something, by all means support them.  On the other hand, this Washington Post Quiz shows why buying local is not always possible.  Certain products are produce in certain areas because of economic and environmental advantages to producing a particular product in a particular area.  Take the quiz and see how you do.  I got one wrong. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Grass-Fed Milk

Consumers are faced with an ever increasing array of specialty farm products.  These products give consumers choices and give producers a chance to earn a premium for their product.  A Prairie Farmer Article this month is written about Grass-Fed Milk.  Since grass fed beef has found a niche among consumers, I am sure grass-fed milk will too.  The article does not mention intensive grazing, but that would seem to be imperative for maximum production.  I am curious if some of the pungent flavors found in some pastures come through into the milk.