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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Transect to Determine Soil Type

I did something different today.  I made a ten point transect across a field to try to determine the extent of sodium problems.  It involved deep borings, but not as much documentation as a septic tank investigation.

Sodium affected soils are common in the Southern Illinois Claypan region.  The problem is not easily treated and reduces yields greatly.  The lower picture shows that I was about half done with my boring at that point.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Grain Bin Safety

Many grain bins are still full or nearly full.  Getting the grain to te elevator safely should be a number one priority.  We all hear that we should not enter a grain bin when it is full, but just how dangerous is that?  Reader's Digest ran the story of a young Iowa farmer who was trapped in a bin. I have never read a first hand account of what it is like to be trapped.  Arick Baker's story is well done and scary.  If this does not scare you into being safe, I don't know what will.

Another thing to consider, is that local rescue squads need the bin rescue tubes for those time when something goes wrong. Here is a story about a donated rescue tube saving a life.  A rescue would be nearly impossible alone, but here are some procedures to use.  Note that turning everything off is priority one.  Shut it down even before you dial 911.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Eagle Cliff

On Saturday as I was coming home Miles Cemetery caught my eye more than usual because someone had burned the small hill prairie in front of the mausoleum. The burning helps maintain the grassland in an area that would likely revert to trees if not burned.  The evergreens are cedars.  If you click and enlarge, you will see two people standing in front of the mausoleum. Click the Link for Miles Cemetery Facebook page. This area was called Eagle Cliff by the early settlers because of the eagles nesting there. It happened that I was able to photograph an Eagle on her nest less than a quarter mile from the cliff. The nest has been there for several years.  It is less than a hundred yards from a very busy road.
Miles Cemetery

Eagle Cliff Eagle

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Water System

One of the joys of country living is the need to maintain your own water and sewer system.  The well had become clogged with fine sand and lime, so a new well was needed.  The well digger is using hydraulic force to open a hole to drop a well casing into.  It was an interesting day.  Manual labor and plumbing involved.  Neither is a favorite thing to do.  The good news is that the water system was fixed.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Breeding Plants for Organic Agriculture

The lead article in this month's CSA News is about breeding plants for organic agriculture.  Some people think that the food we eat is the way it has always been The way it is now.  One of the things that marks human social development is the move from a hinter gatherer society to an agriculture society.  Over 10,000 years ago humans began selecting seeds from superior plants in order to grow bigger, tastier, or higher yielding plants for food.   This chart has an example of selecting our brasicca crops for different valued characteristics. 

About 25 years ago, plant breeders began to work on ways to move genetic characteristics between species.  That is a rarity in natural breeding.  Time, energy and money has been concentrated on developing these transgenic crops and we now have 8 crops that carry transgenic genes. These are know as GMO crops. 

This occur ed about the same time that organically  foods started to gain popularity.  Foods may not be labelled organically grown if they are derived from transgenic manipulation.  A problem that organic producers face is getting seeds with superior genetics that do not contain transgenic material.  Now some researchers are going back to basics to help organic producers.  These plant breeders can use modern technology to check seeds for superior genetic traits even if the plants are selected by traditional breeding methods.  Click on the links for more information.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When is Too Early for Soybeans?

Sometimes we get into a situation where corn planting is done very early.  Do you jump right to soybeans?  Emerson Nafziger looked at yields in relation to planting date.  His ideal date was April 23.  Bean yields dropped off on later planted soybeans, and planting shorter season varieties did not help a lot.  Click on the link for more information.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reducing Soil Test Phosphorous Levels

Reducing soil test phosphorous levels when levels are high is an issue that relates to high levels of phosphorous in our surface water.  I read a study today out of Sweden that looked at phosphorous levels for 7 to 16 years to determine if soil test levels would be reduced if no phosphorous is added.  They found that the levels could be reduced, but not as much as removal rates might indicate.That is the good news.  The theory is that dissolved phosphorous in runoff would also be reduced.  The bad news is that dissolved phosphorous in the drainage water was not reduced.  My theory is that it takes time for the phosphorous to move down in the soil, so it will take a lng time to reduce phosphorous in the drainage water.   I would say, you should not give up.  If your P test  is over 100 ppm, you should find some other place to spread manure in order to prevent future problems.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Permit Requirements For Septic Discharges.

Maybe this is not timely, but I have not written about it, so....  New private sewage disposal regulations took effect in 2014.  Since most farmers have a septic tank and filter field, it seems an appropriate topic.  New and replacement systems need to have a soil investigation completed in order to get a permit from your county regulators.  This requirement is new in some counties.  In some counties, the soil investigation is required before a building permit will be issued.  In other counties, I sometimes do investigations as the home is being built.

Most Illinois soils are not well suited to septic tank filter fields.  Some soils have drainage issues.  Some have permeability issues.  Some have both.  One of the popular ways to overcome the limitations in the past has been to install an aeration system with a surface discharge.  Under the new law, an NPDES permit may be required if you discharge into Waters of the United States. Waters of the United States is broadly defined and interpreted so surface discharges are to be avoided where possible.  An article from FarmWeek News has more information. Click on the link.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How Deep to Plant Corn

I like two inches.  Prairie Farmer published Research done by Iowa State and Pioneer last year that shows that the depth can range from 1.5 to 3 inches.  The problem with 3 inches is that if the surfaces is crusted, It takes extra energy to get that plant our of the ground.  1.5 is fine if your seedbed is even and you don't leave any kernels on top of the ground.  If spring is coo and wet, the shallow end will be a good idea.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Subsoil Moisture

We did a septic tank investigation yesterday in Bond County.  We were on a site where water does not stand.  Subsoil was saturated at 2 to 3 feet.  Above that depth, soil was very wet. It would appear that in that area at least, we are going into spring with good to slightly excessive soil moisture. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Planter Ready?

I have not seen any planters out of the shed yet, but that time is coming.  We would like to be planting in two weeks, but that depends a lot on rainfall in that time period. With high population corn it is more important than ever to have an even stand.  Getting that planter ready may be the most important job of the cropping season.  Prairie Farmer says "Make Preseason Planter Prep Job One."  Another article suggests "Planter Prep is Easier with a Small Electric Motor."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Southern IL Wheat

I headed south today to look at some new ground I will be sampling later this spring.   Early in the week, wheat was looking pale and yellow.  It is starting to green up and look OK at this point.  Some of the stands have a few small bare patches, but overall condition is good.  It is hard to say excellent because it was planted late for the most part.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Growing Miscanthus for Bio-mass

With cellulosic ethanol plants coming on line, some farmers will be looking to grow biomass.  University of Illinois has been researching the topic for a number of years and the favorite has always been Miscanthus.  Miscanthus as grown in Illinois is a sterile crop.  It is established by planting rhizomes.  The research is clear on the amount of biomass produced.  What is not entirely clear to me is, is there any possibility that seed could get into the system somehow and create a new superweed.  Remeber multifora rose.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Above Ground Fuel Storage Rules Have Changed.

Rules for above ground fuel storage have changed recently. Your farm may be exempt, but be sure to figure it out.  Also, check out the new rules before making decisions about new storage tanks.  Farm Week News ran an article last summer.   Illinois State Fire Marshall offers information on their website.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weekend Road Trips

Saturday I went to a meeting in Champaign.  As I head north out of Hillsboro soils were looking very wet.  By the time that I was east of Taylorville, there was not nearly as much water standing in the fields.  Nothing looked dry, there was just not as much surface water.  An interesting side note was that I went past a newly tiled field in the Cerro G0rdo area where the tile were 120 feet apart.  Tile in our area is usually laid on 30 to 40 foot centers because our subsoils are much higher in clay.

Sunday we went south for a family gathering.  Wetness prevailed along I-55 and soil was very soft even walking in the lawn.  It seemed as if there was a bit of frost int the ground.  Things will firm up when the rest of the frost comes out.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Metamora Courthouse

I made a special effort on Wednesday to photograph the Metamora Courthouse.  It is now a museum.  The Metamora Courthouse is one of the few remaining where Abraham Lincoln Practiced law.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cost of Erosion

One of the problems we have in selling erosion control is that most farmers do not notice the change from one year to the next.  Iowa State University recently estimated the value of the nutrients lost by erosion.  Their estimates are based on the organic matter levels in the soil.  They estimate that the erosion can cause at much as $50 loss in a  year at a  rather modest loss level of 5 tons per acre.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Corn Crib Day

Today I went to Princeton for a meeting of one of the committees I serve on for the Illinois Soil Classifiers Association.  On the way home, weather was perfect for photography so I did several Corn Crib pictures.  Corn Cribs are a thing of the past and they are disappearing fast.  Since I was in the heart of corn country I had to stop a few time to capture history.
Bureau Co

Bureau Co

Marshall Co

Putnam Co

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Soil Moisture and Rainfall

Today I took a little roadtrip to Nashville, IL.  With melting snow and rain falling, you could think that soil moisture must be very good.  I looked up the 90 day rainfall maps on national weather Service web site.  It shows most of Illinois is normal to slightly below normal. Click on the maps to see the amounts better.  Seeing that many areas are as much as 4 inches below normal might raise a concern, but at this time of year we can catch up fairly quickly.  The few deep borings I have done this winter would lead me to believe that moisture is not a concern at all right now.  Asa always, timely summer rainfall can make a big difference for growing crops.
Last 90 days Departure from Normal

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cover Crop Tolerance to Herbicides

Last week, I wrote about planning for cover crops now.  Herbicide damage to the cover crop is one thing to look at.  Iowa State University recently published some ratings for cover crops and herbicides.  In general, cereal rye looks to be the most tolerant and Tillage radish the most sensitive.  Click the link above to read the article in No-Till Farmer.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


We took a weekend getaway to Lake of the Ozarks. On the way home we saw 5 herds of deer grazing.  The top photo is south of Timber Lake Golf course near Staunton.  The bottom on is near Hillsboro.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Is there a safe way to share data?

Is there a safe way to share data?  I don't know, but I heard a presentation from Farmer's Business Network today. The idea is very compelling.   The network can help you get more information out of your data.  It can also help you get access to other people's data.  The good news is that the actual location of your fields is never revealed.  The network was developed by farmers, and of course clever computer geeks.

The network allows for benchmarking or comparing your operation to others.  The also offer variety performance information tied to soil types.  You can upload data from previous years as well as current data.  Help is available to get data uploaded.  The first year cost is $500.

They are also making satellite imagery and a weather station at discounted rates.  I can understand anyone being leery about data sharing, but if you are interested in doing this, you might want to check it out.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Make Cover Crop Plans Now

If you are thinking about cover crops this fall, now is the time to start planning.  Chemical interactions, available seed, and timing of planting all need to be considered.  The Illinois Council on Best Management Practices is hosting a series of meetings around the state to help with  planning and decision making.  Click on the link to find one in your area.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sprayer Clean-up

As we move into an era when we are using multiple products with multiple modes of action for good weed control, we also need to pay attention to sprayer clean-out.  Iowa State University offers some tips for cleaning your sprayer.  Click on the link.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Rental Walkouts

I read an article about rental walkouts.  We have had rumors of a few farmers walking out on high rent leases.    What do you do when your rental rate is going to keep you from making a profit?  I can see reasons for wanting to revise a lease in our current price climate.  What do you do as the landlord?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Soil Fertility - Nitrogen

I think nitrogen management may be the topic I have written about most. In our seminar on Friday, the most covered topic was nitrogen management. Everyone wants to manage nitrogen in such a way that they maximize corn yields.  With concerns about Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie, and Gulf Hypoxia, good nitrogen management is also needed to be environmentally sound in our practices.  In addition, many people are concerned about the nitrous oxide released into the atmosphere.

Testing for nitrogen to determine rates can be done in a number of different ways.  Our Soil Health Test can help determine how much nitrogen release to expect from the soil.  The Presidedress Nitrate Test can help determine if additional nitrogen is needed at sidedress time, or at any time you can apply.  The stalk nitrate test, done after black layer, can help determine if the crop had too much, too little, or enough nitrogen available to take the crop to maturity.  Nitrogen sensors are available if you are comfortable with them to do rescue treatments on wet soils.

Setting a base rate is also a challenge.  Emerson Nafziger made a good case for using the Nrate calculator to initially determine how much to apply.  He did present some information to show that producers can come up just a bit short with the Nrate calculator.  One way to adjust for that issue would be to go with the maximum rate on the chart instead of the average rate. I was not overly impressed with the results of using the Adapt-N program.  The bottom line is, some producers should be looking to low nitrogen rates to be more environmentally sound.  If you are still looking for ways to cut back on inputs this year, the Nrate calculator might help you make sound decisions about the economics of your nitrogen rates.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Meteorological Spring - Passing of the Seasons

This is looking south toward the Litchfield weigh station on I-55.  It is a view of the prairie between I-55 and old Route 66.  While today represents meteorological spring, It looks pretty wintery.  I finally decided on this site for my passing of the season photos this year.  Some of the prairie is restored and some is native.  IDOT messed it up somewhat by cleaning out the ditch running through it.