Crop Scouting

Corn harvest is all but over for us except for the last 25 acres of corn that is still in the 18-20% moisture range.  I thought it would go Saturday and got fooled when the yield monitor wouldn’t go below 17.5 .  So we sit and wait on that field to dry down and hope it will stand, which I don’t think is going to be a problem because the stalks look like trees out there.  

We are still a 0% on soybean harvest here.  The leaves have fallen off about 40% of our crop but there is still a lot of green.  Everyone forgets that we planted all double crops this year behind the wheat which has contributed to our lack of soybean harvest progress.

Of note this fall is a couple of oddities or at least oddities to me.  First a six inch increase in elevation seems to indicated a 75 bu/ac increase in yield on the flat fields.  The difference between the low ground and high ground is remarkable.  It is also worth noting that this is only true on the corn on corn fields and not the other corn after bean flat fields.  That is definitely something to cogitate on this winter.

Secondly the same corn planted on the same date has greatly different moisture levels by just crossing the road.  I replanted most of the corn on corn field the same day with the same number I planted on the last 30 acres.  Yet there is a 6% increase in moisture on the last 30 acres vs. the replanted corn on corn.  Again go figure that out.

I am sure when I get into the soybeans that I will be scratching my head as well.  Beans planted on 13 July into pure hog wallow mud, they shouldn’t make a thing but they don’t seem to be look to bad from a casual scout.

I read with much loathing how the American Society of Agronomy/ICCA Board is going to make the Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg) certification part of the Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) program.  Very disappointing, but expected, knowing how much control the fertilizer dealers have in the ASA/ICCA anymore.

The ICCA board continues to, in my opinion, to work at destroying all other agronomist certifications while promoting and selling fertilizer sales people as professional agronomists at the expense of all others.  They have now succeeded with killing off the CPAg by taking a higher standard and making it part of a lower standard  I suspect they will work on the other soils certifications in the future as well.

The CPAg was really the only certification for professional agronomists and not those who were trying to make a buck pushing a product.  There is no certification for those who are not tied to sales other than some of the independent consulting organizations who offer a “jacked up” certification program that is pretty much a joke as well.

The whole “A CCA can be TSP’s for NRCS” line is also bogus, as many of the plans done by fertilizer dealer CCA’s in this area were rejected because they can’t follow directions or make sound agronomic recommendations.  Plus, there is very little TSP work do be done with most all agencies out of money.

Most of the CCA continuing education credits are done in-house by the big chain dealers so their getting sales training and calling it education.  Illinois CCA is an even bigger joke as they don’t even publish or give notice of meetings where CCA credits are available, other than their own convention.  Just look at their website. They haven’t updated meetings since 2008/2009 and haven’t updated it at all since the last state CCA convention.  So the state board does little to help CCAs or CPAg’s that are not affiliated with a dealer get any continuing education credits.

Yes, I am a CPAg, an unhappy CPAg after reading this announcement.  I have also been a CCA for almost 20 years, I think.  I will have to very seriously rethink renewing my certifications and membership in the ASA this year.  There is little reason to be certified anymore.


Thought I would show a couple of pictures of two different corn crops.

Both Fields were planted on the same day, May 13.  Both fields were fall sub subsoiled with Field A V ripped and Field B an inline ripper.  Field A was sidedressed with anhydrous on June 6 while Field B was preplant anhydrous on April 10.

Field A was worked twice with a field cultivator and rolling basket twice while Field B was worked with one of those “chopper/slicer – no till/min till” tools once and then once with a field cultivator and basket combo.

I cant speak to what the corn variety is in each field but they both are hybrids from the same company.

I pulled PSNT on both fields today.  These two fields are across a field road from one another.  And while the pictures might not do it justice, there is a world of difference in the two this afternoon.

Field A, while it hasn’t grabbed the N applied yet, has a much greener color than Field B.  Field B has some interveinal chlorosis that could be S defency.  Field B was also leaf rolling this afternoon while Field A wasnt.  That cold be just a hybrid specific charastic or not, but it wasn’t that hot nor the weather you would expect to see leaf rolling in today.

You can see that both fields are about the same height.  What you cant see is that Field A probed easier than Field B.  That is in part due to the action of the knives in sidedressing.

I pulled PSNT samples to see A) how much N was left in Field B and B) to see how much N actually got applied in Field A.  I will have a follow up report on the N rates and comments on that in the next report.  I will try to follow these two fields through the growing season and make a report on their progress when I can.

Ended up having to replant about 25% of what I had planted yesterday.  I say replanted, I went in and spotted in.  The almost 4 inches of rain last week pretty much killed the corn anywhere it ran across the fields.

For this and for planting the last 30 acres, of which was still pretty wet, even after being worked, I used the old 6 row planter and little 70hp tractor so I could tiptoe over the wet areas and also use all the no till attachments on the planted to do a better job of planting even in the worked heavy ground.

I jokingly say “old school” as I am sure I am the only person in this part of the world who is running such small equipment these days.  But the old 12 row and Magnum are just to big and heavy and cause to much compaction in these conditions.

I was slow going, both in replanting and in planting but it did a very nice job and even planted better than it did the first time.

Now the corn that is up gets to roast in the 100 deg sun for the next two days as we go from wet and cool to very hot and dry.

Epic Fail in so many ways the last few days, topped off by this morning.

Epic Fail 1:  Coyote at same place as kill shot on the one the other day.  In my haste to get the shot off I doped the scope to 200 yards and held dead on.  Only I didn’t adjust the elevation turret, I adjusted the parallax focus for 200 yards.  Result….yep you guessed it, a gun shy coyote now roaming the neighborhood.

Epic Fail 2:  All that corn I got planted 10 days ago, well after the three inch rain event and follow up 1 inch rain event last week, about half of it needs to be replanted/spotted in.  Ground is still to wet to do that….maybe Thursday.  I hope.

Epic Fail 3:  No corn sprayed since planting due to high winds and rain.  Result, weeds growing when and where corn wont.

Epic Fail 4:  First 30 acres of corn planted is now showing N defenciey.  Needs sidedressed but tractor for sidedressing is on the planted.  Plant first, I hope then sidedress N.


Thanks to Luke Baker, Agronomist at BLI for contributing to this post.

Just a follow up on the N testing and the trend we are seeing here in Southern Illinois.  I continue to see PSNT (Pre Sidedress Nitrogen Test, the nitrogen test I am running to test for nitrate and ammonium N) return at values less than half the original amount applied.  I have even seen samples return that are within the range of what we would see as “background noise” or what we would expect to see from a DAP application or from residual N from a legume.

Again this continues to be true of Anhydrous, Urea or Liquid, stabilizer or no stabilizer.  The fields tested so far have ranged from those fields not planted or just planted to fields where the corn is ~ankle high or about three-four leave stage.  N has been applied anywhere from mid March through Mid to late April prior to the rains at the end of April. I attribute this to mainly two factors:  Soil temperatures above 60 deg F and half a years worth of rainfall over a two week period.

There have been claims that the pre-sidedress nitrogen test (PSNT) does not pick up on N that has been applied with N-Serve. This is wrong.  All N-Serve does is “poison” microbes to stop nitrification.  The PSNT measures ammonium and nitrate in the soil, thus, we will be able to measure any nitrate and ammonium that was applied as fertilizer because N-Serve only influences the microbiology.  This is also true of other stabilizer for urea or liquid N.  They do not keep the N from being detected in the testing procedure.

Could there have been loss of spring applied ammonium treated with a stabilizer?  Most certainly.  In a study done near Brownstown, Illinois (this is available on the N-Serve website) anhydrous was applied on March 15th and April 1st.  Samples were taken on for ammonium and nitrate on May 13th and the found that for the March applied N 53% of the total was in the nitrate form when treated with N-Serve.  This N is now available for loss.  However, this is better than the sample not treated with N-Serve where 100% of the ammonium was all ready in the nitrate form.  For the April application, both N-Serve and no N-Serve treatments showed a conversion of ammonium to nitrate of about 50%.  In this case the N-Serve did not out perform just anhydrous alone.

Was there loss this spring?  More than likely yes.  How do we know? When PSNT’s come back low we know there was a loss.  For example, if 200 pounds of N was applied in April and the PSNT results come back 20 ppm nitrate and 5 ppm ammonium there was loss.  Typical background levels of soil nitrate and ammonium are aroud 5 to 8 ppm for nitrate and 1 to 4 ppm for ammonium.  The field that had 200 pounds of N put on is now only showing 100 pounds of N (20 ppm + 5 ppm x 4 [4 is the depth factor] = 100 pounds of N per acre).  Also, if the N-Serve was still being effective we would see much higher ammonium levels (25 to 40 or more ppm of ammonium) than we did in the above example.

Once N is in the nitrate form it can rapidly be lost to leaching and denitrification under saturated conditions (which you guys here in Southern Illinois had for many days at the end of April first portion of May).  Most of the PSNT analyses that I have looked at from Southern Illinois appear as if farmers are going to come up short on N even though they applied 150 to 200 pounds of N as anhydrous with a stabilizer.

In fact, some samples have had complete loss of N because the PSNT is showing only normal background levels of soil N (8 ppm of nitrate and 1 to 2 ppm of ammonium). In these soils, another 150 pounds or so is likely to be needed for good corn yield.  These fields have corn that was just planted or just coming up.

Do I need more N?  Most likely yes. In my above example showing 100 pounds of N per acre, 80 of those were in the form of nitrate.  If the weather continues wet this N can be lost rather quickly too.  One recommendation that I heard was to “fly on” urea at tasseling.  This would give you quite a bit of bang for you buck.  However, you need rainfall to get the urea into the soil.  If the weather turns dry…as I heard that it might the urea would just sit on the surface and volatilize (be lost to the air), which does your corn no good.  Side dressing N now or later with a high boy so that it gets into the soil is a much better option.  If sidedressing now, it may be wise to use a stabilizer to limit N loss if weather is expected to stay wet for another few weeks.

Who needs Vegas when you can be a farmer?  Don’t guess or rely on the past to assume what is left in your fields.  This year you are going to be very short.

Don’t guess, soil test.


Hope to get back to normal posting next week. Just about wore out switching between implements and jobs this last week. But I did get most of my corn planted. But is ugly farming.

Sunday afternoon I went out and did a little digging in the corn I got planted on Thursday.  I am not a patience person…big surprise there to those who know me.  I took along my camera and took some pictures and thought it would be good to explain some of the process of how corn grows.  This will not be your college text book explanation so please hold your criticism for my Southern Illinois slant on the agronomics of corn development.

Corn seed begins germination when the seed contains at least 30% moisture (as in it absorbs enough moisture to become 30% saturated) and the soil temperature is above 50 deg F.  The combination of the two is a trigger mechanism to cause germination.  The soils temp is above 50 and I am pretty sure we have enough moisture to get the corn to 30%.   This is usually noticeable by the seed swelling.

The thing to emerge from the corn seed is the radicle root, followed by the coleoptile shoot with has enclosed the plumule (first leaves and growing point of the corn plant). Emergence of the radicle happens first and allows the young seedling to anchor in the soil and obtain an adequate supply of water and later obtain both water and nutrients. The radicle is the first of four major root systems to emerge and is basically done when the growing point reaches the soil surface.

To emerge, the first internode on the corn plant called the mesocotyl and it elongates toward the soil surface and continues until the coleoptile reaches light.  This is called or referred to as the VE stage or emergence.  More on the V stages of corn in later post.

At the VE stage, the growing point is normally 1-1.5 inches below the soil surface. The mesocotyl elongates about 0.75 or three quarters of an inch and this is where the first set of nodal roots will be found.  It is of the up most importance to make sure that the mesocotyl is a good 1 to 1.25 inches below the soil surface, failure to do so can cause rootless corn syndrome and yield loss due to poor root development.  That is why I plant 2 inches deep, to insure that I the nodal root system develops well below the soil surface.

The growing point remains below the soil surface for three-four weeks, protecting this growing point from physical injury including frost, surface insects or grazing animals.  During this time any injury to the above ground plant will not kill the corn plant.  However it can affect yield.  Next scouting trip we will look at the semi nodal root system and the growing point and location of the nodal root system on the mesocotyl.

So on Sunday afternoon I found most all the seed corn had swelled, had good radicle development and some had the coleoptile beginning to shoot from the seed.  Things will move fast from here……….


I upgraded from an IPAQ to a fuller sized screen computer for soil sampling and scouting.  The screen is becoming harder and harder to see, even with glasses so it was time for something a bit bigger.


I looked and looked at some of the offerings from the major Ag software and GPS vendors and then settled on a couple of used Panasonic Toughbook CF-18’s.  I ended up getting two used ones for a fourth of what one of the new super duper filed computers from X or Y cost.  (X and Y are major Ag software and GPS companies.)


I can do everything the field computers can do minus take a picture with a build in camera.  I am not saying they are as fast or as good or comparable but they get the job done, are tough and have so far held up to the abuse I have given them.    The real test will start when the ground dries up.  Plus they are touch screen so there is no real need for the keyboard, just use your finger or pen.

Nice thing about these units is when I am not sampling, I can use them camping or for Ham Radio/ARES/RACES.  Which I already have………

Well we got the first field of wheat sprayed with fungicide and insecticide today.  Tim from Browns at Galatia showed up before noon and commenced to spraying with the big wheel Miller sprayer.

I was concerned it was going to be wet and it was, there was water standing on a good portion of the field.  We had had almost 4 inches of rain on Sunday but walking the field on Tuesday showed it was firm, more firm that I could ever imagine.  So I made the call to T C and the plan was made.


I had made arrangements to get my name on a list for a helicopter to spray.  Why not an airplane?  Well they won’t fly on me because I am so close to town and to the airport.  The helicopter wasn’t a done deal either and they were going to be another day or so getting here and then would decide if they would fly on me.


So first thing this morning I made the call to cancel the chopper, much to the disbelief of the other chemical dealer. I don’t think he thought we could run a ground rig today.  I am just not a fan of spraying with a plane or chopper.  You cant convince me that 2 gallon of water per acres gets you any type of coverage compared to a ground rig where you can just about paint the leaves.  And with all this water and forecast of hot weather coming next week, were going to set ourselves up for a disease issue and I want the best chance to prevent it, not just say I sprayed.

Well Tim did sink down a bit in places but the ruts were not much deeper than what he made on the second application of nitrogen a few months ago.  In a lot of places he didn’t even sink down, just ran over the wheat that was growing in the ruts.  That is the nice thing about using the same rig over and over again, you can run those same tracks like tram lines.

By late afternoon the wheat had stood back up in several of the wheel tracks to the point that it was hard to tell where he ran and were he didn’t.

I also got a picture of the tile line in this field to show how much it was running.  That 4 inch tile wasn’t running much water at this point.


Well we sit and wait now until about Friday or Saturday to spray the rest of the wheat, the head is just about out of the boot, but not quite.  Hopefully it will be at the right stage by then before the next round of rain is to get here.


Took some pictures this morning of the winter wheat crop here at our farm in Benton.

I am very well pleased this year with the entire crop. Yes there are some holes and some smaller plants due to late or uneven emergence but on the whole I think it is one of the best looking wheat crops we have ever had at this point.

The first planted field has jointed and is elongating rapidly.

Here are a couple of plants I pulled to look at the head development.

Many people dont know that you can see the head of wheat in the plant at this stage.

If I had a better camera and light source you could see the actual glooms or where the seed will develop and be held.


If everything keeps on track I think we will have an above average harvest at worst and a record harvest at best. But its a long time between now and harvest and a lot can happen. So with all crops we do everything we can do to make sure it has every chance and let the Lord do the rest.

Well it started off as a wet snowing morning again here in Southern Illinois so I found myself inside at the desk sorting out soils sample maps for what needs to be spring sampled.

The nightmare of it is that the particular farm I was working on this morning is like trying to undo a rats nest of bailing twine.  Farms that are renamed, sold and split are making me pull my hair out.  I figure I had better get use to it as this is going to be more common as farmers get larger and compettion for rent ground gets tougher.  There still is the fact that these 20yr old plat books and hand drawn maps are an added unneeded addition to the mess.

Digital maps make this process a 20 minute job and not a 4-6 hour one like it has turned into.  Why cant everyone use GPS, GIS, Google Maps and all the other nice, neat and clean ways to handle data.  It just makes sense to handle data like this GIS and not paper in files with food stains and water marks.  This is why I went GIS/digital years ago……..and have not regretted it one bit.  Matter of fact it makes life as a soil sampler easy.

A hand drawn road map and field map on part of a fast food sack doesn’t get it.  At least for me it doesn’t.  After the last two hours, anyone who shows up here and needs a plat book map to do anything is so low tech that they will be showed the door.  Get digital or get out.  Make my life and yours a whole lot simpler.  At least show me that your in the 21 Century…………



On March 19, 2011 Robertson Farms began weather data collection using a Davis Vantage Pro 2 weather station pictured below.  We are streaming our observations live to the internet.  You can now access real time and daily total weather data from our farm in Benton.

Click the link below to see weather conditions at the farm in Benton, Illinois


Robertson Farms DAILY SUMMARY

The Davis Vantage Pro 2 wireless unit features a rain gauge, thermometer, barometer, humidity, wind speed and direction instruments.  The wireless unit attaches to our internet modem so that weather is collected and stored online.  With the alarm feature I can have text or email messages sent when temperature or rainfall per hour exceed a level I set.  It also keeps a running summary of the daily totals.

I would like to see other farmers in the area get set up with these weather stations.  They are a great tool for record keeping, predicting insect and disease pressure as well as keeping track of growing degree days for crops.

Please visit the CURRENT FARM WEATHER page on our site to see what the weather is here NE of Benton.

Well I took a short walk across one of the wheat fields checking out the how things were looking. I took a few pictures and experimented with a couple of different views, starting with the ground up.

Overall the wheat is in pretty good shape, I would like to see a bit more tillering in some places but the first shot of nitrogen has done its job and we have greened up and are looking pretty good overall. Still some burn from the cold weather but not bad at all.

One thing for sure we are going to have to apply some herbicide to control some of the winter annuals and garlic out in the fields this year.  Weather will dictate when that happens as much as when the next application of nitrogen will take place.

Current Farm Weather


Did a theme update but some features may not be working correctly, please report any issues I have not found. Thanks!