Field Scouting

Last week  I mapped and soil sampled a farm that had been in CRP for many, many years. I think it has been in two sign ups, so about 20 years.  There was also a 20 acre bean field across the road that was sampled as part of that farm.  I pulled out three samples and took pictures of them to show the difference in an eroded clay knob in the CRP, slopping hill side in the CRP and semi flat area of the soybean field.

Below are the three pictures. The quiz is this…….  Can you see the difference in drainage in the three pictures?  Can you see the difference in OM in the three pictures?  Can you see why this farm was in CRP and the other one was still farmed?

First the eroded clay knob in the CRP.

ClayKnob11

Next the slopping hill side in the CRP.

Flat

Last the Soybean field across the road.

Soybeanfield

In the recent past, I read a lot of books. I mean, back a couple years ago I was reading two or three books at a time. I would pick one up and read until my head got full then I would pick up another title unrelated to the one I just sit down and read on it until my head was full of that particular book. Then I would pick up the first book and finish it and then on to a third book before I finished the second and so it went from there. The last two years I have not read that much book wise. While there are a lot of titles I want to get to, I just don’t have the time or more importantly the interest to read books the last couple of years.

However………..

Art of Balancing cover.indd

 

I picked up a book between holidays on soil fertility called The Art of Balancing Soil Nutrients by William McKibben. Both the title and the author caught my eye. I had meet Bill with my early affiliation with the laboratory that performs most of my analysis some 20+ years ago. So, knowing the author and also knowing how using the phrase “soil balancing” gets an agronomist all shook up, so I thought I would give the book a look.

The basic description of the book on the Barnes and Noble website I found it on said “A practical guide to interpreting soil test results for farmers and other stewards of the earth wanting to understand what nutrients are available to plants and learn how to more effectively grow crops, turfgrass and other plants.” Ok, pretty generic but it still didn’t run me off yet.

Reading the Preface also yielded “I view the information contained in this book to be a starting point….” which I found refreshing because other books by other authors on “soil balancing” are either written from the absolute standpoint or are so far out in left field you can’t read them.

So, based on the Preface alone, I threw down my $25 to give it a try. Heck, I might learn something, right?

So here is my book review.

The book is a basic introduction to soil testing and nutrient recommendations using Cation Exchange Capacity for the basis of both interpreting the soil test values as well as making the nutrient recommendation. McKibben talks about using both the basic cation saturation ratios (BCSR) and strategic level of available nutrients (SLAN) approach to balance the nutrients in the soil. He applies these methods to both low and high exchange capacity soils and explains how it differs based on CEC.

While only 8 chapters long, the book could be broken down into three sections: 1. Taking the soil sample and reviewing soil nutrients, 2. Balancing soils with low and high exchange capacities and 3. What I will call “other stuff”, paste test, irrigation water and figuring out really high exchange soils. I must admit that the last three chapters didn’t do much to hold my interest as we don’t have any irrigation around here to speak of, and any very high exchange soils and my experiments with the paste test were pretty much useless several years ago. That doesn’t mean I didn’t pick something up out of those chapters, I just didn’t spend a lot of time reviewing them.

Bill does an excellent job discussing and explaining soil nutrient balance in a way that even a beginner could understand. His examples are clear and concise which I liked very much. Bill shows examples of using a compromise between SLAN and BCSR to make a recommendation for nutrient amendments for the soil. I like this approach very much even though I lean more to SLAN than BCSR. He uses some “absolute” numbers for nutrient levels, esp. micro nutrients, which is fine but I find that one guys “desired values” are not necessary mine and don’t believe that one should take these numbers to heart. Only you know your soils and soils reaction to amendments, don’t take numbers out of a book as an absolute.

On a scale of 1-10 I give the book a solid 9 and highly recommend it to any agronomist as a basic introduction or refresher. It is by far the best book I have read for SLAN and BCSR soil testing and recommendations. It sticks to the title and premise of the book without going off in left field by having us use “magic dust”, “alternative ag techniques” or hugging trees. It educates and does exactly what the Preface says: “…a starting point….”, a very good foundation to begin refining your recommendations for your farm and soils.

Worth the time to read and the $25 to purchase.

At the end of 2012 I began testing an Apple Ipad with GIS Roam for pulling soil samples.  Initial testing indicated that this platform and software is every-bit as good for GPS directed soil sampling and mapping as Farm Works or SMS.

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There are several things I really like about the Ipad for this application.  Fist it is very small and light so it doesn’t bounce around on the ATV while sampling rough fields.  Second it has a very readable screen in bright light conditions.  But most important I can display the areal images as backgrounds while I am sampling.  This isn’t new, but with the cellular turned on, I can zoom in and out on the areal photos as well as see road maps etc.

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GIS Roam is a great little program for the soil sampling.  It allows you to do most of the same field mapping features as the other ag specific programs do and you can import and export shape files.  The ability to import and export files comes with the addition of a purchased module or add on program.  However GIS Roam itself is FREE and the module is only $10.

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2012-12-06_10-49-11_991

I will try to post more info on testing this program as I get back in the fields here in the next month and follow up on some of the mapping will do with it and show some screen shots.

Took a few weeks off, as I have been on the summer version of the rubber chicken and roast beef meeting circuit.  Lots of info was picked up at most of the meetings with one topic being overdone, and that would be the drought.  Everyone seems to have had a weather guesser, climatologist or dry weather/drought expert of some type speak.  With exception of one or two they all said the same thing and a few of the weather people seemed to talk down to us farmers as if we were not aware of how hot and dry it has been.

Anyway……….

Well, here we are at August 13 and I thought I would post a picture or two of the corn crop at this date.  I took the bush hog and ran into the same field I have posted pictures of in other posts here on the farm, to show just what our final yield prospects look like.

 

The stalks are rubbery and have greened up a bit after we got a few pop up showers as of late.  But that has done nothing to add yield, just make the corn look greener than it was.

I had to count 32 stalks (which in this field was 17.5 ft of row or 1/1000 of an acre) before I found an ear with any kernels on it.  This would be typical of this field minus the 6 or 8 end rows around the field that have an ear, of about the same size, on about every stalk.

Hardly worth the time to harvest………..

I have heard of several yield and aflatoxin stories the last 72 hours for this area.  One story is of a 60 acre field that, when shelled, fit easily into a tandem truck and had an aflatoxin score of 30.  Another was of a corn field that did average 30 bpa but had an aflatoxin score of 300.  Both were rejected.  Of those shelling corn, the best field average I have heard of so far was in the 70′s, but it was also some bottom ground that you would expect to have higher yields on.  Most of the upland ground that has been harvested thus far has yields in the 20′s-40′s.

I will try to follow up with some meeting highlights the next few days…………

Today while loading some wheat I went out into one of my corn fields to look around.  I didn’t really want to, but the curiosity was getting to me.  Things were as I expected them to be, or maybe even worse.

Here is a picture some corn from the historically best spot in one of the highest yielding corn fields on my farm.   Noticed I said one of the best fields, and historically best, or highest yielding spot in that field.  This is not an average field or average ears from this field.  THIS IS THE BEST.

In a “normal” year I would expect to see 180-210+ corn yields in this area of this particular field.  In a normal year, this field would yield in the 150-160 range.

The quarter and nickel are for size/comparative purposes.

If you look very closely you can see that these plants set some big ears to start with.  Most were in the 18 round to 45 long when you count potential grains.  The best ear pictured was 18 round and 14 long but you can see by the seed size that they are not much bigger than popcorn.  Very shallow grains.

If they finish out and don’t shrink back, I really wonder how I am going to shell them.  I mean the whole ear isn’t much bigger around than the corn stalk at this point.  Setting the corn head to get these ears will be a nightmare.

Still is is better than most of the corn, which either didn’t even set an ear or didn’t pollinate.

Here is a video interview I did with Josh Flint of Farm Progress on Thursday on  the drought here in Southern Illinois.

Its hot.

How hot is it?

Well on the 4th of July this is how hot it was around Robertson Farms at 2:20 pm:

Air Temp 99.6.

Heat Index 109.

Grass in yard, full sun 130.

Grass under shade tree 89.

Wheat stubble on surface in wheat field 150. (is it no wonder where the DC Soybeans came up that they have fried and died?)

Soil under wheat straw in field 98.

I want to try and get some bear soil temperatures tomorrow in the corn field that I have been taking the pictures of.  That should be interesting.  Heat index today here at the farm hit 113.

In the last 72 hours we have had two pop up thunderstorms, one with nickel to quarter sized hail and high winds, that  dumped in a short amount of time, a total of 1.7 inches or rain.

It is too late for the corn crop sans one 40 acre field that I planted late on May the 5th that is just now trying to tassel, but it should be more than enough moisture to get the beans I planted 10 days ago to germinate and come up.

But there is no moisture below the seed once it does come up………and we have all of July and August, typically our dry and hot period of the year, to go.

Holding out hope that we have a bean crop of some type………….

Here are some time lapse photos of one of my corn fields showing how we went from one of the best looking corn crops ever to a complete disaster in less than a month.

Heat index temps have been over 110 this last week and they predict another week of triple digit temps.  Soil surface temps are over 130 during the heat of the day.

This corn was planted on April 13.  Rain fall from April 16 to July 1 was 0.75 inches with 0.9 coming on the night of July 1.

Picture taken June 5, 2012

Pictures taken June 16, 2012

 

 

Pictures taken July 2, 2012

 

Water math for a Southern Illinois corn crop.

Inches of rain we are behind in this drought:  14 inches for the year.

Gallons of water needed to produce 1 bushel of corn per acre: 4,000 US Gallons (some say more some say less but we will use this number) 

Gallons of water needed per acre to raise 150 bushel corn:  600,000 US Gallons per acre

Gallons of water in a 1 inch rain fall per acre:  27,154 US Gallons

Gallons of water in 14 inches of rain:  380,156 US Gallons per acre

Inches of water needed to reach our current growth stage (~R1): 13 inches of water per acre or 353002 gallons of water per acre (University of Nebraska Irrigation Guide To Corn) 

Inches of water needed to finish the crop out to maturity: 16 inches of rain per acre or 434,464 gallons of water per acre.  (University of Nebraska Irrigation Guide to Corn)  

Rainfall predicted in inches for the next 5 days:  0.25-0.5 inch of rain (NWS Hydrometeorological Prediction Center) 

Gallons of water in a 0.5 inch rain:  13,577 US Gallons

A half inch rain is hardly a drop in the bucket when your dry like we are and a flood when you saturated.

But I would gladly take a half inch rain right now……………..gladly.

There are two distinct wheat crops growing in Southern Illinois this spring.  The distinction is in how they have been managed.

Those who have managed their wheat according to the weather and growth stage have some awesome looking wheat.  Plant development has been greatly accelerated due to the unusually warm weather we have had this winter and spring.  The result is that we are about a month ahead of schedule in some areas with where the wheat is in its life cycle.  Those fields have had their N applied earlier than normal and have had their weed control applied earlier as well.  The result is one of the best looking wheat crops ever in my opinion.

Those who have managed their wheat according to the calendar have wheat that is behind in its development and in some cases its health.  This wheat looks N deficient in most cases and is shorter.  In some instances we see tiller development aborted due to lack of N.  Nitrogen has been applied later and in some cases the weed control chemistry is just going on and with the hot temperatures for this time of year we see some cosmetic burn to the plant.  Worse yet some have combined their N and weed chemistry to save time and trips across the field.  Again we see some plant injury and loos of weed control.  This wheat crop looks average at best.

So which one is right?

Well with the lack of a late spring freeze appearing likely managing by plant development and going early could result in one of the best wheat crops in years.  Even better than last year.  If we were to get a late spring freeze, then that advanced crop is toast.  Then those who managed by the calendar will look like geniuses.  No matter what the later crop is going to be average at best but it will be a crop.

I have been hit recently by those in academia who believe that anything that comes from the university system that is called “research”, “peer reviewed” and published is gospel.

Who’s gospel is my question.

Having been through a MS program and having done research, thesis defense and abstract of other research papers as part of my MS program, I read all research with much skepticism.

First thing I want to know about any research is who funded it.  Follow the money.  One does not fund a research project with hopes that their desired result is not discovered.  So who funded the research.  If the money is tied to a company or individual who could benefit from such research, then the results are suspect to me.  If the government funded any research it is suspect to me.   If  those who funded the research also are sponsoring the researcher, then they and their research are junk.

Call me paranoid.

Second I want to know who the researcher(s) are and what they have to gain from the research.  Now don’t get me wrong, a researcher who is looking for a cure to a disease is looking for RESULTS or POSITIVES in their research.  That to me is not suspect.  One who is getting sponsorships from the one who funds research and gets a positive result, then that is suspect.  We have a bunch of those folks in the world of agriculture right now.  There are several well known agriculture professors who are out on the rubber chicken and roast beef circuit who are pumping up the results of their research, who are also being sponsored by those who funded the research.  The ever-present sales pitch is part of their “research”.  So I take their results with a grain of salt.

Call me skeptical.

Lastly there are those who use old research to justify their current research.  In other words it’s easier to get researcher A’s paper and then go and duplicate the result on a small scale and get the desired result without doing real research.  Again there seems to be a herd of those type university folks out there right now.  I suspect its a lack of funding from the traditional sources but more likely its just to prove their bias or please their sponsor.

Call me hacked off.

What is research?  I think I know real research when I see it.  1)  It must be randomized and replicated in a way that removes the element of bias of a given result. (Side by sides are not research and multiple side by sides are not research)  2) It must be done in enough locations to show a true cause and effect relationship (for fertilizer, chemicals and additives)  3) The researcher should be free of bias.  While they can get funding from the persons for whom the research is for, they should not be sponsored by them.  4) The research should last over several trials or several years to show it is not luck, happenstance or coincidence.

The sad fact is that a lot of peer reviewed scientific research that was showed at winter ag meetings this winter had little true research in them.  Mostly it was either rehash of old research or it was so biased that it was meaningless.  Worse yet the professors from the Land Grants should know better……..and are the worst offenders.

Last week, as you know by now if you read this blog or follow me on Twitter, I attended the KARTA meeting.  KARTA (Link Here) stands for Kansas Ag Research Technology Association.

KARTA (originally KARA) was organized in May 2000 by a group of innovative Kansas producers, university researchers, and industry members who shared a common desire to learn more about production agriculture and continue to be a part of the leading technological and informational changes taking place on today’s farms

This year was the fifteenth annual conference. It was an applied workshop consolidating information about new and old technologies with a focus on supporting scientifically valid on-farm research efforts and increasing overall farm business profitability.

Topics included precision ag, social media, economics of travel logistics between fields and farms, on farm research, and crop nutrition as well as various presentations by industries on their new, current or trending technologies.

The Thursday night after dinner topic covered land rents and land values.  This particular discussion was led by Dr. Terry Kastens & Dr. Kevin Dhuyvetter.  I would call it the “Bear Pit” of KARTA.  It was a fantastic discussion involving any and all attendees of the meeting.  The topic was batted back and forth and ripped apart…and that was just the three hours or so that I stayed for it!  Very good discussion…….

While the evening session or Bear Pit was my favorite part of the meeting, I must say that I give the entire meeting a “10″ as far as meetings go.  It was very well organized, very well attended by producers and industry. It was an open exchange of information. Information was CURRENT, RELEVANT, FORWARD LOOKING and it was HONEST.  It was everything that an agriculture producer meeting should be.

I think so highly of the meeting that I believe we need something like it here in Southern Illinois!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know how much I hate the usual “rubber chicken and roast beef” agriculture meeting circuit here in Illinois.  Well, this wasn’t a rubber chicken meeting by a long shot………in my opinion it very closely resembled, for the production and precision side, what Farm Futures Management Summit is for the economic and business side.

I left there with that good feeling, that positive feeling of knowing that I had been rubbing shoulders with the progressive life long learners of agriculture.  When that happens you know you have been to a good meeting……….yes their world is different than mine here in southern Illinois, but that doesn’t matter.  It’s the mindset I look for.  The mindset of being proactive vs reactive.

KARTA is a great proactive meeting………I highly suggest you attend the 16th meeting if at all possible.

 

Well, it’s 2012, or something like, that and January is going to start off with a bang so to speak.  A very busy month ahead for Robertson Farms.  First up is the Farm Futures Management Summit followed by the KARTA meeting shortly there- after. Throw in a IEMA meeting, K9SIL meeting and some other training meetings and the bigger part of the month is gone.

In between those meetings I hope we see the start of the new machine shed as well as getting the new (to us) NH3 bar home so we can put the VRT controller on it.  There is a planter to rebuild as well as the backhoe and dozer to work on.  So we need to hit the ground running and not look back.

Plus if the weather allows we need to pull a few soil samples, grain to haul and some scraping to do.

Fun and busy!

If that wasn’t enough……..there’s more!  First thing in the spare time is a revamp of the website.  I have been wanting to a major revamp but have not had the time with all the other stuff going on this fall.  The revamp will coincide with two new business ventures we are going to be entering into here on the farm.  Can’t say much about them right now but I think some folks will be surprised at what we have planned.  These will bring new opportunities for us in agriculture as well as begin to pave the way for the next generation of Robertson’s to enter the the operation.

Hopefully we will be making some announcements in the next 30 days or so……………..

Don’t be alarmed if I miss a day posting this month with all that’s happening.

It looks to be an exciting and busy winter!!!

Instead of the “Year in Review” recap that is typical this time of year, how about something different…….

My Top 5 Blogs of 2011

#1  ICCA Board works to kill off CPAg Certification

#2  Combines, Grain Bins, Grain Trucks and Bush Hogs

#3  Harvested Nitrogen Plot Today

#4  Corn Harvest Begins for Some

#5  My New Bag Phone

My Top 5 Categories Viewed in 2011

#1  Cutting Board Portable 

#2  Soil Testing

#3  Field Scouting

#4  Ham Radio

#5  Guns

2011 was a record year for krfarm.net

Almost 27,000 unique visitors who made 77,000 visits this year with 835,000 page hits while they visited.  December, November, September and May were the biggest months for visitors and page content viewed.

Thanks for visiting!  Thanks for commenting!  Thanks for telling your friends about us!

We are going to try and ramp it up a notch for 2012…….stay tuned!

 

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