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Showing posts from 2024

When to start planting?

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  It's Mid-April and as May approaches, farmers are gearing up for planting season. Early planted crops generally have a yield advantage over late planted crops. Most crop yield is related to moisture at pollination in both corn and soybeans. Good yields are possible if there is adequate summer moisture. Usually, July rains have a big impact on corn yields, while August rains have more of an impact on soybean yields. There is about a 3-week window in Ohio for optimal planting. In Southern Ohio, April 10-May 10, and in Northern Ohio April 25th and May 10th. For crop insurance coverage, May 5th in southern Ohio and April 10th in northern Ohio. Planting after May 10th, on average, results in about a 0.3% yield loss per day when corn planting is delayed and by the end of May, this loss increases to 1% per day. However, it pays to plant when weather and soil conditions are fit. Mudding crops in can be a disaster if it gets dry. Shallow rooted crops in compacted soils often result in poo

Cover Crop Termination

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This spring has been warmer than normal but Ohio’s subsoil moisture has been dry due to last year’s drought. Recent rains may have helped depending upon how much rain actually soaked in. Last year, adequate subsoil moisture allowed farmers to get decent yields, however; what about this year? According to the National Weather Service, there is a 83% chance for a transition from El Niño to La Niña during April-June and a 62% chance for La Niña to develop by June-August. Typically, El Niño years are drier while La Niña years tend to be wetter in the Midwest.  For Ohio, the 60-day weather forecast is for temperatures to be above normal in our area but perhaps drier than normal conditions around the Great Lakes. April may be wetter, but May is expected to turn dry. Farmer’s may be planting earlier than normal depending upon the weather. What about terminating cover crops? That depends upon soil moisture.  When dry conditions are expected, terminate cover crops early when they

Reducing Wheat Diseases

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Winter and early spring has been warmer than normal. The lawns are green and so is the wheat. Is this due to adequate nitrogen? More likely it’s adequate iron and magnesium. In warm springs, iron is more plant available to make chlorophyll and magnesium is the central element for chlorophyll. If your wheat is yellow, even after spring nitrogen applications, it may be due to a lack of iron, especially on fields with poor soil structure. Soil tests may show high iron, but its in the wrong form. Golf courses often use iron to green up grass.  Looking ahead, what changes in fertility might enhance wheat disease resistance or simply enhance wheat growth and yield. Often, when scouting wheat, white leaves may be seen which is a sign of nickel deficiency. Nickel (Ni2+) activates the urease enzyme that allows plants to use external and internal urea as a nitrogen source. Nickel (2+) is one of the least toxic metals and stimulates microbial growth.  Adequate nickel improves wheat growth and yie

Recognizing Good Soil Health

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  Dr. Alan Franzluebbers, North Carolina Extension has a YouTube video showing farmers how to look for healthy soils and then improve it. There are several obvious soil health indicators like looking for earthworms, earthworm burrows, and their middens. Also, remove surface residue and look for white spiderweb like matts which are beneficial fungi. Crop fields with small mushrooms growing are a good sign because those are beneficial fungi just spreading their spores. However, the hardest to see are the soil bacteria which can be over 1 billion per teaspoon of soil. Soil Biology has been understudied and is extremely important.  Soil biology can be measured by looking at the soil biological activity, measuring the total biomass of living organisms, and by looking at the diversity of these organisms. The biology has four main functions: decomposers of crop residue, cycling of water and nutrients, controlling gasses like carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and oxygen for root r

Optimize Yield by Soil Testing

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  Conservation Tillage & Technology Conference (CTTC) last week had several good speakers. Clint Nester, Nester Ag, consults on about 200,000 acres in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana since 1992. All that data drives their soil test recommendations. They start by soil testing, determine nutrient rates, variable apply nutrients and then evaluate crop yields. They follow the 4R’s (Right Source of fertilizer, Right Rate, Right Place, and Right Time). By following the fundamentals, they strive for optimal yields with the highest profit margin while protecting the environment (improve water quality).  Soil testing can be done many ways. They emphasize getting core samples that are representative. Some farmers and retailers sample by soil type, 2.5-acre grids, or zones. Nester’s use zone soil sampling, taking numerous representative soil samples down to 6.67 inches. Zones allow for good N-P-K soil recommendations, help determine pH and lime levels, starter fertilizer rates, side-

Maximizing Wheat Yield

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  Farmers are striving to optimize wheat yields with lower grain prices expected. High yields are dependent upon maximizing wheat grain kernels per foot and increasing grain weight. High yields come from achieving the correct leaf and shoot numbers, maintaining a green leaf canopy through grain fill, increasing grain numbers/head, and increasing grain size. Good fertility increases yields by getting adequate amounts of all essential macro- and micronutrients.  Wheat also grows best when there is adequate soil moisture to develop a well-branched root system. If wheat has enough water during the early growing season, it will form the necessary roots. A good root system is critical for obtaining adequate and balanced crop nutrients. Adequate drainage, both surface and subsurface, helps improve wheat yields.  Nitrogen (N) and potassium (K) are the nutrients required in the highest quantity for maintaining high wheat yields. Wheat utilizes 60% more potassium than nitrogen. For

Understanding Biologicals

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Farmers are experimenting with biological to enhance crop performance. Dr. Connor Sible,University of Illinois  estimated that by 2032, farmers will spend $32 billion/year on biological products. Currently, biologicals enhanced seed growth (25%), fertility (25%), pest management (25% on insect, disease, weed control) and another 25% are specialty products. What are biologicals? Many are plant growth regulators or hormones. Bio-stimulates are not alive but come from living organisms and are easier to manage and control. Third are living beneficial microbes which are more difficult to manage and control. Living organisms are affected by moisture, temperature, and exposure to other environmental conditions (sunlight, oxygen levels, etc.). Dr. Sible breaks down biologicals into 8 major groups. Starting with living microbes, he lists nitrogen (N) fixing bacteria, phosphorus (P) solubilizing bacteria, residue decomposers (bacteria and fungi), and beneficial fungi (arbuscular mycorrhizae fung

Drone Spraying

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Aerial Drones are being used in agriculture. Alan Leininger, OSU Extension Educator, Henry County is doing agricultural research on drone applications. Drones have several advantages over ground-based spray equipment. First, they economically apply small rates of spray (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, nutrients), seed (small seeded cover crops) and are battery operated. Second, they fly in the air, so there is no soil compaction. They extend the application season. If it is too wet, applicators can still spray. There is no wheel damage to standing crops. Applicators can precision apply product at the ideal time during the growing season to address a nutrient or pest problem. Drones are also autonomous meaning they fly themselves on a set pattern. Humans still have to be present for fill ups and to trouble shoot problems (low flying planes, helicopters, towers, telephone lines, tree, etc). There are several different kinds of drones with various prices. Avoid buying cheap drones

Does Planter Phosphorus Pay

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Phosphorus (P) is often applied at corn planting to improve crop yields. However, does it always pay for itself? Ohio State University Extension Research (E-Fields) investigated where applying P at planting is worthwhile. Soil testing is critical. Past soil test recommendations were based upon Bray P1 but now they use Melich P. Bost methods are very similar. Under Bray P1, 15-30 Parts Per Million (ppm) P was considered good for attaining optimal crop yields on corn and soybeans. Under Melich P, 20-40 PPM for P is considered good. Most soils have a lot of tied up P but only the P that is plant available is considered usable. Only about 25-30% of the P that is applied that year is actually used by the plant. The other 70-75% become available in following years, depending on weather, soil type, humus levels etc. Cover crops and crop residue tie up many nutrients short-term, but they come available when they decompose. Residue from crops or cover crops are good P sources. From 2016-2018, O

Explaining the Weather

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Dr. Aaron Wilson, OSU Climatologist gave a summary of current and future weather conditions.Dr. Wilson explained the difference between weather, which is current day to day events, and climate, which is long-term weather events over time. It’s like a man taking a dog for a walk. The dog is all over the place which is like our current weather, changing constantly. However the man is like our climate, he is walking in a certain direction while the dog follows erratically along. Dr. Wilson reviewed the 2023 past weather conditions and made predictions for the upcoming 2024 year. Overall, 2023 was warmer than normal, about 2-30F above normal. It was the 4th warmest year since 1895 and the 49th driest year, about 4 inches below normal precipitation. Last winter was warm, followed by a cold spring. June was hot and dry but the rest of the year had variable weather that was cooler than normal during the day but with warmer nights. On rainfall, it was lacking most of the year, but not for ever

Nutrient Stratification

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Farmer led research is a valuable tool for improving crop yields. The hard part is making sense of the data. Marion Calmer, Calmer Farms in Fairbury Illinois has been doing farm research for many years. A major concern has been the stratification of soil nutrients in the upper soil layers. Calmer has been no-tilling (NT) for many years, but he does not use cover crops. Over 14 years, he applied $1,000 worth of surface applied nutrients/acre (average $71.42/acre). Calmer worried he was not getting the best use of that fertilizer. He tried a farm experiment. First, he soil tested his field taking soil test in 1-inch increments down to 8 inches. Results showed extremely high soil test levels for phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in the top 1 inch, and about 50% lower in next 1 inch. Approximately 46% of his fertility was within 2 inches of the soil surface and only 16% were in the bottom 2-inches. He then plowed and soil tested a portion of his NT field. Results showed a re-distribution of

Soil Security

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  Recently (January 2023), Derpsch and seven other world soil scientist (Including retired Don Reicosky, USDA-ARS) wrote about declining soil productivity worldwide. These are their direct findings. Life on earth has been sustained for 3.8 billion years due to life supporting “natural laws”. Humans have tilled the soil for more than 10,000 years. These scientist found that most tillage operations are short terms solutions but create long term problems. Most of our soil problems are the result of tillage and trying to correct those problems, but it only gets worse, not better with more tillage. A landmark study in 1995 by Pimmental and others, discovered that almost 1 Billion acres of farmable land or one-third the world’s farmable acreage had been lost to erosion. More than 95% of our food originates from soil and when soils degrade it threatens human survival. Derpsch and others (2006) outlined the negative effects of tillage. They include loss of soil organic matter (SOM) which holds

Corn Bushels and Crop Residue

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Dr. Connor Sible, University of Illinois recently shared research on corn yields and corn crop residue. As corn matures, corn puts energy into creating kernels of corn. However, to make corn kernels, it takes roots, stalks, leaves, tassels, and cobs. Dr. Sible’s research shows that higher corn yield resulted in higher corn crop residue, which seems logical.  Dr. Sible reports every bushel of corn results in 43.7# of corn crop residue. For 200-bushel corn, that’s 8,740 pounds or 4.37 tons/acre of corn residue; for 300-bushel corn, 13,110# or 6.6 tons/acre. Most farmers struggle to get their crop residue to degrade, and as crop yields increase, so does the corn crop residue. Dr. Connor Sible and Dr. Fred Below are striving to get 300-bushel corn. Dr. Sible finds that weather contributes 2-ton residue/Acre, soil fertility (2 Ton), corn hybrid selection (1.1 ton), corn population (8 ton) with lesser amounts attributed to crop rotation (.4 ton), type of tillage (.3 ton) and biological facto

Striving for 300 Bushel Corn

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At the 2024 National No-till Conference, Dr. Fred Below, University of Illinois talked about “Striving for 300-bushel Corn.” Almost all of his research was done on conventional tillage corn plots, however; he made important points that apply to all farmers striving for higher yields. With the world population currently 8 billion and reaching 9 billion by 2037, higher yields will be needed to feed the growing world population. Dr. Below emphasized three pre-requisite conditions that all farms need to follow to achieve optimal yields. First, good soil drainage and good soil structure. Without good drainage, roots can not grow to reach soil nutrients. Without good soil structure, both the soil microbes and root development is limited. Second, control all pests including weeds, insects, and diseases. Pests reduce yields by about 30% world-wide. Healthy plants can reduce the harmful effects of almost all agricultural pests. Third, soil test to get adequate fertility (pH, macro-, and micro-n

Improving Seed Germination

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  Farmers struggle to get their crops and seeds planted to germinate quickly. When seeds are dormant, they wait for just the right conditions before germinating. Often environmental stresses like not enough moisture (drought) or lack of oxygen make seeds wait until conditions improve. Seeds have built-in mechanism that prevents them from germinating too soon. This cautious seed germination approach also tends to hurt plant yields, because plants gets off to a late start. Dr. Brad Binder, University of Tennessee has been working with various plant seeds and the plant hormone ethylene to study seed germination. Ethylene increases seed germination, increases leaf growth, and root growth early in a plant’s life. When applied later in the growing season, ethylene causes plants to mature quicker (senescence) or die off and it promotes fruit ripening. Dr. Binder exposed tomato, cucumber, and wheat seeds to ethylene in the dark just like when seeds are planted and found that when the seeds sta

Transitioning to Organic Farming

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  With low corn, soybean, and milk prices and high input prices for fertilizers and chemicals; some farmers are considering transitioning to organic farming.  It’s a big step and not one easily taken.  Organic farming is not a get rich quick proposition.  Prices for organic corn are around $8/bushel, soybeans $20/bushel, and milk about $23-$25 per hundred pounds.  Organic farming takes a completely different mind-set but there are successful organic farmers. Before you make the jump to organic, do some research.   To go organic, you have to be efficient at recycling nutrients and controlling pests, especially weeds.  Usually, you’ll need to grow organic forms of nitrogen.  Start your education by visiting some organic farmers to see how they manage their farms.  Look at their entire farming operation and ask questions about farming history.  Ask about soil types, crops, livestock, crop rotation, tillage practices, when do they plant, where do they get their nutrients, and how do they h