Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Avoiding Soil Compaction

While I hesitate to say we're in for a late planting year I think it's safe to say that it won't be starting early. Soils are wet and with the temperatures we're seeing, they're cold and drying conditions are not good. At least the early part of the ideal April 20 to May 10 ideal corn planting window is in jeopardy. While the silt loam soils which make up most of Boone County aren't particularly susceptible to compaction, getting in the fields when it's too wet, can still cause significant problems.

The best way to check if fields are dry enough to work is to take a handful of soil and ball it up in your hand. If it sticks together, it’s too wet. If it falls apart, things are probably OK. Make sure to also take some soil from below the surface, down to a foot deep and try this.

Soil compaction can result in a variety of problems. Uneven emergence and early growth rate variability can result in corn and soybeans displaying what I call a “roller-coaster” condition with uneven plant height in a field, particularly in end rows. Compacted soils have reduced water-holding capacity. Poor root system development may lead to nutrient uptake problems or, if the weather turns dry, drought stress. Particularly with corn, the stability of the plant may become a problem. Even if vertical compaction isn’t an issue, planting when it’s too wet can lead to “smearing” of soil in the furrow and sidewall compaction.

The corn roots on the left show compaction while those on the right are normal

If growing conditions are good, moderate compaction often won’t cause many problems. This was the case last year where, as corn planting continued to be delayed, some farmers chose to plant where a field was 80-90% ready and take their chances in wet areas. I saw quite a few fields where sections exhibited sidewall compaction but the weather stayed wet enough that the root system was able to break through the compacted areas. The only real impact I saw was that these areas were a little more susceptible to stalk rots late in the season but not enough to be a major problem. It’s difficult to get a handle on the precise impact of compaction in a given year.

The failure of the root slot to close is often an
indicator of sidewall compaction
Farmers can use several strategies to reduce compaction. Some of these, such as no-till, increasing soil organic matter, using cover crops, and improving drainage are longer term in nature. I’ll focus on what farmers can do, other than waiting for soils to dry, to reduce spring compaction.

Corn seedling showing evidence of
sidewall compaction
One way to reduce compaction in field work is to decrease the weight over each individual axle as much as possible. Lowering tire pressure will increase the tire “footprint” and spread vehicle weight out over a larger surface area. Using radial instead of bias-ply tires has the same effect. Dual-axle rather than single-axle equipment can also help.

The use of tracked vehicles also helps spread weight out. The key is to have many rollers as weight is greatest under the rollers supporting the tracks.

It's obvious that reducing the number of tillage passes reduces compaction by having equipment run over a field less. However repeated tillage to the same depth can create a tilled surface layer and a layer of underlying dense till which can result in subsurface compaction. Quite often we see armers using a vertical tillage tool or other "light" tillage to loosen up the upper layer of soil so it dries out and warms more quickly. It accomplishes this but it can also result in a compaction layer a few inches beneath the surface.

The most important item to keep in mind is that while there is an ideal planting date for corn, this is only one piece of the yield puzzle, and far from the most important one. Weather conditions such as temperatures and rainfall are more important. Last year’s corn crop was one of the latest planted in history but Boone County Farmers had very good yields. Doing field work when soil conditions aren’t right or “mudding in” the crop can result in problems which may prevent you from being able to take advantage of favorable conditions during the growing season.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cover Crops, Farm Bill and Thoughts

I ended the title of this post with thoughts but I'll start there and mention that I'm multitasking from the Indiana Livestock, Forage and Grain Forum. This is a great annual event and this year's theme is Big Data and Agriculture. There's been plenty of discussion of what to do with/how to manage ag data and I think one of the interesting questions is how much data is useful for farmers, where does overload come in and how much value is there in paying someone to manage and make recommendations based on data?

Most farmers have tackled these questions, at least a little. Many use a commercial service to pull soil samples, look at yields and soil types and make recommendations based on this. GIS has introduced producers to a new realm of digital information. This may be the next area where we need to look at how best to manage and use information and how to make judgments about diminishing returns - when is there too much data and how do we avoid letting data run farms rather than using data as a tool to help run farms? Information overload is real and has been documented. We aren't there yet in farming (I don't think so anyway) but eventually we'll need to be able to make those decisions.

Since startling in Boone County I've had conversations with several people who are interested in learning more about cover crops. I'm planning to do some programming this summer and programs and field days are already taking place in other parts of the state. The National Cover Crops Conference was held February 17-19 in Omaha. The recordings from that program are available at the National SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) site. If you have the time and are interested in this, I encourage you to listen to some of these.

National Cover Crops Conference Recordings.

Finally, there's an Extension organization from the Western United States, Ag in Uncertain Times, which has developed a webinar series on the Farm Bill. I viewed the first program on March 3 and it was pretty good. They have four additional webinars scheduled, as follows:
  • March 17 - Livestock Disaster and Dairy Programs
  • March 24 - Commodity Programs
  • March 31 - Environmental Programs
  • April 7 - Food and Nutrition Programs
The March 3 and 17 programs are both scheduled to run from Noon to about 1:30 p.m. so I expect the others will be set for the same time. To view the live webinars or recordings, click on the link below.

Ag in Uncertain Times

Saturday, March 8, 2014

2014 Boone County Breeders and Feeders Awards Banquet and Fish Fry

This blog is mostly for the purpose of providing another avenue to share information of interest to farmers. But every now and then I think it's important for those involved in Agriculture to take a step back and remember their heritage and where the business, industry and lifestyle of farming came from.

One of the first meetings I had after starting in Boone County was with a group known as the Boone County Breeders and Feeders. This is a group of farmers and one of their main "jobs" (I'm using quotes because they're all volunteers) is to plan and conduct their annual Awards Banquet and Fish Fry. On March 6 I had my first opportunity to attend this event.

There was a nice crowd in attendance for the 77th version of the Awards Banquet (for those who don't want to do the math, this was first held in 1938). Nobody does a head count but 520 chairs were set up and there weren't a lot of empty spaces plus there were quite a few helpers who, as far as I could see, never sat down. I would guess that attendance was somewhere between 450-500. And while we didn't run out of fish - the fish was excellent BTW - we had almost none left over.

The crowd at the 2014 Awards Banquet and Fish Fry.
The entertainment for the evening was provided by two of the specialty groups from The Purduettes; The Trio and The Treblemakers. They gave a great performance which everyone seemed to enjoy.

The Trio (above) and The Treblemakers (right) from the Purduettes. Abby Everett, whose grandfather was an honoree, is third from the right on the Treblemakers.

However the real focus of the evening was the three Distinguished Agriculture Career Awards Recipients; Aaron Everett, Bob Lamb, and Stan Rader. I won't provide the full bio of these long-time Boone County Farmers and Agribusinessmen, but I would like to offer a few highlights.

The 2014 Boone County Distinguished Agriculture Award winners and their wives. From left to right: Stan Rader, Beverly Rader, Bob Lamb, Diana Lamb, Carolyn Everett, Aaron Everett.

Aaron Everett

Aaron started farming in Perry Township in the 1940's by renting farms owned by his grandparents and aunt and expanded by renting some neighborhood farms. In addition to farming, he was a founding member of the Perry Township Fire Department in 1961, has been a 4-H Leader and a member of various organizations including the Boone County Pork Producers, Boone County SWCD and Boone County FSA. He is currently a Boone County Farm Bureau Board member. He and his wife, Carolyn, live on the family farm with his son Doug, Doug's wife Nanette, and their four children. One of Aaron's grandchildren, Abby Everett, is a Purduette Member and performed at the banquet. Aaron continues to be active in the farming operation and in the community.

Bob Lamb

Shortly after leaving the Air Force, Bob and his wife Diana began farming, in 1963. Bob had no farming experience but he started by managing a farm owned by Cecil Bennington, then managed the Robert Nash Farms in Tipton. In 1969 he and his family moved back to Boone County and started their own farming operation on 430 acres of rented ground. The operation expanded from there and today Lamb Farms has three business entities. The farm grows corn, seed beans, seed wheat, popcorn, and waxy corn. Ag Recycle concentrates on mulch, composting, and recycling organics. Lamb Farms Agronomy focuses on crop input sales and technical support.

Bob is actively involved in Boone County and serves and has served on a variety of boards and committees, both in and outside of agriculture. Some of these include being a founding member of the New Hope Christian Church, a member of the Lebanon School Board, The Boone County Extension Board and 4-H Council, and the SWCD Board. He has been involved in doing missionary work in Panama for the past 10 years and he and Diana have created a non-profit charitable organization, Agri-Stewards, which is involved in spreading improved farming techniques and God's word throughout the world. Bob and Diana have 5 children and 11 grandchildren.

Stan Rader

Stan Rader's farming career really got its start in 1943 when his family purchased 80 acres near Mechanicsburg in Boone County. On graduating from high school Stan began working for Dick Lenox as a mechanic working on Oliver tractors. In 1969 he and his father-in-law, Monte Jones, founded R&J Oliver Sales. Over the next thrity years Stan owned and operated he dealership. While sales were obviously important, Stan's true love was in the customer service aspect of the business. He enjoyed talking to farmers about their equipment and equipment needs and helping them meet challenges and solve problems. Stan has been active in the community as a member and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Centenary United Methodist Church, and UMCOR where he and Beverly travel to Louisiana for two weeks each year to help with disaster relief. Stan and his wife Beverly have three children, 16 grandchildren and, so far, 10 great grandchildren.

The was a great evening, the fish was fantastic, and I had a lot of fun. I didn't pull my camera out until about halfway through the program. I'll know better next year. I also didn't get a picture of the twelve Breeders and Feeders Directors whose hard work makes this event happen. I'll have to settle for naming them: Chris Branaman, Don. M. Gibbs, Jeff Jackson, Craig Kouns - President, Danny Lawson, Tim Luse - Vice President, John Michalke, David Mitchell, Allen Mohler, Buddy Padgett, Gerald Shelburne - Secretary/Treasurer, and Mark Starkey. A big thank you also goes to Tom Dull for serving as Master of Ceremonies and all of the extra help who pitched in the night of the banquet. If you want to see more pictures, you can find them on the Facebook Page for Purdue Extension - Boone County Agriculture. I'm not sure if you need to like the page to see them or not.

Monday, February 10, 2014

2013 Purdue Corn and Soybean Field Trials

I was in a meeting today where someone asked me if Purdue's Hybrid Corn and Soybean Trial results had been published. In the process of switching offices I never posted this information. This may be a bit late as many of you have likely already completed your seed orders however the following link is to the trial results:

2013 Purdue Corn and Soybean Performance Trial Results

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

PARP and Breeders and Feeders Banquet Information

Greetings Boone County!

There's some decent content on this blog which I hate to lose so rather than start an entirely new blog now that I've moved to Boone County I decided to just change the title even though the web address still has Clinton County in it. If, after a while, I find this doesn't work, particularly with searches, I may have to start from scratch but I'll go with this for the time being.

There are two upcoming events you may be interested in:

Ag Outlook and Pesticide Applicator Training Program

On Monday, February 24 we'll be having an Ag Outlook and Pesticide Applicator Recertification Program at the Farm Bureau Community Building at the Boone County Fairgrounds in Lebanon. The schedule for the day is as follows:

10:00 a.m. - 12:00 Noon - Ag Outlook with Purdue Ag Economist Chris Hurt
Noon - 12:45 p.m. - Lunch
12:45 p.m. - 1:45 p.m. - Palmer Amaranth Strategies with Purdue Weed Scientist Bill Johnson
1:45 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. - Insect Control Update with Purdue Entomologist Chriatian Krupke
2:30 - 3:00 p.m. - Reducing Pesticide Drift with Curt Emanuel, Boone County Extension

As usual, there will be a $10 fee for those receiving Pesticide credit. CCH's have been approved for Commercial Applicators.

I'll be sending out a letter with more details, including registration information, to all Boone County Private Applicators. Call the Boone County Extension Service at 765-482-0750 by Friday, February 14 if you plan on having lunch.

Breeders and Feeders Fish Fry and Awards Banquet

The Boone County Breeders and Feeders annual Fish Fry and Awards banquet will be held on Thursday, March 6 at the Witham Health Services Pavilion at the Boone County Fairgrounds. Tickets are available at the Extension Office or from Breeders and Feeders Directors. The cost is $7.50 for adults and $4 for children.

The Purdueettes will be the entertainment for the evening.

I'll have additional information on the banquet as we get closer.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Managing Your Ag Business Webinar and an Announcement

Purdue University is hosting a webinar, "Managing Your Agricultural Business in 2014" on Thursday, December 19, 2:00 p.m. Purdue Economists Chris Hurt, Mike Boehlje, Michael Langemeier and Jim Mintert will lead the webinar and address the following questions. What’s the crop and livestock outlook for 2014? What are the expected returns for corn and soybeans in 2014 and what are the implications for cash rental rates and farmland values? Are there key strategies farm and agribusiness managers should focus on in the year ahead? There is no cost for this program.

For additional information and to register, follow this link: Managing Your Agricultural Business in 2014

Also, for those of you who haven't heard, my last day working in the Clinton County Extension Office will be Friday, December 13. Beginning on Monday, December 16 I will start my new position as Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources and County Extension Director in the Boone County Extension Office in Lebanon.

I've very much enjoyed my last 21 years working in Clinton County and am looking forward to new challenges and opportunities in Boone County. I'd say I'll miss working with Clinton County farmers but Boone County isn't too far away so hopefully I'll still see some of you from time to time.

This blog will continue but with a different title. I expect the content will be similar though with a focus on Boone instead of Clinton County.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hogs and Corn Price Recovery

Chris Hurt has published an article in the University of Illinois' Farm Doc Daily discussing the prospects for future hog expansion in response to the reduced corn prices which I found very interesting. There are some negatives which may impact the industry's ability to increase the breeding herd, particularly whether porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) becomes widespread. In virgin herds this disease has been devastating to young pigs and could result in a delay in national swine herd growth. However the article is positive for long-term corn price recovery.

The same market factors which will influence swine numbers should result in an increase in the cattle herd though it will take longer for this to have an impact on corn prices. A link to Chris's article is below.

Hogs Provide Near $7 per Bushel Corn Value