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The Cropwalker - Volume 1 Issue 12

Always read and follow label directions.


Harvest Chugs Along

As far as harvest progress, we are now about where we were in 2014. On December 15, 2014, corn was 80-90% harvested. Significant amount was #3,4, and 5. Issue was low bushel weight. Moisture was still in the high 20’s and not coming down. Some areas of Ontario are finished and other areas have 60% of the corn crop still out. Probably in those areas a significant amount will be destroyed.

Does it pay to build soil fertility levels?

This is my analysis by crop if you have soil test levels below 20 ppm of phosphorus and 120 ppm of potassium. I took soil fertility trials posted at www.fieldcropnews.com, multiplied it by the expected selling prices, added up to the gross revenue for a 3-year crop rotation, and then backed out any starter that had been applied (as part of the trial).

Table 1 - Low soil fertility reduces profitability.

A summary from the table;

1)     If you have high fertility soils and apply a starter, over a 3 year crop rotation you will have $272/ac in your pocket over a low fertility field with no starter.

2)     If you have low fertility soils and apply a starter, over a 3 year crop rotation you will have an additional $87/acre in your pocket compared to no starter.

3)     Regardless of whether you apply a starter or not, over a 3 year rotation you are giving up a minimum of $185/ac by farming a low fertility field, over farming a high fertility field. ($272 less $87 = $185). This means you could pay an additional $60/acre each year for land rent, and be the same or further ahead with higher fertility ground.

4)     If you own the land, it pays significantly to build phosphorus soil test values to 20 ppm or above, and potassium soil tests to 120 ppm or above. Even a $20-30/year investment over and above crop removal can pay significantly. It's like adding 5-10% to your landbase, once you achieve adequate fertility levels.

5)     To grow high yield soybeans requires high background fertility, not necessarily fertilizer in the year of application.

Should I do a soil health test?

My definition of soil health is an area that is both profitable and has stable yields. Is organic matter the Holy Grail of crop production? Yes and no. You could have a muck soil with 45% OM and clay underneath. Is that going to be the highest yielding area in the field? Unlikely. In my opinion, what growers are really looking for with soil health is; profitable, higher and more stable yields. Can they do that? Certainly. In some situations it may mean finding better land to farm, or managing areas of the field differently. So should you do the test? If it will provide some direction on how you can farm more profitably with higher and more stable yield, then, by all means do the test if it will provide actionable advice.

No-tilling Clay Soils

I recently asked an anonymous heavy clay no-tiller what his secrets were to managing challenging soil conditions, here are his comments;

1)     Rule one is patience

2)     Better late than too early

3)     Higher populations for soybeans (emergence) and lower populations for corn (drought) could be an effective strategy

4)     Elimination of tillage, as it creates decreased water infiltration and restricts water holding capacity

5)     Maintain a diverse crop rotation

6)     Leave crop residue to build SOM

7)     Implement a system of living roots for 12 months of the year

8)     Perseverance will be rewarded

9)     Establish realistic expectations

10)  Collect your own farm data and purchase products that perform best with your management, not someone else’s recommendations

11)  Investment in tile drainage to have uniform soil moisture

12)  Bonus – thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s silt, sand or loam soil…

Strategies for Volunteer Corn

Mouldboard ploughing is the best option. I went back through my notes from 1993 and we did not have a volunteer corn problem. Granted there was more mouldboard ploughing then. Comment made is that corn was immature in 1992 and wouldn’t germinate. I do not think that comment is valid. If you want to plant corn after corn you can use an Enlist hybrid. Spraying Enlist corn with Assure will kill all the non-Enlist corn. For those few acres that had Enlist corn in 2018, they can be sprayed with Select if the field is in soybeans.

Venture Also Excellent in Controlling Volunteer Corn

Last issue we mentioned Assure to control volunteer corn in soybeans. Venture does just as good a job. Depending on which company you are doing the majority of your business with, could decide whether you use Assure or Venture.

Choosing Corn Hybrids for 2019

1) Ask about tolerance to Gibb and associated DON levels. Even if you did not have corn rejected for DON in 2018, you do not want to take a chance in 2019. Corn companies have collected a lot of information on hybrids and DON. Caution that a hybrid may have low DON levels in one geography, but high in others. 2) There seems to be a trend that triple stacked hybrids have lower DON levels this year. No known reason as to why hybrids with extra insect protection would also have lower DON levels. 2) Check husk type. Typically, hybrids with tighter husks are more prone to Gibb. 3) Hybrids that hold their ears upright during dry down had higher DON levels. 3) I like hybrids with early vigor. This suggests more apt to get off to a quick even start. 4) Typically, hybrids that require 100 more CHUs to mature in your area yield higher. 5) Yield is important but consider giving up some yield to get better Gibb tolerance.

Corn Hybrid Selection – Yield vs Grade Discounts

How much yield can I give up to get Gibberella tolerance? It depends on the discount schedule at your local elevator; let’s assume a 200 bushel corn crop. Corn is marketed at $5/bu.

For every $5 worth of discounts, you can take a 5 bu/acre hit in yield, if it meant no grade discounts.

Does this mean you should grow a hybrid with zero DON, no, not necessarily; if you have livestock and want clean feed without the need for a binder, it’s worth a look.

Table 2 - Yield vs. Discount Schedule - Is it worth the risk?

How many acres do I have to run to pay for row shut-offs or section control on my planter?

A recent conversation around technology taking a long time to pay spawned some rough analysis. A few assumptions, seed cost is $100 per/acre. Planter could be planting either corn or soybeans. Outside of reduced seed cost, I have noticed there is typically less lodging/disease issues, operators are able to run longer and faster and weed control is better due to the lack of gaps. Values only factor in seed cost. If the unit has dry or liquid fertilizer, multiply the value by 1.3 to 1.5 to get both seed and fertility savings.

How to use the chart? Estimate the amount of overlap you currently have. GIS software packages can do this. Another method is to compare planting acres to another pass in the field or the field boundary acres. The total in the chart is the amount you could save per year. Multiple this by 3 if your goal is a three year payback. If the system costs less than this, it's worth the investment.

Table 3 - How many acres does it take to pay for section control?

Building Management Zones

A sales rep commented that at his business they have 4 different ways of building managements zones. That is because they have 4 employees. In my opinion, when working with precision agriculture, you need a consistent and organized approach to building your management layers. The reason that particular business had 4 different ways was because the team could not agree on what the zones should be, and what each management zone should represent. Once you agree on what the management zone represents, there can be a consistent approach in how they are built.

Check Manure Storage

The wet fall has dealt many problems, including extra water in manure storage. Not ideal weather to apply manure now. But consider applying manure when you can, to have enough storage to get you to spring. I spoke with Christine Brown OMAFRA about the issue of spreading now. Not ideal she said, but better now than on frozen ground in January/February. Try to pick fields that are fairly level. Ideally not close to open waterway. The best fields will be where crops are growing. However, you will do too much damage there. Next best option is where there is lots of residue. This would be corn stalks or cover crops. If these fields are going into soybeans the nitrogen portion will not be used, but this may be better than some alternative places. Extra nitrogen will not hurt soybeans.

What Manure Rate is Best?

Right now, the rate that compacts the fewest acres. Once you have an idea of the amount of nitrogen in your manure, apply at a rate that will meet the nitrogen requirements of corn.

If Only 40% of Manure Phosphorous (P) is Available the Year After Application What Happens to the Rest?

At best 40% of manure P is available for plant use the year after application. Of this the plant may use 25%. This is the same ratio as for commercial fertilizer. The rest is tied up with Calcium (Ca) and Iron (Fe). In certain soils it is further tied up with Aluminum (Al). So, P is tied to Ca. Over time the Ca can release some of the P to be used by the plant. The P tied with Fe is even more tightly tied up, since it is tied up with Ca and Fe. That means both of these ions must be replaced to have the P plant available. This is a long process. There is work on going to have P loaded drain water move through a Ca/Fe slag mix to tie up P.

You have bought a new farm, now what?

  1. Invest in tile
  2. Address any compaction issues
  3. Soil test
  4. Adjust soil pH, if required, with appropriate amendments
  5. Build soil fertility levels; concentrate first on the most limiting nutrient.

Why do I have this opinion? Why farm with low yields most of your career. Whether you have low margin or higher margin yields, either way you are paying for it.

Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don't expect it from cheap people. - Warren Buffett