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The Cropwalker - Volume 2 Issue 2

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A few thoughts on Precision Agriculture (repost from LinkedIn – February 23, 2018)

A few comments on Precision Ag... I felt compelled to share a few thoughts after having a few conversations on the topic over the past few weeks. If you have a different view point, feel free to comment.

1) My take is that regardless of what it is, it needs to provide substantial return for the farm customer. With how fast this field continues to change, a high ROI is required to offset the risk of the investment becoming zero or a fraction of the initial cost. Tech or precision ag investments should have a 1-year payback or less.

2) There are solutions that are attempting to scale quickly but haven't figured out the underlying issue or solution that their offering solves. The marketplace will reward them as such.

3) Most data is of little to no value. I'm puzzled by the hype to have access to data when the real value is owning the system, or the code that exacts value from it.

4) For comment 3 to work, we need a standardized system for this to function. This means creating a network for ag data to easily be shared and transferred. We have a standardized system for internet code to share information. Why not for ag tech or precision ag?

5) For information to rapidly become available for number 4, it requires a standardized code of conduct or rights for the owners of the data. The ability to opt in or out would need to be standard.

While the potential in this space is significant, when I talk with growers, many are using a fraction of what the equipment or technology is capable of. In most cases it isn't fool proof enough to provide consistent information year in/year out or it doesn't address comment 1. Those are my thoughts, what are yours?

Big Aahaas from 2019 (Comments are from Jonathan Zettler, Patrick Lynch, Adam Garniss, Christy Visser, Emily Jones and Ryan Benjamins from various places across Ontario.)

Last issue we wrote about Sudden Death Syndrome being more relevant and how row cleaners are needed for strip tillage. 1)Scouting for Western Bean Cutworm (WBC). A lot of frustration scouting for WBC. In general scouting was ineffective, as fields with low levels still had damage. In general, very little corn was sprayed, but a lot of edible bean acres were sprayed. Also, no news really, but you can’t blame all DON on WBC.2) Soybean populations after emergence Many customers felt uneasy when told to leave a field with 100,000 plants/acre. Many were surprised at the 60 bu/ac yield from these fields. 3) Earlier burn downs for soybeans. This is mainly to spread out the work load. But it also helps reduce earlier weed competition and ensures something gets on before planting/emergence. Some growers are thinking to spray their burndown at early green up in April. 4) Twitter, accounts should only be allowed 1 tweet per day. 5) Patience is a virtue! Especially during 2018 planting. Such a long planting season but those who had patience and waited for good or close to good planting conditions were rewarded with good stands and subsequent yields. Another wrote 6) Don’t give up on the crop. Checked fields many times where 100-120K plants which is on the verge on heavy clays. We treated it like a normal crop. Sprayed for mites, and had yields of 60+ and got wheat in. 7) We have much cleaner fields by spraying corn stubble in the fall, even very late.

What is Fertilizer Value of Unharvested Corn?

All of the nutrients you would have removed should be calculated as if you spread that much fertilizer. For instance, a 180 bu/ac corn crop spread back on the ground is like broadcasting 130 lbs. per acre MAP and 100 lbs./ac muriate of potash (0-0-60). You don’t have to worry that parts of the field yielded better than other parts, since that is where you need more fertilizer. There will also be some nitrogen. Probably 125-175 actual N. Of this at least 50% will be available as a slow release nitrogen.

Strip Tillage Considerations for New or Recent Adopters

I still see a large number of producers consider or adopting Strip Tillage as part of the farming operation. For many, this is to replace what they have been doing to grow corn, and for a minority, they are also considering it for soybeans. When considering strip tillage, you need to consider many factors around the entire field work/farming operation, as it greatly impacts the seed bed, weed control and fertility aspects of the operation. In no particular order, the following should be considered when evaluating this as part of your cropping operation 1) GPS Guidance/Signal Selection 2) Cover Crop Selection 3) Crop Rotation 4) Whole farm fertility management, safe rates, placement and application methods 5) Herbicide selection and timing 6) Strip till unit selection factors – berm size, shank vs discs, width/spacing, fertilizer application 7) Planter selection and setup. In the coming issues, I will review the topics in greater depth.

Effect of Oats on Soil Structure

At a recent lunch meeting I was comparing notes with a local cover crop expert. Both of us agreed that cover crop Oats following wheat seemed to make soil conditions much mellower in the spring, especially on medium textured soils. Neither of us had a good explanation on why. May be due to the extra root growth of oats.

Building soil values on eroded knolls

A recent conversation with a grower revolved around which fertilizer source he should use to build soil test P on his eroded knolls. My answer was manure, pelletized sewage sludge or compost. Reason being these areas typically lack organic matter, soil test P and residual mobile nutrients such as nitrogen. In some instances, you can purchase 1 lb. of P from commercial fertilizer for the same price as you can from compost or manure and get many additional benefits.

General Impressions From SWAC

1) It is the best crops conference in Ontario and probably eastern North America. 2) General consensus that no tilling and leaving residue on the ground is increasing the amount of DON in corn and wheat. However, the advantages of no till are worth the problems of DON in wheat and corn. Besides, to be effective, everyone would have to bury the residue. Not going to happen, so we need to have other strategies to deal with DON. 3) Resistance is real and increasing. The number of weeds and acres with resistant weeds is increasing. We have resistance to our insecticides. Now there is proof that the fungi that caused DON in corn is changing so it will be able to overcome some genetic resistance.

SWAC Cover Crops

A lot of presentations on cover crops. A general type of comment “There is no specific point in the rotation for cover crop. I try to establish a cover crop wherever possible.”  1) The cost for cover crop seed should be in the $15 per acre range. There was some talk of the “perceived” benefits to multi species cover crop mixes. There was no data or evidence to support these claims. There is still a discussion to killing the cover crop before crop emergence. Some of the more vocal proponents were those involved in weed research who want nothing growing when the new crop emerges. 2) Public attitude for showy cover crops (sunflowers) was mentioned a number of times. But also suggested that you did not need to sow all your cover crop acres with sunflowers. One non-traditional use of cover crops is annual rye into corn at 6-8 leaf stage. Most growers are struggling to get it established and enough growth to make it worthwhile. Another non-traditional is cereals into soybeans. Tyler McBlain of Caledonia, ON; “When it comes to seeding populations, more is not better. Treat the cover crop as another cash crop: the better it is managed the better the results. Growing cover crops is part of a long-term plan, helping to keep the farm profitable and sustainable for future generations.”

Learning to Grow a New Crop

I was asked how to go about learning a new crop. After some thought, this is the approach I would take.

1. Learn basic crop growth and development. What are the crop stages, how is the crop planted, which soil type/pH. is best suited etc... All other management follows from this.

2. Crop establishment and growth determines the 4Rs of fertility management (Source, Rate, Time, Place). Understanding how nutrients behave in the soil profile and are taken up by the crop greatly impacts effectiveness.

3. Weed management; many crops have a critical weed free period. For field crops; grasses =1-5 leaf stage, broadleaves typically 1-3 mature leaves. Understand the yield limiting weeds or those that impacting harvestability in that particular field. Build the plan around those weeds.

4. Disease management; after seedling diseases the largest economic impact in field crops is during flowering. Understand which disease can cause the largest impact in that crop at that time.

5. Insect management; Use extension material to ID main economic pests. Find available tools to manage appropriately.

Following this approach, one should be able to have a basic conversation regarding the new crop's management.

(SWAC) Applying Manure with a Drag Hose after Corn Emergences (Glen Arnold - Ohio State University)

This research was done by dragging a 6” diameter drag hose filled with water two times going at opposite directions at corn growth stages V1 to V5. (first to fifth leaf collar). In this research there was no adverse yield affect until V5 (5th leaf collar stage) Researcher said that at V5 about 60% of the plants were snapped off. Some regrew but gave smaller cobs. This gives another option to applying manure after corn planting.

Table 1 - Manure applications by drag hose

"The scariest moment is always just before you start." -  Stephen King