7 min read

The Cropwalker - Volume 2 Issue 3

Always read and follow label directions.


Meeting overload, how to sort through it

It’s only January 21st, and you are already suffering through information overload. And there are a few more months to get through before hitting the field. The question is, what do you do with all of this information? Lee Briese of Centrol Crop Consulting commented at FarmSmart 2019 that you need a framework on how to address your farm’s specific problems. The start of this framework is to have GOALS on a yearly basis for your farm. These goals should be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time bound. To sort through all the noise, what are you hoping to achieve in 2019 on your farm? Those are the meetings you should go to.

What is the Most Limiting Factor for Corn Yield? (Asked at Pundits session of SWAC)

The answer is water. Both Mr. Johnson and myself agreed on this. Most places in Ontario over the last 10 years have averaged 34-36 inches of precipitation a year. This is 748,000 – 792,000 gallons of water per acre. It takes about 4,000 gallons of water per acre to grow a bushel of corn. So currently our average yields are topped at about 180-200 bu/ac. So how come we are getting higher yields than that? This year we had timely rains. The dry weather in June forced the roots to go deeper. When it turned dry some fields or areas of fields had deeper roots and they were able to reach water table. But as we shoot for 300 bu/ac and more,­ we need to make better use of water. We will make some strides by getting hybrids that are more water efficient, but ultimately yields will be determined by water. You can do things about this. 1) Irrigation we know can add 100 bu/ac in a dry year or in areas of a field where water is limited. 2) Controlled drainage. There is a Soil and Crop co-operative project in Huron County to look at this. But in the meantime look at your drainage. Especially if you acquire new land that needs drainage. Consider talking to a drainage person about installing tiles that will utilize “controlled drainage. One part of this is to run tiles across a slope instead of up and down the slope. 3) Crop-Tech agronomist, Ken Ferrie, spoke at CropSmart19, and commented that water was the most limiting factor to higher crop yields. His suggestion was to ensure that you are making full use of the soil profile (no compaction or density layers). Now you have a trifecta suggesting we need to manage for water.

Use of Biochar (Notes from a presentation at CCA conference by Maren Oelbermann, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo)

Biochar is a charcoal produced from organic materials (feedstock). Made from wood and crop residues, rice hulls, nut shells, food waste, etc.

My take is this researcher received funding to look at the value of adding biochar to improve soil properties and other factors, such as, yield. The researcher was trying to put a positive spin on the research Summary of research showed that there was a change in some soil properties but no change in yield. The current cost is about $1,500.00 per acre. You will no doubt hear a lot this winter. Try some if you want, but there are more sure ways to increase organic matter. These include some of the city waste products. Or buying some old bales that you see around the country and applying them to low organic matter areas of a field. Or why not harvest some cover crop from good fields and apply this to low organic matter areas of other fields.

What is the Value/Use of CEC on a Soil Analysis? (You asked)

CEC refers to the cation exchange capacity of a soil sample. It is a measure of how many cations such as K+, Mg+ or nitrogen in the NH4+ form, which the soil can hold. A real CEC test is very expensive. It involves using a chemical to wash all the cations from a soil sample and then reintroducing a cation to see how many the soil will hold. The way that labs do it is just by adding the total number of cations measured in the sample. I use CEC to determine if the soil sample is very accurate. Typically soils with high CECs are heavier than soils with low CECs. I will ask a grower, “is this part of the field heavier (high CEC) than this part (Low CEC). If they say “yes” Then I know that the sample is from the right place in the field.

More Big Aahaas from 2018 (combined thoughts of Adam Garniss, Christy Visser, Ryan Benjamins, Jonathan Zettler, Patrick Lynch, Emily Jones)

1) Rain in August dictates yield. We grossly underestimate the impact water has on crop and nutrient cycles. 2) Even after our “last pass” of Roundup in RR soybeans, weeds can still come and be worth controlling later. 3) We still have a lot to learn about WBC in white beans. Right now, we are still throwing darts when it comes to spraying. 4) Fungicides in corn made sense in most cases even though weather at the time didn’t necessarily say it would. It’s getting harder to cut out this application every year. 5) Crop is not made until the cheque is in the bank. 6) Getting things done on time trumps technology, or what’s “cool”, every time. 7) Gowers are having a hard time building soil P&K using conventional fertilizer.

What Height Should You cut Corn for Silage?

Lots of research on this. Most of the US dairy states have come to the same conclusion. Here is one summary “A Penn State summary of 11 chop height trials found that yield declined by an average of 7 per­cent when chop height was raised by 12 inches. Predicted milk produc­tion per ton of corn silage rose by 5 percent, while milk production per acre declined by only 2 percent. The impact on milk pro­duction depends on many factors; in one Penn State trial with high corn silage yields, both predicted milk per ton and per acre were enhanced by high chop­ping (6 inches versus 18 inches).

One of the best suggestions was, “you should talk to your nutritionist. The decision to change cutting height will change the feed value. Whether you want this changed will depend on the other feeds you are using in the ration.”

Fear of Missing Out on Earth-Shattering Announcements

It’s okay to say no. Take back your inbox and calendar by being highly selective of what you decide to read or attend. But what if you miss out on that one meeting or update that could change your operation? Well, if it is truly that earth shattering and difference making, there will be so much noise that it will be hard to ignore. So, given the advice, pick a few high-quality items to focus on and forget the rest.

SWAC – Making Crop Input Decisions

At SWAC, Chris Boersma of Ridge Valley Farms, Ridgetown, ON commented that they use a 30% return, 70% of the time selection criteria when it comes to inputs decisions. On his operation this means on average they will obtain a 21% return on the input investments for that cropping season. Products will make the cut following extensive field testing on multiple fields in different environments over a minimum of a two-year period. Without this method, he has found it very difficult to find any inputs in his operation that provide a 100% return all of the time.

Strip Till Management Factors

Continuation from last week, in no particular order.

1) GPS Guidance/Signal Selection – many producers have commented that you should have RTK on both the tractors setting up the strips and planting into the strips. Some have even suggested that they should have the same pivot point, especially on fields with many turns or curves. This improves the planter’s ability to remain in the center of the strip. If the budget only allows for 1 unit with RTK, the tractor setting up the strips should have it, with the planting tractor running mid-level signal.

2) Cover Crop Selection –The next challenge is coordinating cover crop establishment and termination around stripping and planting. Selection factors could include; soil type, machine type, weed species suppression/targeting, soil health goals, among many others.

3) Crop Rotation – Strip tillage following soybeans or winter wheat can negate many residue issues of corn on corn. However, there is still a challenge of setting up the combine properly to spread chaff and any remaining residue the full width of the machine, partially to reduce the risk of slugs, and machine plugging. If following wheat and going to corn, fall stripping is advantageous due to typically good fall conditions to build a berm and place any P&K requirements for the following year. If following soybeans, fall stripping may not be as critical due to lack of good ground conditions to build a berm, however, crop safety should be taken into account when designing the fertility program.

4) Whole farm fertility management, safe rates, placement, and application methods - If you are currently no-till soybeans and winter wheat but working fields going to corn, you will have some nutrient stratification vertically, if applying the bulk of the fertilizer through a spreader or airflow. By going to strip till there will also be some nutrient stratification horizontally, with approximately a ~ 8-10” band every 30”. Depending on historical soil tests and fertility management, strip till adopters will need to consider the entire farm’s fertility program when making future P&K application decisions.

Factors 5 to 7 to be continued next week.

Conducting On-Farm Trials

Several speakers over the past couple of conferences have commented that with today’s cropping technology, we should be running more on-farm trials to evaluate management decisions and product performance. This does not have to be a complex or an expensive venture. It can be as simple as running an on/off script throughout the field when applying a fungicide on soybeans. Another example would be adjusting seeding rates when planting soybeans. The goal is to have results that fit your management system.

Want to ensure your results are repeatable or have some statistical backing? See the link to the GFO website on trial setup.


Here is a suggestion I saw posted on Twitter (@andy_linder) from the National No-Till Conference.

Andy Linder on Twitter: "Are you working on your R&D or falling behind?… "

Andy Linder on Twitter: "Are you working on your R&D or falling behind?… "

"Price is what you pay. Value is what you get."  - Warren Buffett