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The Cropwalker - Volume 2 Issue 49

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WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR. As you enjoy all the food at this time of year remember it is not so much what you eat between Christmas and New Year’s that counts, as it is what you eat between New Years and Christmas.

What we have endeavored to do this year is keep you informed of the major issues in producing the main field crops. We spend a lot of time reading farm media, research reports, information from Ag manufacturers in Canada and the US, so that you do not have to. We also write about questions our readers have asked us. To this point if you have a question, send it along.

We will not be writing anything between now and the start of 2020. The next edition will come out after the Southwest Ag Conference (week of January 13th).

Crop Conditions

For the records, corn harvest carries on with around 15-20% to go. That means about 350,000 to 400,000 acres to go. Harvesting is occurring sporadically. Not much has changed, more light weight corn, moisture is dropping some, standability in some fields is getting worse. Several growers are resigning themselves to the fact that that their corn will be harvested in the spring. Some corn is coming off as high moisture and being stored in bags. For livestock producers facing feed storage this is an option. (As bad as things are in Ontario, the Maritimes are worse. The wind that went through late summer flattened the corn, and yields are about 50%.) Soybeans harvest also continues. Estimated that 5% or 150,000 acres to go. But keep hearing of more acres than expected in some areas. At some point there will be acres that may not be harvested.

Crop conditions Dec 16, 2014

Corn – Harvest is about 90% complete. Some areas are 90-95% and other areas are 80-85% with many growers complete and others a long way to go. Moistures are still in high 20s to low 30s. Standability is not bad. Some areas have 30% down in some fields. Most corn is testing 3 and 4 but some are at 5. The experience this year: full-season hybrids planted past May 25 did not produce high test weights. Statistics Canada released a final yield for corn of 160.6 bu/ac. (Sounds a bit like 2019)


2019 Corn Performance Trials Available Online

To view these, go to www.GoCorn.net .

Interesting that of the 5 tables already available average yield is similar for 2018 and 2019. If anything, average trial yields may be higher in 2019.

First thing I do when looking at the charts is sort by yield index. First thing I did with 2019 trials was look at planting date.

When will my corn dry down?

I’ve researched several ways of determining corn dry down. The answer is; any significant amount of dry down will not happen until March. Why? It has to do with relative humidity and growing degree days. Here are the two best explanations I have found;

1)    Growing Degree Days – corn moisture declines 1% for every 24 to 29 growing degree days. (which we won’t have any of those until closer to spring).

2)    Relative Humidity – grain will dry when the equilibrium moisture content (EMC) is below that of the grain. The equilibrium moisture content is the moisture corn will dry down to, without any heat (just air). Based upon today’s weather, we have 80% humidity, not exactly great drying weather, but if the air temperature was zero, it should dry down to about 20% moisture.

3)    When corn is frozen, it can dry through sublimination (think shrunken ice cubes in the freezer).

Will corn dry over the winter? Yes, but it depends on a combination of these three factors. If you are hoping for sub 20% moisture corn, you may have to wait until March/April. Wind and sun will dry corn. You can keep checking moisture this winter.

Figure 1 - Estimated Field Drying of Corn (NDSU Ext)

Source: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/news/newsreleases/2019/oct-6-2019/expect-high-moisture-corn-at-harvest

Figure 2 - Equilibrium Moisture Content at various temperatures

Source: https://fieldcropnews.com/2019/11/natural-air-drying-of-corn/

Figure 3 - Storability of Grain Corn at various Temperatures/Moistures

Source: https://fieldcropnews.com/2019/11/natural-air-drying-of-corn/

What weed is it?

I continue to see more and more of this weed in my field walks. It needs to be on our radar, especially of concern on acres without any tillage, as it is resistant to several herbicides in other jurisdictions. Do you know what it is? Will send a $10 Tim Horton’s gift card to the first right answer, and cover more about this weed in our next issue.

Picture 1 - What weed is it?

I have soil that flakes up when it finally dries, will Gypsum help?

Unless you have an issue with salts accumulating in that area of the field, and can add drainage, adding gypsum will not improve the situation. It is an issue because water must leave that area of the field through evaporation instead of percolation through the soil profile, or through surface run off. Fix the movement of water first, then worry about trying to address the soil structure issues.

Reading Soil Tests - My soil test came back in mg/L, how do I convert it to ppm?

Quick answer – mg/L is the same as ppm.

Reading a manure sample/organic amendment test – Rules of thumb


1.     You will need to breakout the different components of the total nitrogen, if you want to figure out estimated crop availability (i.e. Total Nitrogen, Organic N, Ammonium-N, Nitrate-N)

2.    More on this topic in a future issue (requires its own article)


1.     To convert from % of elemental P to P2O5 form, which all fertilizer recommendations are made;

a.     Total P% x 45.8 = lbs. total P2o5 per short ton.

b.    Total P% x 191 = lbs. total P2o5 per 1000 US gallons

2.    40% of the total phosphorus is available in the first year of application

3.    An additional 40% of total phosphorus is available in the 2nd year of application

4.    The remaining 20% is assumed to be tied up in the soil profile, inaccessible to the crop.


1.     To convert from % of elemental P to lbs./ton P2O5 form, which all fertilizer recommendations are made;

a.     Total K% x 24 = lbs. total K2O per short ton

b.    Total K% x 100 = lbs. total K2O per 1000 US gallons

2.    90% of the total potassium is available in the first year of application

3.    The remaining 10% is assumed to be tied up in the soil profile, inaccessible to the crop.

I’ve tried direct drilling forage grasses with my seed drill, the seed tubes just keep plugging up, what do I do?

Joe Lawrence from Cornell commented at Forage Focus that in his experience in upper New York state, he hasn’t seen as big of a difference between forage establishment methods (broadcast vs. drilling), as he has with creating the proper seed bed. Now if you would need to use a drill, because you have seen better success in the past, or are trying to no-till forages into corn silage stubble, look at these seed tubes below, they have no ridges on them for seed to bridge on. These should be available at Argis 2000 in Listowel, ON.


Picture 2 - Seed caught in corrugated tube
Picture 3 - Seed passing through, no ridges to catch

Does cutting higher corn for silage pay?

Cutting height is another reliable strategy to reduce lignin in corn plants. Lignin is an important structural component concentrated in the bottom part of corn plants. As cutting height is increased, more lignin is left with the portion that remains in the field, and greater fiber digestibility is achieved. Briefly, DM yield is reduced as the row-crop head is raised. But decreased DM yields are offset by an increase in the milk per ton estimates at the higher cutting height. Greater milk estimate is a consequence of the greater fiber digestibility and starch concentration of the harvested material. This could possibly allow for greater quantities of high-cut silage to be included in the diet, rather than corn grain, providing an economic benefit through reduced purchased feed costs

Results from a recent literature review from our group is in Table 1.

Table 1 - Corn Silage Cutting Height and Feed Quality

Research by Luiz Ferraretto Assistant Professor of Livestock Nutrition, Department of Animal Sciences - University of Florida

Does cutting date really matter when it comes to alfalfa winterkill?

Short answer, we think that there are so many other factors that affect winterkill more than cutting date. Cutting date was brought up at Forage Focus as a key factor to preventing winterkill. But when you speak with producers, the consensus seems to be that in the big picture it doesn’t matter. It might be number 10 on the list, after you consider many other factors affecting forage stands. Without ranking, 5 things that lead to alfalfa winterkill more than cutting date;

1.     Weather conditions

2.    Soil Type

3.    Un-tiled vs tiled fields

4.    Age of Stand

5.    Soil Fertility

If cutting date was a primary factor, we wouldn’t see forage stands kill out in large areas (i.e. 2019 in Eastern Ontario), as producers are unlikely to have all cut at the same time, food for thought.

Did Fungicides on Corn Pay in 2019

Joanna Wallace Syngenta sent us the results of one on farm field in Perth county in 2019. Syngenta has a new foliar fungicide Miravis Neo. In this field demonstration the untreated yielded 188 bu/ac at 25% moisture. The treated yielded 199 bu/ac at 26.2% moisture. The corn will be tested for DON. I spoke with the farmer who has this field. He said he did not think the yield difference was due to standability, but the sprayed was standing much better.

Picture 4 - Corn treated with Miravis Neo vs Untreated

What happens when there are tighter restrictions on Roundup use?

You cannot spray edible beans preharvest with Roundup. I imagine the next crops with no pre-harvest will be on IP soybeans or winter wheat. Then no pre harvest on Roundup Ready soybeans. We have known for years that there is glyphosate residue in edible beans and soybeans sprayed pre harvest with glyphosate. There are a couple of things. Roundup was never registered as a desiccant because it is not a very good desiccant. It was registered for weed control. We will still use it for weed control at other times, like post-harvest and pre plant. And for years we farmed without Roundup. Probably the biggest benefit Roundup gave us was quack grass control. Now that weed is under control. And we have other herbicides like Assure and Accent that we can use in crop to control quack grass. If required, we will be able to farm very successfully with reduced use of glyphosate.

Another Research Trial to Document Compaction

I had a discussion with a research planning another compaction trial. I challenged the researcher. Enough with documenting compaction. It is real. We know it. We know that axle weight and wet soil are the reasons. We know we can do things with tires and tire pressure. So now let’s do research as to remedial measures for compaction. I have seen forages reduce the effects of compaction. We need to know, 1) which forages, legumes, grasses or combinations. 2) How long must these be down. Can we overcome the compaction affect with 1 year, or 2 years, or longer? This is basic research that we need someone to look at.

How do I fertilize forage fields testing very low?

Last week I had 2 queries about this issue. One was about 300 acres, the other was about 30. Phosphate levels were 4-8 ppm. Potassium levels were 60-80 ppm. In one case magnesium was below 60 ppm. The solution is to broadcast high rates now. A good forage stand removes 45 pounds/ac of phosphorous per ton. So, with 3-4 ton you are removing 45-60 lbs./ac phosphorous. That is the minimum to apply. To get the yields that other growers get 5+ tons per acre, you need a lot more. In one case the field was already established. In this case the field should be ripped up in the poor areas, phosphorous broadcast and reseeded. With forages and phosphorous, seed placed phosphorous can double the amount of forage in the establishment year. Not everyone can apply seed placed phosphorous. In these cases, you must apply extra phosphorous to compensate for the inability to place phosphorous in the row with the seed. Since alfalfa luxury consumes potassium, the best you can do is to try and maintain K levels. Build K levels for that field on the other crops in the rotation.

Understanding Fertilizer Analysis – Sulphur

I was recently comparing a few sulphur sources for a client, and the manufacturer expressed that their product has 24 lbs. of SO4 per 100 lbs. of product. Seemed good. But after comparing it to other products which include sulphur in the sulphate form, they express their analysis in the elemental “S” form. So how do you convert from one to the other?

Here's a quick summary.

Figure 4 - Converting Sulphate to Sulphur

The 5% Rule, How to Add Margin to your Business– Revisited

I’ve stopped keeping track of how many times I’ve written about this rule. It is a mesh of Kristjan Herbert’s 5% rule of making improvements to improve margin on your farm, and McKinsey and Co’s rule of 3 (for every area to improve, make 3 action items). At the end of the exercise, you will have 9 things you can do better on your operation. First, you need numbers to start with, perhaps even the exercise of doing that math will bring to light some opportunities. The goal is to make 5% improvements to yield, price and expenses. From my experience, you will never run out of things to work on. Examples of 3 things for each area are provided below.

Figure 5 - 5% Rule on Improving Margin

Everybody is Wrong

I’ve yet to meet someone speaking on crops that is right 100% of the time, including myself. It’s not possible. In fact, I think if you are wanting to be right 100% of the time, you are either not learning and/or you are not pushing the envelope hard enough. Now that the winter meeting season has started, you will encounter a few different types of perspectives when it comes to agronomy information.

There will be the conservative type, who will have loads and loads of data to support their research. The challenge with this person is that the research typically fits a very narrow type of management practices, or a specific area. By the time they are bringing something to the table, the innovators and early adopters and possibly even the early majority, have already adopted the practice. Because these people are the co-operator doing in the field research for them. They have data support them being right a high percentage of the time, but likely too late.

At the other extreme, you will have the wild cowboy type, who will have very little evidence other than a hunch or an observation on what to do next. They likely have done several experiments on a whim, which may or may not be replicated, just to see if it works. They are more interested in proof of concept than the practicalities. Most of those in the room may think they are crazy! They don’t mind being “wrong”. They are likely wrong a high percentage of the time, because what you are seeing is a concept in development, and there are likely to be a few mistakes.

Who should you listen to? You need a bit of both, the conservative person to reaffirm why you do a management practice, and the wild cowboy to keep things interesting and provide ideas on what to incorporate next into your operation.

4% of Corporate Sales

According to Bob Recker, former John Deere Advanced Farming engineer, if you farm 1000 acres, you should be doing continuous improvement on 960 acres, new practices on 40 acres and advanced farming practices on 4 acres. How did he come up with this number? John Deere spends approximately 4% of its corporate sales on research and development, of that 10% (or 0.4% of corporate sales) is done on advanced engineering. Advanced engineering means trying to develop something that hasn’t been done before, or for proof of concept. When he worked in this department, a 10% success rate was considered good. If it passed the 4-acre test, then it went into the 40-acre test (field scale), before it should be implemented on the remainder of the farm. The 40 acres test is big enough that it matters, but not so large that it hurts the farming enterprise if a significant issue occurs. Does your farm have a R&D budget to figure out what works?

In God We Trust… Everybody else brings data.”

- HJ Markley