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The Cropwalker - Volume 3 Issue 2

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There are numerous conferences we will be sharing content from this month. SWAC will denote Southwest Ag Conference, held in Ridgetown, ON. CCA will denote the Certified Crop Advisor Conference held later this week, and FS will denote FarmSmart or CerealSmart, held at the end of the week.

Crop Conditions

Corn harvest continues. Some fields now down to 23% but still a lot of snow. Was told of one soybean field harvested last week and was accepted at the elevator. Some wheat fields were peeking through but now most are snow covered.


The case for planting more Forages

The chart below gives an historical glimpse of hay, beef, dairy cow and sheep numbers. It clearly shows that while the number of beef cattle have declined since 2006, the number. of hay acres have declined more. This plus the fact that a lot of forage acres are still suffering from the 2018/2019 winter, suggests that there will be a market for good forages. To summarize the chart, I took total animal units per year and divided it by the number of hay acres. Have forage yields increased by 30 to 40% since the mid-2000’s? I doubt it. All acres and animal numbers are scaled on the left axis.

(Animal unit used is 1.2 for Dairy, 1 for beef, 0.2 for sheep)

Figure 2 - Hay Acres relative to Ruminant Livestock Numbers

SWAC - High testing soils are needed to get high yields

These charts were presented at SWAC again this year. They have been presented before. Not sure who originally showed them. Research was done at Elora, probably by Greg Stewart, now at Maizex, and Dr Dave Hooker, along with other past OMAFRA/ U of G Staff. The results show that 1) to get high yields you need to have soil testing high. 2) Starter fertilizer, liquid or dry gives a yield increase. 3) This is the most important, if you want high soybean yields you have to have high soil test levels. 4) You cannot push soybean yields by applying fertilizer the year you plant them.

Table 1 - Soybean Yield Response to Fertility
Table 2- Corn Yield Response to Fertility

SWAC - What is the Value of Wheat in Your Rotation?

At SWAC 2020, Dr Dave Hooker U. of G. presented research indicating that by putting wheat in your rotation, corn yields increased by 10 bu/ac and soybeans yields by 5 bu/ac, compared to just a corn soybean rotation. He has enough experience to know these values are valid. When you are ordering your soybean varieties this year why not order earlier varieties where you plan to plant wheat. Research shown at SWAC other years suggest you give up 2-3 bu/ac by planting longer season varieties. Why not plant a shorter season variety, so you can plant wheat and then pick up 5 bu/ac the next time you plant soybeans and also pick up 10 bu/ac of corn? Just a thought.

Figure 1 - Long-term crop rotation trials at Elora Research Station

What causes Soil Organic Matter losses, Tillage or Crop Rotation?

While tillage can cause soil organic matter losses within a field through soil erosion, especially on highly erodible soils, data from research at the U of G Elora Research Station suggests that crop rotation is a bigger factor in determining the rate of Soil Organic Matter decomposition.

SWAC – YEN – Take 2

Last week we had mentioned the Yield Enhancement Network. This is a self-funded yield contest, run by a private consulting firm in the UK to determine what the limiting parameters are to getting high yields, once seasonal variation is accounted for (temperature, solar radiation and moisture). Growers are given a rating on what percentage they achieved of maximum yield. The goal of the yield contest is to try and integrate best practices growers have found in their environments, and the results they see in small plot research. It allows the small plot researchers to have a feedback mechanism on what works or doesn’t work in the real world.

The meat and potatoes of the presentation; high yields come from big crops. You need a big crop to capture solar radiation. In plant agriculture, we are in the business of harvesting energy. Once you have figured out how to optimize the solar radiation part, the YEN presenters comment that you need deep roots to have enough water to feed the large biomass on top. Talking with both (researchers from UK over seeing this project) privately, they separately commented that the most important factor in making maximum use of your resources is water access, particularly subsoil water.

If you are not there today, how do you get there? I posed that question to both of them, and the answer was that if you have high yield crops, you will continue to get high yielding crops, as they already have large root systems, and the subsequent crops follow the same root paths to access water.  I didn’t really get answer on how to get there in the first place, only comment was to consider adding a deep-rooted crop like alfalfa to the rotation. What about the nutrient component? Currently they are working on building a tissue testing data base to pick up on nutrient deficiencies by crop stage, as typically the more mature the vegetation, the more diluted the nutrients become. Currently most UK labs use a standard value regardless of crop growth stages. Not good enough obviously. More thoughts to come in the next issue.

You need your local retailer?

Occasionally I get calls from producers lamenting that they are not being served by the local retailer. And that is okay. Usually I point out what seems obvious from my standpoint, having worked in retail most of my career. Retailers are in business to provide a service and make money doing so. So are private crop consultants. What does this mean? At times the retailer may not have expertise or the capability to provide a service or the level of expertise you might be looking for. Unfournately, businesses cannot be all things to all people. This means that you should value what they are experts in, and then find others to help fill in the holes that you may feel your business is lacking. Key measurements that your account or sales rep may have for their success, may not line up with key success measurements for your business. In some situations, this may mean find a retailer that does line up with your success measurements.

As one reader had put it, “If my tractor dealership was an expert in precision agronomy but couldn’t help me with a DEF problem on my engine, they would no longer be my tractor dealership”. In many situations, I have seen growers switch suppliers, rather than admit aspects of the relationship aren’t working or that they are not getting the results they hoped to achieve. My comment to one retailer, was that it is easier for growers to switch suppliers or make wholesale change, than to go through the painful conversation of bring up the fact that they aren’t happy with their results. Don’t be afraid to have that conversation with your retailer.

Theme of 2020 meetings

Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone back to looking at the basics, but one theme I see at various conferences thus far in January 2020, is the focus on the core building blocks of yield or biomass. What are these? Roughly it is; Plant Stand + Water (Rooting Depth) + Sunlight (Solar Radiation) + Nutrients + Growing Degree Days at Key Stages = Plant Biomass/Yield. Pretty obvious right? But how many of us are capturing those details in a digital format? Sure, some of us have focus heavily on the nutrient piece in the past, or making sure we have a strong plant stand, and certainly a few of us have a weather station to measure growing degree days, but what about the water and sunlight components? How can we make better yield predications or management decisions in season if we are not monitoring or measuring these components? Especially when they account for a high percentage of the year to year variability. But Jonathan, we have a rain gauge for water, and I know that if I get a sunburn, it’s sunny out. True. But it’s a combination of the various factors that should be brought together on one dashboard, not individually. And don’t forget, plants do not drink water out of a rain gauge. The rain gauge does not measure water infiltration, we would need soil moisture sensors to capture that data layer.

Processing Yield Data and Actionable Outcomes

Around this time of year, many growers or their consultants start processing yield data. Dr. Clarence Swanton, retired head of Plant Agriculture at the U of G, presented at a meeting a year ago that there may be parts of your fields, that no matter what you do, will not recover the cost of inputs (variable costs). These areas are also at high risk of off field movement for non-point source pollution (nothing is growing, and you applied fertilizer). Two questions that should be asked; 1) what the breakeven requirement is by crop yield to justify farming low yield areas; 2) if I have tried making management adjustments, and are unable to make corrective actions, what should I use these areas for?

Answer to question 1

Figure 3 - How many bushels does it take to cover inputs?

Answer 2 – what’s the limiting factor, a few ideas…

1)    Water – too dry? Alternate crop/native grasses; too wet? Tile or alternate crop/native grasses or back to wet land?

2)    Nutrients – adjust accordingly. If limited yield potential and high soil test values, stop fertilizing (usually drown outs).

3)    Plant population – Complete plant stand counts, will increasing or decreasing the seeding rate make this area profitable?

4)    Solar radiation/sunlight – alternate crop (hay), turf for headland or native grasses.

5)    Use internal field boundaries for spraying/planting equipment (section control), if these areas are within a field boarder, to make them manageable with a field and being able to drive right through them.

What is the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program, and is it working?

4R Nutrient Stewardship is voluntary program for Ontario agri-retailers and nutrient service providers implementing 4R nutrient stewardship. Going through the exercise of a fertility plan with 4R in mind is to meet the goals of a triple bottom line, that being economic, social and environmental impacts. The question is, from a producer standpoint, will it have a significant impact on your farm? In typical agronomist fashion, it depends. If you are already doing a number of the practices outlined in the 4R program, your unlikely to see as many benefits as a producer with fertilizer use methods that maybe “inefficient”. As an industry, if we hope to maintain access to the application methods, materials and rates we use today, eliminating practices that do not add economic value, increase the risk of environmental impact, and reduce the value of public resources (i.e. Lake Erie), is a must-do practice. The 4Rs are; Right Source, Right Rate, Right Time, and Right Place.

Zero-Cost High Yield Soybeans

Last winter I met with a grower that regularly produces 70 to 80-bushel/ac soybeans year over year. How do they do it? They put soybean seed in the ground when everyone else is busy trying to get corn in. Beans need time to branch to put on quite a few pods and the solar radiation to fill them. As the season gets later, many will crank seeding rate to increase ground cover/pod counts to try and maintain yield. Whereas corn will only produce one cob and is more so impacted by solar radiation/frost/kernel depth later in the season than branching. Still scared to try it? What’s the value of an extra 10-20 bushels of beans vs. a slight yield hit on your corn crop? You can afford to give up 20 to 40 bushels worth of corn. Another tip do not plant super long day beans if you plan on trying this. Growers that have done this suggest sticking to adapted or early-adapted genetics. Farm in an area with heavy risk of frost well into May? You might get caught once and a while. i.e. 2015. That year growers that planted soybeans into warm soil conditions (which caused quick germination), with a very cold front on the horizon, and ended up replanting.

For more information or ideas on this topic, visit; https://coolbean.info/2019/04/10/planting-date-and-maturity-group-considerations-moving-into-a-potentially-early-spring-2018/

“Effectiveness over efficiency.”

- Anonymous