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The Cropwalker - Volume 3 Issue 31

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Crop Conditions

Weather – continues to be very good for most of Ontario with good rainfall and sunny days. Winter wheat and most of the spring grains are off. Most areas received rain albeit some too late to help spring cereals. Crops will be hampered somewhat in eastern Ontario. Soybeans continue to motor on. Winter wheat/cover crops cover crops are growing well. One grower in Huron county told me “I can’t believe the clover growth. At harvest there was nothing there. Now I have a phenomenal crop” Another grower in central Ontario says Agricorp is coming to see if my red clover is worth keeping.” It has been estimated that 25% of Ontario’s winter wheat gets red clover. It should be more. Corn Earliest fields are starting to dent. Western Bean Cutworm (WBC) are now showing up where there were few moths and hard to find egg masses. Some areas very little spraying. So now we will see if not spraying for WBC affects yields. Earliest corn silage fields will be ready by September 5-12th. Soybeans Spider mites are still around but really too late to spray. Earliest fields are starting to turn colour. Some is natural ripening and some fields are showing symptoms of ozone. Really doesn’t matter which it is. We will have some early harvested soybeans. Forages third cut is finished and fourth cut off to a good start. Yields of second and third generally below average. Most areas will have a forage shortage.


Things to do this week

1.     Review your soil analysis that have come back and see what has changed since last sample.

2.    Check cover crop and consider harvesting for forages

3.    Decide what new wheat varieties you will try this year.

4.    Update or check your marketing plan.

5.    If you have manure get a sample.

6.    Take time for family. If you can’t get away then order in a special meal for all.

Question on forages I harvested oats for forage on my new seeding. Alfalfa is struggling and the ragweed is knee high. Do I cut now or wait? Answer Cut immediately. Remove the apical dominance. Do not allow any more weed seeds. Also, the alfalfa needs to grow without weed competition.

Cover crop thoughts/management We are facing a shortage of forages across the province. 1) If you have oats as a cover crop you need to spray with a foliar cereal fungicide to control crown rust. 2) If you have a good crop of red clover consider selling it. The benefits of clover are fewer weeds, less soil erosion and roots that build soil organic matter structure and give you nitrogen. If you sell the red cover for forage you still get all the benefits. 3) If growing a cereal cover crop it needs 40-50 lbs N. 4) Heard of 1 farmer who is paying his neighbour for the right to plant oats after his wheat. This is a win-win. 5) It looks like over 75% of Ontario’s winter wheat acres will have a cover crop. Numbers from the US suggest a much lower 5% of the US acres have a cover crop. Cereal rye into soybeans OMAFRA is hosting a demonstration to show how this will work. You broadcast cereal rye into soybeans just before leaf drop. This would be on fields without plans for winter wheat. You broadcast cereal rye just before leaf drop.

The Importance of Residue Management

To get your wheat off to a great start, residue management has a significant impact on seedling emergence and drill performance. Uneven residue leads to hair pinning on the no-till drill and warm/cool zones on the soil surface. These zones then lead to uneven emergence and plant stages. In the fall, sunlight hitting the soil surface has a significant impact on soil temperature. So, what can you do to spread that soybean stalk evenly? 1) Don’t buy a header bigger than what the combine can spread the residue. 2) Keep the chopper knives sharp or replace them every 3 to 4 days. 3) Ensure the crop is being fed into the chopper evenly. In Europe, wheat combines are sold on their ability to chop and spread residue. When you are harvesting soybeans with a lot of residue, you need to be able to spread this residue. In the U.S., the majority of combines are sold into just 4 states; these states do very little with residue management as crop rotation is mostly corn/soybeans with conventional or minimal tillage. There are aftermarket or manufacturer kits available to do a better job of spreading the residue.

Podcasts listened to one on soil health. The gist was that more crops in rotation the better. One researcher stated “we are not sure why there is a yield increase when wheat is in the rotation” To me it is simple. Winter wheat is a winter annual. Its roots are made not to break down over winter. Their structure means they will break down slowly. As they break down, they leave pores in the soil to collect water. We need material in the soil to break down slowly to allow roots new channels to grow into. Winter wheat fits that purpose. That is why the roots of winter wheat are so much more valuable than the straw. In this same podcast a farmer stated “I don’t give any credit to the nitrogen fixed by red clover.” Not sure why he doesn’t. Red clover fixes 50 and maybe up to 100 lbs actual N available to a corn crop the following year. Why would you not take advantage of/use that? (Uneven growth might be one.)

Controlling glyphosate resistant fleabane I was listening to Dr Peter Sikkema U. of G. Ridgetown Campus stated that “fleabane is much harder to control in broad leaf crops (dicots) like beans than in grass crops (monocots) like corn and wheat because fleabane is a broad-leaf (dicot) weed. This is common. Hard to control weeds if they are similar to the crop. That is why in western Canada it is so hard to control foxtail and other grasses like wild oats in cereals.

Organic matter one podcast talking about building organic matter. You can build but only to a certain level. All of the components that make up your soil have been developed over hundreds of thousands of years. If the natural level of OM in your soil is 3.5% you will have a difficult time building OM above that level. What is the natural level of OM in your soil? Two ways to find out. Check with a county soil map and look up farms in your area. 2) Take a soil sample from uncropped soil as close as possible to your field. Just remember that soil OM levels are determined by a sample about the size of a thimble. Do not be shocked or surprise if your OM levels swings by 0.5% over 3 years. Start looking at soil OM levels over a longer period. (You can change your organic matter in 1 day by sampling on the knoll, and the next day sampling in the depression. To be accurate, sample in the sample location.)

Question How come my soybeans often show potassium deficiency when I plant them after alfalfa?

Answer Alfalfa uses a lot of potassium. From my experience once you soil test drops to a certain level it is hard to build it up when growing alfalfa. Alfalfa luxury consumes potassium. So, what you put on is readily available and is taken up by the alfalfa plant. The longer you leave alfalfa down the lower the soil potassium levels become. Solution 1) Soil test. 2) Don’t leave alfalfa down more than 3 years. 3) Broadcast potassium before you plant soybeans. There used to be a “tale” that soybeans did not need fertilizer but lived off residual fertilizer. That was when we broadcast a lot of fertilizer before planting corn and soybeans lived off residual fertilizer from the corn crop.

Forages are Forages, Cover Crops are Cover Crops

The reason I make the distinction is that you if you hope to get a benefit from seeding or planting something for feed, you need to treat it as such. Primary benefits from cover crops are to minimize soil erosion, suppress weeds, build soil tilth, and to improve soil bulk density in ways that tillage is unable to.

What should I soil test for? - Basics

The bare bones soil test packages will have you testing for pH, Phosphorus, Potassium and Magnesium. This is great start and an absolute base for what you should be testing for. The next level of packages usually adds a few micronutrients to the mix, and the determination of these is typically on the crop mix grown. For instance, for growers with corn in the rotation should be testing for zinc. Manganese levels are very important for wheat and soybean crops. For those with alfalfa, adding boron to the mix would be a good suggestion. In its essence soil testing is to determine if I will get a response by changing or adjusting my management. It is a not so much a measuring stick as it is a dipstick in a tractor. And sometimes the position the tractor sits changes the measurement, but it is still approximately correct.

Basic soil packages;

SGS – Package 1 - pH., Buffer pH, Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium (OMAFRA recommendations)

A&L – Package S1B - Organic Matter, Phosphorus (sodium bicarb and bray 1), Potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium, (ammonium acetate), Soil pH, aluminum, saturation of cation elements including sodium, Calculated C.E.C. saturation %P, %K. Mg ratio, A&L Recommendations or OMAF recommendations

White Wheat vs Soft Red vs Hard Red? How much premium do I need?

There are two, maybe three considerations when looking at “value-added” wheat. 1) How much of a premium are they offering relative to the weather risk, this is especially critical with soft white. 2) How much of a premium are they offering relative to yields of the alternative, in some cases you are further ahead growing a utility wheat if there is not a strong demand or premium in your local market for other classes. 3) If elevator is disagreeable on the grading/full of grade 2 wheat and you have feed, what will plan B for my wheat?

To calculate price premium relative to yield, take the premium, or total price, and divide it by the soft red price. This % difference is the bare minimum the value-added wheat will have to yield relative to soft red to maintain similar gross revenues.

Figure 1 - Wheat Premium Value relative to Soft Red

Bacterial Blights in Edible Beans

In the last two weeks I have several situations of where clients have found, or I have found bacterial blight in soybeans. This has a different appearance than Western Bean Cutworm feeding. Western Bean Cutworm feeding on pods will have entry and exit holes, whereas blights are a water-soaked lesion. A few resources below on blights and western bean cutworm in edibles.

Picture 1 - Bacterial Brown Spot in Adzuki Beans
Picture 2 - Bacterial Brown Spot in Adzuki Beans

Bacterial Blight in Edibles (2015)

Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food

2020 WBC Management Fact Sheet for Edible Beans

Question When is it too late to plant a cover crop?

Answer It depends on the cover crop. You can plant cereal rye well into October and expect a benefit. Some cover crop promoters will spread fall cereal rye until December (usually after corn). Oats needs about 4 weeks to get significant top growth to make it worthwhile so you can plant oats up to mid-September or so. Rye grass for forage should be planted no later than first of September in hopes of getting a cut this fall and again next spring.

Question Should I plant my cover crop first and then apply manure or apply manure and then plant a cover crop?

Ideally you apply manure and work it in before you plant cover crop or summer seed alfalfa. But if you are counting on a custom operator to apply manure and you are not sure when then get the cover crop planted. Assuming you are not going to be taking it for feed, spreading manure post cover crop establishment is a great way to capture nutrients and minimize soil compaction vs. those fields without cover.

The two opponents to acquiring soil fertility data for crop recommendations.

I am seeing two very distinct trains of thought when it comes to acquiring soil data for crop recommendations. Here is a short story I have been mulling over the last few weeks.

Camp 1 (we will call them the Zoners) defines parameters ahead of time on what to focus on and typically groups management zones or areas together, to minimize future costs associated with processing, sampling/lab fees, and data management/recommendations.

One advantage of Zoners, if the zones are developed properly with similar response characteristics, is being able to sample for the management of nutrients affected by temporal variability from year to year (i.e. Nitrogen, Sulphur, Boron, among others) and then apply the recommendations on a spatially basis. To build these models requires some understanding of how or why the nutrients are released and moved within the field (i.e. soil erosion, water modelling). Where this method can fall apart is when there is not a strong understanding of previous crop management for that farm or field, and areas are grouped together than would otherwise have very different response characteristics (two fields merged together, one with a history of manure, one without). This may require local field knowledge to head this off prior to sampling and zone building.

Camp 2 (we will call them the Gridders) acquires data without regard to any parameters, acquiring as much information as possible at a resolution that is palatable for the cost. This method looks at each field as a blank slate. Gridders have the edge when zones cannot be defined properly or have a farm or field with very different management/cropping practices throughout and a lack of spatially knowledge of where those areas maybe.

The Gridder method is also great when you are applying nutrients that have a high cost and will not be applied very frequently (i.e. liming applications). It tends to fall apart if you were hoping to sample more frequently for nutrients affected by temporal variability from season to season or even month to month. The cost of sampling and lab fees is simply too high. The second issue that is overlooked with the gridder method is that the results tend to require significant data processing and manipulation to produce a recommendation, simply due to the sheer volume of data. Most agronomists or farmers dealing with the data end up running algorithms or equations to help with the recommendations.

A seldom discussed issue with the Gridder method is the lack of resolution to pick up on differences in soil fertility response characteristics. I can think of more than a few instances where there is more than one fertility response area within the 2.5-acre grid. How does the sampler decide on where to take the samples?

Finally, another challenge I see is that the second time you go back to sample, you are back at square one, viewing the field again as a blank slate. In most instances, previous data is not used to reduce sampling time or lab fees or improve accuracy of the sampling.

I recently made the comment to another agronomist that using the Gridder approach to soil data acquisition is like rebuilding the motor each time you want to change the crankcase oil. Maybe great if your racing in the next Indy Car race, not so great for the daily driver. I view the Zoners process as one where they remove everything that doesn’t matter, distilling the differences within the field down to its purest form, allowing a deep dive with more frequent sampling, enabling the management of nutrients affected by temporal variability from year to year (along with those affected by spatial disposition). The Gridders approach is incredibly detailed and views each piece of information at the same weighting, to be effective this approach requires high enough resolution to pick up on the in-field variability, and rigorous post-processing to make the data manageable and actionable.

Some food for thought as you gear up to complete your fall soil sampling.

Picture 3 - Gridder approach laid overtop of a Zoner's map

“To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people."

- Charles T. Munger