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The Cropwalker - Volume 3 Issue 4

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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.


Question from a reader “I am switching from an 8-row to a 16-row planter. Can I get away with just liquid fertilizer?

This is an oft asked question. The short answer is you can but, ­ to be able to add dry fertilizer is better. Probably liquid fertilizer will meet current requirements, especially if you have manure. However, the longer you crop the higher the probability that you will need rates of secondary nutrients that is not possible with liquid fertilizer. (such as sulphur and magnesium, as well as micronutrients such as zinc) These nutrients are best applied beside the seed. This is because these nutrients are needed early in a plant’s life. In the case of zinc, you need higher rates broadcast, to equal the amount of zinc required in a 2X2 placement. One exception to this comment might be if you are strip tilling with dry fertilizer, which improves nutrient use efficiency by putting it in a band.

SWAC - Soil Microorganisms (MO)

Heard a few talks during January on soil MO. Dr Lori Phillips, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada gave a great summary of what is going on. Her summary was that the soil is alive with a lot of MOs. So many that we do not even know what most are and what they do. Her research indicated that once certain soil MO are introduced into the soil, they stay there. They just need to be fed with certain crops. The more crops in the rotation, the more different species of soil MO. Her research definitively showed that the more soybeans in the rotation, the fewer the soil microbes. This idea of soil microbes being always there is shown by a number of things. If you have soybean cyst nematodes (SCN) they stay there forever. Having fewer soybeans reduces their number. The phytophthora disease organism stays in the soil. It also requires certain weather to show itself. This idea of soil MO is not new. When we had the herbicide Eptam for use on white beans, we saw that the more often you used it, the less effective it was. It came so that it only lasted 5-7 days. I talked with Dr. Peter Sikkema, RCAT, who told me of some research in the US. The weed researcher checked as to how fast soils would break down atrazine. He used about 24 paired soils from a cemetery and a nearby corn field. The soils that had received atrazine broke atrazine down much quicker than fields that never had atrazine. So, what does all this mean? It means we grow soybeans because they make money. We know soybeans hurt soils. This means you must grow other crops (cover crops and/or rotate) to keep your soils healthy.

Do commercial fertilizers hurt soil microorganisms?

While we are on the topic of the effects of inputs on the soil, let’s look at synthetic fertilizers. They too are implicated in “killing the soil.” We are again fortunate to have a recent meta-analysis of 107 data sets from 64 long-term trials (duration of the trials ranged from 5 to 130 years, averaging 37 years) from around the world (Geisseler and Scow 2014). They concluded “that mineral fertilizer application led to a 15.1% increase in the microbial biomass above levels in unfertilized control treatments. Mineral fertilization also increased soil organic carbon content. From the Bunemann review, “There was little evidence for significant direct effects of mineral fertilisers on soil organisms, whereas the main indirect effects were shown to be an increase in biological activity with increasing plant productivity, crop residue inputs, and soil organic matter levels….” Nitrogen fertilizer, in particular, is often beneficial to soils because nitrogen supply often limits natural plant production. When we add nitrogen in agricultural systems, productivity increases, more plant material (biomass) is produced and so, in time, soil organic matter increases. This then increases microbial levels in the soil. This suggests that fertilizers, rather than “killing the soil” can sometimes enhance it.

Comments from Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources - Washington State University

Relative Importance of Soil Health

I am reading where senator Rob Black, formerly with 4-H since the early 70’s wants to focus more on soil health. To me any money being spent on health in rural Canada should be spent on farmer health, not soil health. We need more help and information on how to recognize farmers who have mental health issues, and how we can help them. One organization that is leading this charge is DoMoreAg. https://www.domore.ag/ Another big improvement would be broadband internet access to more areas.

Acuron Corn Herbicide from Syngenta

After a soft launch in 2018, Acuron corn herbicide was introduced in a big way into Ontario in 2019. It can be used pre-emerge or post emerge up to the 6-leaf stage. (Syngenta are encouraging use to use it post plant pre-emerge. It is registered at 1.6 to 1.98 L/ac. The most commonly used rate is 1.96 L/ac. At this rate you get 0.56 L/ac Dual II Magnum (group 15), 0.118L/ac Callisto (group 27), 0.5 L/ac Aatrex 480, 0.118L/ac (group 5), and bicyclopyrone (a newer group 27). It is used as a preplant really broad- spectrum herbicide. Last year due to delayed planting a significant number of acres were sprayed post emergent. It can be applied post emergent up to 6 leaf stage. It controls a long list of weeds including water hemp and glyphosate resistant fleabane. (Always read and follow the label, which includes NOT applying it in crop with 28% UAN)

What do You Expect?

If you are a farmer and have agronomists calling on you, or if you are an agronomist calling on farmers, you need to know expectations. As a farmer, what do you want? Cheap seed, clean fields, more land, higher yields, better equipment? As a farmer these are things you should know and tell to the people who call on you. If you do not have expectations from people who call on you, they will not be able to help you. Years ago, I used an expectation planner. It listed 6 areas of crop production. I asked farmers what were their expectations in all of these areas. The next year when I returned for a year-end review I would go over each expectation as to how well I did. That is a good exercise that farmers should do. And when you list your expectations or things you want for 2020 and some one tries to interest you in something else you must politely tell that person “It is not on my list for 2020” Example, some one wants to sell you row cleaners and you are satisfied with yours, or some one wants to sell you an additive to make nutrients more available from your manure. Not interested. Your time is too valuable to listen to ides that are not on your list for 2020.

Variable vs. Fixed Expenses and Estimated Cost of Production

Recently a grower lamented that they would not know what their true cost per bushel of grain would be until they reached harvest. While this is true, there are ways of estimating what your expenses are at various yield levels. The key component is understanding which expenses change with yield levels, and those that remain fixed on a per acre basis. In the table below, you will see an example with fictious numbers that has roughly $0.66 of variable expenses and $570/ac of fixed expenses if you sold grain at harvest. The cost per bushel can then be spread out over various yield scenarios (yield level exaggerated to accommodate multiple scenarios and to drive the point home)

Table 1 - Variable vs Fixed Expenses
Table 2 - Estimated Cost per Bushel

After the fixed and variable expenses have been worked out, generated a graph of net margin per acre at the different yield levels is quite easy. In this case, I used $4.80/bu, FOB Elevator.

Graph 1 - Net Margin at Various Yields

So, the snake oil salesman lied…

In the cost of production example above, I used $4.80/bu cash corn FOB Elevator. When the snake oil salesman starts the pitch that you will get an extra 5, 10 or 20 bushels, at $4.80/bushel, you really aren’t getting that extra amount. First you need to deduct drying, freight, storage and any other variable expenses that change with the ‘incremental’ revenue. In the example above, you would have to use $4.14/bu ($4.80 less $0.66) on that incremental revenue, to offset the wonder product. On a per acre basis, not a huge difference, but over multiple years on many acres, the “pass the sniff-test” value on which products you choose to apply, it will make a big difference. If you used a product that didn’t provide a yield return over multiple years on 1000 acres, you could afford to take a few trips south. Also highlights the importance of on-farm trials. Wonder Product Breakeven chart shows the difference between total gross and net revenue, in bushels per acre.

Table 3 - Snake Oil Breakeven

Low Potash Nurse Crop for Dry Cows

Before Christmas I had received a phone call on which nurse or companion crops for alfalfa establishment that would provide low potassium green feed for dairy cows. Depending on soil test levels and fertility/manure management, it might be easier to adjust the ration by buying low potassium feed. However, here is a list of spring cereals and expected potassium content. I would expect Triticale, which is cross between Rye and Wheat, to be comparable to wheat. Triticale also tends to provide more volume than Oats or Barley. And for straw, potassium leeches from plant material. If straw or hay is rained on several times it will be lower in potassium. One crop that is always low in potassium is switch grass. That is because it is cut in the fall, baled in spring. Over winter much of the potassium is leached from the plants.

Table 4 - Potassium Content of Spring Cereals






I want to try 60” row spacing in Corn, what do I need to know?

Unless you plan on grazing the animals or are looking for a method to reduce soil compaction in adverse conditions (i.e. establish a cover crop in-season), I’m not convinced you need to try 60” corn.

Several notes I have gathered over the past few months, if you still want to try 60” corn.

1.     To maintain respectable yields, maintaining the same population as you would plant on 30” row spacing is a must. Don’t worry about lodging, most growers report it isn’t issue.

2.    Growers that have tried this practice have used existing equipment, with every other row shut off.

3.    Weed control is paramount, 60” of space between rows is enough bare soil to encourage significant weed growth. A weed suppressing cover crop is recommended. If you are struggling with weed control, this is an experiment you should be passing on.

4.    Growers have reported much better success in getting cover crop established between corn rows with this system. Also, improvements in ground conditions at harvest and reduction in soil erosion.

5.    The further north you go, the less likely this practice is to be beneficial (simply run out of growing season).

6.    If you have trouble with depth control, the effects will be exaggerated in 60” rows at high populations (30 to 34,000 seeds/ac on 60” rows). With laggard plants producing no cob.

7.     Think this is a new concept? Lots of data from USDA published in 1958, to show that it isn’t. This publication addresses many issues growers are paying tuition on again…


8.    Bob Recker presented at the National No-till Conference that in his experiments the average yield loss going to 60” rows was 5%, but the range the 95% confidence range is minus 17% to plus 9%.  You can see Bob’s presentation here.

Bob Recker - 60" Corn Presentation

Presented at National No-Till Conference

60-Inch Corn: Fact or Fiction?

Air Seeder Corn

To balance out the comments on the 60” corn, I had read an article a few years ago by former Salford sales manager Jim Boak. Jim trialed using a parallel bar model 545 air-seeder on 7.5” twin row corn on 30” spacing to see if there would be an issue. Is this a new idea? No, as a publicity stunt in the 1970s, PAG Seeds had tried the same thing using a drill, but on 7” centers, harvesting the crop with a small grain head. Jim’s experiment to use an air drill was prompted by Dr. Bill Deen at the U of G. After trialing a few small plots, the conclusion Jim reached was that there wasn’t much of a yield difference relative to the planter used in the plot. Should you sell the corn planter? I’m not entirely convinced that should be the case, but if you do have a Salford air-seeder, it might be worth trying a couple of passes at the back of a farm, if nothing else, for interest’s sake. One thought on why it worked was that corn is less sensitive to differences in seeding depth when there is more space from plant to plant.



Have you ever thought about what you don't know? Have you ever questioned what you think you do know? Do you limit your potential because you play by someone else's rules? A few years back (winter of 04) I was driving though Shoals Indiana in my search for more Salford dealers and new prospective ad

"The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions." -  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.