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The Cropwalker - Volume 3 Issue 41

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Crop Conditions

Winter wheat looks amazing. People in the industry believe we are a tad over 1.0 M acres. The early planted came up in 4-5 days. The wheat planted about 1 week later, took closer to 3 weeks to emerge. This bodes well for next year’s harvest. Check for weeds especially perennials and winter annuals. Easier to kill now than next spring if weather conditions allow. Corn harvest continues with 15% harvested as of October 20th and about 28-30% by October 27th. Yields are good. Not as big of yields as soybeans were. Some growers are 5-10 bushels over 5-year average and other growers (no rain) 30-40 bushels below 5-year average. Some fields have stalled. They were 29-30% 3 weeks ago and still the same now. These are fields that had not black layered before the frost. Tar spot is now showing up in more corn fields. It has probably had no yield affect this year but the fact that it is here now suggests it will be a concern in 2021. Fungicides on corn /wheat/soybeans, we have not seen summaries but will forward once we get them. The stay green of fungicides on corn may have been a detriment this year on fields that were frosted before black layer.  Soybean harvest is complete except for a few fields. We have it pegged at about 95-97%.  Cover crop termination is ongoing. Another reader told me his experience with applying a fungicide to a cover crop. He believes the sprayed yielded about twice as much as the unsprayed strips. He said and I agree, when the fungicide gives more top growth you also get more root growth and thus add to the soil OM. Another reader said his oat and pea cover crop came back at 20% Crude Protein.

Crop conditions 10 years ago (2010)

Crops Across Western Ontario – Soy – Harvest is 96% complete. Wheat – Planting is complete. Corn – Harvest ranges from 70-75% complete in the Greenway and Clinton areas to 20% in the Alliston area. In Essex about 50% of the corn is being stored without needing drying. Other areas such as Strathroy have 35-40% reaching moisture of commerce in the field. Yields are the best. Individual farms are yielding 200+, with monitors ticking around 300 on a regular basis. So far, storage is not an issue, but we have a long way to go.


Wireworm seed treatment

BASF have registered a new group 30 insecticide (Broflanilide) It is the first group 30 available in Canada. It controls insects on potatoes and corn. BASF hopes to have it available for 2021. However, it probably will only be available in small quantities for corn for 2021 since the time between registration and treating is short. I imagine most corn seed companies have already decided to have their corn seed treated with other products for 2021. For the potato growers there may be a possibility that they could use it as a seed treatment in 2021. Stay tuned. The product will be branded as Cimegra. It will also be available as a fungicide insecticide treatment for cereals called Teraxxa.

In a BASF release they say “Cimegra insecticide provides control of prevalent and difficult to control chewing insects in potatoes and corn, including wireworm, for in-season management and reduction of resident populations”.

Which add in herbicide is best for fall burndown?

Most recommendations will start with the low rate of glyphosate (0.67 L/ac of 540 concentration – need to take out the volunteer wheat), then increase if there are perennial weeds such as dandelions or perennial sow thistle. In some situations, it is advantageous to add a group 4 herbicide like 2,4-D Ester or Dicamba. But which one is better? 2,4-D ester offers the widest range of recropping options but sees reduced efficacy as the season gets later and later. Fall applied dicamba controls a wider range of weeds more consistently and will have more residual activity on winter annuals. In most situations, dicamba will do a better job.

Fluctuating Soil Test Levels1) It is not normal for "P" levels to drop by 15 points over a 3-year period. If there has been this large of a drop one of the soil tests probably did not reflect the actual soil levels, unless the soil tested over 60. This type of fluctuation is common at high soil test levels. The soil analysis is less accurate at levels above 60 than below 20. Or the sample may have been contaminated due to improper sampling.  2) It is normal for soil "P" test levels to increase by 15 points or more if a high rate of manure or sludge was applied to the land. It is hard to get an increase of 15 over 3 years with normal fertilizing practices. 3) Potash – Soil test levels will normally fluctuate by 10-15% between years, especially at levels above 150 ppm. It is hard to drop levels quickly unless you harvest corn silage and alfalfa and do not fertilize. 4) pH – Levels can fluctuate by +/- 0.5 points. There seems to be a weather factor associated with this change. Doug Young, RCAT, looked at this phenomenon in 1998. In one set of plots, the pH rose over the year, while in another set, the pH dropped. A pH change of 0.5 is not a concern unless the soil needs lime. 5) Zinc – We are seeing a slight decrease in soil test zinc levels. 6) Reanalyzing Soil Samples – Most labs keep soil samples for 30 days. If you have a test result that does not seem to make sense, they can reanalyze it.

Rates of Phosphorous and Potassium to Change Soil Test Levels – It takes about 35 lbs/ac of P2O5 to move a soil test one point. Thus, if a soil test drops 10 points it is equivalent to removing 350 pounds per acre P2O5 without replacing any P2O5. A 3-crop rotation of 200 bushels corn, 60 bushels of soys, and 100 bushels wheat would remove 175 pounds P2O5. For potassium it is not quite as simple. The rate of change of K soil test levels depends on CEC, soil type and soil test level. Last year we had an extensive article on this topic (see below).

How many lbs. of potash do I need to build my soil test? (Originally published October 29th, 2019)

One of the most balanced pieces of information I have found on this topic was written by Spectrum Analytic, a soil lab based in Ohio.

To answer the question, it really depends on several factors. The first one is that you are applying potash at a rate that is over and above crop removal. The second factor is what is your relative soil test level. A study conducted in Kentucky on a single silt loam soil found that the amount of potash required to build soil test K depended on how low the levels were. The higher the levels, the less was required to build soil test K. Another study found that the range to build soil test K 1 ppm, you required 3.4 to 21 lbs. K2O, with the average being 6.2. In Ontario, we have used 8 lbs./ac K2O (as a guide) to build the soil test by 1 ppm K. The third factor is the soil type and amount of clay content, and the density of the soil relative to the soil CEC.

What value should you use? I would argue it is more critical to figure out which fields require potash, and then decide based upon your capital budget how much you can cash flow on building soil test K. Use that budget number to determine where you will get the best bang for your dollar on your farms. Use the respective formula to determine how much potash you need to apply to build your lowest testing soils, then work on the next worst area, etc.… Do this every year, not just when you have time. Then compare your soil test levels over time to see if you are building soil test K. Your future soils testing high in potash will thank you.

Figure 1 - Desirable Soil Test Potassium Level by CEC

Labs in Ontario, such as A&L Canada or SGS Agri-food, use the Ammonium Acetate test for potassium.

Figure 2 - Pounds of Potassium Chloride required to raise soil test K by 1 ppm

Red clover termination

Use of glyphosate plus dicamba is a good way to kill red clover. I am surprised at the number of red clover fields that are being mould board ploughed. I asked one grower (who sold his old plough and got a nice dollar for it) why his neighbours in Perth county are mould board ploughing red clover. He said they like to plough. It gives them a good feeling. They like to see the dark soil. I cannot argue with that line of reasoning. The fact that this activity is reducing the value of their red clover is mute. There are a whole bunch of good non-mould board plough tools to work in red clover. He is using a 15’ Sunflower disc. (although it is likely too wet for many of them at this point in the growing season).

Should you use a stalk chopper when harvesting corn?

The reason to do this include, faster break down of corn stalk residue, less damage to tires. The reason not to include less cost and soils that will dry out quicker in the spring. One reader says he will use the stalk chopper and decide next spring before he pants soybeans whether he will use secondary tillage to warm up the soil. My experience suggests chopping corn heads make it tough for no-till soybeans due to lack of residue pinning (it will wash to low areas of the field) and leave the soil cooler for spring planting.

Nutrient Deficiency in Corn Leads to Mis-shaped Cobs

Seeing misshaped cobs? It could be due to phosphorus or potassium deficiency. If you have not soil recently sampled it may be time to get the soil probe out. Remember though that your deficiency may be due to the plant not able to take u the nutrient. If your soil test indicates good nutrient levels, lack of moisture and/or compaction can lead to nutrient deficiency.

Picture 1: Source: IPNI Be your Own Corn Doctor
Picture 2 - Misshaped cob
Picture 3 - Zipper ear on left, misshaped cob on right, more typical ears in middle

Understanding Nitrogen Availability from Manure

The ammonium form in manure is prone to volatilization. The primary driver is weather and soil conditions that promote evaporation. One way to mitigate losses is to apply manure during a period of cooler weather conditions. You can see this research from Iowa by Ag Engineer Brian Dougherty (graph below). In this situation Brian ran 4 treatments over 4 years. In almost all the treatments the late fall applied manure yielded significantly more than that of early fall applications. The risk in our environment in Ontario is soil compaction during this late fall application window. Treatments were not balanced for risk of N losses, so it does paint a picture to continue to use proper N credits depending on time of fall application.

EFM = Early Fall Manure @ 150 lbs N/ac

EFM + R = Early Fall Manure @ 150 lbs N/ac plus Cereal Rye Cover Crop

LFM = Late Fall Manure (below 50'F soil temp) @ 150 lbs N/ac

Spring UAN = Spring UAN @ 150 lbs N/ac

Figure 3 - Manure timing effect on Corn Yields (ISU)
Improving crop yields and water quality with manure management | Integrated Crop Management

Improving crop yields and water quality with manure management | Integrated Crop Management

As fields get harvested many farmers are making fall manure applications. Managed properly, manure can be an excellent source of valuable nutrients, but it can also pose risks to water quality when applied long before a crop is present to take up the nitrogen provided by manure.

Corn Populations, what rate do I choose?

A client recently called asking if they should be increasing their corn populations. They have strong fertility levels, access to manure, alfalfa in the crop rotation, why not push for more. My reply back was that they also need to consider water availability and hybrid specific populations. The other aspect is that not all areas of the field can support high populations. If you already have a low yield environment (due to water), increasing the population may just be adding additional costs and frustration. Also, some corn types (i.e. leafy or BMR hybrids), may negatively respond to high plant populations.

Stay focused on your core business

When IP or NON-GMO premiums are high, I tend to get more questions from growers who normally do not grow these type of beans as to what they can do to try and capture these premiums. In many situations the premium you could expect on limited acres would be given up by trying to manage the crop or reduced focus on other areas of the business. The exceptions are if you are able to; 1) do your own spraying, 2) do your own combining, 3) have a tolerance for failure and a desire wanting to change your farm business to growing higher value crops. 4) (optional) store your own crop.

Cost of Production for 2021

I am a big believer that producers should “own” this part of the farming operation, as you need to be the driver of the farm business, rather than a passenger or at worst a hitchhiker. I was asked for a few numbers for discussion purposes. Rather than recreating the wheel, here is the link to OMAFRA’s Publication 60 – Field Crop Budget.


Wanting to take it to the next level? There are two very sophisticated software are packages I have come across for this type of analysis. One is HarvestProfit. The other is Granular. I have clients that use either system, it depends on what your individual farm needs and operating style is.



Capterra provides a comparison of the two systems. https://www.capterra.com/farm-management-software/compare/142602-160352/Granular-vs-Harvest-Profit

Making the numbers work – Dupont Formula

The Dupont formula was developed in 1912 by Dupont’s explosives salesman Donaldson Brown in an internal efficiency report to determine Return on Equity. Why am I writing about it in an agronomy newsletter? You need to understand the key drivers in your farm operation that will have the biggest impact. Is it increasing margin? Is it increasing turnover (yield or number of acres farmed)? Or is it loading up on debt to increase your leverage? From an agronomy standpoint, the biggest asset agronomists can bring to the table is finding ways to increase sales volume (yield), while maintaining or improving margins. In some situations, maybe we can increase or maintain sales volume (yields) and reduce required assets through the adoption of no-till or strip-till. Or perhaps it is improving margins and doing more of the work in-house by purchasing a sprayer or fertilizer spreader. Or maybe there is that $50,000 ripper bought to fix soil compaction, sitting in the corner of the shed that has not been used in the last 3 years.

Increasing ROE is great, but there is a risk by doing it through leverage (it’s easy to take on debt), as we are witnessing first hand many businesses that had taken on excess levels of debt, prior to COVID-19, are now unable to meet debt obligations or lease/rent payments due to negative profit margins. Leverage is a two-edged sword. Highly leveraged with negative margins equals digging a hole faster.

Figure 4 - Dupont Formula Equation to determine Return on Equity
Figure 5 - Dupont Formula with 3 different scenarios

“Plumbing: “Replacing a pipe? $4. Knowing which pipe to replace? $300”

Tech entrepreneurship: “Writing software? $15, knowing which software to write? $3,000,000,000.”

- Unknown