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The Cropwalker - Volume 3 Issue 7

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Crop Conditions

Corn harvest continues. Some reports of test weight going up on corn being harvested now. Typically, corn will dry down to 22-23 % in February and will sit there until we get “maple syrup” weather in March/April. Standability of corn in the field is still good. The main unharvested area in central Ontario is still unharvested. Tillage There may be an opportunity to do some late winter, early spring tillage as the frost leaves. If you can do shallow conservation tillage to cut up stalks, bury some trash, and level ruts consider doing it. There may even be an opportunity for mould board ploughing, if that is your normal fall tillage, or you need to get rid of some bad ruts. The frost that will occur between now and seeding should help with spring soil structure. Red clover seeding can start any time in March. No reports yet of any of that occurring. If you are worried about too much top growth with red clover, use single cut clover. It has as much root mass as double cut but not as much top growth. Early nitrogen on wheat. Some talk of doing this but I feel it is too early. I would not like to see the first application go before mid-March.


The 5 Percent Differences – 2 of 2 – Continuation of last issue; work with your Agronomist to find these improvements. Here are the next five. 6) Plant a cover crop that provides an N credit - $20.00/ac. 7) Reduce rent by 5%. 8) Using an N source on corn that is $0.02/lb. cheaper - $3.00/ac. 9) Picking the ‘right’ corn hybrid - $20.00-40.00/ac. 10) Use a dry “P” starter Instead of liquid - $12.00/ac. Total additional income from the suggestions on a 1,000 acre farm with 1/3 CSW rotation, 40% rented, would be $56,666.00 per year.

Switchgrass Highlights

Last week we gave a switch grass recipe. Had a couple of questions on establishment. Do not plant really early. Switchgrass needs the soil to be warm to get established. Mid-May would be a target date. Use spring wheat as a nurse crop. Oats and barley are both too aggressive. Spring wheat tends to let in more sunlight, Switch grass is tough to  establish. It is a bit like reed canary grass. Slow to establish, but once established, it will fill in by means of its creeping root system.

Is Your Alfalfa High in Potassium (K)?

Have a number of growers commenting on higher K levels in their forages. There are a number of reasons. 1) As you shorten the length of time alfalfa lays in a swath, you keep more K. K is leached from forages. If alfalfa is rained on in a swath, it loses K. 2) Longer rotations. If you have a 3-year alfalfa rotation you need to apply K to obtain yield and winter hardiness. From my experience, I believe that once soils start to test under 100 for K, and you apply K, some of this readily available K is removed in the alfalfa. Alfalfa and grasses “luxury consume” K. This means that they take up more K than they need. This K increases the K level in the forage. You can reduce this problem by applying less potassium fertilizer. The downside of this is lower yield. An alternative is to build up K levels when a field is not in alfalfa. Then use a shorter rotation, knowing that you are lowering K levels. Then kill the field before you must add significant amounts of K. Other alternative is to balance high K forage with lower testing forage that you buy (i.e. straw or low K grassy hay).


Average tractor size has increased from about 2.5 T in 1950 to almost 8 T now. We are planting and harvesting under wetter conditions. These factors have increased compaction. Main factors affecting compaction include: 1) Axle load – you must keep axle load under 10 tons per axle preferably under 6 tons. 2) Longer dwelling time increases compaction. Thus, faster ground speeds reduce compaction. 3) Duals inflated at high pressure cause more compaction than tracks. But duals inflated at low pressure less compaction than tracks. The key is weight per axle. 3) No till tends to have less compaction than worked ground. But even no till can have significant yield loss if ground is compacted when wet. 4) Forage equipment can seriously reduce forage yields. Yield loss is related to time of compaction after harvest. There is about 4% yield loss for every day after cutting. Thus, harvesting 5 days after cutting results in a 20% yield loss while harvesting; 1 day after cutting results in a 4% yield loss. (Under less than dry conditions.) 5) Deep soil compaction is permanent. This cannot be fixed with deep ripping. 6) Multiple axles reduce spikes in compaction. 7) First pass causes most compaction. Thus, a two-wheel drive tractor with duals but small single front tires could cause significant compaction with the front tires. It is axle weight, tire pressure and size, soil type, moisture, organic matter and texture that affect’s compaction. (notes from Sjoerd Duiker Penn State University)

How do I keep my tire pressure to 15 PSI or less?

Based upon data from the University of Minnesota, your expected pressure exerted on the soil is 1 psi above the radial tire’s pressure. The pressure you can run your tire at is a combination of your load, load rating and your ground speed. Therefore, some producers are running tire inflation systems, because of the pressure required to have high axle loads at road speeds, they must have a higher inflation pressure on the road than in the field. An excellent article on soil compaction, and ways to reduce it can be found at; https://extension.umn.edu/soil-management-and-health/soil-compaction#sources-1200560

I want to reduce tillage on heavier soils, but then my crop suffers

One producer I met with recently commented that they had to pay some tuition to be able to no-till/ reduce tillage on clay soils types. One aspect was reducing compaction, another was reducing or cutting out tillage to stop the endless cycle of working fields to minimize the effects of soil compaction or poor soil structure. The conclusion we both came to is that if you want to reduce or eliminate tillage on clay soils you will 1) have to go through a period of lower crop yields until soil structure improves, 2) introduce a living root into the soil as much as possible to build soil structure, as a means to replace what you are doing with tillage today.

Starter Fertilizer Mixes

Whether using an air cart or regular planter equipped to apply dry fertilizer planter here are some thoughts to try to minimize plugging and build ups

1. There are many mixes using sulphur and magnesium. There are several grades of Sulpho-Mag (K-Mag). Standard grade looks like cut glass and is extremely abrasive. This is fine for planters with a standard dry fertilizer box but will quickly wear out parts on an air system. Premium grade is made by granulation and is more susceptible to taking on water during days with high humidity.

2. Looking to increase the flowability? Nutrien’s ESN is an excellent option when looking to improve the flowability of a blend. With air carts you are pushing moist air past the prills as it is being blown to the opener, as a result you end up with moist and sticky residues the entire length of the piping from Urea or other Ammonium Nitrates. Dusty potash exasperates this even more. Flowability can also be an issue with planters with dry fertilizer bins.

3. Mosaic’s MESZ may have a slight improvement in flowability over MAP. Especially if it has been oiled when leaving the terminal. An added benefit of MESZ, is that you would not require Ammonium Sulphate in the blend, if looking to apply Sulphur in the band.

4.There is limited benefit to placing boron in a 2x2 compared to broadcast. Due to boron toxicity and the low application rates. My rule of thumb, boron should be applied with the highest rate nitrogen application. Agronomists have commented on seeing a bigger yield bump by broadcast over 2x2 applications. The use of Aspire (Mosaic’s granulated potash with boron), can reduce the risk of hot spots, if using boron in a 2x2 band.

5. Adding liquid micros to a dry blend can cause additional issues. Mileage will vary depending on the underlying blend ingredients. Consider a drying agent in the blend, such as, zeolite, kitty litter, or Agsorb to reduce issues.

Lessons from 2019 for Soybean Growers

The following are some notes from MSU Extension. 1)Variety if planting late (after June 15th switch to an earlier variety. 2) If planting really early use the latest adapted maturing variety for your area. Too early of a variety means it will flower early and miss heat during the fill period and also miss some late August early September rains. 3) Ultra-early planting increased yield by 6.5 bu/ac at one location. At the other 2 locations there was no yield increase. (But there was no yield decrease and this allowed other work to be done when soil was fit) 4) When planting early use a fungicide seed treatment. 5) Tillage. Authors were very negative about any tillage done before planting?? (I think this is a call that you make when time to plant.) There were comments that removing residue from the row would make plants emerge earlier and possibly be more prone to a frost. (again, I feel if planting early you need to remove the trash from the row to get emergence as quickly as possible. 6) Insects - this report showed no increase in yield by adding an insecticide as a seed treatment. (They did mention that if planting early bean leaf beetle is more apt to be a problem.)

I want to grow Oats, what do I need to know?

1)    You can’t seed them too early.

2)    Grow a top-index variety with strong crown rust resistance.

3)    At a minimum, at least 1 fungicide pass at flag leaf, if not 2 fungicide passes (flag leaf and late tiller/stem elongation.

4)    Minimum 60 units of N, some growers have reported a slight bump in bushel weight by doing a split application.

5)    Keep your seeding rate up.

Grower - Winter Wheat Seeding Rate Comments

A grower commented to me this week that they need to increase their seeding rates on his heavier soils. They ran out of bin run seed in one of their fields fall 2018, (which they had bumped up the seeding rate on), and then their certified seed at a lower rate, assuming they would have better germ. What they found is that on the toughest ground, they are not putting on enough seed, and on the best ground, they may have been using too much seed with the bin run rate. During Harvest 2019, it would have been significantly better (their words), to increase the wheat seeding rate on clay soils. This is an excellent example to show the value on possibly using VR seeding rates or running seeding rate trials by field to see what the appropriate rate should be.

Twitter Poll:

Figure 1 - Twitter Poll Results on Soybean Fertility

How to Mitigate Phosphorus Losses

First off, it depends on how you are incurring phosphorus losses on your farm in the first place. Best way to determine how you are incurring losses is to work with the phosphorus loss assessment tool for Ontario (PLATO), you can find information on how to calculate the values for a phosphorus index here; http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/facts/05-067.htm

The factors within the loss assessment tool are broken into 7 categories. See below for ideas on how to reduce P losses on your land. Next week I will write about using the 4Rs to ensure maximum phosphorus efficiency and minimize the risk of off-site movement. While it may seem like this topic is touchy-feely, spending money on inputs that are leaving the field is the equivalent to lighting the stove with $50 bills.

Figure 2 - OMAFRA - PLATO Recommended Practices (from link above)

"Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?"  - Shane Parrish