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The Cropwalker - Volume 4 Issue 3

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Question: Patrick what is going on with my soils? I finally have my potassium soil tests going up but my phosphorous test is dropping.

Answer So he told me that over the last 10 years his P tests are 20, 17,18, 17 ppm.  His potash levels are 80, 86, 84, 98 ppm. Over three years he applies about 150 lbs /ac actual P and 250 lbs/ac actual K. His yields are corn 210, soybeans 55, wheat 120. What’s going on? First since there is a 25% variation in lab results his P levels may not be going down; however, they are not going up. My calculations (using average removal rates) he is removing 190 lbs P and 325 lbs K over 3 years so not surprised that levels are not going up. His P level should not be dropping. But they are definitely not going up. I suggested he should apply another 100 actual P more over three years to get his tests to not drop. Also, I suggested he increase his K additions to 350 bs over the three years. Then continue to test, record yields and applications and see what happens to soil test levels. (He does have some infrequent manure applications.)

Question I can buy wood pellets for $25 /ton. Are they worth that?

Answer. I obtained an analysis of the pellets. It worked out to about 4.5% available N, 2.5% available P

So, one ton has 90 lbs N and 45 lbs P.

Valuing N at $.55 /lb. equates to about $50/ton. And P at $.55 /lb. equates to about $25. /on

You can buy these wood chips for $25/to so it is a good buy. As long as they are delivered and then you have to take off application costs. (Check for C to N ratio when considering these types of products, high Carbon to Nitrogen producers should not be applied prior to nitrogen loving crops, or maybe require a Nitrogen recommendation adjustment if they had not been applied. Also, you may need a NASM plan.)

Notes from OAC #7 Digging into Soil Compaction Alex Barrie OMAFRA Scott Shearer Ohio State University Mathias Stettler Bern University of Applied Sciences Switzerland

1.     Fields were compacted and yields taken. But the header width masked some of the compaction affects. When yields were taken in the wheel/tracked area there was a 20/30% reduction in yield

2.     Wheel loads have gone from 2 ton/wheel in the 60’s to an average of 9 ton/wheel now

3.     Acceptable loads per wheel are 5T/wheel on dry soil and 2.5 T/wheel on wet soil.

4.     Lower organic matter soils suffer more from compaction. High organic matter gives more elasticity to soils

5.     “Pinch row” compaction on centre fill planters is real. One way to reduce this is with tracks or the system used by the Fendt Momentum planter of distributing weight across more points

6.     One way to reduce compaction is to go to lighter pieces of equipment, tractors and tillage and drive faster. Tillage can easily be done at high speeds and now planters can plant at 15 mph or more. One study in OHIO looked at yields from planting at 2-17 mph. No difference in yield.

7.     Pieces of equipment most apt to compact that you can do something about are manure tankers, grain buggies, tractors.

8.     You can map a field where most compaction occurs. Typically head lands and wetter areas of a field. Probably most compaction will occur with combine. Then use remedial tillage on worst areas. Some areas of the field may not need to be worked, e.g., Eroded low OM areas.

9.     Minimize compaction

A) Use controlled traffic.

B) Use a Controlled Tire Inflation System (CTIS)

C) Use wider tires and lower inflation. For more info on tire technology go to https://www.ifao.com Click on Soil Health, then click Compaction Action.

D) Through this and other presentation I was looking for the answer to are tracks better than wheels to reduce compaction. There is no black and white answer. The closest is research from Switzerland showing that, when not pulling, tracks produce less compaction. But when pulling, an implement wide tires do less compaction.

Editors conclusion

Calculate your axle/wheel load on all pieces of equipment

If you cannot decrease this to 5 T per wheel/track, look at CTIS on your heaviest pieces of equipment.

There is enough technology to greatly reduce compaction between CTIS, GPS for controlled traffic, higher speed lighter pieces of farm equipment.

I don’t think we can reduce compaction from combines.

Notes from CCA Conference RNA interference Dr Alexandra Sebastien University of Guelph

Before you start to read, I will warn you the following is a bit complex. I am trying to make it readable.

Genetic codes and actions of genes are inherited. When we went to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), a gene was inserted to give specific characteristics, such as resistance to corn borer. This new method involves working with RNA. Specifically, it is working with interfering the action of RNA. It is called RNA interference (RNAi)

Since it is not changing the genetics of an organism, the resulting hybrids and varieties are not classified as GMOs. How does it work? In short it works by interfering with the expression of certain RNA. Genes normally have single strands of RNA. But double strands occur as well. It is these double strands of RNA called RNA ds that are utilized. Once RNA ds are identified they are utilized. These RNA ds interfere with specific protein synthesis that are crucial for insect survival. They have been successfully used to control the marmorated stink bug. Since these RNA ds do not induce inheritable genome modifications, they are not classified as GMOs. They interfere with the genes in the insect for a certain period of time.

RNAi has been successfully used to control corn rootworm. They are part of the Smartstax Pro Hybrid system. SmartStax hybrids have the Cry genes that corn rootworm are now resistant to. But current populations are not resistant to the RNA I system of SmartStax Pro.

There are other ways to use ds DNA. This includes spraying a field where insects are present. This system could protect a field for a few days. Since they are not insecticides there is no soil residue.

In the future I believe this technology will help us control a lot of insects.

Notes from CCA Conference Scott Shearer Food and Agricultural & Biological Engineering Ohio State University

This presentation started by reviewing the start of precision agriculture with the introduction of yield monitors in 1992 followed by GPS systems for equipment in 1993. Since then, we have come a long way.

He looked at newer planters that he has tested planting 95 acres an hour. This 16-row planter was travelling at 17-18 mph dropping about $12,00 (US) of seed per hour of a triple stack hybrid. His research showed no difference in yield between 5 mph and 18 mph. The tractor had auto steer which kicked out at 18.3 mph. He believes we will see more planting at higher speed. Planters will be equipped with precision planting adaptations that will allow excellent seed placement at high speeds. He commented that row cleaners were virtually stone throwers and any clumps were pulverized. Along with high-speed planting he sees a continued use of high-speed tillage to prepare seed bed for high-speed planting.

He was in awe of tractor size increases. From 1920-1960 tractor ballasted weights increased by 150 lbs per year. From the 60’s until now weights have increased by 870 lbs/yr. He does not believe there will be a decrease in these weights. He showed a 630 Hp combine with a 460 bu bin capacity that can unload at 5.3 bu/sec. A new grain cart has 2500 bu capacity with a gross weight of 150,000 lbs. He believes compaction will continue to be a bigger problem

He showed us the new John Deere tractor that does not have a steering wheel. The cab is filled with screens. He said tractor drivers of the future will be monitors not drivers.

What is hay worth.

Below is a chart showing the prices paid week Jan 11 2021 by Wisconsin Team Forage

Dollars are US. (All hay prices quoted are dollars per ton FOB point of origin for alfalfa hay unless otherwise noted.)

Editors note:  In the future we will see a lot more hay sold on RFV/RFQ scores

$300/ton US equates to about $.19 CDN per pound.

Figure 1 - Alfalfa Pricing in USD per 2000 lbs (Wisconsin Forages)

Fear of Missing Out and Earth-Shattering Announcements (from 2019)

It’s okay to say no. Take back your inbox and calendar by being highly selective of what you decide to read or attend. But what if you miss out on that one meeting or update that could change your operation? Well, if it is truly that earth shattering and difference making, there will be so much noise that it will be hard to ignore. So given the advice, pick a few high-quality items to focus on and forget the rest.

Meeting overload, how to sort through it (from 2019)

It’s only January 21st, and you are already suffering through information overload, and there are a few more months to get through before hitting the field. The question is, what do you do with all of this information? Lee Briese of Centrol Crop Consulting commented at FarmSmart 2019 that you need a framework on how to address your farm’s specific problems. The start of this framework is to have GOALS on a yearly basis for your farm. These goals should be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time bound. To sort through all the noise, what are you hoping to achieve in 2019 on your farm? Those are the meetings you should go to.

Notes from Exapta on proper drill setup and maintenance.

Exapta Solutions was founded by Matt Hagny, a crop consultant based in Kansas, focused on making no-till work in the Great Plains. Exapta specializes in aftermarket drill and planter attachments to improve performance in no-tilling into high residue conditions. Because of the issues I see walking no-till wheat and soybeans (sorry, no no-till corn), I take great interest in what Exapta has developed to improve drill performance in these crops. And from what I can see in the spring during emergence checks, they do have some of the issues figured out. Here are a few notes from the recent video Leah Lanie and her team at Exapta had done on proper drill setup, specifically JD 50, 60 and 90 series, box and air disc drills. (Video posted below)

1.     Cut the furrow to a consistent depth.

a.     Sharp opener blades with deep bevel

i.    Newer drills do wear out!!!, I see this more than one would think when telling a grower the seed trench is subpar!

b.    Adequate down pressure/frame weight

i.    Ensure the coil on the main spring is coiled up, that means you need to have the rockshaft tilted back fully to a negative angle to ensure it is tight and run the pressure in the red zone. You can adjust the tension by adjusting the rod on the bottom of the spring. 1.75 to 3” should be showing for good down pressure depending on the ground conditions, length should be longer for harder conditions.

c.     Keep a correct 7 degree cutting angle.

i.    This means ensuring the unit has no side-to-side play beyond a ¼” and replacing the main bushings when needed. This is critical to ensuring the entire row unit stays aligned within the 7-degree angle.

d.    Only consider row cleaners after completing everything else suggested (blades, pins, seed boot, seed tab, firming wheel, closing wheel)

i.    If you are STILL having issues after perfecting everything else then consider a row cleaner like Aricks, if there is too much residue to plant through (need to consider setting up the combine better as well).

2.    Place seeds consistently into the bottom of the seed furrow

a.     Seeds boots do wear.

i.    Seed boots with excessive wear will allow extra soil to fall in ahead of the seed.

ii.    Check the leaf spring/boot spring to ensure you have at least 10 lbs of force, this will cause hair pinning if they are weak.

b.    Boot bolt holes not worn

i.    If the boots have too much play, you will not have a consistent seeding depth. Check for play in the bolt holes. If there is play, considering putting in a sleeve or metric bolt to tighten up the seed boot slop.

c.     Seed bounce flap keeps seed in furrow

i.    Proper length and condition are critical to ensuring that seed stays in the furrow and does not escape (especially with air seeders).

d.    Gauge wheel condition

i.    The gauge wheel determines the condition and pressure of the sidewall, proper gauge wheel setup and condition reduces sidewall blow out. This is important as with drills, the sidewall is the only thing guiding seed into the bottom of the seed trench.

ii.    Preference is to avoid RID (Reduced Inner Diameter) style gauge wheels which can lead to sidewall lift.

e.     Proper depth

i.    A sharp blade is the most critical piece to ensuring proper depth is maintained, a dull blade with the seed boot riding below the blade results in poor depth control and excessive seed boot wear.

3.     Firm seed by applying consistent pressure exactly where needed.

a.     One issue with stock firming wheels from John Deere, is that they are too wide to reach the bottom of the seed trench. One Exapta employee and farmer found that by going to a narrower closing wheel (in this case a Duralock), he increased his seeding depth by ½ to ¾” without any other adjustments on his drill. The seed was not being properly firmed into the bottom of the seed trench with stock closing wheels.

b.    You should want to push every seed into the bottom of the seed furrow, it should be hard to get seeds out of the bottom of the seed furrow. This ensures they are in moisture. You can likely reduce your seeding rate in the future, if this isn’t occurring today.

4.    Gently close the furrow by chopping the sidewall

a.     The purpose of a firming wheel is to close the seed trench and get rid of any air pockets.

b.    Exapta suggests that you want to run spiked closing wheels.

i.    Loose soil over the seed is good, prevents drying, assuming you did step #2 and 3 (seed firming properly)

ii.    Spiked closing wheels creates the ideal zone for fast germination and emergence.

1.     Oxygen for the seed.

2.    Seedling has an easier path to the surface.

3.     Allows faster soil warming when oversaturated.

iii.    The spiked closing wheel should have enough tension to chop the sidewall almost to the depth of the seed, without packing or compressing it further.

Drill Setup & Adjustment in No till 2021

Vermiculite vs Smectite Clays

Recently the question came up what the difference is between these two clay types. Since it’s been a while since I’ve taken a soils course, I had to look it up myself. Different clay types have differing amounts of weathering and CEC exchange sites. Extremely weathered clays will no longer hold on to cations such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. If you are on clay soils and are considering a “build and maintain” type fertilizer program, it may be prudent learning which clay type is in your fields prior to enacting this type of program. Some types can store significant amounts of potassium, which is then fixed within the clay layers. In other clay soils, it is more plant available due to less internal layers for these nutrients in which to become fixed. In the link to the study listed below, thousands of pounds of potassium have been added to some Vermiculite based soils, and still had a crop response, in these cases, perhaps spoon-feeding potassium is a better practice than an attempt to build the bank so to speak. Will provide a few examples in a future issue.

Figure 2 - CEC of various soils and soil materials

Source; Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils - Brady, Weil 3rd Edition

Figure 3 - Potassium fixation in different clay types (Better Crops with Plant Food)

Better Crops with Plant Food

Potassium Fixation and Its Significance for California Crop Production

“The iron rule of nature is: you get what you reward for. If you want ants to come, you put sugar on the floor.”

- Charlie Munger