Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

So here it is Memorial Day 2010. Memorial Day has gotten a little side-tracked with sales and designation as the kick off to summer. It should still be reason to pause and give thanks to our fallen members of the service. We shouldn't take our freedom for granted. Remembering members of your own family or friends, or taking the time to read accounts of the ultimate sacrifice by people in your town in your local paper this weekend make it more personal. And, sadly, war continues. Hopefully you were able to watch a parade, as I did in my community of Wacousta, Michigan. Tomorrow it's back to the farm, but today I rest and give thanks.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What A Tool!

This is the exciting piece of equipment that I mentioned yesterday. I picked it up on my 3-day fertilizer mission this week. Any guesses what it is??? It's a table-top cotton gin. I have wanted one of these for some time, and at last my dreams came true. It is pretty old, but seemingly a very effective tool. You put some field cotton in the top, and a series of saws grabs the fibers and forces it through a roller. But the seeds are retained and fall out the bottom, here into this box. The ginned cotton is blown into a cage at the back. That is what I am holding in my left hand. It is really fluffy. (Fortunately I saved some cotton from Oklahoma last fall in anticipation of this hallowed event.) The plan is to have a means of determining fiber quality from test plots that we have established in several cotton growing locations. Additionally, if any sales personnel or growers have some plot comparisons, we can gin it here. Probably the major lab for fiber analysis is in Lubbock, Texas. And they don't gin it for you. So this has been a snag in some of our plot comparisons, but no more. Additionally, I suspect that the NCRS is now the largest operating cotton gin in the entire state of Michigan! I know I am humbled.
With all of the rain and cool weather we have had lately, we are advised to be on the lookout for head scab of wheat. I sprayed some Caramba on our wheat today. It was a great day for spraying. It is to be applied at anthesis, or flowering, and that is where we are according to the picture. I applied it at a spray volume of 15 gallons per acre at 50 psi for good coverage.

With crops coming up now, we will be on the lookout for fertilizer treatment differences. I hope to start showing some of this next week. In my absence this week, Stephanie took this picture from one of our corn plots. This picture is from a plot with very low soil K levels. On the left, no fertilizer was applied at planting, and on the right, the planter applied 3 gal/A of Pro-Germinator + 9 gal/A of Sure-K + 2 qt/A of Micro 500 in the seed furrow through Rebounders. Quite a difference. We will also be taking tissue tests as well. Tissue tests can be both helpful and confusing. For example, last year in our phosphorus corn test, the phosphorus-fertilized corn had P tissue test levels similar to that of the no-phosphorus corn. Yet there was a big yield difference at harvest, and everything else was the same. But I still recommend tissue tests to provide a look inside the crop as an indicator of fertility needs.

I wish everyone a happy and safe Memorial Day. And use a thermometer and not a finger to see if the grill is hot.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Buzz Off!

There something else new at the NCRS this year, and that is several bee hives located at the edge of the vegetable field. Bee colonies are commonly used here in Michigan (and elsewhere) for aid in cucumber pollination. This is the first year we have had our own resident population. Think how lucky these bees are when they get to taste LIQUID pollen! Cucumbers are scheduled to bee planted tomorrow. Concern continues across the country with the still unknown cause(s) of colony collapse disorder of bees, although links to pesticides have been shown by some. Average losses are some 30% colony loss over the winter. This is a phenomenon in Europe as well as the US and Canada. Although reports of colony decline has occurred for decades, significant increases in losses came to light in 2006. Bees pollinate some 80% of food crops, so if you see one crossing your path, give it the right-of-way. This is a picture of what was being worked on in the picture in the last blog. It was built by Ron Davis with assistance from Phil Dush. We run field experiments in replicated blocks of treatments. That means that every treatment in an experiment is replicated at least 4 times. We have "alley" separating the blocks where we drive between the different treatments with the planter or sprayer. Back in the old days of 2009, we stuck field flags at the corners and orange field stakes at the beginning and end of each plot. So it was easy to run a tillage tool, like a roto tiller or field cultivator along the edge to trim out the plants outside the plot. Well now with gps guidance, there are no more flags and stakes. So we set some tracking lines into the guidance software and mark our plot boundaries a tractor. But with the tillage tracks, old crop stalks in no-till and planter tracks, it can be a pretty bumpy ride going across all of that. So this tool cultivates some tire tracks for a smoother marking of the gps guided lines. Then another tractor with a field cultivator can follow in those tracks and mark the plot edges. This does require figuring the cultivator "offset" track, but fortunately Stephanie and Doug know how all of that works. At least that's what they told me.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a really exciting unveiling of a new piece of equipment, that also will make our lives easier here at the NCRS. But this one will also have benefits for many of our growers. Don't miss it!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Good Luck Tim!

Today I want to feature one of the new NCRS employees, Tim Brussel. Tim started a few months ago and works as a research assistant in Specialty Crops. Tim is a great worker and has already been a great help to Dr. Levene's program. But the reason I am writing about him is that on Thursday he and his wife will depart for Tanzania in Africa as volunteers for Faith Tech's International Bible School. This is their fifth trip to Africa with Faith Tech, and they will be there for 2 weeks, teaching 2 classes a day. Tim says that most in the classes are adults, and the intent is to teach life lessons using the Bible as guidance, reference and example. Go to for more information. They were supposed to go in April, but the volcano in Iceland had other plans. I'm sure that you join us in wishing them luck and you can find out more about his trip when you visit the NCRS.

In other activities, Doug and Stephanie planted our milo fertilizer test plots.

And look at what happened in the sweet corn test plots. The plots start inside the grass, and the planter dropped on the grass to be planting at the start. See what the Pro-Germinator + Sure-K + Micro 500 did to the grass. It makes even better corn food.
As for me, I am out of town on assignment. I can't tell you where I am but here is a clue. When I got to town tonight, I picked up a local newspaper, and there was an article by a reporter named Jimmy Olsen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hot and Busy at the NCRS

Well remember last week when I was complaining about how cold it was? Be careful what you wish for, as today it was in the upper 80's. Now this is no big deal to Southerners as I've been laughed at in Alabama for sweating once. But coming off 50 degrees, it is quite a change. But it is good for the corn and soybeans. I was worried about our soybeans, but now they are really coming up. Everyone was busy today. One thing I did was make some late N foliar applications to wheat. The wheat has heads emerging now. So with the cold and wet weather that we have had, I combined some N products with fungicide. We are testing High NRG-NR and ferti-Rain and a competitive N. Here is a picture from my Hagie plot sprayer. We established spray tram lines when we planted. It was a great morning for spraying. We have had some good and some no effect results with this type of application in the past. So we have these plots and others around the country to get a handle on performance and have confidence in recommendations.Taskmaster Brian Levene had his crew again setting transplants in the vegetable plots. They are really making headway in getting these plots set up. Lots of bending over though. I would rather be the photographer.
We had two soybean experiments to plant today. Here are Phil and Doug loading the drill. Notice the soybean innoculant dripping into the soybeans going into the auger. This is the first year we have used bulk soybeans.

Doug and Stephanie put out the soybean plots on new Farm 7. Finished planting plot soybeans today. It evidently is a good sign with the Heavenly light guiding Doug through the field.

Finally here is Ron Davis working on a project to make our lives easier, which is the purpose of many of the projects here. I will unveil it in a future post after it passes our testing phase.

So things are going pretty well so far. I am off on a fertilizer mission for a few days. I will keep our followers posted on any news of note. Thanks for reading.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Corn Has Recovered From the Icy Grip of Death

So today was a return to rainy weather. It didn't rain much, but it drizzled nearly the whole day and then rained pretty hard in the late afternoon. So it kept us out of the field, AGAIN. We did plant some soybean plot borders and fill in area, but didn't want to start an experiment, and then get rained out part way through. I thought I would re-visit this frozen corn story. Recall that we had a hard freeze last week, on early Monday morning (May 10). It killed the emerged corn leaves on much of the farm. But recovery has occurred, thanks to a few warm and sunny days. The top picture was taken last Thursday, three days after the frost. There is not much corn to see, only dead leaves. The next picture was taken today, close to the same spot. There is good recovery and growth of new leaf tissue. It has turned green too since there have been a few warm and sunny days this week. The bottom picture shows some "buggy whip" condition of some of the corn. This is from the leaf tip tissue being necrotic and preventing normal unrolling. But it should be ok since the dead leaf tissue will fall away. Unfortunately, this was our first planted corn, and it has been in the ground a month and a day. This is pretty small corn for being planted that long ago, but such has been the results of cold and no sun in recent weeks. Normally we would be sidedressing 30 days after planting, but we will hold off a little longer and let the corn size up a little. We still have two soybean experiments to plant, and then we will be done. We are also planting some milo and sunflowers, but those crops don't like cold and we will plant those a little later.

As far as plot numbers, you may be interested to know that Dr. Levene will have 23 specialty crop (fruits and vegetables) fertility experiments with 760 individual plots. Our field crop testing will have 40 experiments and 1629 plots. Now there are more field crop plots, but most of the specialty crop plots have multiple harvests. And most are hand picked. So there are no slackers in this operation!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Big Plant

Today we planted our biggest test plot. It is a soybean test with three different row spacings each with three different planter populations and four different fertilizer treatments. With "bonus" plots and four replications, it has 160 plots on nearly 20 acres. Still like the gps guidance and autosteer. Could use gps out of seed notification though.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finally, A Nice Day to Work

As the title says, FINALLY a nice day to work. This was a day that makes me glad to work in Michigan. It was sunny, warm and no wind for the first time in a very long time. You could drop a feather from your chin and it would land on your feet. These are common conditions of spring here, but not this year. So needless to say, Research Assistant Phil Dush got caught up on spraying herbicide on planted soybeans. We like to spray residual herbicide on soybean plots so that we don't have to make trips through the plots later for post applications. I just like to reduce traffic in plots. That is, unless it is the purpose of the experiment, post spraying plus fertilizer.
But one big activity of the day was Brian Levene returned from Indiana with thousands of transplant tomatoes and peppers. These are grown by some transplant growers that use LIQUID fertilizer for transplants for area vegetable growers and the NCRS for fertility research purposes. Brian and some of the research staff spent the whole day planting well over a thousand tomato plants. This will continue for the week, taking advantage of the great weather.
We were able to plant our last soybean experiment before moving to new Farm 7 tomorrow, as it is pretty much dried out by now. Doug Summer did drill some non-plot production beans on Farm 7 today. Another thing we did was make some foliar fertilizer applications to corn that was frozen in the frost last week. I am happy to report that there is excellent recovery of the frozen corn now. Regrowth of leaves has been quite rapid since last Friday, when they were still mostly brown. The color is still pretty yellow, but should green up now with sunshine and warmth, two conditions absent for the past two weeks. After a suggestion from one of our SAM's, I sprayed 3 rates of ferti-Rain on some corn in the V2 growth stage, with plans to repeat the application again at V4 or 5. We haven't had much repeatable success at foliar applications of corn in the past. But I have never sprayed corn this small, with the objective to help corn that has been stressed. Hopefully this is all the stress we have from now on. But we will see.

Laying Pipe

Well folks, I apologize for the late post, but I left my camera at the farm yesterday, and couldn't do my blog post last night. And I don't work without pictures. So here is a quick re-cap of Tuesday. The day was another cold, windy, drizzly day. So we decided to attend to some rainy day projects. One was to put a pipe into the drainage ditch that cathces the water from the new tiling of Farm 3. There was aleady a ditch there that caught surface drainage, but flow has really increased with tiling. So to be responsible caretakers, we wanted to run a pipe through it to the big drainage creek to prevent erosion. This is going pretty well so far. Fortunatley our summer help has arrived this week. Additionally, when the tiling was going on in early April, the big track tiler did catch two sections of our underground pipe from the well on Farm 3 to the risers on Farm 4. It was really muddy and a tight turn for the tiler, and there was slippage and danger of getting stuck, so he kept the blade in the ground and hoped for the best. But he did snag the pipe in two places. So we had to dig out the broken pipe (we did have a backhoe) and put in a new fix. We aren't completely done yet. So this is to let you know that we do more than just drive tractors.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Planting Resumes

After being wet last week, we were able to start planting again on some of our lighter ground today. The heavier ground on the new farm was still too wet. So we got a few more soybean tests planted. The first picture shows Stephanie and Doug confering after loading some treatments into the planter. This is our new plot fertilizer wagon, or "war wagon". It has larger tanks for the main products, and a manifold system and pump. Batch components are controlled by a Raven controller. This sure beats the old system of loading fertilizer treatments with buckets.

In the next picture, Doug is planting a soybean plot. He does like planting this test as the plots are 900 feet long. Press "auto" and autosteer takes over. Most plots are around 200+ feet long.

In the next picture, we see Dr. Brian Levene planting carrot plots using a 1-row vacuum planter. This vaccum planter is actually powered by.... a Shop Vac! Custom built by Doug Summer using a unit off the Monosem, it works very well for the planted vegetable plots.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Cole Crops and Calibration

Yesterday I talked about the effects of Monday's frost on the corn crop at the NCRS and surrounding area. But not all crops were affected by the frost. For example, Dr. Brian Levene, the Specialty Crops Research Manager, had planted a large number of cole crops on April 28 for a fertility trial. Cole crops are members of the mustard family and include broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. They are cool season crops. As seen by the picture of a broccoli plant, it was not affected. Dr. Brian said that we were close to the edge with the 7-hour frost duration and a temperature dip to 26 degrees. The Concord Grape in the next picture was not as lucky. The leaves on one stem were frosted, yet on the other stem they survived. New leaves will regrow with no lasting consequences, since the stem itself was not affected. The winter wheat was not affected. Our wheat is at Feekes Growth stage 7. So there is still plenty of growth to come. Wheat is quite tolerant of cold temps until just before head emergence. This should be in late May and a frost is unlikely then, although it has happened in Michigan.

Another thing we did today was calibrate our drill for different soybean populations. Recommendations for seeding rates have changed in recent times, where lower populations are are now preferred. Although some still like to plant higher populations. We are planning a test with different populations for 7.5, 15 and 30 inch rows, plus impose several different fertilizer treatments. The drill will plant the 7.5 and 15 inch rows, and the planter will do the 30 inch rows. It is not an easy task to get desired populations, especially with different seed sizes. We are planning just one variety though. So we attached bags to 3 of the row tubes, and drove 125 feet and weighed the output. If you do this, you will need a scale capeable of reading low numbers, in the hundredths of pounds for accuracy, and digital readout is preferred. The settings didn't exactly give a linear response, so you can't just double the setting to get double the output. But after many back and forth measurements, suitable settings for the desired populations were determined. In the picture, Doug Summer and Phil Dush remove the collection bags from the drill for Stephanie to weigh. I took pictures and provided lively banter.
I think we are all glad this week is over. In the last 7 days we have had nearly 3 inches of rain, two nights of frost, and much below normal daytime temperatures. We planted a few soybean tests on Monday, but have watched the rain nearly all week. Next week is supposed to be warmer, and our crops need that.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

New Blog of Happenings at the North Central Research (NCRS)

For some time I have been urged to have a blog to post a record of continuing events at the North Central Research Station, the largest research facility in the country devoted solely to crop nutrition. For more informaiton about Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers, you can go to But this blog will mainly be for research progress postings here at the NCRS in St. Johns, MI.

This year started with a jolt as the NCRS more than doubled in size to 462 tillable acres on 8 different farms. The expansion will enable more testing on some heavier soil types. Additionally, nearly 100 acres was tiled on two of the NCRS farms. This should greatly improve growing conditions and yield. Now, with more ground and more plots, we had to modify the way plots were established. So gone are the days of steel tape, flags and stakes to mark the plots and enter the days of gps and autosteer. It is quite a thrill to run strip tillage and planting with no hands. However, I will admit that it doesn't look as "researchy" without flags and stakes, but such is progress. The work of NCRS manager Doug Summer and Field Agronomy Research Manager Stephanie Zelinko in getting all of this "magic from the sky" up and running has been invaluable. So we were fortunate in that the spring was warm and the soil warmed up early and we started planting on April 19, about a full week earlier than normal. Even with added acreage, we finished planting corn on May 5, the earliest date ever at the NCRS.

We were mindful that things had been going so well, and were kind of waiting for something to happen to punish our complacency. Well, as a great mind once said: Mother Nature is a MAD scientist. Most of the corn was up and out of the ground when we had a severe frost on the morning of May 9. It was below freezing from 1 am to 8 am, getting as low as 26 degrees. The next day it was obvious that much of the corn leaves were gone. It was variable, as seen in the picture, but whole sections of row were frozen off. Now we don't need to worry too much as the growing point is still below ground. But it has been cold and rainy all week, and an extension e-mail warned that rain can cause harmful soil bacteria to splash into the whorl and can cause problems. It has been in the 40's all week for high temps, but it's supposed to be much warmer next week. So stay tuned.