Thursday, November 25, 2010

Something New For the NCRS

So I went to the office today and was surprised to find that I was the only one there. Guess there must be some flu epidemic or something. But anyway, it gave me some peace and quiet to add a new installment of the NCRS blog. I know it's been a while, but most of the stuff I am doing is not out at the NCRS anymore. But yesterday we did something that is blog worthy. Now usually I don't really like to talk about stuff before it happens, but this is kind of cool so here you go. We are installing an area where we can evaluate different corn nitrogen programs not only for yield effects, but also for nitrate leaching potential. As mentioned previously, we are doing some tiling of our new farms 7 and 8 this fall. That is now complete, but had the idea of putting some tiles on Farm 2 where we could collect tile drainage and test for nitrates. So we laid out some plots where we could do this, and yesterday was the day. Follow along with the pictures. The first picture shows where the tile was buried. It was installed on Tuesday, but I missed it and have no pictures. But the tiles are on 30 foot spacing and run the 140 foot length of the plots, plus an additional 20 feet into the alley. We plan to collect water in, for lack of a better word, "wells" at the end of each plot. We put some concrete in the bottom of the holes and inserted the wells into the concrete. It took a good bit of labor and we had Doug, Phil, Ron and Tim on hand to help. Brian stopped by later too.
Here we see Doug pushing the well down into the concrete base. The slats are our depth gauges.
Tim checks to make sure that they are straight.

Here is the finished tube. After the concrete cures, we will attach the drainage tile.

Here we see the well and the end of where the plot will be. We will attach the tile to the PVC pipe and then cut a hole and insert the pipe into the well for collection of drainage water. We use PVC pipe in the alley so that no water from the alley will go into the tile. The alley is where we get the planter and sidedress rig set up, and that include running it on the ground a little for priming. So we didn't want any of that extra fertilizer getting into the wells. And we needed to have the wells out in the alley so that we can set the planter and sidedress rig down into the ground before the plot.

The tiles are on 30 foot spacing. The plan is to have a 6 row plot (15 feet) of corn over the tile. And then we will plant 6 rows of soybeans between the corn for borders. Then we will collect drainage water as it happens and have it analyzed for nitrate. We will also be able to pump out the wells and use a hose-end meter to measure gallons so that we can determince pounds of N lost through the tiles. We will have 16 of these wells for our leaching experiment. So it is a pretty ambitious project, and we will let you know what happens.
Oh by the way, there was a nice turkey dinner waiting for me when I got home. So it was a pretty good work day here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

LIQUID Invades Midwest Labs

So a bunch of us management types were in Omaha this week for a company meeting to work on strategery for the upcoming sales and marketing season, with a healthy dose of research. We could have met anywhere, but we wanted to go to Omaha so that we could tour Midwest Labs. We have worked with Midwest Labs for more than ten years in setting up a relationship for handling our soil test programs, and it has been a great relationship indeed. We really like the speed of the analysis, posting results on the internet, converting recommendations to Liquid products, and the nice price to the grower for going through Liquid. But I wanted to show a few pictures of the behind the scenes tour that we were given. Our hosts were Mr. John DeBoer, Vice President and one of the owners and John Paul DeBoer, Information Systems Manager. These two have worked closely with Stephanie over the years as she mainly manages the soil test program for Liquid. We also heard from Midwest in-house agronomist John Menghini, with whom I have visited numerous times over the phone. The picture below shows a couple of guys that open the boxes of soil test bags that have just arrived. Fall is the busiest time of year for volume of soil received, as post-harvest sampling is probably the best time for this. It was stressed how important it is to follow the directions for sample submission. Namely, have the bags in order and place the submission sheet on the top of the bags inside the box. This speeds the operation, and speed is important. In fact, they said that on a recent day they received 29,000 bags of soil for analysis! So they don't want to be slowed down looking for the form and getting the bags in order.
After opening the bags, the soil is placed in these trays and dried. Each sample is numbered so that it can be followed through the entire analysis process. Then the samples are run through this grinder for the many steps of the analysis process.

John Paul DeBoer shows the containers of the ground up soil. A small scoop of soil is collected for the different tests. There are samples of a standard soil sample included throughout these trays for quality controls. The tests are conducted in a number of rooms throughout the building, and it looked like a bee hive as everyone was very busy in order to process the volume of samples that come through each day.

This particular area in the picture below was for the analysis of micronutrients. A soil sample is placed in the filter paper and a solvent is poured in for extraction of the nutrients, and then analyzed somehow for content. It was all very complicated, but they had all the right equipment and the right people to run it all.

Here is where they measure the pH of the soil. The samples are mixed with water, and continually swirled around as four pH probes are inserted for measurement. And then they lift out and are rinsed with water and the tray moves down for the next group. We were amazed that there were no spills as the "mud" swirled around to the top of the tray cup, but did not spill. I guess they have done this before. It was mentioned that they developed the robotics for this process themselves. Here the pH measurements are shown on this screen, as Justin watches. If the pH is over 7 and an Olsen bicarb test is requested for phosphorus, it is somehow flagged and a sample of that soil is directed to the bicarb tester. This was the most amazing thing to me in that there are samples of the same soil all over the place getting all the different tests run, and in the end, they all get recorded back together on the correct soil test report.

This wild looking instrument below is for running the Olsen bicarb test for phosphorus. The Bray tests are run in a different area. They can also do a Mehlic and Morgan test, if requested.

Now the instrument below is an inductively coupled argon plasma (ICAP) machine used primarily for the sulfur test. I think it also tests other non-nutrient things too. But that flame is very hot. How hot, you ask? Try 6000 degrees Celcius, or 10,832 degrees Farenheit, or sun temperature. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but it probably won't come up in daily conversations, but it was impressive. And they have a number of these in the lab where they were.

You know how you can get a test re-run on a particular nutrient if the result you get looks odd? But where do they keep the soil in the mean-time? In the basement, samples are retained for a period of time. And due to the coding of samples, they can go right to it. We have had a few tests re-run over the years, and they do a good and quick job of it. It kind of reminded me of that last scene in the first Indiana Jones movie.

Below is some of the group being led by John DeBoer to another building where additional tests are run. It's not all soil and tissue testing there. They also do things like food and pet food analysis, fertilizer analysis, water analysis for contaminants, and so on.

Here we see the results of a sample run for water contamination.

So it was a great visit. Like many of you, I have been sending samples to Midwest for many years, but did not really know what happened to them once they got there. But it is anextremelly well run, efficient and very high-tech operation. And very clean too with all of the soil running through it. One last you wonder what they do with all of that soil after they are through? Well it is collected outside in these containers, and is used to cap landfills in the area. So no soil is wasted in this operation.

So thanks to Midwest Labs for the enlightening day.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Howard Patton Vists the NCRS

So we were pleased to welcome Mr. Howard Patton, Liquid Area Manager Extrodinaire from Sunray, Texas. Actually Howard has a sister in Midland, MI that he and wife Genelle were visiting. But being in the neighborhood, they dropped by for a visit yesterday, and of course Howard wandered over to the NCRS for a cup of coffee and a look around at all of the new things going on. It was cold and cloudy when we stopped by Farm 7. Now these rolled up drainage tile bundles and the whole tile process were foreign to Howard as the need to get rid of excess water from snowmelt and rainfall is not a common practice in the Texas Panhandle. So it was an educational visit after all. On this day the tiling crew was getting ready to start the tiling process and were digging holes to find the old tile and planning for the tracks and main locations. There was a sugarbeet field across the road on the north side of Farm 7, and they were in the process of loading the beets into trucks for transport to the sugar plant in Bay City which is about 80 miles away. Now this is not a common way of loading sugarbeets, at least around here. This grower makes a windrow of beets at the end of the field along the road and then uses this special tool called a Euro Maus to load the beets into trucks. There is a screw roller on the front that draws the beets into the front and places them onto the belts that carry them to the truck. It is a pretty fast process taking only a few minutes to load this big 2-trailer truck. This Maus has been in the area for a few years, but I had not seen it in operation. The common practice is to load the beets into the trucks in the field directly from the beet lifter. This can lead to all kinds of ruts and compaction, plus down time waiting for the trucks to return. This way they can keep harvesting as the beets are piled and loaded with the Maus later. Pretty cool process. Howard watches and agrees.

Today they actually started laying the buried tile with the big machine below. This was the same outfit that tiled Farms 4 and 5 last spring, and they did a great job. The machine is quite fast, but they have a lot of ground to cover as Farm 7 alone is 180 acres.

Fortunately the tile lines run perpendicular to the crop row direction. So the tile will affect all of the test plots equally. Had the tile run the same direction as the rows, the plots right over the tile would have had an advantage. I have seen crops in fields with this arrangement and the rows over the tile are always a little taller than the other rows between the tile, especially in wet years.
These tracks really look tall when they are fresh. We hope to get in this fall and disk them down. Weather is our focus now as the good field working time is running short. So hopefully the crew can keep going for awhile. Forecast looks good for the most part. Good luck guys.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Probably My Last Spray Jobs of the Year

So today was pretty nice for November 1 in mid-Michigan. Sunny with no wind, but kind of cool, in the upper 40's this afternoon. But a good day for some spraying. What would you be spraying this time of year you may ask? Well we are trying a new variation in our strip till (or Nutri-Till) experiment that was shown in the previous post. And that is to spray some banded fertilizer on the surface that will be planted in no-till corn next spring. I like the fall strip tillage, but some growers want to stay no-till, and this could prove to be an advantage. Well, if it works that is. So I sprayed the same rate of Pro-Germinator + Sure-K + Micro 500 that was run through the Nutri-Till last Friday. The only decision was what type of nozzle to use. I thought of turning the flat fan nozzle sideways as I have done before as in drop nozzle applications. But I didn't want to mess with the drop nozzles and they do wiggle around some. I also thought of straight stream nozzle or orifice disk. But after much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth, I decided to use the 3-stream fertilizer nozzle with an orifice disk inside that would allow the 10.5 gallon per acre rate I was spraying. This would enable fertilizer streams that would shoot through the wheat stubble and hit the ground and not spray so much on the stubble as with a flat fan nozzle anyway. I set the boom as low as it would go and I thought it made a nice pattern for the banded application. You can see the outside nozzle catch the sunlight showing the streams hitting the ground. (Thanks to Stephanie whom I made go out to take this picture.)
I have my nozzles on 15 inch spacing, so it is easy to spray bands on 30 inch spacing directly over where a row will be planted next spring (in 30 inch rows by shutting of every other nozzle). Again, thanks to our RTK gps system. The picture below was sprayed on the parking area by the shop, and shows the fertilizer bands. (I actually sprayed the middle four rows of the six-row plot.) It is 30 inches from the middle of one band to the next, and makes a nice tight band over each future row. There will be time for the P and K and micros to move down into the ground a little for root uptake next spring.
The next job for the Hagie and me was to spray emerged wheat from one of our wheat experiments. This particular test was featured in the October 13 blog post when it was planted. The idea was to spray the same fertilizer treatment that was applied through the drill. Well, sadly, not everyone has their drill rigged for liquid application, so we have a couple of different broadcast spray treatments for comparison. The first is spraying before planting and today was to spray after emergence. We have not done this at the NCRS, but Ron Mulford at the University of Maryland experiment station (remember when he visited the NCRS last July 28?) showed this to be an effective application. The wheat is about three inches tall now. It is kind of hard to see in this picture, and actually kind of hard to see from the cab. But I could follow the tram lanes we left, and find the correct plot with the gps monitor.

This is what the wheat looks like at ground level. I imagine that some of the fertilizer does get in through some foliar absorption. I sprayed at 50 psi though nozzles on 15 inch spacing, so it was getting good distribution of the 8.5 gallon per acre fertilizer rate. So we will be keeping our eyes on this now and next spring for comparison to the drill applications. And if anything stands out, you know where to find out about it.
So after completion of this final task, I sadly parked the Hagie plot sprayer in the equipment barn, gave it a little love pat, and walked away and did not look back. I know she will get a thorough going over this winter to make it all shiny and new next year, most likely the first time out will be to topdress this same wheat test. So if you are feeling a little rundown yourself about this time of year, I hope you will get your own thorough going over to make you all invigorated to do it all over again next year. Good luck.