Thursday, March 29, 2012

Plenty of Activity Today

So today was busy for everyone here at the NCRS. The weather has taken a change from recent warmth to more seasonal as it was only in the 30's today. But little wind, so it was time to get the winter wheat topdressed with nitrogen. Normally it is early April when this is done, but not this year. Below new guy Tim guides the new Hagie plot sprayer through the plots on Farm 5. Stephanie is also in there for plot guidance. I did tear up a little remembering the good times I used to have with my old, and now gone, Hagie sprayer. But I guess this one will do almost as good a job. Tim handled it like a pro spraying three wheat experiments on Farms 3, 5 and 7. Doug and I ran some strip tillage treatments for a sugarbeet experiment on Farm 2. I was his road buddy. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (I still love playing with the new Picasa photo applications.)I hate it when this happens. Probably has happened to everyone who uses gps guidance. We just wait and drive around a little, and it magically re-appears. We have a repeater that will boost signal that we sometimes use, but didn't want to take the time to get it out and set it up. It didn't happen too much, but there weren't any trees or anything around. Just the day I guess.
We will plant sugarbeets next week in these strips. One variable in this experiment will be the previous crop of either soybeans or corn in this alternating experiment from last year. We have had good results with strip-till sugarbeets in the past. This is our third year using gps guidance, and it is so amazing. We wanted the sugarbeet rows to be between the corn rows from last year. So we just entered in a shift track of 15 inches, and it lined up perfectly.
I noticed that there are more plants in the greenhouse. Here are some recently moved flats of peppers. Much more to come in the weeks ahead. The indoor growth chamber is full of germinating trays that will be moved out here soon after emergence. I will say that Dr. Brian and crew have been hard at it planting the apple trees that I referenced in the last blog. I stopped by the field at the end of the day and they had planted 13 rows so far. So over half done. (Would you have stopped after 13? I guess they aren't very superstitions or see the writings on the wall.) It was cloudy and getting dark, so no pictures today.

I was able to ride with Tim on his last round on Farm 3. It is sure smooth and quiet. Phil also topdressed about 35 acres of our production wheat, but I didn't get a picture. But he says he did it.

So things are really underway now.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Apples, Tiling and March?

So today the fruit guys started planting apple trees. It was quite a bit colder today than it has been of late, and windy. But that kept the sweat from all that work down. (I mean it's tough following them around taking pictures.) Below we see the tree transplanter at the end of a row with Brian on board loading trees and Dan close behind to firm the ground around the trees and make sure it's at the right depth and straight. Notice that the tractor has a gps globe on it. They are able to use the autotrack, or automatic steering, to make sure the rows are straight. And apparently it is working. Look how nice those rows are. You may also notice how close together the trees are. Only 3.5 feet apart. No this isn't a costly mistake, but a costly plan. This is a new method of orchard establishment where the trees are more like a hedge. In the future they will have irrigation lines running off the ground through the limbs with nozzles for application of water for irrigation, plus crop protection agents and of course, fertilizer. This is known as a fixed spray system. It will be watched by a number of researchers from across the country in the years to come. Below Dan, Brian and Tim check their work. They have a ways to go and I will check back in the days to come. It is kind of pretty up on this hill. I may have mentioned that we have 11 farms now at the NCRS. Last Friday Farm 11 was getting finished with the tile drainage installation. We have special plans for this farm in the years to come. But I will save that story for later.

I know I have mentioned how warm it has been here lately. In fact last Wednesday it got up to 87 degrees. That's just crazy. The picture below was taken at the ACLF corporate office last Saturday. These daffodils should not be flowering like this for over a month. That Mother Nature is a maaaaad scientist.

So the year of research is off to an early start here in 2012. Much more to come in the next few days.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Expansion Plans

So the NCRS has a new research agronomist today. His name is Tim Duckert. Oddly enough, we put out a nation-wide search for this position, and Tim lives right here in St. Johns. So no moving expenses, and he showed up ready to get to work. Tim is a well qualified researcher having spent the last 12 years working for the USDA/ARS Sugarbeet and Dry Bean Research Unit out of East Lansing. He has been running field plots in these crops for years and will fit right in at the NCRS. Tim has his Bachelor's degree in Crop and Soil Sciences from MSU. After graduation he worked as an assistant manager for a 5000 acre grain farm in Illinois for five years. He still keeps in contact with that family, often returning to help with harvest so he can have a change from small plots. Well hopefully our plots are big enough to ward off some of those feelings, but it's nice to have that type of farming experience. He also worked for two years at the Kellogg Biological Station in Michigan in cover crop research. Additionally he has worked for a custom application business and even spen a year in Australia working on a wheat and sheep farm. So Tim brings a wealth of experience and we are fortunate to have him. So the plan is for Tim and Stephanie to manage the field crop research at the NCRS. They didn't exactly have to drag me away kicking and screaming, but I have moved to an office at the company headquarters in St. Johns. So last Friday really was my last official day at the NCRS. Of course I will still be involved with the plot work at the NCRS, at least at the start till Tim learns his way around the 11 farms. But I will be better able to manage the overall company research efforts if I am not so involved from a hands-on basis at the NCRS. This will give me time to be more involved with the Specialty Crop research as well (I wonder if Dr. Brian knows this?). Most importantly, ACLF conducts quite a bit of research off-farm in other states. Sadly, some of it I don't get an opportunity to visit since I was so busy at the NCRS. And it is expensive and needs better monitoring. So this will free me up to check on that more closely and spend time with the sales staff in those areas as well. So this is a necessary move due to the continued growth of ACLF, and it will all be for the good of everyone. (Does Stephanie really have to look so happy I am gone?)

Now Tim says he is neat, but surely his desk will be a little more busy in the months to come. Below we see Tracy the Network Manager getting Tim's computer out of the box and put together.

On another note, fear not, this is not the end of this blog. I will still be reporting regularly on research activities at the farm, plus with additional coverage of our research projects around the country. So please stay tuned.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time Out For St. Patrick

So I don't have to write about farm stuff all the time. Yesterday was the celebration of St. Patrick's Day, which also was the real St. Patrick's Day of March 17. There is a big celebration in the small town of Grand Ledge, where I live. We were certainly blessed by the nicest weather we have ever had for the parade. Last year there was snow on the ground and this year we wore shorts. There was a big crowd downtown. The parade featured two bagpipe bands, one from Canada and one from Lansing. I was in the parade with the Knights of Columbus train here. It was full of kids and we passed out Tootsie Rolls to the mob of kids along the street.
Below is a pic of me in action passing out the Tootsie Rolls to parade watchers. (And if you see any K of C members in your town on Palm Sunday weekend on their Tootsie Roll Drive for charity, please be generous.)

So that was a fun time. By the way, I read something in the paper this morning that I thought was interesting and will share it with you. We have all heard the saying: "Cut to the chase". (In fact you may be saying that right now.) We know what it means: Get to the point. But I didn't know where it came from. Well it seems it came from back in the silent movie days. The usual format then was some sort of intro, some romance and then a chase scene. (I think some of us can remember seeing a piece of a silent movie before somewhere.) But it was said of screenwriters then, "When in doubt, cut to the chase." Today we take it to mean: skip through all the meaningless information, and get to the point. So it is an excellent motto for speakers, and I guess writers, today. Of course I'm sure this wouldn't pertain to any of my fertilizer presentations, but I sure hope everyone else will keep this in mind. (Thanks to Patty McCarthy & Paula Blanchard-Stone.)

Oh and about yesterday's blog post, you really didn't think I surely not!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Good-Bye Jerry....Huh?...What?

So after all these years at the NCRS, it is time for a change. I will no longer be at the NCRS effective today. Thinking back to how it all in the picture below of me spraying out a field of quackgrass. Today most people wouldn't even know what quackgrass looks like due to crop genetics and herbicides. A lot has certainly changed at Liquid as well. Who could have imagined what ACLF has become? Of course I attribute much of the growth to the support of findings through our years of nutrient research. Oh look. There was a good-bye cake.
It was comforting that my co-workers at the farm were able to focus their thoughts on how much they enjoyed my leadership over the years.

After eating cake, it was time to leave. Below Stephanie can't help but feel sad by the empty desk.

What lies ahead? Time will tell. Have a nice weekend, and Happy St. Patrick's day.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Warm Day Work

So you wouldn't know it was mid-March today as temperatures got up into the upper 70's, and it is going to stay this way well into next week. Normal high is 40 and the normal low is 28, and the low was only in the 50's last night. And so it is around the country. But yesterday at the NCRS they were finally able to put the plastic cover on the greenhouse. It has been too windy the past several days, but yesterday morning it was pretty calm. They had a crew of four and these guys worked fast. In only a short time it was covered. Here is what it looked like from the inside. The fuel guy came and hooked the propane line to the heater and it was wired for power. There are still some wiring jobs for the thermostat. There is a big fan at the other end for cooling. Today it was pretty warm in there, but we haven't run the fan or opened it up for cooling yet. But it should be much cooler than this anyway, and I imagine normal weather will return sometime.
Here is what the cole crop transplants looked like in the growth chamber yesterday. They are to be moved to the greenhouse pretty soon. Today Dan moved them outside into the shade so that they get accustomed to sunlight, but slowly in order to avoid sunburn. I will take some more pictures after they get moved into the greenhouse. Then Brian and Dan will start the next round of planting.

Here is a picture of Tim doing something to the Nutri-Till machine today. The reason I show this, other than to show Tim doing something, is to demonstrate a cool new find. You may or may not know that I use Picasa for my photo editing. It is a free download and is easy to use. You can really improve the appearance of your pictures. Well tonight I found that there was an upgrade to Picasa version 3.9. My favorite descriptions: free and new. So I downloaded it and was impressed with some of the new applications.

One of them is "neon". See what it did to Tim. Out of this world, man. There are lots of colors, but I thought Tim looked best in blue. Impress your friends and get it.

So have fun. I think tomorrow will bring some surprises, so come back then.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nice Day to Be Outside

So this stuff happened yesterday, but I left my camera on my desk when I left the farm. So we're not really "Live From the NCRS", but close. I showed our first shipment of seed the other day. Well you can't leave something that valuable just sitting around the shop, so Ron here loaded it up on our big trailer and took it to our secret vault for storage. It has been unusually warm here lately so planting doesn't seem that far off, even though it is. I heard frogs "singing" for the first time yesterday. Troy told me that freezes will chase frogs back into the ground three more times after you hear them for the first time. Now I'm older than him, and I have never heard that saying before. But you know I will keep count now. So you certainly know that my reliable old plot sprayin' Hagie was retired from research and sold to a kindly gentleman farmer from Indiana. Well he stopped by yesterday to see what exactly it was that he bought. His name is Adam and I'm not exactly sure what he has in mind to do with it, but it won't be resting in the Hagie Hall of Fame.
The five smaller tanks have been replaced with regular tanks, and it does indeed spray as Adam takes it for a test drive. Well not exactly a test drive since he bought it some time ago and the check cleared. I hope he has as good a time with it as I did.

Since it was nice out, we took some of the equipment out for some check rides. The drill appears to be ready to plant oats here pretty soon.

And they wanted to see if one of the new smaller tractors would be able to handle the new Proptec sprayer that the NCRS got last December. It was filled with water and maneuvered around just fine.

So things seem to be coming along, but much is yet to be done.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gone Shopping

So after my return to the NCRS today, I ventured out into the shop to a beehive of activity. Well, no making of honey, but plenty of work being done as spring farm work creeps ever closer. Below we see Phil inside the new stainless steel tank he is making for his Hagie field sprayer. It has one 400 gallon stainless tank already, but with farm expansion we needed another for more capacity. Here he comes up for a breather. It is a lot of work and kind of spendy, but we learned years ago that poly tanks don't clean out easily leading to contamination and crop injury later (like dicamba on soybeans).
I think I mentioned earlier that new wiring harnesses are being installed on all of the equipment to make them able to be plugged into any tractor. The Monosem still has a some work remaining. But it will be done soon.

But the new Kinze is all ready to go.

Bay City Brian works on wiring in equipment harnesses in one of the new tractors.

Ron is nearly finished with the fertilizer loadout platform that will be installed in the Goodland, Kansas manufacturing plant. I think he is just showing off for the picture.

Tim is working on some mounting equipment for the fertilizer manifold in the containment building. We are hoping to get our fertilizer tanks loaded in the next week or two.

So the guys have been working some long days lately to get everything ready to go to the field. We are fortunate to have a talented group here at the farm. So when you see all the cool pictures of the equipment running in the field later, these are the guys who made it happen.

Also today we got our first shipment of seed: soybeans in all sorts of container sizes and varieties. I guess that does mean that planting is on the horizon.

A lot of dollars is in this picture. With Liquid fertilizer, and a good year, there will be many happy returns for the NCRS.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Down in Arcadiana

So yesterday I came down to one of my favorite areas: Southern Louisiana or Arcadiana, which is the name given to French Louisiana. You know, Cajun Country. Last year we had some contract research in rice, sugarcane, soybeans and cotton, with some excellent and encouraging results. You can read about it in the Research Report on the web site. So I came down to line up our work for this year and meet with the researchers. Below is a plot area where we will have rice and soybeans. Can't tell much now in this field, but I'll show pictures again this summer when I make another visit. Last year in a blog account, I lamented that we were too late for a visit to the home of the original Tabasco Sauce: the McIlhenny company on Avery Island. Well this year, due to Reid's excellent driving, we were able to get there before closing. Below we see sales account manager Reid, myself, and regional sales manger Dave in front to the office and plant building, before the last tour of the day.
The tour told about the long history of tabasco, first made here in 1868 (I think) and how it is made today from that same recipe. Did you know that the sauce is aged in old Jack Daniels barrels for 3 years? (The tour lady did not know why they scraped the barrels out first, and she volunteered to help with the scraping, but hasn't been asked). Anyway, it is sold in many countries around the world which means placing the appropriate label on the bottle. Today they were bottling for Germany. I was impressed by how clean the bottling room was, like a lab or something.

Here is an aerial view of Avery Island. Well, it's actually a picture of the model. But this island is actually the top of a salt dome. A salt dome is literally a dome of salt that has pushed up from deep in the earth. She said that this one is as deep as Mt. Everest is tall. That salt is used in the barreling process to seal the barrels. Not all of the tabasco pepper plants are grown on the island, as much is grown in Central and South America. But all of the seeds used for those plants comes from plants grown here. Very interesting.

And what is a main reason that Dr. Wilhm likes to come to Arcadiana, specifically Lafayette? Well to sample the Cajun cuisine of course! It is early in the crawfish season, and it is a great time to order that. We made another visit to Randol's, and I had my first dinner of boiled crawfish. After learning the technique for meat extraction from Reid, as well as for sucking the head (that doesn't sound right, does it?) I dove into the pile before me. (Dave chickened out and ordered crab.) Of course I enjoyed it, but next time I may order something with more variety, to enable more eating options. You just can't get this at home, but that's why it is so good when I am there. And there was a cajun band playing to accompany the devouring of food. A very good time indeed. Smelled a little, ok, a lot fishy when done.

Today it was back to work. We visited with a dealer of Liquid there for product and research updates. (They were pleased with the results.) Then off to another researcher where we will again have sugarcane and cotton in the field below. They say that it is abnormally warm so far this spring and the cane is starting to grow bigger than it should. There is always the chance of a late freeze. Weather always rules. They had drought and heat last summer, and we don't want any of that this year.

Now I'm in the Alexandria airport waiting to head back to the NCRS.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Planting Has Begun at the NCRS!

Well, in the growth chamber anyway. Last Friday Dan and Dr. Brian planted trays of cole crops that will be transplanted into the research plots in late April. Here is Dan checking the trays today after lunch, and makes a startling discovery. We have emergence! See the little cauliflowers just breaking through the soil into the world. They are each hoping to be the first one eaten, after fattening up on Liquid fertilizer. Dan was so proud he started passing out cigars.

After they are more fully emerged, they will be moved into the greenhouse which will give them sunlight for more normal growth. Might be a little chilly if they are moved now though. (It's only 28 degrees out this afternoon.) The greenhouse should be finished soon. That's the plan anyway.

So this is a real reminder that spring is coming. What about me you ask? Well I have been around the country recently for grower meetings and the like. I am off on a short research mission tomorrow. It is to one of my favorite areas. Hope to bring you along through the blog-o-sphere. Check back.