Sunday, September 30, 2012

Calling all Melons and Pumpkins

So yesterday was the annual pumpkin and watermelon weigh off at Andy T's Farm Market in St. Johns.  It's a pretty big deal and one of only three in the state.  Andy actually uses and sells Liquid for vegetables, plus he's a nice guy.  Brian and Tim B each grew a pumpkin and watermelon for the contest.  The competition was pretty stiff.  I had never been to such an event before, but after listening to the contestants, it is an obsession. 
Below is a picture of Brian and Tim and their respective watermelons.  Brian's was 201lbs, good enough for second place.  Tim's was 193 lbs, and he got third.  Good move not to beat your boss Tim.
However the winning melon was 272 pounds, which was a new state record.  Here are the podium finishers.  Although not a contest, a guy brought by a 96.5 inch gourd that is in front of the melons. 
Now the pumpkin growers take this contest to a different level.  They all indicated that the growing conditions were harsh this year leading to plant mortality (gasp!) and smaller than normal weights.  I eavesdropped on some conversations, and they were talking about the importance of manured ground, kelp and bloodmeal and other stuff, in addition to fertilizer.  Brian said most of the serious growers will have a mini-greenhouse in the fields and some have waterings on a timer.  Well we had none of that, but I told Brian we should make a more serious effort next year.  I mean we have a reputation and all.  So sadly, Brian and Tim were a ways off the top weights.  Below is the winner being hoisted onto the scale.  Brian was helping with the pumpkin harness.  It was a whopping 1399 pounds!  Second was around 20 pounds less, so there were some big ones.  The world record was just broken this weekend in Massachusetts by a Rhode Island pumpkin at 2009 pounds.  Now everyone has a goal.
For entertainment there was a pumpkin carver.  Pretty cool. 
Hope you had similar fun this weekend.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sticky Fingers

So today was a different kind of harvest: grapes from the vineyard.  We have two kinds of grapes: Riesling wine grapes and Concord juice grapes.  Michigan is actually one of the largest producers of Concord grapes but the majority were lost due to spring frost, which was discussed previously.  Below is a pic of the Riesling grapes ready for harvest.  And I promised Brian a day of harvest help, so here it is.
This was the start of a looooonnnngg day.  Every bunch had to be hand snipped.  Here is Dan in action.
Here is a shot of Tim B snipping a bunch. (Note: I'm sure that the Tim's are tired of the Old and New names.  So now it will be Tim B and Tim D.)  Tim B likes to wear gloves.
Here is a plot's worth of grapes. Pretty, huh?
After the Rieslings, it was on to the Concords.  They are easier to see, and have about twice the yield of the Rieslings.  Lots of picking.
Brian, who developed the plans and made the treatment applications, completes the process by checking the yields.
Tim B, who loves having his picture taken, shows a basket of Concords ready for weighing. 
So I don't wear no stinking gloves.  But it does make for sticky fingers.  And purple too.
Is the job over after picking?  No it is not.  First you take a sample from each plot, put it in a baggie, and squeeze to make juice.
Then Brian puts some of the juice onto his refractometer, and gets a reading of how much sugar is in the juice, or Brix.  The higher, the better.  This should appear in the research report.
So that was a day.  Have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Out of State

So yesterday morning I flew to Sioux Falls, SD.  (And boy were my arms tired.)  We have several research plots out there, and me being Senior Research Manger, went out to take a late season assessment.  First stop was to see our friends at Hefty Seed/AG PHD.  They can do replicated research plots now.  But first stop was at the Blank Slate field.  If you don't know the details of the Blank Slate, well you better get caught up.  It was harvested last week, and due to the drought, yield was lower than desired.  The flat ground yielded pretty well, around 170 Bu/A.  But much of the sloped ground, and there is plenty of that, yielded zero.  Below plot researcher Brad Farber and Darren Hefty look at a dropped ear from the good ground.  It was big and full, like we wished they all were.
Much of the Blank Slate is sloped and, due to earlier abuse, has much topsoil erosion.  We noticed that many of the stalks on the slope were leaning to the North after a wind event in August.  Without good topsoil, the stalks and roots just weren't strong enough to stand up to the wind. 
But on the flat ground where there was good black topsoil, the stalks were straight up, and not bent over from the wind.  Darren said this was apparent during harvest where they really had to slow down on the slopes to pick up the corn, that really had no ears anyway.
At the bottom of a slope, there was a big dropped ear and a corn plant we dug up with a massive root system.  So this was the potential if not for the drought.  They are trying to build organic matter with high yielding corn, and reduce the erosion by leaving the residue.
We then went over to the research plots.  We have some nitrogen on corn treatments and some foliar fertilization of soybeans, shown below.  Again, it is a tough year for corn, but the soybeans look pretty good.  You can tell this is research because there are colorful flags out there.
However, in the afternoon, I drove about 40 miles South to another research plot site with another researcher.  Here the drought was most severe.  The corn only had tiny ears, and we decided not to even harvest the plots.  The researcher said growers fields around here were only going 10 bu/A.  That is so sad.  I mean it's not cheap to plant corn these days, and those yields make it worse.
Here are some ears from the plots.  Even my prejudiced eye could not attribute treatment effects.
Meanwhile back at the NCRS, I arrived back this afternoon to find the field crop crew busy with soybean harvest on new Farm 11.  These were long rows, over 1000 feet.  But the yields were very good, around 70 bu/A following CRP.  Lucky us.
Stephanie documents the yield from a plot.
So it was an interesting trip, and I always enjoy seeing the Hefty folks.  Back to harvest tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There and Back Again

So early this morning I drove up to Mt. Pleasant (not sure where the "Mt." is, it's flat as a table there) to meet Sales Account Manager Kurt.  Then we drove out to the Thumb of Michigan to check on some corn plots we have out there.  For non-Michiganders, hold out your left hand, palm out, fingers together and thumb at an angle away from the hand.  Your hand is now the lower peninsula of Michigan, and the thumb is that area surrounded on 3 sides by Lake Huron.  It is called the thumb.  Clever, huh?  Anyway, there are two corn experiments out there that were established by an operation called TARE: Thumb Area Research and Education.  It is part of the extension service of MSU for replicated plot research of things of interest to area farmers.  So we worked with them to set up some nitrogen sidedress plots.  Meeting us was Jim Vincent who is the Research Technician who did much of the work and built the sidedress equipment. He used to do some work with new NCRS agronomist Tim.  That's Jim on the left with Kurt.  It was a nice day, and the plot here looked good.  It had been dry, but had gotten good rain later in the summer.  But it looks like it will yield well.  Hopefully we will learn something about products and rates. 
The ears were full to the tip and many had extended past the husk. 
Being near Lake Huron and lake breezes, there are many windmills going up out there.  On good farmground.  Not sure how I fully feel about all of that.  One big concern, beyond the looks and dead birds, is that now many acres are not going to be able to receive aerial applications.  But power is needed I guess.
Back to the NCRS in the afternoon.  Doug and I took a drive around to check on some things.  Here is one of the oilseed radishes that we planted for a cover crop after wheat harvest.  They have been nicked by frost, but should keep growing as it will be warm for awhile now.
Phil, new Tim and Stephanie had been busy harvesting soybeans for much of the day.  They harvested four experiments on this first day of soybean harvest.  We got there just as they were finishing for the day (sound familiar?) 
The rest of the week here will be warm and good for much more harvesting of soybeans and tomatoes.  I, however, am leaving on yet another fertilizer mission.  Hope it's a good one with plenty of cool pictures.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pick and Plant

So today like clockwork, everyone was back in action at the NCRS.  Vegetable plot harvest is a long and slow process since it is done by hand(s).  Below is Roma tomato plot harvest.  Brian clips and shakes the tomoatoes off the vine into the plot middle.  Then Dan, Kirk and old Tim sort by color, and weigh them.  Each plot is one of four replications of a different fertilizer treatment.  New Field Agronomy Manager Dr. Mike Read is discussing tomato research with Dr. Brian.  (You can't swing a stick without hitting a Dr.around here.)  Today is Mike's first day on the job, and he was in town for orientation.  (I would say he is facing East.  There, now he is oriented.)  Mike will be working with Cory, Jay and Alan in the Field Agronomy part of the Department of Agronomic Sciences Department. He will be located in Florida, but expects to travel wherever the call takes him.
Here is a close up of some of the tomato plants.  They are really loaded.  Look at the deadish looking leaves.  There have been a couple of light frosts of late.  Not enough to scrape off the windshield, but enough to affect the leaves.  So it is time to pick.
Meanwhile, back in the field, there was wheat plot planting going on.  Winter wheat plots were planted today after Navy bean harvest last week on Farm 7 shown here, and also on Farm 3.  We will also have another experiment on Farm 5 after soybean harvest, which should be in the next day or so.
So everyone is off and running again this week.  I am off on a one-day fertilizer mission tomorrow, so I hope to bring you up to speed on that later.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Life at the NCRS in the Post-RFD Era

So it was a good week to get a lot of stuff done, especially since I wasn't there to get in the way.  (Stephanie sent me these pictures to prove that there was work being done.)  On Monday the three Navy Bean plots were harvested.  This was on September 17, and last year we harvested our Navy Beans on October 3.  So either we were slackers last year, or the extra heat brought an early harvest this year.  Hmmmm. 
Yes, these were in fact Navy Beans.  Soup anyone?
On Tuesday the NCRS was host to a class from MSU.  It was taught by Dr. Foster, and she has attended the field tours before, and brought a class out last year too.  Obviously you need something to get their attention, so why not show cartoons?  I'm sure they are all Farm Guy fans now.
Below we see Stephanie telling them how it is in the real world.  Hopefully they will remember what they learn in class, but also how to use that information to help feed the world.  Good agronomists are needed.
And that was the week that was.

Friday, September 14, 2012

RFD is Over and Out

So yesterday was the last one of the Research Field Days at the NCRS.  As before, there was a large group of growers from all over.  From Kansas, Florida, Tennessee, North Dakota, Michigan and probably lots of other places as well.  This was the 7th RFD, and in the end, there were 660 visitors this summer.  Whew!  I lost count long ago after I ran out of fingers and toes.  The morning and afternoon activities seemed to be very informative, if our surveys are correct.  Below, the group listens to Doug talk about planter fertilizer placement.  I see Stephanie there on the left offerning more advice.
New Tim again talks about the correct way to fertilize sugarbeets and Navy Beans.
Remember last time I showed Brian and Old Tim digging potatoes from the demonstration plots.  Now he is splaining what happened.  (Right Ricky?)
Everyone is happy when the lunch bell rings.  You get hungry seeing and listening about fertilizer stuff all morning.
Today's lunch sponsor is someone called AG PHD.  Hmmmm.  Could it be?
Well it is!  We have Darren Hefty to talk to us at lunch about his experiences with Liquid fertilizer on his farm, and the infamous Blank Slate.  Not for the faint of heart.
We had something of a reunion with Darren, Farm Guy and me.  Oh the stories we told.  Hope you all saw the epic film.
After lunch it was time to enter the world of replicated plot research at the NCRS.  Like below at a soybean foliar fertilizer test.  If you adjust the light, squint just right and look at the plot to the left of the Gator there, maybe you can see that the strip of beans there has dropped more leaves than the plots (with the little signs) to the left.  Well that plot had no foliar fertilizer, and the others did.  So the foliars enabled the plants to keep the leaves on longer to support pod growth.  Even though that is compelling evidence in support of foliar fertilizers, we will probably go ahead and harvest them just to make sure.
Well after all of that, it was time for a break. Well for me anyway.  I went as far West as I could without getting wet.  Nice place. 
Many thanks to the superior staff at the NCRS for organization and execution of the RFD's.  Although all were instrumental, I will give a big thanks to Stephanie for her organization and follow-up duties.  So thanks to all for attending, and hopefully we will do even more next year.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Around the NCRS Today

So today was spent getting ready for our last week of Research Field Day tours at the NCRS.  The first one is Tuesday.  It has been 3 weeks since the last one, and the farm has sure changed as far as crop maturity.  Here we see Brian and Tim digging potatoes from the demonstration plots. They are using the nice plot digger that we have. The research plots are soon to follow.
Here is another demonstration plot for corn, with ears and roots ready for viewing.  The corn is probably a week or so from black layer.  Again we were so fortunate to have avoided the drought that plagued so many this year.
Here is Phil spraying a desiccant on a field of production Navy Beans on Farm 3.  This is to get them to dry down for harvest.  If you don't do this, they can green up again if it rains, and that is not good for harvesting.  So a shot of Gramoxone will do the trick.
Here is a field of Navy Bean test plots that was sprayed only last Friday.  It works fast.  They will be harvested probably next Monday after all of the tour business is over.
Here is a field of soybean plots on Farm 7 that are really dropping leaves right now.  Won't be too much longer till the combine rolls through here.
Well tomorrow we throw open the doors for more farmer tours.  Hope to show some of the action then.