Monday, July 28, 2014

Ag PhD Field Day: Many Highlights

So I made my way to Baltic, SD last Thursday for the Ag PhD Field Day.  This is the fifth one that I have been to, and it gets bigger and better each year.  The weather for the day was sun/rain/sun/rain etc. But it definitely wasn't a washout.  Thousands of visitors made their way around the displays.
This year AgroLiquid had one of the new vans on display by the fertilizer plots.  Certainly an eye catcher.
And we had the A-Team on hand to represent Liquid.  Here are AM Chad, Lonny, RSM Stuart, Troy, Reid, me, SAM Bruce, Stephanie, SAM Brad and truck driver Matt.  At your service.
 Here is where the Liquid tent was looking up tent row at the very start of the day.  See the sign?
Now this was a plot bonus:  in late June in the Liquid soybean plot there was a lightning strike.  There were fried remnants of soybeans to mark the spot.  There was a guy in a building nearby who said it was a blinding light flash and a very loud thunder clap. Yep, sounds like lightning to me.  Now in this particular plot, there was no Micro 500.  In the plot to the rear there was, and lightning didn't strike there.  So it shows that you need to get your fertility up to specs to be ready for anything. 
Probably one of the show highlights is the plot tour lead by Brian and Darren, seen in the elevated flatbed.  They go through and point out the various seed plots, chemical plots, equipment and fertilizer. Actually, Liquid fertilizer was used in some fashion in all of the planted plots.
One interesting display was of some new soybean genetics by BASF.  This line has resistance to a new formulation of dicamba herbicide, which is Banvel.  But the new formulation is to be called Engenia. The weeds were all curled and twisted like dicamba.  But the beans were fine.  Well it is a few years from being on the market.  They did have some security rules to follow. The area was roped off, and you had to sign your name to be allowed in.  And you couldn't touch the plants or stand in them either. Boy, is he strict!  But this will be another tool as glyphosate resistance spreads.
There was also a new Hagie sprayer system on display for pre-harvest application of cover crop seed in standing crops.
You do have to have a special seed tank and blower system.  But the seeds hit these plates and are scattered out for even distribution and germination.  Then after harvest, the stand is established much more quickly than planting after harvest. 
There is Troy watching a tile demonstration.  I think he is enamored by the green paint.  That tractor was barely above idle as it pulled the tile plow.
And in addition to the Liquid tent, there was a display by the Responsible Nutrient Management Foundation.  This is to publicize the existence and mission of the Foundation.  There are a number of company members, and interest by more.  This is not a money foundation, but rather an in-kind foundation where the members all contribute in work to support the cause.  Troy is ready for the message to take off.  Or I think that is what he is doing. 
Then there was some other things to do and watch.  Like the Vanguard Squadron put on an aerial display.  They are based in South Dakota and are the only flight team whose planes are powered by 100% ethanol.
One of the guest speakers was Bobby Knight.  If you are one of the few that don't recognize that name, he was a famous college basketball coach who coached Indiana to three national championships and was the 1984 head coach of the team that won an Olympic gold medal.  But he was full of fire and controversy.  But he gave an inspirational talk about leadership, preparation and building self reliance. One quote worth pondering: Most people have the will to win, but few have the will to prepare to win.  Probably so.
Then there was a Q&A session.  Now one of the things that he is most known for is a 1985 incident in a game against Purdue where he got mad at the refs and threw a chair onto the court.  Now he wasn't throwing it at anyone.  But it did lead him to getting tossed from the game.  So questions still persist.  I thought he would get miffed when a question was asked about it, but I guess he expects it now and makes it part of his speech.  He asked the guy to come forward and gave him instruction on how to make a proper chair toss.  Pretty funny.
Another guest speaker was Richard Petty.  If you don't know who he is, check your pulse.  I happened to be by where he got out of a vehicle to make his way toward the speaking tent.  Everyone was taking pictures and saying hi.  He told lots of stories about the beginning of his time in NASCAR.  It was fun to listen to him.  When asked which was his favorite track to race on, he replied Any one I could win on.  Well he did that 200 times.
There was lot's of equipment on display.  This one shows Brian and Darren's preference for red paint as this small old International tractor has enough inside to pull this big field cultivator. 
So that was a lot to do and see in a one day show.  Try to make it out there in 2015.  Circle July 30 on your calendar.  I will.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

More Meanwhile Back at the NCRS

So while I was down at the Soil Health field day in Indiana, the field crop crew was busy harvesting winter wheat at the NCRS.  Here is the combine harvesting one of the plots on Farm 1 on Tuesday. Over the next few days they got all of the experiments and production wheat harvested.  I don't know what the yields were yet.
I have shown this view of Farm 7 a number of times over the years.  Notice anything different?  Well a few weeks ago new farm signs were installed sporting a new layout.  This was on Wednesday morning.
And here is that same view, well without the sign, on Friday morning with the wheat all harvested.
Another thing happened this week: the linear irrigation units were started on on Farms 3 and 5.  The pic below was on Friday morning on Farm 5.  This is the latest by far that we have started irrigating in the more than 10 years we have had them.  There has been maybe one year that we didn't irrigate in June, but generous rain this season has kept them parked. Which is a good thing.  Glad to see them running now though as it's gotten a little dry.  Plus there would be shallower rooting in the wetter soils anyway, so good to be able to give the crops a drink.  The non-irrigated farms looked on longingly however.
While I was out there I spotted Kalvin filling in a hole.  We he should since he helped make it in the first place.  But there had been a good sized mudhole there all season.  Couldn't figure out why since it is tiled.  Well they finally had time to check it out and dug a hole to maybe help it drain and figure out the problem.  Then they came across a broken tile.  But not one of the new tile lines, but one of the old clay tile pieces that has been there maybe 50 years.  So the water running through it was spilling out and making a mess.  They patched in a new piece, filled some rocks around it and then soil.  Mission accomplished. 
Which is a good thing as this will be part of the path of the 5K race here at the NCRS on August 30. No, it's not a race of the farm crew (are you kidding?), but a real sanctioned race: The Farm to Fork 5K.  It's for charity and everything.  If it sounds like something you want to do, then there is information on our website.  Not sure where, but search Farm to Fork 5K and it will show up.  

This was a short blog post, but the next one will probably require a sitting position or several visits.  So come back tomorrow night.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Soil Health Forum and Water World

So last Tuesday I went down to Brownsburg, Indiana to attend a field day hosted by area manager Mike Starkey.  I have reported on a previous field day there last August 8.  Mike is a strong proponent of no till, having been 100% no till for the past eight years, I think.  Anyway, I reported on how he farms responsibly since he is so close to the urban sprawl of Indianapolis.  But today's field day was different.  He was hosting a tour of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).  This was their National Soil Health Forum.  They usually meet in Washington, DC, but this year decided to visit a real farm.  And there is no finer host than Mike.  But there were people there from all over the country and many had little knowledge of farming.  Mike asked me to come to learn, but also to help answer any questions that may arise about fertility programs and agronomy.  I did. Anyway, the group was pretty large and was split up into several places.  Below Mike covers cover crops.  He has planted some strips of different cover crops.  He has favorite blends or cocktail mixes to plant after different crops.  In fact he plants cover crops after each field crop, and said that he will have some flown on his standing corn crop in early August.  He said that cover crops are used by many growers in this area.  It takes a good pilot to apply cover crops accurately and evenly.  He has a good one that two years ago was flying on 500 acres of cover crops.  Now he seeds some 35,000 acres, and had to buy 2 more planes to do it.  And Mike was the catalyst for this.  Another reason to thank an aerial applicator.
Here was some signs put up by the Hendricks County Soil and Water Conservation District.  (Does anyone remember Burma Shave signs?)
They also had a root pit.  Now the spring was very wet, but lately it's been dry.  But he said that the pit bottom was filled with water soon after digging.  That's due to the water soaking in with no-till.  In fact they had to put a sump pump in the bottom.  Very interesting.  So the corn has plenty of water even though it's been dry lately.  However, due to the wet spring, I didn't see the roots going down as deep as other years.  This happens in wet soils.  But it was holding water and no signs of moisture stress at all.
They also saw Mike's planter planter and how they apply AgroLiquid fertilizer to corn.  Mike is also in the equipment business, and his partner AJ tells how a corn crop is planted and fertilized.  They are Liquid only since they saw no benefit to broadcast dry fertilizer that didn't build soils, cost too much, and weren't made for no-till like Liquid.  
This is the back of the planter.  They run Pro-Germinator + Sure-K + Micro 500 + eNhance through Totally Tubular tubes in the seed furrow, and then around 16 gallons of High NRG-N through the surface tubes on each side of the row.  Then they come back later in the summer and sidedress on additional High NRG-N. This program feeds the no-till crop much better than the old conventional ways.  By the way, they really like the Dawn closing wheels for no-till planting.
Then we moved to a nearby area for something new and exciting.  It seems that Mike has been an advocate for getting some science behind his practices to prove they are better.  So he talked to some people over the years and a big project is underway. Or will be in 2015. There are a number of participating agencies and supporting groups.  But it is part of the National Water Quality Initiative. Some of the agencies involved are the EPA, USGS, USDA/ARS, and probably some more alphabet groups.  But they want to monitor the watershed area that feeds the Eagle Creek Reservoir which is the drinking water source for Indianapolis.  Mike and another no-till AgroLiquid user, Jack Maloney, farm along this part of the watershed/creek.  Here a USGS scientist explains how they will monitor the stream 24/7 for nitrate, phosphorus and sediments.  He said once it is started it will be able to be monitored online.  It is a pretty small creek for all of this.  But it does feed the water supply.
The leader of the project is Dr. Bob Barr, a hydrologist with IUPUI (a joint university of Indiana and Purdue in Indianapolis.)  That's him in the orange cap.  He has met with Mike over the years and has become interested in this whole issue of farming effects on water.  He had no farming background, which he said was an advantage as he had no pre-conceived notions on any of the practices.  He did say that based on his observations that it is amazing how so many non-farmers are wanting to tell farmers how to farm. He has sampled water coming out of Mike's tile lines that show lower nitrate and phosphorus levels than are already in the stream, being diluted many times.  But all of the numbers were well under established limits.  He has reported on this to other states and they are amazed. So this lead to a proposed study of the effects of different farming practices on water quality. Now he did say that none of the water has come close to being considered an issue for drinking water. But there is no study anywhere as in depth as this will be.  Hey, there's RSM Bob in the lower right also listening in.
They will monitor tile discharge from farms of different tillage: no-till, minimum till and conventional till.  All will have to use similar fertilizer programs, which means for the monitored area, he will have to spread some dry according to university recs.  But they will only measure the output of a single tile line that does not have any other lines from other fields feeding into it.  They also plan to monitor a drain of a neighborhood area.  This is to check on urban effects on water quality, largely from lawn care.  So that will be a good balance.  Here is where the tile comes in and then goes through a pvc pipe filled with tree bark. This has been shown to remove nitrates.  Not sure if this is part of the big study, or something else, since not everyone does this.  Will have to check.
The pipe is under the ground for some distance, then empties into this basin and then into the creek. Pretty complicated, and spendy.  This one site cost over $100k, but was covered by government project dollars plus several grower groups.  Mike is happy to participate, but does not want to have to pay for it himself.
Here is a buffer strip that Mike has planted along the creek anyway.  Very pretty site. He is doing all he can to not be a threat to any water.
And on my way home I crossed over the nearby Eagle Creek Reservoir.
So this was a lot to see in one day.  I hope I got most of the facts right.  I forgot to mention that the initial tillage comparison will run for two years.  But after that the plan is for Mike to go back to his own fertilizer program and then compare that to the previous years where he used conventional program.  They will also monitor soil and yield.  A big undertaking that I hope to report on again in the future.  I learned a lot of other useful information about no-till benefits, but I've gone lone enough for now.  But feel free to take a big drink of Indianapolis water next time you are there.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Meanwhile Back at the NCRS

So the corn at the NCRS was planted later than normal due to uncornish spring weather.  And it's been cool this summer besides.  So I was pleased to see some corn tassels finally emerged last Wednesday when I stopped by in between the growth conference sessions. In a good year you can see the start of tassels around the 4th of July.  Unfortunately some corn is still only chest high though.
Brian had some work to do making foliar fertilizer applications to Concord grapes.  He was using the backpack air blast sprayer.  It does a great job of leaf coverage.
And we were were happy to have a couple of visitors.  It was Reid and Brady.  I was just with them in Louisiana and they were so enthralled with research down there that they came by to catch some top notch research at the NCRS. Below we see Brian giving them the low down on what's up at the NCRS.
 Then on Friday I made a return visit to the NCRS.  I wanted to spend some time in the field with two of the college interns: Kelly and Jimmy.  They are working in specialty/horticulture crops with Dr. Brian.  I wanted them to show me around and see some of what they have learned.  Here we are looking at some of the vegetable plots on Farm 12 that will be on the Research Field Days.  Behind is the fast growing celery that I showed being planted in an earlier blog post.  Won't be long until we will need some cheese spread to go along with it. 

Each of the interns has a special project to oversee.  Jimmy is testing some magnesium foliar treatments on potatoes.  Which of the treatments will be most effective?  Only Jimmy knows.
And Kelly is going to be measuring the effects of different fertilizers on fruit quality of Concord grapes. These have a ways to go but are in good hands.  (OK that pun analogy sounds pretty lame.  But they really are.)  
I don't think I have ever revealed the unfortunate incident that occurred in the apple orchard last winter. But I think enough time has passed that the truth can now be told.  It seems that the snow got so deep last winter, that ravenous rabbits were able to reach up beyond the tree guards and eat the bark which essentially girdled the trees.  They did this under the cover of night and was not a factor with normal snowfall the previous winter. There was an epidemic of this in Michigan.  So the tops of the trees would have died anyway, and it was necessary to remove the part of the tree above the damage zone. This would promote new stem growth.  New growth was rapid with the removal of apical dominance. Then it is necessary to set one stem as the new leader and guide it to grow straight while training the side branches to grow....well, sideways to be attached to the wire in the future.  Clothespins are being used to direct growth.  Neat trick.  Below you can see how it works.  See the branch beneath the pin is being pushed out, and after time, will become thick and can be attached to the guidewire.
Below we see Kelly attaching clothespins.  Both she and Jimmy said that they have learned a lot about apples working on this recovery effort.  This rabbit invasion has set the research behind a few years, but the trees will fully recover.  
The problem though, is with high density planting, there are over a couple thousand trees to be pinned in the orchard. They also need to be re-checked from time to time as well.  
So to answer the question: there is a big fence around the orchard.  But that is for deer.  And there were no deer that got in.  But rabbits got in and new prevention efforts will have to be implemented.  But they are recovering nicely now with the care by Jimmy and Kelly.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Exploring Excellence

So last week at Liquid headquarters in St. Johns we had the growth conference for AgroLiquid area managers.  The theme was Exploring Excellence.  There were two sessions: Monday to Wednesday and Wednesday to Friday, take your pick.  But there were dealers from all over the country and it was a good time for interaction and a great learning opportunity.  The coming year is likely to present challenges in areas of probable low crop prices, environmental issues, climatic unknowns and who knows what else.  So an effort was made to provide some information that would be beneficial to our dealers business going forward.  Can we proceed with excellence and preparation?  Well hopefully there was information presented to help. The meetings were held at the new company office, and there was plenty of room to spread out and have some discussions during breaks. 
There were numerous presentations.  In fact you had to choose between three simultaneous presenters each time.  Topics included nutrient legislation, ag economics outlook, employee training, sales programs, selling in complex markets, production management, water efficiency and of course, several research presentations and updates.  Plus a new methodology developed by AgroLiquid to replace salt index.  And much more.  Including Dr. Chris Underwood giving a "how it works" presentation on eNhance, Sure-K, flavonol chemistry plus an overview on new experimentals being researched at the NCRS.  It was the first time that I remember that such information was presented and it was well received.
Stephanie and Tim gave a "how they do it" presentation of research at the NCRS plus the research that gave us new products in recent years like ferti-Rain, eNhance, accesS, Kalibrate and others.  With more to come too.
We were also pleased to have Brian Hefty take time away from preparations for the Ag PhD Field Day next week to come talk to us.  He talked about challenges facing production agriculture, plus a whole bunch of ways to use nutrition and soil management to get the most out of fields for crop yield.  That was on Tuesday.
And not to be outdone, Darren Hefty came to address the second session group on Thursday.  He pretty much addressed the same topics, but had his own perspective and experiences to share.  It's easy to see why these brothers are essentially the voice of reason in agriculture.  They challenged us to explain the truth and benefits of agriculture and food production to the non-ag public.  Darren told about how his dad used to look for people at a gas station filling their cars with regular gasoline and pull up next to them and engage in conversation with them about the benefits of ethanol blends being cleaner than dirty gasoline.  It was a great story.
Lunch was a barbeque under the tent outside.  This was Tuesday.  It was a nice sunny but cool day.  Troy looks like he is enjoying the excellent food.  Everyone else did too, including me.
Now the above picture was taken at 12:18 and the picture below was at 12:27.  So in 9 minutes it went from sunny to downpour.  Bob Buessing is un-fazed.  It must rain all the time in Kansas.  But it was sunny again in a little while. It was a crazy weather week though.
Troy had two very good presentations to the whole group.  At the conference in the day at St. Johns he talked about the "why" of what we do, and how that is more important than the "what" or "how" we do what we do. He also talked about the Responsible Nutrient Management foundation, and how it is working to promote what is right in agriculture. And at the banquet at the hotel in Lansing, he talked about excellence and leadership, which was kind of the theme of the conference anyway.  I've heard Troy give presentations for over twenty years, but he was really prepared and passionate here.  We have to take this attitude as we go forward to continue to promote AgroLiquid for our nations growers.
Another highlight of the conference was a tour of the IQ Hub.  It is not fully operational, but there was enough going on to see how great this will be when completed.  My favorite is the depiction of the beginning of Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers as Mr. Cook and Troy use the "bucket brigade" to put ingredients together for what would become the products that were the basis for what we still use today. (Must be weird to see yourself in a museum.  But this had to be shown, as this is how it all started.)
 We were fortunate to have a number of FFA students on site to give explanations of the exhibits.  Like this one that showed how ground up bones was one of the first sources of phosphorus fertilizer. (And that's a real original bone grinder there in the display.)
There is a theater for video exhibits, like this one about feeding the growing population on our planet. Bob seems amused.  Now turn around and pay attention! Notice the corn growth stages going around on the top of the theater.  That was designed by Stephanie and Tim, as well as the nutrient displays around the roots.  Gotta see that one. 
 There are numerous interactive displays, like this one on soils and soil tests and other related subjects.
And they put the NCRS interns to work as well.  Here is Emily explaining the barrel depiction of Liebig's Law of is it "Minimum" or "Maximum"?  I should have paid attention. 
And here is the Kid's Room.  I could tell because it was full of kids.  It certainly looked like they were having fun.  They probably didn't even know that they were learning stuff.
There were lot's of other displays in the IQ Hub.  The person behind all of the planning and development is Burt Henry, and I'm sure he was a nervous wreck before the opening for the conference. But it was a huge success for our visit, and we are all looking forward to the real Grand Opening. Hope everyone can come back.  There will be another tour opportunity at the Research Field Days. That is reason enough to attend right there.