Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Visit to Asparagus Town, Part 2

So to continue our visit to America's premier asparagus growing town....we are looking at new Retail Partner Todd Greiner's fertilizer storage just put in this spring.  Here are Katherine, Troy, Greiner Farms salesman Tim and Burt.  Very impressive.  They have several nurse trailers and fill totes to take fertilizer out to growers.
 It's easy to know what is coming out of the hose.
 Accurate measurement with a Murray meter.

 Now out to a field.  This is our quest....asparagus ready to pick.  Each field is picked multiple times as the stalks grow back quickly.

 Here is a harvest cart.  Actually I don't know the official term, but harvest cart works.  These are actually built nearby.  But you sit in your seat and pick stalks as they go by.  The guy in the middle steers with his feet.  There is only half a cart crew here.  But we watched them go back and forth.  The crates of picked asparagus are taken to the packing plant and put into a cooler till ready to pack.  So it was really cool when we were there, in the 50's.  But the previous week it was in the 80's and they said the asparagus would grow an inch an hour in that heat.  So cool is better.  In fact on those hot days they couldn't pick it fast enough and had to mow much of it that grew too big.  Then come back and pick the re-growth later like today.  There are fields big and small all over the place.  They like the sandy soil, this being so close to Lake Michigan.

 After ten or more years, it is time to replant the crowns.  Now we have asparagus at the NCRS, but I guess I was absent the day it was planted.  They grow "crowns" in the field from seed.  The crown is a perennial root mass that looks like a wad of spaghetti.  It is harvested and then planted the next year in a new field in a trench.  Before planting, Liquid fertilizer is banded in the bottom of the trench, like 8 to 10 gal of Pro-Germinator.  Then throw in the crowns and fill in the trench.  This field was planted with crowns earlier in the spring and the emerged stalks are now visible.  These won't be picked this year, but next year they will be.  As far as fertilizer, they will band AgroLiquid Pro-Germinator, Kalibrate and High NRG-N over the row in the spring.  Then after harvest the stalks go to "ferns" and those are sprayed with FertiRain, then they are mowed and can receive another band of fertilizer before fall dormancy.  Todd says he really loves FertiRain and sprays it on all of his crops and his family and workers thinks he would drink it too.  Whatever works!

 In this field, there was a harvest cart on the edge, so us rookies got on to try it out.  Unfortunately they took the key.  But we were ready.

Here is a new tart cherry orchard of Todd's.  He is impressed how fast it has grown since establishment last year.  Bands of AgroLiquid plus foliars of FertiRain and Fase 2 have made it grow much better than other fields without.  Katherine checks it out.  Every tree has a little bag on it? What is that for?  Well it's deer repellent.  Evidently she's no deer.  And if you've never seen cherry harvest, it is unlike anything else as far as harvesting.  Hopefully I can be around during a harvest to report on it.

 I reported on some freezing weather a few weeks ago.  Well it was really bad over here.  This is a branch of a tart cherry tree. All of the blossoms there frosted and died. There is only one cherry in the whole bunch.  It's interesting because we talked to another grower there and he says at least that will reduce the unsold cherry stocks left over from last year.  A familiar problem for every crop at times.
 So we were close to Lake Michigan, and went out into the dunes around Silver Lake.  It is a popular place for riding Sand Rails as they are called.  Well I turned my back to take some pictures and got separated. They said they didn't desert me in the desert.  Hmmm.  Well I will say that it's rough being abandoned without food or water.  I must have been out there for many minutes.

 We were very close to Lake Michigan and it seems that this Ohio girl had never seen this Great Lake.  So we drove over so she could see what it feels like.  Wet was the report.

So that was fun and informative.  Again, get some Michigan asparagus and serve it up three times a day!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Visit to Asparagus Town, Part 1

So if you were walking through a grocery store and saw this sign, well you would want to load up, right?  Well the guy in the sign is not only an asparagus grower and packer, but is also a Retail Partner selling AgroLiquid.  Meet Todd Greiner.  His operation is in the asparagus capital of Hart, MI in Oceana County.  Michigan was the #1 asparagus producer for years, but California has kind of taken over. But talk is there is less acreage due to conversion to tree crops.  We will see.  But CA can produce for 7 months whereas the asparagus season in Michigan is only around 5 weeks.  We are in mid-season now.  Now as nice as this sign is, Todd has had to tell them (Meijers) to take down the sign after the Michigan season is over and South American asparagus comes in from Peru.  Best asparagus is Michigan asparagus for sure.  Let them get their own guy for signs.
                                                                                      (photo credit: SAM Ashley Stickler)

I had not been over to Hart to see Todd and his operation.  Last Thursday SAM Burt Henry was going over, and before he knew it Troy, intern Katherine and I volunteered to go too.  As I said, Todd not only grows it, but also processes and packs it for shipment to grocery stores all over the country.  He has an employee that all he does is talk to stores and arrange shipment.  Greiner Farms runs two packing houses that we visited.  We watched how the asparagus is brought from the field to coolers, washed, then through a sorting line, cut for uniformity, bundled up and boxed for shipment. Unfortunately pictures weren't allowed.  I understand, it's competitive.  Who knows how many spies read this hoping to get a tip.  Well they can see this though.  They have a new product now that is just being introduced: microwave asparagus!
 There is the family pic and farm info on the back.  That's Todd's wife Sarah who runs the packing operation.  Boy is she busy.
Well this was the only microwave bag they had in the office.  And when they offered it to me, Katherine obviously didn't hear clearly and tried to intercept MY asparagus.  Just like the THE OSU type.  So she had a trick move and made the grab.  But she had to give a pic and review for the blog. 
Meanwhile, Burt and Troy bought a box of regular asparagus that was just picked that day.  
 Here is what it looks like.  So if you see asparagus in your grocery store with that purple band and says Todd Greiner Farms, then you know you have the best.  After all it received AgroLiquid.
For lunch we went to a restaurant that had, what else, Fried Asparagus!  That was a first for me.  We got a big order.  Well after it was all gone, I realized that I forgot to take a picture.  But this drawing is pretty close.  And you can tell from the wiggly lines that it's hot.  Dip in Ranch dressing and enjoy.
Katherine kept her promise and sent me this pic of the microwave asparagus.  She added butter and some garlic said it was delicious.  So keep an eye out for it.
 I had to cook mine the old fashioned way on the stove in shallow water in a skillet.  An excellent addition that makes any meal better.  And so pretty to look at.
So that was only part of the fun.  Tune in tomorrow for our visit to fields of growing asparagus, asparagus harvest, new asparagus fields, plus cherry trees and probably more.  If you didn't like asparagus before, you will now.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Season Finally Starts at NCRS

So usually we are pretty far into planting by May 8.  But with frequent rain and cold, field activity just got started last week at the NCRS.  And it was nice all week, so it was busy every day.  We are having some more buried drip tape installed on a small field near the field office.  It will be on display at the Agro-Expo.
 Believe it or not, there were frost warnings last Sunday and Monday nights.  So Tim B loaded up some foliar fertilizer into the Prop Tech orchard sprayer and gave the apples a blast during the day on Sunday and Monday.  This is to get some nutrition in the leaves to help ward off the cold.  Well it got down to 27 degrees both nights.  Well actually more around just before sunrise.  We saw no damage.  There were areas around where the fruit trees were hurt badly.  Every fruit growers worst nightmare.
 At the Agro-Expo there will be silage corn demonstrations.  The grower who is working on this part of the Expo came over to plant the hybrid plots, plus the part of the field where the silage choppers will run at the show.  This is also the grower who installed the Precision Planting parts on our planter. Naturally AgroLiquid fertilizer will make for a good show plot.
 I couldn't imagine having to make seed changes on a 16 row planter.  But they are like a pit crew with two vacuums with long hoses to empty out the planter boxes, and then put in the next one.  Everyone on the crew had a specific job, so you didn't want to get in the way.
 Phil and Jay check wheat plots for frost damage.  Hard to say right then.
 Later in the week Tim was applying the banded Liquid fertilizers in the orchard.  It's hard to see, but there is fertilizer coming out of a tube that runs along where the drip tape will water it in if it doesn't rain.  
 So the orchard is fenced to keep out all types of four-legged pests.  As I said previously, there are lots of robins in the orchard.  Now I did not know that robins nested on the ground.  Maybe it's because the trees are too small for nests?  I don't think so.  I will have to check into this. But there are no cats in there, so maybe they like it better.  This was the last nest with babies still in it.  There are larger juveniles around that can fly a little, but mostly scurry on the ground.  It was entertaining.  And by the way, we flagged this so as not to give them a fertilizer bath.  We do that with killdeers out in fields too.  I like birds and we are nice after all.
With the new line of Primagro fertilizers, the fertilizer wagon (or War Wagon) had to be expanded.  It's loaded and ready.
I described the new Kinze planter earlier.  Tim is loading tanks and moving product around and checking pumps.  Certainly more complicated from the old speed and pressure liquid planter used at the start of the NCRS.  But with well over a thousand plots to plant, timeliness and accuracy are important.
It worked great with excellent precision and monitoring everything.
Here are the four college interns who will be spending the summer at the NCRS.  They are learning about loading the fertilizer treatments.  They will have a diverse experience with all types of operations at the NCRS and a variety of other places.  More on them later.  I will say that three of them are from Michigan State (Go Green) and one is from OSU.  Well not the same OSU as me, but that other one just to the South. You know, THE OSU.  But so far so good for all of them.
There was another video made at the NCRS this week. This one about the Y-Drop fertilizer application system from 360 Yield Center.  We have had good results with it in our plots, and actually bought a system for our field Hagie applicator for use on our production corn.  Our friend Stephanie Smith with 360 Yield Center came out to be in the video along with Agro Stephanie and Tim.  I missed the actual video shoot, but reassembled the actors for this fine pic.
So this one should be out soon.  You can see other fine videos from the NCRS on the AgroLiquid Facebook page.  So it was a very busy week, but the work is far from over.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Desert Fruit. No Extra Salt Needed.

So back to the Way-Out-West adventures with Carlos.  We left Yuma in the morning a few weeks ago and crossed the border into California.  It was desert for sure when he turned off the highway into this big melon farm.  It seems that he and Jeramie (remember the golf course Retail Partner?) had worked with this farm to run a comparison with their fertilizer on 12 acres of cantaloupe melons.  Here is a view to the North looking at the AgroLiquid side. 
OK, they weren't given the growers standard program being used, only a soil test and a rough cost.  And it wasn't a high cost program by any means. So they put together a blend of High NRG-N, PrG (hey it's California), Kalibrate, S-Calate, Micro 400 and FertiRain that was applied through drip irrigation.  Here is the West side of the Agro block.  See that road on the right?  That's the border.
 See that same road now on the left?  Well that's the same road as above, meaning we are now on the conventional side.  Good thing I took pictures because you can't describe differences like this.  The soil test was unlike any I've seen.  It was medium to high on P,  Low on K, Very Low on all micros except Boron that was Very High (3.5 ppm), high pH (8) and Very High sulfur from all of the elemental sulfur trying to lower pH.  But the shock was that it had over 20% base saturation of sodium!  Over 1000 ppm!  I have never seen anything growing in such conditions.  But here it is, and as is the case in most stressful soils: advantage AgroLiquid. 
 Here is Carlos looking under the vines for melons.
Here are some Agro melons.  The leaves are scorched from some mildew.  Plus there is blowing sand. They said a real bad storm blew off most of the first flowers earlier.
Want a better look?  Here are a couple to feast your eyes on.  They are a few weeks from harvest, which means by now they should be real close. So I am certainly banking on a higher yield on the Agro side.
In addition they grow watermelons here.  They were just now flowering.  No AgroLiquid here though.  Well not yet.
 Here is what it looks like just beyond the field edge.  They have this bedded up for a future planting.  Amazing what water will do in the desert.  Even in all of that sodium.  You can see sand dunes in the background.
 Sand Dunes mean dune buggies.  Or I guess Sand Rails is what they are called.  I took this from the highway as we drove West. I texted it to Albert who is a big-time Sand Railer (is that what they are called?)  His reply was brief: "So jealous".  Actually he has hauled his machine out to this very place. So he knows.  Never done that myself, and Carlos didn't want to take the F-150 over for a go.
Oh well.  There were more adventures ahead.  And it wasn't even noon yet.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Drone Correction

So I hope everyone enjoyed yesterday's blog about the wheat field.  But early this morning I got a message from Stephanie saying that the NCRS drone flew at 260 feet while taking the pictures, not 500 feet as reported.  (I have since made the correction.)  Legal maximum altitude is 400 feet.  She said she didn't want the "drone police" coming after her.  I don't blame her.  They can be pretty rough.  I regert the mistake, probably the first and only one ever in the blog.
Later that same day, Adam from Marketing went out with the Marketing drone and took some pictures.  Pretty impressive.  His camera takes a real view picture, unlike the RGB image with the NCRS drone.  I'll have to study on what RGB does (something to do with crop stress maybe), but I do like the real view.  Not sure if we have one for the NCRS drone.  You can also see where the drainage tile lines are.  They have been getting a workout.
We will keep an eye on the field as I would expect the urea part to green up sometime.  But the AgroLiquid has a pretty good head start.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wheat Streaks

So a slight detour back to Michigan to show what some wheat near the NCRS looked like.  Well there is an AgroLiquid sign along the road with some light wheat and some darker streaks through the field.  What's up with that?
This is a field of grower near the NCRS who wanted to try some AgroLiquid nitrogen topdress on his field of winter wheat.  He worked with some of the staff there at the NCRS to come up with a program.  Well a common N topdress rate around here is 120 lb/A.  That's what we use at the NCRS on wheat.  So Phil made some strips with the Hagie of 15 gal/A of High NRG-N + 14.5 gal/A of Primagro N + 1 qt/A of Micro 500 + 1 qt/A of MicroLink Manganese.  He applied this the morning of April 14 using streamer nozzles.  It had been rainy before that, but was dry enough to get it applied.  This is what it looked like on the day of application.
The grower was finally able to pull a spinner spreader to apply 200 lb/A of urea (92 lb/A N) on April 24.  There has been several inches of rain since.  But this is how it looked today on May 3.  Which was the first sunny day in some time.  If you are tired of guessing, the AgroLiquid was applied where the dark green wheat is and the urea everywhere else.
Good thing Phil stuck in a flag so you could tell where the border is between treatments..  Now we know that we put on more fertilizer than the grower, both rate and cost.  And the AgroLiquid was applied 10 days earlier.  But that is the comparison vs a grower standard.  Prices are always tough to work with, both fertilizer and crop.  But I rough guess that the AgroLiquid side will have to yield around 7 more bushels per acre to be equal in cost.  The way it looks now I feel pretty good about that.
I asked Stephanie if she would come out and fly our Precision Drone over the field and see how it looked from above.  So she did.  She's nice that way.  Liftoff.  You can see one of the strips in the background.  Let's see what the drone saw. 
 It flew at 80 meters (260 feet) and made four passes over the field taking a picture every two seconds.  Somehow it stitched it all into one image.  This is the RGB image which is pretty much normal vision. Although you can certainly see the green strips, I thought they looked greener in real view.  
But if it's green-ness that you want to see, then the drone also gives an NDVI image.  This is a measurement of green vegetation density.  No question about that in this image.  So we will follow this through the season and get some yield checks to find out the rest of the story.
 On the way to the office, here is the apple orchard that is in blossom now.  Did you know that the Apple Blossom is the state flower of Michigan?  Well it is.  I saluted.  And there were also some Robins in there, the state bird.  My arm got tired from all of the saluting.  It has been plenty rainy lately, but fortunately I didn't see any Brook Trout in the orchard, which is the state fish.
Well the planter and various field equipment is ready to go once it stops raining and dries out.  Fortunately we haven't had as much rain or snow as other parts of the country.  Crazy spring.  But we are still waiting.