Thursday, March 31, 2011

Manure on Frozen Ground?

The low temperatures this past week has motivated manure handlers to get busy and start spreading on frozen ground.  It was an opportunity to get some work done and reduce risk of compaction. 
The Nutrient Management Act in Ontario is very specific with respect to applying liquid manure on frozen ground.  It is NOT ALLOWED.  Does this mean you are automatically in trouble if the neighbour cries foul and calls the MOE?  NO. 
The only thing that gets manure handlers in real trouble in this province is if their practices cause an "adverse effect".  Or in other words "pollute surface water or ground water". 
There is one very good reason for liquid manure to not be spread on frozen soil.  There is no guarantee where that manure will go after it is appllied.  The risk of run-off is too great. 
However, can we apply manure on frozen ground and reduce the run-off risk?  Yes. 
1.Pick alfalfa fields or corn stalks and stay on the level sections with slopes less than 2-3%.  The crop residue will help trap the liquid and keep it in place.  Staying off slopes is obvious.
2.Keep rates below 3500 gal/acre. 
3.Keep well back of catch basins and drop inlets.  Do not apply to a field that borders an open ditch.
4.Keep track of weather/temperature conditions after application. This is important every time we apply manure.
The point I make to all my nutrient managment clients is nobody has the right to pollute.  This applies to everyone, including those livestock operations who are not captured by the Nutrient Management Act.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Is Peter Right?

I attended a wheat management meeting this morning sponsored by Bayer Cropscience.  Peter Johnson, the godfather of wheat in Ontario, spoke about his SMART wheat trials.  A lot of you have heard Peter speaking on this.  He actually was suffering from laryngitis because he has been doing this talk daily for the last two months.
The amount of data he has accumulated over the last three years is very impressive and is worth repeating.   

To summarize, adding 30 lbs of N (above the check rate of 90 lbs of N) and spraying Prosaro at heading time gave 12 bu per acre yield response for $40 additional inputs. 
Adding 60 lbs of N, spraying Stratego with herbicide and Prosaro at heading time gave 18 bu of yield response for $63 additional inputs.  Very impressive return on investment.  No wonder Peter was suffering from laryngitis. 
Every wheat grower should commit this year to doing at least one or two strips trying out these various recipes.  The data says Peter is right.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

This Still Feels Good

What a difference a year makes.  This week a year ago, the golf courses were open, spring grain was planted and a few enterprising souls planted a little bit of corn. 
Today, Brian and I took the took the opportunity to spread some red clover.  There sure won't be any corn planted in March this year, maybe not much in April.  We will see. 

The sunshine feels fantastic. And it is nice to get the 2011 spring planting season started, even if if the snow and cold doesn't quite make it feel like spring. 


One positive thing about clover on snow, it is easy to see the spread pattern.

It's going to be a great year.  I promise.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's In Your Compost?

As part of her municipal duties Cathy serves on the board of the Bluewater Re-Cycling Association.  She came home recently on a new crusade. "You need to write about this!" she declared.  So here goes.

Cathy and our daughters, Terrilyn and Melissa, are "foodies".  At least I think that is the correct term.  Never heard of quinoa?  Come to our house. 
They take great delight in taking recipes from around the world, adding their own special touch and presenting these new dishes at the dinner table.  In our family this is known as experiment night.  Fortunately these dishes are usually quite tasty and very unique, but there have been a couple of disasters that ended up in the compost bin.  Cathy is an avid gardener and composter, so we normally don't feel too bad if tonight's dinner offering ends up as worm feed. 

But, according to a recently published study we maybe should think twice about how smug we feel when we recycle this wasted food.  I have provided the link to the paper.

What got my good wife's blood pressure up was the claim that throwing out or recycling unwanted food costs our economy $27 Billion.  Half of this waste can be attributed back to consumers in their own home. 
$27 Billion would buy us all the farm land in Perth, Huron, Oxford and Middlesex counties at current prices.

The next time the family gathers for a big feast think about the mountains of food that are presented in a mis-guided attempt to impress the mother or sister-in-law.  There should be no prizes awarded for the biggest party platter.
Also remember that leftovers, when preserved properly, always taste better the next day.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Now Listen Up - This Is Important

There was a change that occurred about 2 years ago.  There was a little buzz in the press, but it quickly faded.  I want to shed light on it again.

The Ontario crop heat unit map was modified.

I know what you are thinking.  "Who pays attention to the heat unit map when selecting corn hybrids?  I haven't studied it for years."  I agree because the map didn't change for many years, but now it has.  And while growers may not look at the map very often, over the course of my career it has been the basis for a lot of decisions. Depending on your point of view, you have used it to either back up your hybrid choices or to ridicule the neighbour for foolishly growing hybrids too late for your area.

Dr Murray Brown at the University of Guelph was the driver behind the heat unit calculation in Ontario based on max and min temperatures.  It was outstanding research that has benefited corn growers in Ontario and has been widely proven to be the most reliable indicator of heat accumulation with respect to corn growth.

Here is the old chart that was in use up until 2009.  The new one is directly underneath. 

My apology for the quality of the new map, but there is an approximate 200 heat unit difference from old to new.  The 2900 heat unit line in the old map is now shown to be a 3100 heat unit line.  The two maps were produced from the same sets of temperature data.  Why the change?

When the first map was produced the heat unit calculation did not start until there were 3 consecutive days of average temperature greater than 12.8 degrees C.  This produced annual starting dates ranging from early to late May, which in the 70's was an accurate planting date predictor.  When I was a young lad, corn was rarely planted before the Victoria Day weekend in May.

The new map is calculated using May 1 as the starting date.  The old 3 consecutive warm days calculation was discarded because now we are very used to having corn planted by May 1.  A typical May early day can deliver 10-13 heat units, which when multiplied over 15-20 days equals 200 heat units.

May 1 has become a standard planting date not due to global warming, but because of the following factors.
1. Tile drainage - more fields are systematically tiled which means more fields are fit to plant earlier
2. Seed Treatments - seed treatments today keep seed viable for up to a month in cold soil.  15 years ago, 2-3 weeks was the max.
3. Experience with early planting dates - we have learned a lot about tillage and seed placement over the years which helps us get corn out of the ground when it is cool.  We have also learned about frost effects on young seedlings and have lost some of our fear.
4. Speaking of young seedlings, breeders have improved the cold tolerance of hybrids by planting their research plots early and selecting for the strongest survivors. 

What does this mean?  It means we all need to take time to re-evaluate our thinking with respect to maturity.  Experiment.  On those early fields, try a hybrid that you would consider to be too long for the area.  You may find the map to be correct. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Echos of Henry Wallace

Last summer I marveled at the speed of Pioneer's corn research department when it comes to planting plots.  Thanks to technology, they can plant 10 acres of hybrid evaluation plots in a matter of  2-3 hours.  Cathy worked in corn research after graduating from college (and yes dear, that was only yesterday).  It would take them 2 days to plant a similar size location

The result of the efforts of our corn breeders is reflected in the slide below.  You can see the improvement in average corn yields is also accelerating at an amazing pace.

When smart folks like the founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred, Henry Wallace, began breeding hybrid corn in the 1930's they were starting from scratch.  It was like baking a cake with no recipe, but they did make progress by developing inbred parents which made better hybrids.  This was an amazing discovery for its time.
Corn breeders have built on the foundation that Henry Wallace laid down to take corn hybrid performance to the level it is today.  When you compare modern hybrids to the hybrids from the 30's you can see the improvement in agronomic characteristics like stalk quality and root strength.

Today's skill testing question.  "Is there any point in keeping old corn genetic material around?"  Be honest.  What could possibly be learned from the inbreds and hybrids that were developed 75 years ago?  They are garbage compared to modern corn genetics and we need to keep looking forward.  Right?

Wrong.  Smart forward looking people recognize the need to take a look over their shoulder once in a while.
Pioneer has kept a seed bank of every inbred developed by their corn breeders since Henry Wallace's time.  Now, thanks to technology, researchers have catalogued every gene on every chromosome of this genetic library.  They can go back and pluck useful genes from 75 years ago and incorporate them into today's hybrids.  They do this with things like gene markers and molecular genetics which I will not understand no matter how many times it gets explained to me.

This is a shot depicting the modern hybrid, 38N88, within Pioneer's library of genetics.  Each coloured spot represents an inbred parent.  The male parents are pink and the female parents are blue.  Gene jockeys are weird, I was brought up to think boys are blue.  The pedigree of 38N88 stretches back to Henry Wallace's time.  The specific genes that make 38N88 successful as a hybrid are all catalogued. 

The next generation of hybrids will benefit from this genetic data base. New exciting technologies, like drought tolerance and nitrogen use efficiency will be incorporated into the gene bank. 
The future is bright, thanks to Henry Wallace.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What About Soybeans?

The chart above shows average corn and soybean yields from the US over a 25 year period from 1984 to 2009.  Corn yields increased an average of 1.6% over this period, while soybeans increased 1.27% over the same time.  The slower incremental gain in soybeans has frustrated breeders and agronomists alike.  Some have suggested that soybean yields have suffered because it has been assumed for too long that soybeans are easy to manage.  This hits close to home because I have been known to tell new soybean growers to put the seed in the ground, control the weeds and send in the combine.  Piece of cake, no fuss, no mess.

The past few years we have started looking at soybeans with a more critical eye because corn is putting more money in our pocket.

What factors should we consider to boost soybean yields?

Planting Date

Corn growers have not been afraid to push planting dates earlier, but there has been general reluctance to do the same with soybeans.  This chart is a summary of 23 site years of data showing the yield advantage to earlier planting dates.  Here in Ontario, April 15 is probably too early, but May 1 is not.  Ealier planting dates work with because the plant will be physically bigger at the end of June when flowering begins.  A bigger plant supports more flower retention and less pod abortion.

Variety Selection and Planting Practices
Variety selection is crtical and must be matched to disease tolerance needs like white mold and phytopthera.  I believe soybean breeders will eventually break through and start delivering greater yield gains with newer genetics.
A common question from clients relates to row width response between varieties.  There is a feeling that shorter varieties belong in narrow rows and tall, bushy varieties are better in wide rows.  Personally, I don't like big tall varieties and I don't like short varieties.  Neither type tends to be very consistent.  A good variety is a good variety, I don't care what row width you use. 
A bigger factor influencing soybean yield response in my opinion, is uniform emergence.  We do in this with corn and we should do the same with soybeans.  Emergence is influenced by seed bed conditions, uniform seeding depth and trash cover. 

Soybeans consume a lot of fertility.  A 50 bus soybean crop consumes 45 lbs phosphorous and 65 lbs potash.  A 150 bu corn crop consumes 57 lbs phosphorous and 40 lbs potash.  The problem is soybeans do not respond to starter fertilizer as well as corn does and we tend to neglect fertilizer applications to soybeans, especially on rented crop land.  If your soil test levels are high for both P and K, this neglect will not hurt you.  But, most of us do not have high P and K, so we need to pay closer attention to fertilizer applications for soybeans.

Weed Control
I am appalled when I see growers no-tilling soybeans without early weed control.  This drives me nuts.  KILL THE WEEDS, KILL THEM EARLY.

There are new inoculant products on the market which are worth the money.  We will be using Optimize this spring which we believe will deliver 1-2 bus more than traditional inoculant.   More on this later.