Friday, April 29, 2011

One Crop Is Doing Well

Alfalfa stands are coming along nicely.  Alfalfa doesn't mind the cool wet weather, but it will need sunshine to build feed quality.
A question I was asked by a number of dairy producers last October went something like this.  "My silos and hay barns are full, but I have a great 4th cut in the field.  It is really nice weather and I hate to see the crop go to waste.  What happens if I leave it?  Will it smother?" 
My response to the last question was an emphatic NO.  It will be fine.  In fact, if you leave it alone you will guarantee yourself a terrific 1st cut. 
Here's why.  Root reserves are higher going into the winter.  This leaves a healthy alfalfa plant that will grow more vigorously in the spring.  Research has proven the increased hay yield during 1st cut, gained by healthier root reserves, more than compensates for the yield loss of not taking the last cut in the fall.
The picture below taken in 2010, is a striking example of cutting date differences in the same field.  The alfalfa on the right side of the picture was given a longer rest than the alfalfa on the left side.

The next picture helps to explain why alfalfa is often healthier if left alone in the fall.

The alfalfa stems trap snow, providing insulation to the crown from sub-zero temperatures.  The stems also act like snorkels which help the crown breathe and stay alive if trapped under ice.  A healthy crown produces more buds, which lead to more stems, which lead to more yield. 

The alfalfa plant will never suffocate because it's leaves dry up and fall off, leaving the stem erect. 
Red clover, on the other hand will tend to suffocate more because it hangs onto it's leaves and the stems fold up like a cheap suit.

Three cheers for alfalfa.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Take a Deep Breath

I have posted this picture not to rub salt, but to remind everyone that we will have corn up and growing in a few short weeks.  We must remain optimistic.  Optimism is one characteristic that defines all successful farmers.  After the crop advising experts had everyone cocked and loaded to plant in April, nature decided to throw a knuckle ball, keeping us away from our fields.  She has better command of her pitches than Roy Halladay.

This is a pitch we have seen before.  No need to panic.  You will notice on the chart above that officially heat unit accumulation does not start until May 1.
You can track these weather records at
As I explained in a previous post, the new heat unit map is based on 30 year average accumulations with a May 1 starting date. 

According to this data, there is no need to alter your corn hybrid maturity choices yet.  Pat Lynch has data that indicates on average we get 100 hours of good planting weather every year before the middle of May. 
So we will stay patient and ready for the next pitch.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Are You Feeling Stressed Today?

Standing outside by our warehouse shipping seed was a cold stressful experience today.  It made me think about the corn already planted and how it will be feeling.

Pioneer has a lot of experience with seed planted into cold stressful conditions.  The picture above is from Quebec in April 2010.  I have witnessed corn covered in snow several times in my career.  It happens regularly and Pioneer actually simulates this condition in their research program.

This chart illustrates the effect of snow and the timing of snow's arrival after planting.  Seed is pre-germed for several hours and then planted under 3 inches of crushed ice.  If the seed has a 24 hour head start, the snow/ice has no negative effect. 

The first few hours in the ground have an impact on seed viability.  Soil temperature is important.  The chart below shows the amount of  4 C water that will enter a seed during the first few hours in the soil.  It is in the first 30 minutes that seed takes on the most water.

This is what imbibitional chilling, a fancy word for "its freaking cold", injury looks like. 

But it takes more than the first 30 minutes to tell the whole story.  Pioneer has done stress emergence research for many years.  The chart below tracks changes in the daytime soil temperatures over 14 days at various locations in 2008.  You can see at most of these sites the soil temps rarely got over 55 F (13 C) during the day.

These are the percent stand scores from the same locations.  The locations with the highest soil temperatures at planting have the best stand establishment scores.  The Flandreau and Morden locations had the poorest stands and they experienced freezing temperatures 8-12 days after planting. 
Hybrid selection also has a large impact.  The blue line represents hybrids with a stress emergence score of 4, the red line represents hybrids with a stress emergence score of 7.  Hybrids with strong stress emergence scores make the difference between having an acceptable stand and having to re-plant after a cold wet spell of weather.  

Here are the stress emergence scores for the top 6 hybrids, by sales volume, that leave our warehouse.  As a group they represent 70% of our sales.

Hybrid Family                       Stress Emergence Score
38M58                                                    6
P9855HR                                  Predicted to be Average    
P9623HR                                  Predicted Above Average
P0125HR                                                6
P0118HR                                  Predicted Above Average
P9910XR                                                 5  
An average score is usually 5, so you can see this group is mostly above average for stress emergence.  The 14 day temperature trend is still the same.  I don't see any problem.  "Game on".



Saturday, April 16, 2011

Game On !! (Weaver's words, not mine)

Every year, Don Weaver my Pioneer account manager, gets really excited when he sees the first corn planter in the field.  It does not take much to get Don excited. 
Yesterday 3 corn planters were moving in our neighbourhood.  Seedbeds were in good shape.  The wind made it a little nippy.  Standard wear was a snowmobile suit for getting out of the cab to load the planter. 

What do I think?
Well, planting early for the sake of planting early in unfit ground is really STUPID.  But, other than cold, field conditions were pretty good on these farms.  On Thursday one customer called and asked what I thought about planting corn.  Knowing his farm, I quickly told him to get going.  I have lost my fear of planting seed in cold ground because the seed treatments used today are far and away superior to what we used 10 years ago.  Snow in the forecast means nothing.  The media have developed a nasty habit of over reacting to the possibility of foul weather, especially on the weekend. 

Here is the 14 day temperature forecast.

Assuming this forecast is accurate (????), we can expect daily highs to approach 12 C and lows to approach 7 C.  These temperatures contribute 5-6 heat units per day.  By May 1 this corn will not be emerged because it takes 150 heat units to get seed out of the ground, but it will have accumulated 60 - 70 heat units toward its development.  By May 7 these fields will be in the spike stage and I predict them to be excellent stands.  If I am wrong I will let you know.

The message for the rest of us is to be ready to plant the last week in April.  Temperatures over the 30 year historic average mean heat unit accumulation will occur faster than normal.  It will still not feel like planting weather and the coffee crowd will warn us of the perils ahead.  Pay no attention.  If field conditions allow, get it done.  You will not be sorry.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wise Words

A few days ago I was talking with a wise customer about his corn hybrid test plot.  He made the comment that planting a plot in the spring feels like a complete waste of time when the goal is to get the rest of crop in the ground as efficiently as possible.  But, in December, when he can look at the results and compare them to other plots, he realizes it was time well spent.  That frustrating half day in May is long forgotten and the hybrid selection process becomes easier.  The confidence in December out weighs the anxiety in May.

With that in mind let's review the criteria for an effective test plot.
1. Plant the plot in order of maturity.  It is in your best interest to compare hybrids that are only 50-100 heat units different in maturity.
2. Keep the plot to a manageable size.  Eight hybrids tends to be plenty when you have to dump planter boxes.  It also keeps hidden field variability to a minimum.  If the plot is bigger, analyze the results in small chunks.  Resist the temptation to compare hybrids if they are more than 8 strips apart.
3. A check hybrid can be useful if planted at both ends of a small plot.  Research has proven that check strips within field scale plots make results less accurate.  A wider plot increases the risk of field variability affecting the results.
4. The area of the field used should have the same rotation history, fertilizer, tillage, planting practices and drainage.  If possible, plant perpendicular to tile runs.
5. Avoid planting too close to buildings, fencelines or windbreaks.  We all know what it feels like to stand in the wind and then move out of the wind.  Strips close to windbreaks have an advantage because plants feel the same effect.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Morris Says

Morris Sagriff, Pioneer's agronomy guru par excellence, has been sending us information lately on Pioneer's latest technology offerings that will be field tested this summer.  These new hybrids will be marketed under the Optimum AQUAmax and Optimum ACREmax banners.

Optimum™ AQUAmax™
AQUAmax is not the latest cartoon super hero.  It is corn genetics that have been developed to perform better in the presence of drought stress.  Drought is a relative term.  I have customers that demand drought stress tolerance because they farm land where yields will drop from 175 bu to 140 bu under drought stress.  I sometimes remind them that there are soils in the province that will yield 110 bu under drought stress, so they should feel fortunate.  Regardless, drought is a serious problem which can take 50-60 bu away from a grower.  There is not a worse feeling than watching your crop whither in the summer after you have done your best to give it a good start by planting it right, fertilizing it properly and eliminating weeds. 
Pioneer has reached back in the gene bank, (read my previous post "Echos of Henry Wallace"), selected DNA that is linked to drought tolerance and incorporated this old DNA into newer genetics.  The result is a unique line that delivers superior yield in both water stressed and non water stressed environments.   

There are two hybrids being tested this year in Ontario.  P0210HR is a 3100 heat unit, double stack hybrid and P0791HR is a 3250 heat unit, double stack hybrid.  Very cool and very much worthy of super hero status.

Optimum™ ACREmax™
Pioneer is introducing Optimum™ Intrasect™ insect protection this year which is the basis for Optimum ACREmax.  I admit to being a lousy marketer.  I would fall asleep at the table debating names like Optimum AQUAmax, Optimum ACREmax, Optimus PRIME.  Whatever, as long as it works.
Optimum Intrasect hybrids combine Herculex I Bt technology with YieldGard Bt technology.  These hybrids contain 2 modes of action for European Corn Borer which allow the refuge requirement to drop from 20% to 5%.
The difference with Optimum ACREmax is the 5% refuge is blended with the Intrasect hybrid in the same bag making refuge compliance simple.  This concept is still pending regulatory approval.      
We will be testing two platforms this year, 38N82 (2700 heat unit - 38N85 family) and 35F33 (3100 heat unit - 35F37 family).  These two hybrids will control Western Bean Cutworm as well.

Morris is right.  This is exciting.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Tip of The Cap

The Ministry of Environment recently released the 2010 results of their on farm audits of livestock operations in Ontario.  These operations are chosen randomly from all farm operations captured under the provincial Nutrient Management Act.  An Ag Enforcement Officer from the MOE visits each farm and scores them based on a risk assessment approach.  The goal of the assessment is to measure each farm's practices that reduce the risk of an adverse effect.  An adverse effect is causing something bad to happen to human health or the environment. 
A passing grade is 70 out of 100.  A 70 indicates the operation generally meets the provincial expectations for environmental performance, but may require some minor improvements.

Out of 172 farms inspected, 87% or 150 farms, met or exceeded provincial expectations.  Over the three years that the MOE have been inspecting livestock operations, scores have steadily improved. 
The two things farms can do to improve would be to make sure to conduct an annual review of their Nutrient Management Strategy or Plan and meet vegetated buffer zone/run-off management requirements.  The bottom line is livestock operations in Ontario are doing a great job protecting the environment.  Well done.