Monday, January 23, 2012

Chained To My Desk

Nutrient Management Strategy and Plan preparation takes up a big space on my desk this time of year.  New projects are coming in a lot faster than completed projects going out.  This year it is the usual combination of dairy and poultry expansion projects.  I also am currently doing a swine barn expansion, which has been a rare event the last 10 years.  On top of that, renewal documents are required for existing clients. 

The vast majority of clients see the process as having value if, and this can be a big if, the consultant does the job on a timely basis.  The goal is always to under promise and over deliver. 

The Ministry of Environment has released their on farm inspection results from 2011.  The London MOE office has been particularly vigilant in Perth, Oxford and Middlesex counties where the majority of my clients do business.  I, along with other NM consultants in this area, have regular contact with the London office. I believe we all have a good working relationship which benefits the farmer client.  Nobody wants to be in trouble with the MOE and the MOE is not looking to make trouble where non exists.

These are the results from the MOE's inspections.

Non-compliance is the fancy term for failure. 
1.NM paper work has a requirement for an annual review.  This is a simple job.  The minimum expectation is to open the binder your consultant leaves with you and make a note that you looked at it.  Updating changes to herd size and land base gets you extra brownie points.
2.NM strategies have to be re-newed every 5 years.  If your consultant is on the ball, this is a simple task.  Get it done.
3.Keep some records of when and where you spread manure.  Regardless of NM regulations it is a smart thing to do for fertilizer management purposes.
4.Vegetated buffers along creeks need to be a minimum of 10 feet from the top of the bank.

A score of 70% on an inspection audit is considered to be acceptable with suggestions given on how to improve your score.  Scores are improving every year.  This would not have happened without the MOE following up on farmers. 

Here is the best information to keep handy when someone starts bad mouthing livestock farmers and blaming them for all the pollution problems in our water.  Manure spills are declining.  Good news and a record that while still needing some improvement, is heading in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

This Crystal Ball Needs Cleaning

In addition to meetings, January is also used for planning future needs and activities.  Cathy had an interior design consultant at our house yesterday.  You all know where that is heading, but I also support her quest for a re-do in our house.

Today is the deadline for a different planning process in Pioneer.  Brian and I have to polish our crystal ball and submit a corn hybrid and soybean variety sales forecast for 2013.  Yes, spring 2013, 16 months from now. 
Pioneer has to plan the same way as any farm.  They have to decide what mix of products will satisfy their customers needs and maximize returns.  It is more complicated because they have to manage not 4 or 5 crops, but hundreds of different corn hybrids and soybean varieties.  These "crops" must be planted this April with contract growers to be in the bag for 2013.  Somebody has to stick their neck out and  make some predictions.

Pioneer asks their front line sales force to stick their necks out and help with the process.  I believe Pioneer is the only seed company that requires every sales rep to forecast the mix of products they need to match their unique customer needs. 

It is a task that Pioneer reps take seriously.  If our forecast is not accurate we have a problem and we can't point fingers at some "number cruncher" who doesn't know what he/she is doing. 
Is our forecast accurate?  Some years yes, some years no.  Pioneer takes our numbers and builds a contingency plan to assist us when our forecast isn't worth the paper it was printed on.

Today we cross our fingers and peer into our cloudy crystal ball.  Please say a prayer, we need all the help we can get.

Friday, January 13, 2012

313.4 ! 429.0 ! Do I hear 450?

This past Wednesday Pioneer held the 2nd annual Ontario Corn Yield Challenge awards banquet in London.  Pioneer started this event as a public relations tool, but more importantly it's goal was to challenge corn farmers and promote high yield practices used on the farm right here in Ontario. 

This year the overall champion was the Judge Family Farm from Simcoe who reeled in 313.4 bushels per acre using P0216HR planted at 32,000 seed per acre.  The secret weapon used in this significant achievement was irrigation. 
But, before you go out to buy a pump and pipe, consider this.  Dean Glennie from Dunnville piled up 299 bu non-irrigated.

If this irrigation thing catches on, Pioneer may have to consider copying the National Corn Growers Association in the US which awards irrigated and non-irrigated competitors separately.

The NCGA overall champion this year was David Hula from Charles City, Virginia at 429.0 bushels, using a Pioneer hybrid, P2088HR. 

The non-irrigated champ was Kevin Kalb from Dubois Indiana at 322.2 bu using Dekalb DKC64-69 (sigh).

We can be proud of Ontario's corn growers because they are competitive with the best in the world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

More SW Ag

Listened to two US corn belt advisers at SW Ag Conference, one from southern Minnesota and one from NW Indiana.  Both were reviewing corn production practices in their respective areas.
Both come from intensive corn and soybean productions areas that do not grow wheat.  Typical rotation are two years corn followed by one year soybeans.  Both said 60-70% of corn grown is 2nd year corn and everything is RR Ready.  Sounds simple, but looks can be deceiving. 

Here is a combination of their recipes for modern continuous corn production and my comments.

1. Moldboard plows are in the scrap heap.  Extensive use of chopper heads on combines and vertical tillage tools, Salford RTS and Case IH Turbo-Till being two of most common.  One or two passes in spring with cultivator.  Fall tillage of corn stalks ahead of soybean planting.
Comments - Keeping fields level, sizing residue for quicker breakdown and easier residue management in the spring.  Keep in mind, two years worth of 200 bu corn residue is a lot of residue.  "Black dirt" warms ground quicker which allows early planting. Getting over a lot of acres in a hurry is also the goal. 

2. Planting rates of 35-36,000 seed per acre.  Precision 2020 SeedSenseTM monitors, air bag systems, precision row monitor equipped planters.  Trashwhippers are necessary to move corn residue.
Comments - The Precision package of planter modifications is impressive.    

3. Plant rootworm resistant hybrids plus additional rootworm insecticide, Counter being one example.  This is done on every acre including first year corn.
Comments - The result of too many years of too much corn in the rotation.  Rootworms are developing resistance to Monsanto's rootworm technology, so growers are going back in time 30 years to applying rootworm chemical.  Yuck.  I hoped these days were over.

4. Widespread use of Counter insecticide and other new seed treatments to control root nematodes.
Comments - 86% of corn fields surveyed in Michigan have nematode populations, some of which can cause damage.  More prevalent in sandy and sandy loam soil types.  This needs more investigating in Ontario because we have nematodes too.

5. Applying soil residual herbicide at planting followed by post application of glyphosate.  Glyphosate resistant weeds are common because they got carried away with using too much glyphosate.
Comments - Serves them right.  Lack of crop rotation and heavy reliance on one chemical.  These guys really need another crop to grow.  In Ontario, this is a warning of what not to do.

6. Apply fungicide tank mixed with glyphosate at 5 leaf stage.  Second fungicide application at silking time tank mixed with insecticide and foliar N.
Comments - Fungicides are becoming normal in Ontario and I am a believer, but WOW, the chemical bill keeps getting bigger.  They have significant leaf disease problems.  By now you can guess why.  The insecticide is for Western Bean Cutworm control and once you go this far a couple of bucks on extra fertilizer is no big deal.  Does it all pay? 

7. Harvest corn at moistures above 20% because there is too much header loss harvesting 15% corn.
Comments - I wish we had this issue.  Maybe they should slow down, oh never mind! 

8. Apply fall fertilizer.  P & K , urea or ammonium sulphate to break down corn residue plus soluble humus or gypsum.  Gypsum is a source of calcium.
Comments - Fall P & K or manure is always a good idea.  The rest is debatable.  I assume they know what they are doing, but with more rotation I suspect they would think different.  Forget the gypsum, we have too much calcium in our soils already without adding more.

9. Fall burndowns with residual chemicals, like atrazine, to control fall annuals. 
Comments - If you love your plow, this is irrelevant.  I believe we need to use more fall application in Ontario, but not on every acre. 

10. Apply 150 lbs of N pre-plant plus 50-60 lbs of N side-dress. 
Comments - These rates guarantee that the debate between production and environment will continue.  Economics at the farm gate usually trumps environment.  From where I sit, 200 lbs of N is excessive.  We can grow 200 bu corn too, with less N.  If corn genetics take us to 250 bu, more N may be necessary.  This is the motivator that prompts the seed industry to produce corn hybrids that use less commercial N. 

11. Starter fertilizer containing MicroEssentials MAP.
Comments - an excellent dry starter with zinc and sulphur available through Cargill and other fertilizer outlets. 

Meeting Season

The winter meeting season always kicks off with the Southwest Ag Conference in Ridgetown.  It is one of the best conferences you can attend because of the diversity of speakers and topics.  I always learn a lot from attending this affair.

For starters, Patrick Moore was a keynote speaker on yesterday's agenda.  He is one of the founding members of Greenpeace.  He left the organization in 1986 and went salmon farming.  Most of us in agriculture do not have a high regard for the type of extreme environmentalism Greenpeace now promotes.  Neither does Patrick.

For example he is an vocal advocate for forestry management, which includes logging, the oil sands, capitalist investment, nuclear energy, geo-thermal energy and questions the evidence of "man-made" climate change.  He does not agree with government supported green energy initiatives.

You can follow more of his views in detail at