Monday, June 24, 2013

"Lots of Worm Holes"

"Where the corn is good, I see lots of worm holes."   These were Brian's words last week after 5 days of constant spraying activity.  We were comparing notes on what was working and not working in customer fields.  This is an example of what he was describing, a nice uniform consistent stand of corn.
A close up picture shows part of the reason why.
These are piles of soybean trash that big dew worms have pulled together over their burrows.  These piles of trash are called middens.  Under each midden is a hole the size of a pencil.
These holes allow air, water and nutrients to move up and down in the soil profile. Aeration is critical for good plant growth.  It is no coincidence that the presence of worms is an indicator of good soil health and crop growth.
Worms will have a very tough time in the type of environment below.

There is no way that worms, or roots, can penetrate soils like this one.  You end up with corn that looks like this.
In this particular case we all know that compaction from heavy equipment is the reason. The corn on the right edge of the picture is against the fence line and does not get the wheel traffic.  Less wheel traffic means less compaction means better crops. But it is not always easy to identify the reasons for purple or yellow stressed corn.  
This one is not as obvious, but the causes are related to past soil management practices.
I believe you always have to think of air.  Or more precisely a lack of air. If we could pump some air into the stressed spots they would change for the better literally over night. Which brings me back to my worm friends.
The question is do worms promote soil health or does good soil health promote worms? It is a classic chicken vs egg discussion and in most ways irrelevant.  One goes with the other.
My top 4 methods to promote soil and worm health are these.
1.Drainage.  Most refuse because the upfront cost is high, but if you own the land the best return on a dollar spent is systematic drainage.  Forget the old drains your grandfather put in.  Plow in a complete set of new ones.  Equipment gets bigger and heavier and the risk of damage increases exponentially with every new combine, grain buggy and manure tanker.  Without excellent drainage, dollars spent on all other crop inputs are wasted. Drains pay their way in dry years and wet years.  If you consider drains as a crop input, there is no other input that can make the same claim.
2.Manage surface residue.  Peter Johnson and Greg Stewart bang away on this for erosion control.  I want to add worm health to the list.  The big dew worms that do the heavy lifting with respect to aeration are surface feeders.  Without surface trash to feed on they starve.
3.Patience. Cathy will tell you I do not possess this ability and she is right.  I admire farmers on the heavier soil types who have the fortitude to wait for their soils to dry while all their neighbours are going full blast.  
4.Rotation. No need to say any more.

Now that the good corn is growing quickly in the heat it might look like this.
Don't be fooled by the stripes.  It is not nutrient deficiency.  It is a symptom of rapid growth.  The plant is happy and you should be too.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lots To Talk About

Crop Heat Unit Accumulation from May 3 to June 16.
(I used May 3 as a starting date because that is when the first corn was planted this spring.)

YEAR              TOTAL           NORMAL      DEVIATION FROM NORM
2013                  747                     780                            -33
2012                  821                     780                           +41
2011                  788                     780                           + 8      

Trending a little cooler than normal, but not a big problem.  I want to hear no more talk about 1992 and the year of no summer.  It is not even close.

This picture taken from my IMPACT plot on Saturday is illustrating why some fields may look stronger than others.  These are two hybrids of same maturity, planted May 6.  The one on the right is one full leaf ahead of the hybrid on the left.  WOW!! FANTASTIC!!  POST THIS PICTURE ON TWITTER!!!  CUSTOMERS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS!!!  Whoa pardner, pull back on that throttle a bit.  My experience has taught me that while early growth maybe exciting to look at, it doesn't put bushels in the bin.  A June beauty queen often becomes a wicked witch in November.

One more thing we observe in corn this time of year is a buggy whip shape.  A period of fast cell division will cause the new leaves to roll tightly together and mimic a herbicide interaction.  It will recover quickly and the new leaves might be yellow because they did not get exposed to the sun.  A temporary condition that has no effect on yield.
It is also purple corn season.  Purple indicates sugar accumulation in the plant which triggers the anthocyanin pigment.  At this stage the purple colour is telling us that the roots are not growing.
This broken leaf illustrates the same condition.  The tissue is still attached which allows the chlorophyll to continue working, but the sugars are not being transported back to the plant.  The result is a purple leaf tip.

And alfalfa weevil are still around.  Check your regrowth.
This picture was taken today from a field that was cut on June 1.  The regrowth is being consumed by weevil like the one shown below.
I visited 4 fields today and they were all the same.  Get the Matador and take out the weevil.

Monday, June 10, 2013

June Pictures

John Deere corn, in need of sunshine.

Sun scald on a corn leaf.  It is a common occurrence after cold temperatures.  The sensitive tissue turns grey when it is exposed to daylight.

This one is courtesy of Dean Shantz.  Dew worms pulling corn leaves down their burrow for lunch.  No worry because the corn plant will grow faster than the worm can eat.

Frost injury to wheat.
More frost injury.
This twist is due to genetics, not frost.
Prostrate knotweed enjoys damp weather.
As does tufted vetch.  An annoying pain that never goes away.
Canada thistle.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Just A Minute Frank, There's One More Job To Do

Two farming buddies of mine, Frank and Joe are soon embarking on separate trips with their wives to the British Isles.  Considering these two lads are of Dutch heritage I find it strange that they would choose the home of the blarney stone, haggis and steak and kidney pie as a holiday destination. 

In the meantime there is one job that demands attention before Frank leaves.  Joe has already shipped off and left the job unfinished.
The wheat crop is coming into head and this will be the week to apply fungicide for Fusarium head blight and late season leaf disease control.  Timing is important for head blight, less so for leaf disease.  This picture was taken on Friday.  When 75% of heads are emerged from the boot it is considered to be day zero, which for this field will be Sunday or Monday.  Optimum timing for head blight control is plus day 3-4 meaning this crop should be sprayed between Tuesday and Thursday this week.  The majority of the wheat crop in our area will be in head by the end of the week.  Sprayer operators need to be especially careful with tank and boom clean out since herbicide contaminated solutions are the kiss of death to a wheat head.  All other spray jobs will have to wait until machinery has completed the fungicide applications.
Predicting disease levels is always a crap shoot because our environment can change rapidly in Southern Ontario.  But if there is a year when the wheat may be more vulnerable to blight it could be this year.  Fusarium development is favoured by moisture and moderate temperatures between 15-25 degrees.  So far moisture has been in abundant supply.  It is cold this morning as I write this post, but the forecast is for moderate temps later this week.
Dave Hooker posted this photo of decaying corn stalks loaded with the fruiting bodies of Fusarium head blight.  Lots of disease pressure, a susceptible host and favorable environment is a potential perfect storm.
Showers are also in the forecast for the week and the question of rain fast period for your fungicide of choice is often raised.  Fortunately the rain fast period for fungicides is short.  As long as the head is dry, 5-10 minutes is more than enough time for the chemical to dry and stick to the head.  
I love the colour in our wheat this past week.  It has a rich dark green, almost blue appearance. 
It would be a shame to lose this yield potential to late season diseases.  Frank, before you leave on the quest for some Jameson's or Bushmill's, please spray your wheat!!