Sunday, November 30, 2014

Three Beekeepers

By now my loyal readers, I am sure you have heard of the provincial government's proposal for reducing the amount of neonicotinoid seed treatment used on corn and soybeans by 80% for spring 2016.  An additional objective stated is to reduce the overwintering bee mortality rate to 15%.

Here is the link where you can find the governments position paper and the meeting notices.

Bear with me while I rant.

1. This is politically inspired.  It plays well to the mass of urban electorate that placed the Liberals in power.

"Improving pollinator health is not a luxury but a necessity. Pollinators play a key role in our ecosystem and without them, much of the food we eat would not be here.Taking strong action now to reduce the use of neurotoxic pesticides and protecting pollinator health is a positive step for our environment and our economy.”
Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen R. Murray 
To the urbanite living in the condos and subdivisions this makes absolute sense.  To the farm population that watches prime agricultural land get bulldozed for parking lots and strip malls under the watchful eye of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change it means something else.
2. The agenda of this current government goes beyond neonicotinoids.  Our "independent environmental commissioner" appointed by the legislature had this to say earlier. 
"All the science is not done, but everything I have before me ... suggests to me as an ecologist that this is the biggest threat to the structure and ecological integrity of the ecosystem that I have encountered in my life. Bigger than DDT,”  
Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller
This quote illustrates the depth of an influential government appointee's dislike of pesticides. Or maybe it is just the pesticides corn and soybean producers use. Neonicotinoids are registered for use in many applications including greenhouses, lawns and flea collars.  For a complete listing of registered products in Canada go to this site and search for the active ingredient imidacloprid or chlothianidin.

Pesticide Product Information Database

3. The timing of this announcement is an insult.  Right now Ontario's corn and soybean producers are struggling through the worst harvest season in recent memory and are far from done. The first 4 public meetings web sessions are scheduled for the week of December 8.   The beekeepers who support this initiative have bedded their hives down for the winter.  Their environmental allies also have time and I suspect some advance warning, to present their point of view at the public meetings. 
Now that I have made you mad, let's calm down and think it through.  If you have already responded to the government with your point of view, good for you.  
At the very least ask for more public meetings and time to respond.  These are the e-mails that you can use for that purpose.  
Ontario Premier Kathleen;
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Jeff Leal: and
Minister of Environment Glenn Murray: and
Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservatives Jim Wilson:
Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture, Toby Barrett:
Official Opposition Critic for Environment, Lisa Thompson:
There is a lot of information to consider and digest.  It takes time to read the reports and think about the potential impacts on your business.  Do this in a quiet space that you use for thinking and planning.  After that please make your thoughts known to our political masters.
There will be some corn and soybean producers who support the government's position. As well, some bee keepers will not support the government's position.  All sides have some merit and deserve a chance to speak.
The proposal includes the usual three pillars of government.  Specifically, more training, more paperwork and more work for "3rd party inspectors".  We all know who will bear the brunt of these additional costs.  There is no provision for the producer who sustains a yield loss from an unanticipated insect outbreak.

The proposal itself was released on the same day as an interim report from the PMRA on bee colony losses. This report is worth looking at and understanding.  This is the link.
Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health

The report presents information that is both supportive and contradictory to the government's proposal.  I will draw your attention to the last chart in the report which documents the number of bee yards reporting colony effects in Ontario in 2014.  The number of reports from spring 2014 were down 79% from 2013.  Could the weather or farm practices be the reason for the reduction?  Farmers usage of neonicotinoid seed treatments did not change in 2014.  Maybe something else was responsible.  This cannot be determined, but for the good of farmers and bee keepers alike it needs more study, not regulation. 

The summer reports of colony effects from July to October were up significantly, but 72% of these reports came from 3 beekeepers. 

I repeat, three beekeepers.         

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Take It All Back

Never again will I question the predictive ability of the persimmon.  Humbled by nature once again, I apologize to all persimmon growers everywhere.  Your little fruit is amazing, fantastic, the best of the best and belongs in the fruit hall of fame.  If not already a member, I hereby volunteer to write the referral letter to the selection committee.   Now please make the snow stop.

Meanwhile, a customer was speaking to me earlier in the week about how his corn crop was making grade 2 without the presence of a distinct black layer.  How can that be, he asked.  He had the impression that no black layer meant that in addition to high moisture, low test weight would automatically go hand in hand.

I was weighing off some corn plots early last week before the snow shut down harvest that were planted during the last week in May.

As exhibit A, I present a picture of the grain sample from P9675AMXT, a 2850 CHU hybrid.
It clearly indicates strong black layer formation indicative of corn that, in theory fully matured before frost shut it down this fall.  The moisture content of this sample was 29% and it weighed in at 325 gm/.5L which indicates a grade 3.  A grade 3 is quite typical for a lot of corn in this neighbourhood.

As exhibit B, I present a sample of P0157AM which is 200 CHU later than P9675AMXT. Keep in mind both samples came from the same field, planted May 26.
This sample was 32.4% moisture which makes sense given it is a 3050 CHU hybrid. This maturity is on the full season side for our area.  The black layer is very poorly defined.  It appears to be more of a brown layer and in some kernels a cream coloured abscission layer.  But the intriguing fact is the test weight of this sample was 338 gm/.5L which makes it a grade 2.  How can it be a grade 2 with no black layer formation?

Two things to keep in mind.
1.Test weight and moisture are not automatically correlated.  One needs to be careful making assumptions.  Black layer is a terrific tool for evaluating when hybrids make it across the frost safety date, but is less accurate at predicting test weights.  Immature corn at moisture levels above 40% will have low test weight because it has not converted the liquid sugars inside the kernel to more dense and heavier starch. The reason corn did not dry back in the infamous fall of 1992 was due to the kernels containing a high percentage of sugars and very little starch. Natural occurring yeasts that function in the presence of oxygen started to ferment the sugars, converting them to alcohol which increased moisture levels in the grain.  Those same yeasts have a tough time fermenting starch.  You have to limit oxygen to make well developed grain corn ferment which can only be done by putting it in a silo or a big pile.
This year starch conversion while not fully complete as indicated by the generally reduced test weights and lack of clear black layer, is much closer to normal.

2. Genetics matter.  P0157 has a higher than average test weight score than P9675 which is only average for test weight.  That is likely the biggest reason for seeing the results we did in this case.  In fact, P0157 was the highest test weight of all the hybrids in this plot, 6 of them being earlier in maturity than P0157.  Of course not all P0157 in every field is making grade 2.  In addition, samples from only one plot should never be interpreted as gospel, but I think it proves a point.  One of the biggest contributors to making grade in a year like this one is the relative genetic disposition of each hybrid for test weight. The comparative maturity of hybrids to each other is secondary, which seems odd in a cool year, but that is how it works.
I actually believe what we are seeing has a lot to do with the hybrid's ability to function in cold temperatures.  Just as some hybrids handle heat and drought stress better, others handle cold stress better.  The challenge as always is to identify genetics that function well in all environments.

The final word in case you were wondering is P9675AMXT ran 162 dry bu/ac and the P0157AM ran 168 bu/ac.  Incidentally, P0496AMXT, a 3100 CHU hybrid was the highest yielding hybrid at this location and the only other hybrid in addition to P0157 whose sample made grade 2.

Genetics and of course the persimmon, make a difference.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wiarton Willie's Job Is In Jeopardy

The feminine members of our family continue to explore new foods and culinary experiences. Terrilyn's fiance's family from Toronto has fallen into a habit of sending us a variety of delights that fall into two broad categories, food that we cannot source in St Marys and food that we have never heard of and sometimes don't know what to do with.
Last weekend some persimmons showed up on the kitchen counter via a Toronto food market.
Persimmons are far from being exotic, but having no experience with persimmons, Google was enlisted. Persimmons are good to eat just like you would a peach.  I did eat one and to be honest when compared to Ontario grown apples and pears I would not cross the street for a persimmon. With great respect to persimmon growers I am sure the only way to enjoy them fully is fresh off the tree. More interesting to me was the weather prognosticating ability of the persimmon tree.  However, the message gave me chills.

University of Missouri

Washington Post

Farmer's Almanac

All persimmon signs are pointing toward a snow laden winter.  Just what we all wanted to hear.  If the persimmon seeds are accurate, any thoughts of leaving corn out over the winter may not be a wise.  

The biggest question of the week has been will this corn dry down if we leave it?  And by how much?
The answer to the first question is easy, yes it will.  Despite what some would think, corn does dry in November.  I have seen corn in November drop 5- 10 points.  The problem is we can't predict by how much nor how fast.  Heat becomes a non factor in November leaving humidity or the lack thereof, as the key to drydown.  If it rains every day, drydown will be agonizingly slow and as I write this it is drizzling outside my office window.  The weather forecast has too many days of forecast rain and light snow in it to make me feel good about drydown. But I would argue that this crop will behave more normal than one would think even if it is low in test weight and high in moisture.
For one thing, it thrashes easily.  You don't have to smash it to get it off the cob like you sometimes do with immature corn.  The samples coming off the combine, if a little time is taken to make adjustments, are very clean.  This tells me the kernel integrity is good and the abscission layer (whether it is brown or black doesn't matter) between the kernel and cob is well defined.  If humidity drifts down the corn will naturally dry.  It is NOT like 1992 when corn moisture went up before it came back down.
Should you leave it out is a different question with not a simple answer.  If it is still above 35% I would tend to leave it for a bit, especially if it is still standing well.  If it is already under 30% and a big chunk of corn is heading that way, I would get at it.  Stalk quality while still okay in this area will not hang on for ever.  As we have stated in previous posts, there is big yield out there.  It would be a shame to lose it to a snow laden winter, just to save a bit of money on drying.
When we add the persimmon forecast to the fact we farm in Ontario's snow belt the threat of snow is real.
On the other hand I am not betting on the accuracy of the persimmon.  Now if we could only give Wiarton Willie a steady diet of persimmons, we probably could improve that accuracy big time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

#Harvest 14

Round 1 of Harvest '14 goes to mother nature.  This picture is Rick and Tony Merkel combining P9623AM on October 23.  Unfortunately, this has been a rare occurrence so far.  Her combination shots of jabs and uppercuts have us on the defensive.  Soybean harvest is maybe 50% complete in these parts and grain corn is maybe 10%, mostly driven by early harvest premiums.  Trends are being established and these are my observations so far.

Soybean yields have been on the plus side of 50 bu for the most part.  Six days of good soybean harvest weather in the month of October is just not enough to get all the acres harvested.  Early IP varieties that were ready a month ago are still standing thanks to lousy dry down conditions.  I cannot recall a year with this many acres of soybeans still out on November 1.  Some growers have already pulled the pin on IP premiums and gone into salvage mode.  I suspect the remaining acres will end up down the same path.
Most of the corn harvested to date was planted prior to May 12. Yields have been excellent, generally north of 180 bu.  There is a good crop out there. Test weights have been low with lots of reports of grade 3 and some grade 4.  The trade needs corn and they have not been fussy about quality.  As we get into the bulk of the acres planted in the last week of May we expect moisture to climb while test weights drift lower. How the elevator trade responds to a big crop of low test weight corn is still a guess. The job of the market is to buy the crop as cheap as they can.  Low test weight corn still has excellent nutritional value as livestock feed.

2. Maturity.
I have been accused and justifiably so, of being a supporter of full season genetics.  I hate leaving yield potential on the table and that is the main reason I shade recommendations toward fuller season soybeans and corn. Earlier hybrids like P9623AM and P9644AM are now 25-26% moisture while later hybrids like P0094AM and P0157AM are 30-32% moisture.  Five points of moisture on a 200 bu crop costs an extra $12 per acre to dry. With current prices at $4 per bushel, you only need 3 bu to cover the extra drying charge. The fuller season hybrids have been delivering that extra yield so far. In fact, the highest yield I have seen to date is a field length strip of P0496AMX at 225 bu and 30.5% moisture.  P0496AMX is a 3100 HU hybrid.  The question that still needs to be answered is how well full season hybrids hold up when we start harvesting more corn planted during the last week of May.

The story regarding soybean maturity vs yield is different.  Good early varieties are yielding the same or better than later varieties.  In our own plot, 91Y01 rated at 2775 HU ran 58 bu, the same as P19T01R which is rated at 3000 HU.  It is a glass half full or half empty type of comparison.  Good full season varieties have not delivered extra yield, but they have not delivered less yield either.  As already mentioned, early IP's (less than 2700HU) were ready back in the first week of October, but due to lack of combine power and elevators holding the line on moisture some of those beans are still out there.  Any delay in full season variety development to moisture has been a non factor due to the lack of good harvest weather.  After Thanksgiving passed everything was the same moisture regardless of maturity.

3. The Next Ones
Looking forward I have been impressed to date by a selection of new genetics that are being demonstrated on customers farms this year.  A summary of yield data data will be coming soon.
P0496AMX is bringing excellent agronomics, good test weight and grain quality characteristics to the 3100 HU zone.

P0157AM and AMX is a new 3050 HU hybrid.  Similar story as P0496 with respect to agronomics and grain quality.
 P9644AM and AMX is a new 2850 HU hybrid.
P15T83R has been impressive for a 2900 HU soybean in a cool year.  Interestingly, I would not have picked this variety as a consistent performer because it was yellow as a duck's foot in early July. This was especially true in no-till conditions where cooler soil temperatures seemed to be affecting N uptake by the plant. We are finding out with this new variety that looks can be very deceiving.

4. Speaking of New
Something to occupy his time when he is not spraying, blowing snow, helping neighbours or selling seed is Brian's new flail mower.
It is a mid mount Diamond mower with a 21' reach.  Keeping bush lines and creek banks clean can be time consuming.  If you are interested in pushing back brush and limbs that shade out crop and scratch machinery, give us a call.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Days Like Today

Days like today. I just heard this line from The Anderson's grain market commentary posted this afternoon. Corn and soybean prices rose today with no good reason according to the folks who are supposed to know why grain markets do what they do.  It seemed more than appropriate after today's experience.

Days like today. Brian and I spent the afternoon touring some corn plots with other Pioneer reps. For the last month I have listened to my friends from south Huron describing how their corn is late and in real danger of not making maturity.  I always assumed it was just "chicken little" type talk that sometimes emanates from that corner of the province.  The corn in our little part of Perth county is coming along.  Dan Veldman, just east of St Marys harvested P0094 and P0157 on Sunday at 33% moisture.  So, despite having great respect for their opinion I remained skeptical of the claims from South Huron, until.......

Days like today. We looked at one corn plot just west of Dashwood containing the same maturity range of hybrids that I see every day, 2800-3200 CHU.  Great location, planted last week of May, very high yield potential, but something was wrong.  The early hybrids had just black layered and anything over 3000 CHU was not even close to black layer.  On to the next location just south of Exeter.  Same group of hybrids, similar planting date, same maturity story.  I am starting to think there is more to this than just some chicken little type thinking.   My friends are also telling me about corn being harvested in North Lambton coming off at over 40-50% moisture!!!  (The reason this corn was being combined was to cover sales made earlier for old crop price, which is normal practice in that part of the world.)
Our next stop was a plot just up the road from the warehouse.  Same group of hybrids, planted May 26.  Normally corn in Dashwood would be 7-10 days ahead of corn at Woodham.  Not today.
The corn gods have thrown a curveball.  P0216AM in Woodham is ahead of P0216AM at Dashwood and Exeter.
Why?  Don't have a clue.
Days like today.

In my humble opinion a good daily grain commentary is found right here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Circle of Life

One advantage of experience, or some would say old age, is the perspective it provides.  When I was a baby in the world of agronomy, the accepted rule of thumb regarding hybrid selection for corn silage was the best grain corn hybrid was also the best silage hybrid.  Maximizing grain yields and the subsequent energy in that grain seemed logical to me, even though my only direct experience came from feeding corn silage to beef cattle.  
Dairy customers complained about this recommendation, citing whole kernels present in the manure and having to sweep loony sized cob pieces out of the feed bunk.  These were valid criticisms.  I have vivid memories from 20 years ago of a respected dairyman taking me to the woodshed about Pioneer's lack of commitment to corn silage breeding. Francis Glenn with his development of leafy corn silage genetics turned the silage market upside down and gave dairy customers what they wanted.  Specifically, high feed intakes, clean feed bunks and fully digested kernels.  The cold world of economics was not as kind to the leafy silage producer because leafy hybrids provided no flexibility, took more silage acres to feed his/her herd and required more storage to make it from one season to the next.  
Self propelled harvesters with kernel processors, plus the adoption of TMR feed mixers, eliminated the problems associated with grain corn hybrids being used as silage hybrids.  Mature corn kernels and cob chunks were smashed into tiny pieces that could not be separated by fussy four legged dairy cows.  Silage acres have swung back to conventional dual purpose type hybrids.  Tim Emerson  a respected independent dairy nutritionist, told me a year ago that if he had his way, the perfect silage hybrid would simply be a great big cob on a short stick.  After 30 years of evaluating corn hybrids for silage I was back to where I started.  
Despite this back to the future type experience, there is a lot we have learned about corn silage in the last 30 years.  One important point is the role of environment with respect to fibre digestibility.  With the exception of brown mid-rib hybrids, only 3% of the variation in fibre digestibility can be attributed to genetics.  97% of the variation is due to weather.  We know that warm, hot years like 2012 increase fibre digestibility.  Cool slow growing seasons like 2014 depress fibre digestibility.  It will be normal for corn silage this winter to not have the punch that it otherwise might have.  
The next chart appears complicated, but the message is simple.  Waiting to harvest corn silage until whole plant moisture is in the 60-65% range increases starch levels and maintains fibre digestibility
A standard rule of thumb for silage timing has been to target the period of 45 days after silking to begin harvest. Another measure is 1/3 – 1/2 milk line descent from top of kernel.  While these recommendations get us into the corn silage window, they tend to target 70% whole plant moisture.  If harvest does not happen until 55-60 days after silking or 2/3 milk line, what are the effects?
Silage producers that use modern genetics with good late season plant health, fungicides and kernel processors can allow corn silage to mature into the 60% moisture range without sacrificing silage quality. The starch deposition rate into the kernel will more than compensate for the small decrease in fibre digestibility.  The net benefit is greater energy density. 
Stress tolerant hybrids and fungicides extend plant health later in the season.  Kernel processors allow the starch to be available to rumen and intestinal breakdown. 
The caveat to making this all happen is the processor must be set correctly.  That is where the train will leave the rails.  An easy way to make sure the processor is set properly is to look for whole or half kernels.  In a two handed fistful of silage there should be no more than 2-3 whole or half kernels. The grain needs to be pulverized.  Poor kernel processing does not allow the energy captured in the grain to be expressed in the milk tank.
While we are at it we need to make sure the bunk is packed properly.  This may be hard to believe, but you can over pack a bunker.  The following are two images of a bunker that Martina Pfister, one of Pioneer's dairy specialists, and I were at this summer.
This is the face of the bunk, which in this case is very well managed and neat.  The next shot is using an infrared camera which presents a different story.
Purple colours indicate cool silage, while yellow colours indicate hot spots.  The wavy yellow lines near the top are the residue of too much wheel traffic on top of the pile.  A great packing job can be undone by spending too much time overdoing it once the bunk is full.  The constant back and forth will have the opposite effect of what is intended. The physical structure of the plant's cells is destroyed by the pressure of the tire treads. The cell contents leak out and instead of packing tighter, they actually will dry out and air moves in.  It takes a real artisan to properly pack a bunk.  One who knows where the right touch is required and when enough is enough.    

Friday, August 29, 2014

So Where Are We At for Heat Units?

If there is one question that makes me smile, it has to be this one.  I think it is asked with the expectation of an intelligent answer that will make perfect sense and provide some insight into whether the corn crop will make maturity. Unfortunately, I have to admit I don't pay much attention to heat unit reports in August and September.  The answer to this question that immediately pops into my head  is "who really cares"?  It doesn't matter right now whether we are on average pace or 100, 200 or 300 heat units behind normal. What matters is the stage of the crop in our field.
Thanks to the wonders of digital photography date stamps I stumbled on some pictures I took last year on August 28 from a plot that was planted on May 3, 2013.  In 2013 most of the corn crop was planted before the middle of May.
As a comparison, I thought it would be interesting to take some pictures of the same hybrids this year on the same date, August 28.  I chose a plot that was planted on May 25 which coincides closely to the date when the majority of acres were planted in 2014.  We must remember this is not meant to be a 100% valid comparison because we are talking about different fields and rotations, but I still find it educational.
This picture above is P0216AM planted on May 3 2013.  The picture below is P0216AM planted on May 25, 2014.  Both pictures taken on August 28 of the respective year.
No big surprise that this full season hybrid is now not as developed as it was last year.  It was planted almost one month later.  But what does this difference mean?  There are two ways to look at it.
If we take the heat unit approach we see that by August 28, 2013 there were approximately 2500 heat units accumulated. This year adjusting for the later planting date we have accumulated approximately 2200 heat units by August 28. Does this tell us anything useful?  No.
Let's consider the stage of the crop.  The 2013 crop was in the dough stage while the 2014 crop is in the milk stage of development.  How do we know?  It is not that hard.  The fact that kernels are just starting to yellow in the 2014 picture indicates the beginnings of rapid sugar accumulation in the kernel.  This is the classic "sweet corn" stage.  All sugars are very liquid and very tasty.  There is no sign of an embryo.
In the late dough stage is the kernel is still very soft and mushy, but the embryo can be found.
The embryo is in the tip of the kernel.  If you take the tip off and squeeze the kernel, the embryo will slide right out.  This is shown below.  The embryo is a hard, oval shaped structure.
The difference between the milk stage and the dough stage is about 12-14 days of development time.  
The standard average time from silking to black layer formation is about 60 days.   
Corn in early milk stage corn is about 45-48 days away from black layer,   Dough stage corn is about 34-36 days away from black layer.  This gives a more accurate answer to the question of where we are at.
My experience has taught me that September is an important month 9 years out of 10.  We needed a good September last year and we got it.  This year P0216AM will  need a good September and some of October.  This is not that unusual.  It is very worth remembering that the average killing frost date for this area is October 7. One quick witted customer observed all that means is frost can happen any where from September 7 to November 7.  He is 100% correct with that conclusion.
Earlier hybrids like P9807AM are more advanced than P0216AM.  Very normal and what we expect to see.  Does it mean much?  If a killing frost happens before the end of September, yes it will mean that the earlier hybrid likely will have the advantage. 
Seed companies are already starting to jockey and talk about how one hybrid is more advanced than another.  "Our hybrid is denting and this competitor hybrid is not", which shows how smart we are, is the standard approach used.  When I sold my corn last year I was paid for dry bushels delivered and I know that fact has not changed.  We expect corn moisture to be high this fall and earlier hybrids will be drier, as they are almost every year.  However, it is way too early to make too many predictions on hybrid performance.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Bermuda Triangle

This simple diagram is a depiction of why diseases occur, why they are sometimes severe and why they sometimes are not.  Let me explain.
White mold in soybeans is a good example.  It can devastate a soybean crop with yield losses as high as 50%.
White mold, caused by sclerotinia spp, is a garden variety common disease pest.  It affects many different plant species including crops such as white beans, peas, canola, sunflowers and many vegetables.  I have also seen it on weeds like pigweed and lambsquarters.  In other words the pathogen is always present in big numbers because of the diverse host species. Because of this fact we can safely predict the pathogen part of the triangle is a permanent fixture.
The two environmental factors that have the biggest influence on white mold are moisture and temperature. As white mold growth matures, the white cotton moldy growth bonds together and forms sclerotia.  Sclerotia are hard black bodies, commonly referred to as "rat turds".  The sclerotia overwinter in the soil and can survive for up to 5 years when they are buried by tillage.  High soil moisture levels encourage the sclerotia to "germinate" and produce fruiting bodies shaped like small mushrooms.  The mushrooms produce spores and the cycle continues.
The temperature that favours white mold growth is 10-20 degrees C.   If you think about the temperatures that occur under a dense canopy of soybean leaves combined with lots of soil moisture, you can begin to appreciate how the disease can flourish in this "environment".
Given the fact that the pathogen and environment part of the triangle are often present, why do we not see it expressed in every soybean field?   They are all lush with dense canopies this year.  The answer to this question is found in the host part of the triangle.  In our immediate area it had become uncommon to find white mold in soybeans. In fact several times this year some intelligent growers have asked what is causing the dead plants to show up in soybean fields.  They have not seen the disease for many years and have just forgot what it looks like.  Going back 30 years to when soybeans were first becoming popular it was very common to have white mold infection in the soybean crop.  That was due to the fact that a couple of the popular soybean lines were very susceptible to white mold.  Any one remember the variety Evans?  There were not many varieties to choose from so growers were forced to take chances with susceptible varieties.  It takes a lot of work, but smart soybean breeders have been able to screen for white mold susceptibility within the genetic lines they work with.  There are many soybean varieties that are just not very susceptible to the white mold infection. Growers are quick to toss out varieties that they discover to be white mold susceptible in their fields because there are other options.  Despite this, extremely high pressure of white mold can on occasion overwhelm genetic defenses.
So the disease is predictable to a point.  We understand the disease, the environment and we know a lot about the genetic component.  We can identify fields and soil types that are more prone to infection.  We have some fungicide tools that reduce the impact of white mold, but the fungicide has to be applied at high rates, which is expensive if there is no white mold present and need to be applied at first flower.  We should be able to scout a field and identify the potential risk.  Just look for the mushroom shaped structures on the soil surface that I referred to earlier and you would know where and when to spray, the same way we do with weeds.  Not so simple.  Many pathogens in nature most of them harmless to the crop, use similar looking mushroom bodies as part of their life cycle.  Deb Campbell, a sharp eyed agronomist, has spent years trying to identify the specific white mold "mushrooms" as a service to her clients.  She admits to still not being able to positively identify the pathogen at that stage.  If Deb can't find them the rest of us don't have a ghost of a chance.
Farm management has a significant impact on white mold.  If we go back 30 years, conventional tillage was the norm for every crop.  No-till was a "radical fringe" element.  In the last 20 years no-till has become a normal farm practice.  The adoption of no-till had an impact on white mold because the turds laying on the soil surface are subject to predation by insects and mice.  And they need to be buried to germinate well. In the last 5 years, tillage has become much more fashionable again.  I believe, at least in this immediate area that the return of tillage is having a positive influence on white mold infection.
Thanks to the skill and effort of soybean breeders the disease is not as devastating as it once was.

In the corn crop leaf diseases that enjoy cool weather are now easy to identify.
The one disease that is on everyone's radar after last year is northern leaf blight.
You can find it in many fields by the cigar shaped lesions, but at the moment it is at low levels.
Common eyespot is a also present.  It is easy to identify because it looks like an eye.
This picture is not great, but I believe it is the early stages of common rust.
How much of a problem the combined effect of these leaf diseases have on the corn crop will depend on the weather in September.  It is the goal of fungicides to reduce the effect of these diseases and they do a good job in that respect.  It is well known that fungicides keep the plant alive longer by reducing the level of infection.  It is also why some of you resist fungicides because the plant is slower to die and the resulting drying bill causes heart burn.  It is important to remember fungicides they are not 100 % lethal to every fungal disease and you may still find leaf disease in a treated field.

While you are out looking, please remember that not every symptom found is disease.
This ugly spot is not something you do anything about.  It is pollen that was caught in the leaf collar and is now rotting.  I guess you could say the pollen is composting inside the collar and consuming some green tissue in the process.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

War & Peace

Last week nature unleashed a blitzkrieg of sorts in parts of southern Ontario.  Jeff Steiner, a Pioneer sales rep posted this shot of a soybean field near Oshawa.  Devastating to say the least.  I think hail has the greatest traumatic effect on growers of any weather event.
The yields losses due to hail damage are well documented.  Hail is among the most studied of weather events by crop physiologists because it is a very common event and easy to simulate.
This is an example of research conducted by Pioneer studying the effect of severe hail damage.  Hail during the pollination period of corn produces the highest yield losses.  If you strip the tassels and silks off a corn plant it stands to reason that yield will be low. Fortunately this amount of severe damage is a rare occurrence in Ontario.

On the north edge of St Marys last week a couple strips of hail also fell.  Thankfully, nothing like Jeff's field.
A few shredded leaves, but tassels and silks are still in one piece.  
In fact the tassels were starting to shed pollen while I took these pictures the morning after the storm.  
A check of the leaves near the ear shoot reveal that these leaves are more or less intact.  
The ear leaf is where a large portion of yield drive comes from.  If the ear leaf is intact yield losses are small.
An adjacent soybean field looked like this.
A few broken stems and partially shredded leaves.
The problem with assessing hail damage is the fact that farmers over estimate the effects of the damage. Understandably so because it is a traumatic effect.  However, in both these corn and soybean fields yield losses will be greater from waterlogged soils thanks to the rain that accompanied the hail.  The yield loss effect from this amount of hail is in the less than 5% category.  If it was your field would you agree?

The typical question following these events involves fungicide application.  There is a feeling that fungicides will help hail damaged crops.  The research on this topic does not agree.  The benefits of fungicides are no greater on hail damaged crops than non-damaged crops. 

Do you know what this weed is?
I know I am short, but the stature of this weed is still impressive.  It is giant ragweed.  Is proliferates along creek and stream banks throughout the area.  Why is this important? Giant ragweed is one species of weed that can exhibit glyphosate resistance.  Some strains of giant ragweed are not killed by glyphosate.  Multiple applications of glyphosate alone will select for these plants.  It can destroy a soybean field.
There are soybeans under the the umbrella of giant ragweed. In this case it is not glyphosate resistant ragweed because the field was not sprayed with glyphosate.  But you get the idea how this weed can take over. Please remain vigilant. 

Finally, a peaceful intruder was found in Cathy's garden.
Cathy planted a row of butterfly weed and sure enough the monarch butterflies located it. How they find one row among other flowers is amazing. A new generation of monarchs are on the way.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Labour of Love

I have been ignoring this blog for the last few weeks, not because I have been on vacation, but because I was totally engaged in a project that had its beginnings with our home renovation project back in the summer and fall of 2012.
Guests would look out our new patio doors and inquire about our plans for the deck that they assumed would be built.  Oh no, Cathy would say, a set of steps leading down to a stone patio would be much nicer than a deck.
Last summer we investigated some options and at one point were leaning to stamped concrete.  Our daughter Melissa, cried foul and said oh no, stamped concrete is not the answer. There is a "concrete product" that would be much nicer.  As everyone knows, the two words "much nicer" are always followed by the two additional words "more expensive".  Nonetheless the special product was ordered.  A quote on installation was also received.  At that point Cathy declared oh no, that was too much money.  We can do it ourselves, love will keep us together.  Melissa concurred by telling us she had friends in the business of backyard installations who say the product is dead simple to work with.  I know the sales rep and we can also ask him, she claimed.  I think you can tell where this story is going.

There is a reason why all the home improvement shows on TV use an army to get the real work done while the know-it-all host describes how easy it is to complete the project.  The host would die of exhaustion if they actually had to do the work.  However, the hardest part is now completed and it will definitely look very nice when fully finished with appropriate flower beds and accessories.  No thanks to Melissa who was never around to actually help.  But we still love her and will take her advice anytime.

Meanwhile agronomy questions need addressing.  The most pressing question has been the topic of fungicide application to corn.  Sliding commodity prices are taking the shine off the practice.  If you questioned the economics of fungicide with $6.00 corn, current offers at less than $4.00 will make you question it more.  I have to agree because if you weigh the average response of 7-8 bushels per acre against the additional cost of $16-35 per acre there is not much room for growth in the bottom line.

Ryan Kennes, a fellow Pioneer rep has written a nice summary of his feelings on fungicide use at the following link.

I particularly agree with his comments on Proline.  Livestock producers need to seriously look at this as a means of reducing the risk of gibberella ear mould in corn.  Our side by side work with Proline last year produced 10 bushels improvement in yield and 50% reduction in ear mould.  We are conducting a Proline trial again this year to increase the data set.

A good discussion about Northern Corn leaf Blight is also available at this link.

In the meantime, if you want to help lay some flagstone or dig a water pond come on by.

Monday, July 7, 2014

2014 is Back to Normal

It is early July and the normal questions are coming in.
Why are the soybeans yellow? Why does my corn have tillers?
In these parts of south Perth county, June was much kinder than May.  Bill Arthur provides heat unit records to me, which he has been collecting for over 30 years.  His temperature data shows that 2014 is a very good example of average with respect to heat.  Heat unit accumulation to the end of June is very close to the 30 year average, which for these parts is within an eyelash of 1000 heat units.  It is easy to tell this is a typical year because corn is now anywhere from mid-thigh to shoulder and on the fast track to tassel by the end of this month.

Corn planted during the last week of May did not get the full benefit of this heat, but as I have explained before late planted corn makes up the difference by advancing quicker through the vegetative growth stages.  The later planted corn is more uniform on average than earlier planted corn which has an additional positive effect on yield for the later planted fields.  The 45 mm of rain received  in June is half the normal amount, but still more than adequate to sustain early growth.  Life is good.

Soybeans are going through a normal yellow stage of growth.  This year the condition is a little more pronounced than average, but not a significant cause for alarm.  It is a transition period before flowering really starts to commence.  The plant is experiencing rapid growth but the nitrogen fixing nodules have not kicked into high gear yet.  The yellow fades within a few days.
There has been some chatter this week about applying nitrogen to soybeans. I have witnessed before the effects of nitrogen availability on early growth.  It can be quite dramatic.  This picture is from 2010.
It is the same variety.  The yellow plants on the right definitely look distressed.  If this was a corn field we would jump all over the yellow corn with side dressed nitrogen to bring it out of its funk.  There are some that believe we should be applying nitrogen to soybeans at this stage.  It is not a new idea.  I played with urea on early flowering soybeans in the 80's and came away frustrated mostly because I was the guy trying to sell the urea.  The idea does have merit. It is a standard practice when nodulation failures occur on first year soybeans where there is no native population of nitrogen fixing rhizobia to infect the soybean roots. Commercial nitrogen fixes this problem very efficiently.
However, this is not what caused the yellow beans in the photo.

The field has a history of soybean production.  Nodulation was excellent as shown above.  There is a rotation difference, with wheat being the previous crop on the left and corn on the right.  It looks like the beans on the left would be at least 10% better than the beans on the right.  However, at the end of the day the yield difference was negligible.  The ugly ducklings still produced 55 bushels.
Another type of yellow was also on display last week.  A lot of IP soybeans are grown around here and they had to be resprayed for weed control.  The result was lots of scorched soybeans.
It is predominantly surfactant burn as shown by this next picture.
Again, you would think these beans have taken a big hit.  I personally hate doing this to soybeans, but the price needs to be paid.  The yield loss will be tolerable, if the IP premium is captured .  Maybe we should be putting some nitrogen on these plants to help them recover from the shock.  Just kidding.  Because I am not an IP guy I will let someone else figure that out.
The true challenge of trying to manipulate the soybean plant at this time of year is recovering the dollars spent.  Weed control dollars are always a wise choice. Fungicides?  Yes, 2-3 bushels is the expected response and that more than covers expenses.  Supplemental N?  Not a clear cut answer.  We need 2-3 bushels to pay for the added expense.  My experience trying to boost soybeans with fertilizer in early July has produced more failure than success.  I am still open to suggestions.

Corn tillers are also prevalent this time of year.  Perfectly normal and usually not a reason for concern.
You will rarely see tillers on a poor field of corn.  Corn is a grass, and as such tiller buds are present at the crown.  If moisture and fertility are abundant, sunshine hitting the crown will stimulate the tiller buds to grow. This is why tillers are often more prevalent on the edge of the field beside a mowed laneway.  Lots of sun on the outside rows will encourage more tillers.  They can also be found 30 rows into the field like the plant in the picture above.  Tillers are luxury consumers and do not stress the main plant. If the main plant is stressed the tillers will stop growing.  During grain fill, the main plant will consume the reserves accumulated in the tiller to help the grain fill process.
The presence of tillers can indicate you could have possibly bumped your plant population by another 2-3000 per acre because the plants are telling you they are not stressed at all. Genetics sometimes come into play because a hybrid can be predisposed to producing more tillers than average, but this is rare.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Better Crops? Not!

This is embarrassing.  I am supposed to know better.  I have a bean field that is a bit of a mess.  And I have to look at it every day because it is beside the warehouse.
The recipe started out alright.  Harvested corn last fall without causing any ruts, although serious compaction was left where the buggy tracked in and out.  Did no fall tillage because soil was too wet.  Two trips with an RTS on May 18th to incorporate and distribute some of the heavy trash.  Rain later that week kept us from planting.  Planted on May 29. Checked seed depth and adjusted to 1-1.5 inches thinking I had adequate moisture at that level.  At 2 inches I figured I had gumbo and did not want to go there. That was mistake #1.  A combination of 200 bu corn residue from last fall and rapidly drying soil conditions caused me to misjudge the moisture line as the day progressed.  Count this as mistake # 2.  The resulting variable emergence is a direct result of these two decisions. All because I did not check seed depth and moisture conditions often enough. Attention to detail is a characteristic that separates smart folks from the not so smart.  On that particular day count me as one of the not so smart.

Misery seems to enjoy company.  My buddy Paul Sullivan from the Ottawa Valley tweeted a picture of soybean emergence amid heavy corn stalks.  It looks a lot like my field.
A survey of other soybean fields in the neighbourhood revealed some similar lack of attention to detail.  The owners' identities are being withheld.

Yep, those are beans on top of the ground.  And some are still germinating after .5 in of rain last Wednesday.
None of these fields are candidates for replanting, but when the goal is to produce high yielding crops, uniform emergence is a very good starting point.
This field is enlightening.  Fall plowing on the left and no- till on the right.  Excellent emergence on the left, less than excellent on the right.  
Planting depth of beans on the left averaged 2".  Those on the right averaged 1" or less.  It is not complicated.  The deeper planted beans in the conventional tillage were put consistently into moisture.  The no-till beans were planted shallower and did not consistently find moisture.
Many farmers have an inherent fear of planting too deep.  Usually based on one or two experiences with deep planted crops that did not emerge.  There is far less fear of planting shallow.  My years of experience have taught me that problems created from planting too shallow out number the problems created from planting too deep by at least 5 to 1.  And I still planted too shallow.  That is the definition of dumb.
The best beans this spring are those planted into conventionally tilled ground.  It seems that at this point there was no such thing as too much tillage.

But the secret is not tillage.  It is placing seed uniformly well into the moisture line.  Even when that line is two inches.
Coming back to my field by the warehouse.  The story is far from over.  The worst spots are close to the road.  The majority of the field is very acceptable.  As Horst Bohner says, the month of August makes beans.  Differences in June do not always mean much in the soil types of Perth county.  That is the unique thing about soybeans.  They do not punish us for our spring mistakes like other crops do.  Part of the reason why bean acres outnumber corn acres.