Monday, March 24, 2014

Who You Gonna Call? Maybe EncircaSM.

Last Monday I received a phone call from a custom manure applicator asking for a contact name at the Ministry of Environment.  At first impression this is a bit like a roadside fruit and vegetable vendor inviting the taxman to audit the cash drawer.  But after sober second thought my applicator friend was making a wise inquiry.  He was getting calls from customers to come and start applying manure to snow covered fields because their manure tanks were at the point of overflowing. 
Full tanks are a greater issue than usual this spring mainly due to last fall.  Wet and saturated soil conditions kept livestock owners from emptying storages as much as they would normally.  Operations with more than one storage tank move manure from full to empty tanks as much as possible, but it still is an educated guess predicting how much empty storage capacity is necessary to make it through to spring.  Water lines left dribbling to prevent freezing was an unanticipated necessity.
As most of you are aware, owners of a valid nutrient management strategy as defined in the Nutrient Management Act are not allowed to spread manure from Dec 1 to March 31.  Arbitrary dates don't necessarily mean much in the rough and ready business of custom manure hauling, but these particular dates have strong roots in common sense.  We do get winter with frozen soils and snow.  Most years and in most parts of the province this period coincides with the months of December through March. 
The riskiest environment to deal with when applying manure is frozen soil.  The probability of manure running off into water courses is huge.  Melting snow over frozen ground creates a double hazard and the Ontario government takes a dim view toward surface and ground water being contaminated with manure.  I know very few farmers that think it is ok to apply manure onto snow.
This presents my applicator friend and his customers with a significant problem.  Applying manure onto snowy fields gives my friend ulcers, but letting tanks overflow is not an option. 
Part of writing nutrient management strategies includes a contingency plan.  The contingency plan addresses situations like this.  What do you do when bad things happen?  If manure has to be applied the goal of the contingency plan is to identify and reduce the risk. 

1. Choose level fields that are not adjacent to open ditches or catch basins.
2. Solid manure should be temporarily piled far away from water courses.
3. Ideally the field would be in hay, pasture or cover crop.  The top growth catches and slows down run-off.  A second choice would be wheat stubble or grain corn that was not tilled last fall.
4. Application rates should be one half of the normal rate.  The idea is to reduce the nutrient load per acre.
5. Avoid applying if the weather forecast indicates precipitation coming.
6. Common sense also dictates only taking out enough manure to get you through to late April when frozen soils are less of a problem.
7. Drag lines are the only application option, until the snow goes away.  Even then they are the preferred method because of reduced compaction.
8. If a contamination event happens contain the spill, report the spill and clean it up.  If you do these three things you will not face prosecution.  Failure to do one of those three, especially the reporting of the spill exposes you to the wrath of the MOE. 

When the calendar changes to April 1 the risk to groundwater remains the same and the date change does not give manure application a green light.  I find myself making one point to livestock operators over and over again.  Nobody has the right to pollute.  It doesn't matter if you have a valid nutrient management strategy or not.  If you contaminate water you run the risk of being charged.
Coming back to my applicator friend he was taking a proactive approach by to contacting the MOE to let them know he was going to the field.  In one sense he was reporting the spill in advance and in my opinion the MOE would appreciate that effort.

Pioneer has launched a new mobile service platform known as EncircaSM.  It is available as an app, which can be used on a mobile device, although a tablet provides the most functionality.  Initially there are two offerings for EncircaSM.  A free option known as EncircaSM View and a fee based option known as EncircaSM View Premium.  The objective initially is to offer real time information at a glance.  Future offerings will include prediction models for fertility, pest control and markets.

The following is a summary of the current EncircaSM offerings.  Check it out.

EncircaSM View, is a free mobile-enabled information hub offering organized crop observations and notes, and an industry first – Community View – providing real-time aggregated insight into crop conditions and soil moisture ratings to help make more informed grain marketing decisions. Encirca View Premium provides enhanced, real-time market and weather data. Enabled by a proprietary network of weather stations powered by DTN/The Progressive Farmer, it delivers hyper-local, accurate, timely weather information.

(1)    Download the EncircaSM View app and use it to catalog crop observations.  It offers easy documentation  of crop conditions and helps customers make better farm management decisions. And an industry first, Community View, provides real-time insight using the power many combined boots on the ground.

(2)    Invest in EncircaSM View Premium.  It’s an annual investment of $1,800 to $2,100 per year.  Here’s the return on your investment:  (1) you’ll have the best insight possible to make every grower call – whether ag news, commodity markets, or hyper-local weather – you’ll put an active monitoring system in place  (2) Encirca View Premium creates real value and is supported by the ag markets and weather leader, DTN.  With nearly 60,000 subscribers and decades of experience, DTN delivers a 92% customer retention rate.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Agronomy College

Amid all the talk about precision farming there is one old aspect of precision that we must remember.  That is planting depth.  With snow still on the ground there is increasing chatter about the cold late spring that looms ahead.  A lot can change in a month.  By late April this prediction may turn out to be one more useless bit of information.  However, it is a distinct possibility that when we go out to plant corn this spring we may face cold soil temperatures.  There is a tendency among farmers to shallow up planting depth in response to cold soil conditions.  It is logical to assume that by planting shallow we can encourage the plants to emerge quicker which has indeed been documented by some research.  Faster emergence reduces the risk of seeds laying too long in a cold damp environment which, the thinking goes, will reduce final stand and increase the odds of uneven emergence with more runt plants.

When corn planted 1.5-2 inches deep as shown by the two plants on the left, the nodal roots develop at .75 inches below the soil surface.  Corn planted at less than 1 inch causes the nodal root system to develop closer to the soil surface.  As soils shrink and dry out the shallow root system often has difficulty becoming established.  The struggling small plant trying to get it's roots established often becomes a runt plant.  Instead of faster emergence being a plus, it becomes a negative.  Runt plants do not contribute significantly to yield and can cause reduced yield in neighbouring plants because they compete for sunshine and nutrients.  In my experience, growers make many more mistakes planting corn too shallow than planting corn too deep.

As published in the 2014 Pioneer Agronomy Science Research Summary, Dr Peter Thomison at Ohio State conducted planting depth trials comparing corn planted at .5 inches, 1.5 inches and 3 inches deep.  This work was done at 20 location over two years.

As you may recall the 2011 planting season started with a cold April.  May continued wet and cooler than normal.  The 2011 corn planting season dragged from mid-April to late May.  2012 was the year a few daring souls tried planting corn in March and 90% of the corn was planted by May 1.  Soil temperatures were not a problem.  Later season drought was the problem in 2012.

In both years the yield penalty to shallow planting was significant.  This was especially true in the drought prone season of 2012. 

I have some pictures taken in 2011 at some planting depth side-by-sides conducted here in Ontario that would back up this research.

The chances of reduced stands are greater with the shallow planting than a normal 1.5 inch planting depth.  If you believe anyone who plants corn at .5 inches deep is an idiot, agronomists will remind you that there are lots of idiots every spring.  It is true nobody starts out to plant corn that shallow, but mistakes happen.

When checking for seed depth keep the following in mind.
1. Make sure to move the very loose soil at the top of the planter ridge before making a measurement.  That loose soil at the surface will settle with the first rain.  What may appear to be 1.5" seed depth becomes 1". 
2. Check every row to verify all rows are planting the same depth.
3. Take your measurement at the worst possible spot in the field which in our area is typically the exposed clay knolls.  Make sure corn is at least 1.5 inches in these spots.  Don't worry about corn planted too deep in the loamier areas.  If it happens to go 2-3 inches in those spots won't matter, but corn planted too shallow on the knolls will matter. 
Speaking of new technology this is where the pneumatic variable down force systems really shine.  The planting depth will be more uniform across soil type differences which leads to more uniform emergence.

On a final note fellow Pioneer sales rep Richard Cressman is holding a farm inter-generational/succession planning seminar this Thursday at the Wilmot Recreation Centre in New Hamburg.

It looks to be an informative session including a farmer panel and other experts.  To register you can call Richard at 519-588-2731 or e-mail to