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.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Not Exactly The Royal York

Luxury hotels provide king size beds, soft towels, fluffy pillows, stocked refrigerators, massage therapy and other items to ensure their guests speak highly of the facilities and service offered.
Contrast this with the seedbed accommodations we provided this spring to our corn and soybean seed.  If the seed planted could post on line reviews of our efforts, the comment section would be filled with multiple expletives***!!!!***.  None of them would be complementary from what I have seen, including my own efforts.  A sampling of seed bed shots taken over the past few weeks are posted below.

Lots of lumps, bumps and rough rides across many fields.  The good news is if you bedded your corn during the last week in May and put it into moisture, the guests have grudgingly paid their bill by emerging in a normal fashion.
The bad news is if you were unlucky to put your guests to bed on May 18 and 19 many of them never had a chance to emerge.
Heavy rains on the 20th through the 22nd turned the beds into death traps.  Stands are reduced in these fields by 20-30% on average.  Certainly serious but not bad enough to justify re-plant.
Most of the victims suffered from the "leafing out underground" affliction as shown below.
Leafing out is the result of the coleoptile rupturing before it emerges in the upright position.  The coleoptile is the protective sheath that covers the emerging leaf shoot.  Most people can relate to the needle stage of growth when the corn shoot is at, or just below the soil surface.  What they are seeing is the protective coleoptile which under normal circumstances will only open when it senses light upon breaking the soil surface, allowing the leaf shoot to emerge.
In this picture you can actually see the leaf tissue inside the coleoptile sheath.  The swollen and crumpled mesocotyl which brings the coleoptile to the surface indicates how tough it was for the seedling trying to find a way to emerge.  Unfortunately when under this much stress the coleoptile will rupture prematurely.  Usually a small amount of light penetrating around a crack will cause the coleoptile to open and the new leaf will have no where to go.
Another example of a leaf emerging out of what appeared to be a worm hole on the side of a hard consolidated lump of soil.

As these and other fields develop further we will see more effects of poor seedbeds as new roots try to establish in an environment of smeared sidewalls and tight hard pans just under the seedbeds.
Please do not interpret this as me being critical of anyone's efforts because we all did our best when faced with difficult soil conditions.  My friends that farm the farm the heavy flat clay soils of Lambton or Niagara have no sympathy for us spoiled brats either.
A rain dance is required to reduce the effects of the seedbed mess.  It will take at least normal amounts of rain spread over the next 4 weeks to salvage all our 4 star ratings as good hosts to our seed guests.