Saturday, February 15, 2014

From time to time...

From time to time one needs to look back in order to move forward in the right direction. In my case I see things in articles and talking to growers that seems like cutting edge, but in fact it is stuff we were talking about, or doing, or a part of 25-30 years ago. The big difference now is that things are much easier to quantify given the advances in technology. I came across an article on an outfit that is touting its “coaches” and their network. It struck me as funny that this is something new. I’ve been a part of a network like that for over 30 years.
The laboratory running our clients samples is Brookside Laboratories Incorporated. I don’t discuss it much because I’m not sure how much interest there is in knowing the fine details. Well that look back kicked in so just a refresher in case you are curious. The total organization as it is today actually got its start from an observation on a dairy farm in New Knoxville OH. Mr. E.R. Kuck observed his dairy calves were eating the new plaster off the walls in his barn. He came to the conclusion that this was related to the mineral content (calcium and magnesium) of the plaster. He added the minerals to his rations and later to his soils. It was determined in the end that as magnesium was lacking in his soils, it was affecting his herd health.
His findings were published in 1946 in an article “Better Crops with Plant Food” The interest was so over whelming that a giant move to more research in agriculture at the farm level was put into motion. The Laboratory was started in 1951 and the field force of consultants started with gentleman out of the soil conservation service to “recruit” consultants. It was rough going at first as the concept of a private organization to provide something that was being given for free from Land Grant Universities, and the consultants had to support themselves entirely on commission.
Names associated with Brookside in the early days were those such as Senator Robert A. Taft, Dr. William Albrecht, and Dr. Rudolph Ozolins. Today there are over 200 consultants in the Brookside Network that provide services to over 16000 clients 48 states and 17+ countries. Up until January of 2013 the laboratory had been in New Knoxville OH at the same physical location. Today a brand new state of the art laboratory is located in New Breman OH. The field force of consultants both in agriculture and turf provide consulting services on millions of acres and 1000’s of golf courses and sports fields.
The experience of these consultants is SHARED every year at our annual conference, which has been going for 62 years straight. That shared knowledge is passed directly to our clients in the form of sound recommendations based on science and observations from across the country. We strive to keep informed on technology, markets, on farm innovations, fertility trends, tillage practices that improve soil quality and structure, fertilizers that work to improve the profitability of your farms. We also pride ourselves on our “INDEPENDENCE”. When you are involved in product sales, your focus becomes too narrow. There is so much more to crop production than the nutrients that are applied (remember…Chemical, Physical, and Biological). We want to keep focusing on all that fall within our control and scope. And today, “PROFITABILITY”, in a far more global economy, and “SUSTAINABILITY”, in an ever increasing regulatory intrusion into our operations is paramount to decision making.
Our network of consultants is there for our clients to tap into. If one of us does not have an answer to a question they have, maybe one of the other guys does.
Can you get data from other labs…of course. Is it good? There are a lot of good labs out there. I use Brookside because I believe it is the best in the business and I know the people who run it on a personal level as do all affiliated consultants.
The Brookside organization is unique. I don’t work for the Lab. It is its own entity. I am a customer of the lab. The Consultants organization is separate but connected thru the Lab. It’s a screwy setup and unfortunately one of the best kept secrets in agriculture. For the most part it provides services to consultants and universities only. The business model by todays standards, is ridiculous, but somehow it works.
This year we are rolling out a new test for soil quality. This summer will be a year of collecting data for our clients and for the entire consultant’s organization as we compile numbers and continue to calibrate this test. Its potential is mind boggling. It will not replace the regular soil tests but may give explanations that the regular test numbers do not give us. Get ready for terms like “carbon burst” C:N ratios, Solvita, soil respiration. This is not a test to be run every year on every sample zone, it’s too expensive for that right now. However I have the feeling that one benefit of this test may turn out to be the key to variable rate nitrogen which could be huge. Brookside is one of only 3 labs in the country that are set up to run this test.

Although they may not see it or think about it, there is quite a bit that goes into providing the service and the recommendations our clients get. A lot of it very new….and some things more than 60 years old that still apply.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

No Till Conference

I attended the National No Till confernce last week and I must say its a worthwhile investment in time. I can always pick up a few bits of information at this conference that if nothing else stimulate some thinking. The emphsis on soil quality is something that is needed in a lot more farm meetings and shows. Alot of good data was presented on cover crops which everyone should try to include in the managment of their operations.
Soil Quality is also something that should be addressed in the public arena in addition to agriculture in general. People need to know importance of soil quality as it directly impacts the future of all.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Some do GET IT

Ran across a good article by Steve Forbes of all people on agriculture and the fact that the industry is under attack by various groups that are anti technology or some other misinformed group.

He states very well the why agriculture is so important to not only the country from an economic standpoint but from a global standpoint. I thought it was great!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Is it worth it?

Sometimes its dangerous when I start thinking, however, there is one management item that keeps bugging me with regards to fertility management. Sand! How much money do we stick into our sandy spots before we realize that probably 6-7 years out of ten we don't have enough water moving through the profile to get the crop to yield like the better ground. Sand in this area constantly needs lime, minor elements and, ideally, spoon fed nitrogen. Now obviously in a perfect world irrigation would solve a lot of issues, but here in the upper Saginaw valley of Michigan we have these annoying little sand knolls that take our yield averages down due too lack of water. By the time we put 2-3 tons of dolomite, some boron and manganese on, we could have close to $100 an acre invested in ground that may only return $30 depending on rainfall. Now these areas can be variable rate applied with all this nutrition very accurately, but it can also be variable rate NOT applied. If the acres of sand is small enough to be just annoying, with today's technology, you can "not" plant, fertilize, spray.... and probably make out just as well. On the other hand I don't know how many of you could tolerate "bare" spots in your fields even after the rest of the crop was up tall enough so it was not visible!! You would just "know" it was there and that would keep you up nights I'm sure. It would be interesting to run the numbers and see. I did it years ago when prices were different and it made sense. And there are certainly many things to take into consideration but when looking at overall ROI, is it something to think about?

In other "news" Fertilizer prices still seem to be trending lower. According to DTN there still may be some pressure downward in P and K. Nitrogen is leveling off a bit. They listed price per pound of N as .41 for NH3N, .51 for urea, .61 for 28UAN.

Data management and who wants to do what with it is rolling like juggernaut and building steam. The data you collect has value if it is good data. In short, think of the bad data being collected, and used in general data bases for overall use in making management decisions for things like variable rate populations? How confident can you be in that data. I like VR seeding but would use a slightly different approach. And someone let me know when VR variety capability comes around, I will be a little more excited about that.

Too all you growers out there...Be careful this harvest season and good luck. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Small World Indeed

I was reading an article in Ag Professional this morning that got the wheels turning. "The new world of American Agriculture"

Its not that it is earth shattering information, but it provided me with a necessary reminder of things that growers I work with need to keep in mind and therefore may influence recommendations that I provide. 20 years ago, how many of the farmers I work with would have considered attending a meeting put on by the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank? I would suppose, with you, very few. The theme was "The shifting Nexus of Global Agriculture".  Even if one farms 100 acres, what happens in the pacific rim and other areas where population growth is expanding and people are trying to improve their standard of living directly impacts your farm via commodity prices, fertilizer prices and costs of other inputs. And this being the case your bottom line is affected. 

This type of information also influences information disseminated by the people you get advice and products from. For my part, my recommendations not only focus on ROI for each year but also need to take into consideration things like sustainability, soil health, overall balance, and more. My task is to make sure the growers I work with don't have to "guess" on fertilizer inputs. Guessing will cost you much more than the the price for not guessing! But its fascinating to me that what China or India is willing to pay for corn, soybeans, more than ever influence how you farm, and how I will recommend inputs. There are a great deal of factors, now much more clear, coming together that will influence decision making . Technology, regulations, cost of inputs, supply of inputs, weather events in primary growing regions of the world, political stability, energy production, energy consumption..the list goes on. I think how we use technology to deal with the other factors will be interesting as more of our own data is generated and we learn how to use it t our advantage.       

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I guess its Spring

Well, we were wondering if spring would ever arrive and again it’s not what we had hoped for but probably more "normal" than the past few years when we have been exceptionally early. It has been a rush to get crops planted and with that scenario be prepared for the usual problems that arise. Number one of course is compaction. It would seem to be unavoidable in a year like this. If we rush things it will show up and be a potential problem as the season goes on. Did we take time to check planter operation and seeding depth like we normally do when not so rushed? You all know better than I that everything that happens from here onward is based on your planting foundation. Soil moisture....plenty. This should not be a limiting factor in the short run here. However we do need a root system if things dry off severely later. That is why a good foundation is so important.
I have had a lot of questions on "pop up" or in furrow fertilizer when talking with growers this past winter. I have no issues with pop up other than cost of material. Some of the "premium" are kind of expensive as compared to base products. In the plot data I have reviewed, I have not seen an advantage to pop up compared to 2X2. I have had numerous comments on visible difference early but no significant yield difference in end. In Michigan, for corn and beets I believe that 2X2 is necessary even if it is only nitrogen. The young plant needs access to more N than what can safely be put on in furrow. If you go with a pop up program only, then obviously you need to get N on early so that it is available to the plant has access to it.
If you are considering using a fungicide on corn this year let me know. Some of my colleagues to the south say they are getting a bump in yield from fungicide applications. I know of some who have tried this on corn here with no results. As we have a little different rotation here that may be the difference but it may be worth pursuing, as 5 to 10 bushel is significant these days.
Fertilizer prices seem to be stable. Some of the sources I follow see little movement of prices and if they do it may be down somewhat. According to one source who attended the International Fertilizer conference in Chicago recently said the consensus is that prices in general are headed down globally. However where the floor is and when we get there no one seemed to have an answer.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Good article on gypsum

There has been a lot of information and misinformation about gypsum the last few years. I've included a link here that has some good basic information on gypsum in it. This is something, like a lot of materials, that has to be used under the right circumstances. And without getting into a lot of specifics, I tend to recommend gypsum in heavy soils where the percent base saturation of magnesium is above a certain level. This is where I have seen some benefit. Lately gypsum has been studied for its affect on water movement and infiltration and I have seen this in the field and demonstrated with simulators. Its noteworthy.  Gypsum has been in my "toolbox"  for 30 years and even with that time frame more information is needed on my part.

There can be instances where an application of gypsum can pay off from a yield standpoint. When sulfur and/or soluble calcium levels in the soil are not ideal there can be a yield boost. I personally think that the effect is more on the physical characteristics of clays allowing for better infiltration and percolation of water. I have personal experience with this on heavy soils with high Mg but also high Na. Some colleagues of mine were having issues with center pivots getting stuck. The application of gypsum and some changes in cultural practices solved this problem. High Mg and high Na soils have serious structure problems. Na in particular peptizes clays rather than flocculate, rendering them incapable of aggregation. Magnesium does not flocculate as well as calcium. This is why I normally can find better structure and water movement in 4 or 5:1 Ca:Mg than 2:1. And remember its affects will be different on different soil types. I think you will see the discussion about gypsum move to "soil quality" before too long as that's where the long term potential benefits are. Always work with a professional when contemplating the use of gypsum on a broad basis, applications in the wrong spots can cause problems.