A Look at Cover Crops: Winter Rye

Crop rotations with small grains in the sequence allow for an adequate seasonal window to establish variety of cover crop blends following grain harvest. However, producers with strict corn-soybean rotations are limited in their options for cover crop species, since there is not enough growing degree days left for cover crops to grow after primary grain crop has been harvested. One cover crop that has caught attention and has consistently worked in South Dakota environments where pre-dominant rotation is corn-soybean is winter rye.

About Winter Rye

Winter rye is known for its winter hardiness allowing late fall planting and puts on a rapid growth the following spring. Furthermore, adding a cool season small grain component into a corn-soybean rotation would not only add diversity the cropping system but also help break pest pressures in the field. Winter rye is also known for its inherent ability to suppress weeds because of its allelopathic characteristics, i.e. its ability to produce biochemical compounds that inhibits germination, growth, and reproduction of other plants. On a long term basis incorporating cover crops would also help improve soil health and provide supplemental forage.

Fitting Into Rotation

Considering growing habits of all three crops is essential when determining the order of winter rye within the cropping sequence. Planting rye after corn, and ahead soybeans, seems to be a better fit than to grow rye before corn. This way corn residue provides protection to rye seedlings. In addition, soybeans can tolerate later planting in the spring better than corn which allows rye to accumulate more spring growth. Rye biomass in the spring can be terminated as cover or utilized as forage depending on the farm need. Research conducted in various locations of Southeast SD for the last few years has shown no negative impact on soybean yields when grown on rye cover crop residue. On the other hand corn yield tends to suffer following a rye cover crop which could be due to allelopathic effects of growing rye cover crop or the micro climate created by the rye residue on the soil surface at the time of corn seeding. It is suggested to terminate rye 2-3 weeks prior to corn planting to avoid any negative impact on corn plant health and grain yield.

Planting Suggestions

  • Seeding rate is about 40 lbs/ac as a cover crop, however, it can be increased to 75 lbs/ac if weed suppression is the primary objective.
  • Aerial seeding can be done during mid to late corn seed-filling stage (early Sept). Research results show that aerial seeded (or broadcast method) rye produces about 80% of the spring biomass of drill-seeded following grain harvest.

Potential Risk

  • Producers of small grains such as wheat, oat, barley, etc. are suggested not to use winter rye as a cover crop because it may act as significant contaminant or weed in small grain crops.
  • As winter rye accumulate rapid growth in the spring, it is a good practice to look out for short or medium term spring weather so that rye can be terminated early when conditions are drier than usual.

(Source -http://igrow.org/agronomy/other-crops/a-look-at-cover-crops-winter-rye/)

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Farmers advised on water and soil management

While no one knows exactly which mix of factors and to what extent those factors are causing algal blooms on Lake Erie, it’s clear among the scientific community that, in the western basin, farmers are at the very least playing a significant role.

Along with sunlight, the release of soil nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen through farm field runoff helps create environments in waterways where harmful algal blooms can form, threatening health outcomes in the area and putting a major damper on the region’s tourism and fishing industry dollars.

That’s why former Kentucky farmer, Dr. Kevin King, research leader and supervisory research agricultural engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service-Soil Drainage Research Unit was on hand at the Williams Soil and Water Conservation District’s Field Technology Day to discuss possible solutions and to enlist farmers’ help in further understanding the problem.

According to King, testing at 80 fields across 40 sites has revealed that drainage from tiles contains a phosphorus concentration of about .05-.06 parts per million (ppm), right at the level accepted through an agreement between the U.S. and Canada.

“Our tile is just about there,” King said, noting that some individual sites rich in phosphorous do contain much higher concentrations.

However, surface flow drainage contains concentrations of about 0.2 ppm on average.

While tile drainage accounts for anywhere from 40 to 95 percent of annual discharge, surface drainage’s higher concentration remains a bigger issue, according to King.

“Concentration is what really feeds the algal bloom,” he said.

King noted that the region has had 4,500 rainfall events since 2010 and that individual rainfall events totaling 1.5 to 2 inches or more cause the loss of 60 to 70 percent of all nutrients leaving test sites.

“If we can store 1.5 to 2 inches of rain in our landscape or at the edge of the field, then we can go a long way to reduce the amount of nutrients going downstream and eventually in the lake,” King said, listing possible solutions like elevating tiles at certain times of the year and planting cover crops, though he noted those ideas may not work for everyone.

King said for every 1 percent of organic matter in soil, 3 quarters of an inch of water can be stored. Organic matter can be restored through no-till practices and manure application.

When informally polled by King about who had water management plans, of the dozens of farmers in attendance only several raised their hands. A group of farmers estimated less than 50 percent of farmers practice water management.

However, King said 93 percent of farmers in the region test their soil at least once per crop rotation. Over-application of phosphorous-containing manure over many years is believed to be a contributor to the issue. Some 5 percent of farmed acreage in the western Lake Erie basin contains phosphorous levels of 150-200 ppm.

King mentioned a farmer who hasn’t applied phosphorous in five years who haven’t seen a drop in yield.

“It’s not a large percentage of the land, but we definitely don’t (need) to be putting fertilizers on those areas,” King said. “We can’t just look at our soil tests and say, “That’s what my level is.’ We’ve got to look at what the historical crop rotation is and start taking a more holistic approach, looking at the microbial biomass as well.”

He talked about the level of nutrient loss per acre the scientific community is asking farmers to achieve.

“It’s about a quarter-pound per acre, that’s what we’re striving to get to,” King said. “That ought to scare you. If we think about what you’re applying right now, you’re applying 15, 20 pounds an acre and we’re asking you to get down to a quarter of a pound loss.

“Right now, your losses are somewhere in the 1 to 1.50 pounds (range) an acre of loss.

“We’re already doing 90 percent recovery efficiency, so what do we do now to get us down 0.25 of a pound?” he said. “That’s the margin we’re working with … It’s that quarter of a pound an acre that’s causing the lake to be green.”

He recommended putting fertilizer on just before planting, if possible.

“What I would encourage you to do is turn off the hoppers when you fertilize for 100 yards in two or three spots,” King said. “Don’t wait on the science, it’ll be four, five, six years before we figure out and get those recommendations. Convince yourself that you don’t need that much phosphorous. There’s a lot in the soil.”

Joe Nester, owner of Bryan-based Nester Ag, as well as the test field where Thursday’s Tech Day was held, encouraged independent research among farmers and stressed the importance of organic matter and the use of gypsum which has been proven to effectively create bonded phosphates which don’t leave the field as easily in drainage.

“Gypsum’s not the silver bullet — There are no silver bullets and there are no smoking guns,” King said. “We don’t know what’s causing this problem. We know that in this watershed we see dissolved phosphorus going up. We don’t know why. It’s not just an Ohio issue, it’s a world issue.”

He provided the example of algal blooms in once-pristine Colorado streams.

“In this watershed, agriculture absolutely has a role in what’s happening, but it’s not explanatory for what’s happening around the globe,” King said.

“We have to keep taking a chance of failing and put yourself out there,” Nester said. “Find that breaking point on phosphorous on you operation under your management. Find that breaking point on nitrogen so we’re not contributing.

“The answer will come from farmers, not the legislature. We have to bring the answers,” Nester said.

A few farmers present at the discussion voiced their belief that factors like animal waste, human waste from cities and the changing chemistry of (acid) rain play roles that are not commonly acknowledged by the scientific community.

Currently, there are no tangible incentives from state or federal governments for farmers to implement best practices determined by research to limit algal blooms.

When asked, several other farmers indicated by-acre incentives for best practices would help more quickly increase implementation.

(Source -http://www.willistonherald.com/national/agriculture/farmers-advised-on-water-and-soil-management/article_6988f96a-ec54-58ba-be9a-71773b9fb6ae.html)

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CO2: Friend or Foe to Agriculture?

Rep. Lamar Smith said climate change “alarmists” ignore the “positive impacts” of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, such as increased food production and quality. But the impact of increased CO2 levels on agriculture is more complicated than that — and, on balance, likely negative, particularly in the future.

Other factors aside, an atmosphere with more CO2 does boost crop yield in the short term via increased rates of photosynthesis. In the long term, multiple experts told us the positive effect of increased CO2 on crops will diminish and the negative impacts of climate change, such as higher temperatures and extreme rainfall, will grow.

Smith, the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology, made his claim in a July 24 op-ed published in the Daily Signal, a news website created by the conservativeHeritage Foundation.

Smith, July 24:  A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth. This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food. Studies indicate that crops would utilize water more efficiently, requiring less water. And colder areas along the farm belt will experience longer growing seasons.

In making his claim, Smith also argued, “The American people should be made aware of both the negative and positive impacts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” adding, “Without the whole story, how can we expect an objective evaluation of the issues involving climate change?”

We agree. Below, we take a look at both the pros and cons of increased CO2 on agriculture.

Carbon Dioxide’s Diminishing Return

Let’s take a look at Smith’s claims one by one. First, does a “higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere … aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth,” as Smith said?

Yes, but to a point.

During photosynthesis, plants use energy from sunlight to convert CO2 and water into oxygen and glucose, a sugar molecule. Plants then release oxygen from their leaves, but they also combine oxygen with glucose to produce energy for growth through a different process called respiration.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report does say that increased atmospheric CO2 has “virtually certainly enhanced [crop] water use efficiency and yields.” So, Smith is right that more CO2 leads to more photosynthesis, which correlates to increased crop yields. And he’s also right that “[s]tudies indicate that crops would utilize water more efficiently” in an atmosphere with more CO2.

But the IPCC adds that the CO2 effect has a greater impact on wheat and rice, than on corn and sugarcane.

Photosynthesis in wheat and rice relies more on CO2 in the atmosphere, while corn and sugarcane rely more on “internal cycling” during photosynthesis, Jerry Hatfield, the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment, explained to us over the phone.

In other words, increased CO2 doesn’t boost crop yield equally across the board.

Hatfield, who was also part of the IPCC process that received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and who currently serves on an IPCC special committee, also explained to us that the positive impacts of CO2 may “reach a point of diminishing return,” or “saturation,” in the future. What does that mean?

Right now, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is just over 400 parts per million, according to NASA. (For comparison, before 1950, the level of CO2 hadn’t surpassed 300 ppm for hundreds of thousands of years.)

Hatfield told us that plants would reach CO2 saturation at around 550 to 600 ppm, at which point the more gas “won’t be as beneficial.”

In an email, Frances Moore, an assistant professor studying climate change’s impact on agriculture at the University of California, Davis, put it this way: “My research does show that higher CO2 concentrations are beneficial to crops, but this effect quickly declines at higher and higher concentrations because plant growth becomes limited by other nutrients.”

Higher levels of COwouldn’t necessarily be harmful to crops, added Hatfield. Still, “we know so little about the effects of super high concentrations of CO2 on plant growth,” he said.

At an increase of 3 ppm per year, the rate in 2015 and 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Earth would reach saturation well before the end of the century. Since 1960, the rate has fluctuated, so it could decrease, but the trend generally shows an increasing rate.

Better Quality Food?

In his op-ed, Smith also said increased CO2 correlates to “better quality food.” We reached out to his office to get some clarification on what the chairman meant by “better quality.”

Alicia Criscuolo, a press assistant for the House science committee, told us by email, “Chairman Smith uses ‘quality’ as a term to encompass a wide range of benefits,” such as a “rise in production and size of plants grown in a CO2 enhanced environment” and an “increased concentration of vitamin C that results from increased CO2 exposure.”

Specifically, his office pointed us to two papers, one about strawberries and another concerning sour oranges.

The paper about strawberries, published in Photosynthesis Research in 2001, didn’t exactly conclude that increased CO2 “leads to an increase in biomass and overall production of strawberries,” as Criscuolo said in an email to us.

Rather, the study, authored by USDA collaborator James A. Bunce, investigated how other factors, such as temperature and soil quality, affected a strawberry plant’s propensity to increase its photosynthesis rate in an environment with elevated CO2 levels. While the study did show that strawberries photosynthesize more with increased CO2 levels, it didn’t look at strawberry quantity or quality.

The paper about sour oranges, published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment in June 2002, found that when a 75 percent increase in CO2 levels — from 400 ppm to 700 ppm — doubles fruit production, it also increases the vitamin C concentration of the fruit’s juice by 7 percent.

It’s important to note two things about this study. First, its primary author, Sherwood B. Idso, is the president of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, a nonprofit that denies that increased CO2 causes global warming. Second, sour oranges shouldn’t be confused with juicing oranges. Sour oranges are mostly used to make marmalade.

We also asked Samuel B. Myers, a senior research scientist at Harvard studying the human health impacts of climate change, what he thought of the idea that increased atmospheric CO2will lead to “better quality food,” as Smith said.

“Rep. Smith’s claim about better quality food is pure fabrication,” he told us by email. “All our research shows that rising concentrations of CO2 reduce the nutritional value of staple food crops,” such as wheat, barley and rice. “We have shown … that staple food crops lose significant amounts of iron, zinc, and protein (critical nutrients for human health) when grown in open-field conditions” at elevated CO2 levels, he said, though scientists aren’t sure why increased CO2 leads to decreased nutrients in staple crops.

In fact, earlier this month, Myers and colleagues published a paper in Environmental Health Perspectives that found that “an additional 1.6% or 148.4 million of the world’s population may be placed at risk of protein deficiency” because of elevated CO2 levels.

Longer Growing Seasons?

In his op-ed, Smith also claimed that, due to increased CO2, “colder areas along the farm belt will experience longer growing seasons.” This is true, but warmer regions, such as the southern states, will also experience negative effects because of climate change.

To support his claim, Smith’s office pointed us to a June 2014 paper in Nature by Melissa Reyes-Fox, a technician at the USDA, and others. The paper explains that scientists have previously found evidence to suggest that global warming has caused a lengthening of the growing season in temperate and polar regions of the Earth.

Reyes-Fox and her group found that a longer growing season, especially when water is a limiting factor, “is not due to warming alone, but also to higher atmospheric CO2concentrations.” However, the researchers didn’t look at food crops, but a grassland in Wyoming.

Still, the IPCC’s 2014 report does say with “high confidence that warming has benefitted crop production in some high-latitude regions, such as northeast China or the UK,” and that “high-latitude locations will, in general, become more suitable for crops.” This is due, in part, to the fact that “declines in frost occurrence will lead to longer growing seasons,” the report says.

However, this “latitudinal expansion of cold-climate cropping zones polewards … may be largely offset by reductions in cropping production in the mid-latitudes as a result of rainfall reduction and temperature increase,” the IPCC adds. “For tropical systems where moisture availability or extreme heat rather than frost limits the length of the growing season, there is a likelihood that the length of the growing season and overall suitability for crops will decline.”

Fewer frost days may also negatively impact fruit and nut trees, Hatfield, at the USDA, told us. The IPCC and the U.S. Global Change Program make similar conclusions in their reports.

The Global Change report explains, for example, that fruit and nut trees “have a winter chilling requirement,” or a number of hours a year where temperatures are between 32 and 50 degrees F, ranging from 200 to 2,000 hours depending on the type of tree. These temperatures signal fruiting trees to develop flower buds in the spring.

But not all crops and not all regions will be affected in the same way.

“Projections show that chilling requirements for fruit and nut trees in California will not be met by the middle to the end of this century,” the Global Change report says. However, the report adds that scientists expect apples in the Northeast to have sufficient chilling hours for the rest of the century, though this might not be the case for plums and cherries in the region.

The IPCC report also points out, “Several studies have projected negative yield impacts of climate trends for perennial trees, including apples in eastern Washington … and cherries in California … although CO2 increases may offset some or all of these losses.”

The projections for wine and coffee are even less favorable. Increasing temperatures associated with rising COemissions are likely to reduce the area suitable for grapes used to produce the highest-quality wines “by more than 50% by late this century,” the Global Change report says.  And coffee production in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador “will be reduced by more than 40%,” according to the IPCC report.

Unreliable Rainfall

Smith didn’t address how changes in rainfall might affect agriculture in the future. But all the experts we spoke with emphasized the importance of reliable water availability, in addition to temperature and CO2, for crop production and quality. For this reason, it’s worth outlining how climate change will change precipitation patterns.

First, as we’ve written before, scientists are more confident when linking temperature-related weather to global warming than they are linking precipitation changes to global warming. But there is still plenty of evidence to suggest global warming will affect rainfall patterns across the globe.

Hatfield, at the USDA, explained to us that crops generally prefer steady rainfall during the summer, when the most growth occurs. But climate change, due to increased CO2, is causing the U.S. to see more precipitation in the form of spring storms.

The Global Change report also makes a note of this.

The Midwest, for example, is seeing “increasing intensity of storms and the shifting of rainfall patterns toward more spring precipitation,” the report says. In Iowa in particular, there hasn’t been an increase in total precipitation per year, but there has been a “large increase in the number of days with heavy rainfall,” the report adds.

Extreme rainfall is bad for crops for a number of reasons, one being that it leads to soil erosion. During these weather events, the nutrients from the soil are washed away into nearby lakes and rivers, polluting them. The extreme rainfall then leaves the soil less capable of supporting crop growth, the Global Change report adds.

Yet More Cons to CO2

Increased CO2 can also negatively impact crop production by disproportionately benefiting weeds, says Global Change report. Hatfield explained to us that weeds are genetically diverse and, as a result, can adapt to changing environments. Crops, on the other hand, are, by default, inbred and genetically uniform. For this reason, they aren’t as adaptable to changing environments.

There are also other negative effects of burning fossil fuels — such as an increase in ground-level ozone, which hinders photosynthesis and other important plant functions, as the IPCC explains in its report“This results in stunted crop plants, inferior crop quality, and decreased yields … and poses a growing threat to global food security,” the report adds.

Overall, every expert we spoke with said the net impact of CO2 and climate change will leave crop production and quality worse off in the future, not better.

For example, Myers, at Harvard, told us, “While there may be a small fertilization effect of elevated CO2 on plant growth, this increase will be more than offset by climate change which is causing increased temperatures, changes in precipitation, and complex changes in agricultural pests, pathogens and pollinators.” 

Moore, at the University of California, Davis, also told us: “Considering just CO2 fertilization and the effect of higher temperatures, we find that at very small amounts of warming (i.e. one degree C) the net effect might be a slight increase in crop yields.” (Since 1880, the Earth has warmed nearly 1 degrees C already, according to NASA.)

But Moore added that “at higher levels of warming, the negative effect of higher temperatures rapidly comes to dominate the positive effect of CO2 fertilization, causing crop yields to decline markedly, including in the United States.” And that doesn’t even take into account other negative effects, such as “disruptive rainfall patterns” and benefits to weeds, she said.

So Smith is right that there are some positive sides to increased CO2 in the atmosphere, but the net impact is likely negative, especially in the future.

(Source – http://www.factcheck.org/2017/08/co2-friend-foe-agriculture/)

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Using Manure as an Aid in Reducing Erosion and Runoff

Manure’s impact on formation of larger and more stable soil aggregates was the focus of an earlier article. This article reviews the soil erosion and runoff benefits resulting from changes to soil’s physical characteristics from manure.
Charles Wortmann and Dan Walters, faculty in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Agronomy and Horticulture, provide several important insights in a field research initiative that monitored soil erosion, runoff, and phosphorus (P) loss from replicated field plots over three cropping seasons immediately after manure application and four subsequent years when no manure was applied. This article reviews results published in a Journal of Environmental Quality article, Phosphorus Runoff During Four Years Following Composted Manure Applications, and related information.
Take Home Message
This research demonstrates that manure has significant value for reducing runoff and erosion. By itself, it can’t solve the soil erosion shown in Figure 1, but when used in combination with other soil management practices, manure can protect our soils and limit agriculture’s environmental costs. In some instances, however, manure can be an environmental negative if phosphorus is allowed to accumulate in soils. To achieve the environmental benefits of manure and minimize the risks, manure application rates and frequency of re-application to the same field must maintain soil P levels near the agronomic levels required by the selected crops.
Wortmann and Walters’s primary intent was to understand P losses from manure application; however, they also observed several important impacts on soil physical and chemical characteristics. A low and high P composted beef manure was applied to replicated runoff plots (measuring 12 by 36 feet) with a median slope of 5.5% and soil series of Pohocco silt loam. Manure was applied to meet crop nitrogen requirements for three years in a row. Runoff plots were evaluated for these three cropping seasons immediately following manure application as well as three additional cropping seasons with no manure application. All erosion, runoff, and P loss resulting from natural rainfall and pivot irrigation was quantified from March through August of each of the six cropping seasons.
Lesson 1: Compost application reduced erosion…
and runoff by approximately two-thirds during the three cropping seasons following manure application (green bars in Figure 2). Improvements in soil water holding capacity and soil infiltration rates (see related article) were responsible for the lower runoff and erosion levels. One would expect less total sediment, nitrogen, and pesticide levels reaching nearby surface water based on these results. However, increased P levels in neighboring surface waters is an expected negative environmental impact (see Lesson 4 below).
Lesson 2: Manure application had a residual benefit…
for runoff and erosion that persisted for at least the next three cropping seasons (blue bars in Figure 2). This research observed approximate reductions in runoff of 40% and of erosion, 55%. The reduced runoff also suggest additional soil moisture storage and greater crop resiliency to dry periods.
Lesson 3: Additional soil quality benefits…
were observed for soil bulk density, soil organic matter, and pH (Table 1). Although visual evidence of compost disappeared within one year, soil organic matter content and pH benefits of manure were observed four years after the last manure application.
Table 1. Four years after the final compost application (spring 2000), soil bulk density, organic matter, and pH benefits continued to be observed.
0- to 2-inch Soil Sample
   Compost 65 to 66 5.2 to 5.8 7.4
   No Compost 70 3.9 5.8
2- to 4-inch Soil Sample
   Compost 76 3.5 6.9 to 7.0
   No Compost 77 3 5.5

Lesson 4: Increased soil P levels…

were significant as a result of three consecutive years of compost manure application and producing increased P movement in runoff and erosion. Application to meet crop N requirements applies more P than is required for crop production. Repeating this practice three years in a row, in addition to applying a high P compost (manure from cattle fed diet with distillers grains), further aggravates this negative environmental impact. If manure is to be applied at a nitrogen-based rate, it is desirable both economically and environmentally to not reapply manure to the same field until soil P levels return to a level requiring additional P supplementation. For some manures with a low N to P ratio, it may be desirable to apply manure at a rate equal to the P removed by the next three to five cropping seasons and then supplement with commercial nitrogen fertilizer to meet crop N requirements. This strategy will produce economic and environmental value, while minimizing the P impact on local surface water. Conclusion Manure’s economic and soil improvement benefits should both be recognized and built into successful cropping systems. Thanks to the work of Wortmann and Walters, we have better insights as to how manure can improve the physical characteristics of soils thus reducing runoff and erosion.

(Source – http://www.farms.com/news/using-manure-as-an-aid-in-reducing-erosion-and-runoff-125894.aspx)

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Proactive farmers win on water quality

Soil building effort protects water, builds yields and bridges farm-urban gap.

Think Different

When trying new practices, Minnesota farmer Tom Pyfferoen recommends taking a measured approach.

When Tom Pyfferoen tried no-till on some sandy, gravelly soils, his goal was better yields. The results started him down a soil and water conservation path he didn’t expect, leading to tile outlet water with lower nitrate levels than the EPA allows for drinking water.

“After going no-till on some problem fields, I could see the soils improve. Corn yields went from 80 to 90 bushels per acre about 15 years ago to 200, while soybeans went from 35 to 40 bushels to well over 60 bushels,” says Pyfferoen. “I moved on to more and more no-till corn into soybean stubble and then to no-tilling soybeans and finally into cover crops.”

Tom Pyfferoen

The Pine Island, Minn., grower has continued to build on his first results. As yields started to improve, he increased fertility with fall broadcast of potash, MAP, manganese and sulfur. He also began splitting nitrogen between planting and sidedress.

Prevent plant began cover crops

Prevent plant acres in 2013 introduced him to cover crops, including sorghum, clover and ryegrass.  The following year he tilled some, but planted directly into other fields, learning as he went.

Tom Pyfferoen

The first time Tom Pyfferoen planted into standing cereal rye, he had to stop and question himself on what he was doing. After seeing the results, he no longer doubts the benefits to his bottom line or the environment.

“We had cutworms in the ryegrass,” he says. “We went in with Pounce and cleaned them out, but they could have devastated us if we hadn’t been paying attention.”

In 2014 he skipped covers as he concentrated on adding tile to fields, but returned to planting cereal rye in fall 2015. He got a good stand with post harvest seeding with his Kinze 15-inch row planter.

Burning down thick rye was heart wrenching for the former dairyman, he recalls. What followed was equally frustrating as rains delayed planting corn until the 18th of May.

“We planted 95-day corn, sidedressed, sprayed and this past fall harvested 213 dry bushels per acre,” says Pyfferoen.

Jim Ruen

By the time corn has reached the 3-4 leaf stage, the cereal rye thatch is nearly gone and weeds are starting to emerge.

Tile line nitrate success

He also harvested some very positive data. A local University of Minnesota extension specialist had asked to monitor nitrogen in tile lines. Pyfferoen agreed, and samples were collected from April through October when the crop came off.

“He never found nitrate levels higher than six parts per million, safe for drinking water,” says Pyfferoen, noting that the federal standard for maximum nitrate in drinking water is 10 ppm.

This was exciting news to share with the group of area growers he had begun meeting with two years prior. They shared a desire to reduce nitrogen loss and soil erosion into the Zumbro River Watershed in southeastern Minnesota. Tony Rossman, an area corn, soybean, canning crop and beef producer, was one of them.

“It is a matter of being proactive instead of reactive,” he says. “If we don’t do it, we’ll face more regulations down the road. Tom’s test results told us we were on the right path.”

Watershed farmers band together

Rossman notes that the group recognizes that these practices are the right thing to do for the environment and for their bottom lines. The loose knit group of about 15 farmers meets throughout the winter and early spring.  Some, like Pyfferoen, have tried a variety of practices, while others may have practiced no-till for years but never tried cover crops.

Tom Pyfferoen

Tony Rossman is one of an informal group of about 15 growers in the Zumbro River Watershed proactivly searching for ways to protect water quality. He recognizes the need to reduce nitrogen loss and erosion from fields like the one behind him. He is expanding his use of nitrate testing, split applications, reduced tillage and cover crops.

“We get together once a month to compare notes on what we have experienced or heard about and sometimes bring in a speaker,” says Rossman, who feels a certain sense of urgency. “Weather events are getting more common, with heavy rains like we saw this past spring. We just have to do a better job holding this precious topsoil.”

He is excited about what he has experienced and how he can integrate new practices into his operation. He has worked with grazing cover crops, planted following canning peas, and is expanding that experience to post fall harvest. He has also begun no-tilling corn into soybeans, splitting his nitrogen applications and using in-season soil and tissue testing to get a better handle on nitrate availability and plant response.

Spokesman for agriculture

Rossman considers Pyfferoen the anchor of the group. “This has become a real passion for him,” says Rossman. “He is a great role model.”

Whether Pyfferoen sees himself as a role model or anchor is hard to say. He does see himself as a spokesperson for agriculture, something he says that every farmer needs to be. He has met with various groups to discuss what he and the others are doing.

“You have to keep it simple, but you have to tell your story whenever you have the opportunity, whether it is at the doctor’s office or when you go to the grocery store,” he says.

Pyfferoen tells the story with pictures and at times with field days. This past April he hosted an NRCS field day on his farm. The drizzle didn’t stop the 67 attendees from walking across some of the 700 acres of cover crops he planted in the fall of 2016 – a walk that he notes didn’t leave their shoes muddy, thanks to the green covers.

One of the key things he shares with the local group is to take a chance and have faith in what they are trying. He recalls his first time planting into standing ryegrass.  “My guts turned inside out when I turned around to watch the planter. I had to stop and think,” he recalls. “After seeing the results, I have the confidence to go and never look back.”

(Source – http://www.cornandsoybeandigest.com/soil-health/proactive-farmers-win-water-quality)

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Repairing Harvest Ruts This Spring

I’ve seen more fields with harvest ruts this year than I usually do. There were several weather-related factors that contributed to this situation. The wet spring led to planting delays, delaying crop maturity. However, the biggest factor was the green stems that were prevalent throughout much of Michigan. The green stems were a physiological response to the dry weather we experienced in June and most of July, and the abundant rain occurring in August and September. The stems also stayed green for an extended period of time because a killing frost didn’t occur until late November.

Severe harvest ruts. Photo: Mike Staton, MSU Extension

Severe harvest ruts

Producers don’t like harvesting soybeans with green stems as it is more difficult, slow and plugging the cylinder or rotors in the combine is a possibility. Producers that waited for the green stems to dry down missed out on some ideal harvest conditions and ended up harvesting some of their fields when the soil was too wet. As a result, harvest equipment left ruts in these fields. In some cases, the ruts are more than 6 inches deep and in others, they are less than 2 inches deep. Most of the harvest ruts I’ve seen are confined to localized areas within fields. However, in a few cases, deep ruts created by every pass of the combine can be seen (see photo). All ruts deeper than your projected planting depth must be leveled prior to planting for planters and drills to perform properly.

When repairing ruts this spring, the objectives are to fill and level the ruts just enough to facilitate planting operations without causing further soil compaction. Loosening the soil at the bottom of or below the ruts should not be attempted because the tillage tools will need to be operated at greater depths and into soil that is probably too wet. This increases the risk of further soil smearing or compaction to occur. Root growth and crop yields will be reduced in the repaired areas.

Michigan State University Extension recommends secondary tillage implements such as disks, field cultivators, soil finishers and vertical tillage for repairing ruts 2-4 inches deep. For ruts deeper than 4 inches, a chisel plow may be necessary. Always operate the implements as shallow as possible to fill and level the ruts. Multiple passes may be required to achieve the desired degree of leveling.

Perform tillage operations when the soil at or just above the operating depth is dry enough to prevent soil smearing and compaction. Iowa State University agricultural engineer Mark Hanna recommends the following methods for assessing soil moisture conditions:

  • Collect a handful of soil from an area between ruts and 2 inches above the operating depth of the tillage tool and form it into a ball. Then throw the ball of soil as if throwing a runner out at first base. If the ball stays mostly intact until it hits the ground, the soil is too wet to till.
  • Take a similar soil sample in your hand and squeeze the soil in your fist and use your thumb and forefinger to form a ribbon of soil. If the ribbon extends beyond 2-3 inches before breaking off, the soil is too wet to till.

Remember, your objectives with spring rut repairs are to fill and level the ruts without causing further soil compaction. Attempting to loosen the soil below the ruts increases the potential for further soil smearing and compaction to occur.

(Source – http://www.farms.com/news/repairing-harvest-ruts-this-spring-120083.aspx)

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Corn Nematodes: Silent Yield Thieves

Corn nematodes in Alabama are a problem many growers are not aware of. The nematodes feed on roots, and cause symptoms similar to those of soil fertility disorders.
Alabama Cooperative Extension System Entomologist and Plant Pathologist, Dr. Austin Hagan, said nematodes can cause slow corn seedling growth and plant discoloration.
“We have problems with nematodes in corn each year,” he said. “They were a particular problem in corn in the spring of 2016. Cooler weather, in addition to nematode feeding on the roots under conditions that were not ideal for corn, caused slow-growing seedlings.”
Cotton Root-Knot Nematode on Corn
“Root-knot nematode is one of the most common pests in Alabama corn,” Hagan said. “The particular race that goes to cotton also hits corn. Anywhere in the state where producers have experienced issues with cotton root-knot nematodes in cotton, will likely see yield losses to this nematode in corn.”
Southern Root Knot Nematode. 
Like most nematodes, root-knot nematodes prefer sandy or sandy loam soils. These nematodes are found in North Alabama in clay soils as producers shift toward continuous corn production.
The reproduction rate of root-knot nematodes in corn and cotton is equally high. Hagan said this indicates both plants are good hosts.
“The yield losses seen in rotation studies suggest in continuous corn situations, or in corn planted behind cotton, producers could see a yield loss of nearly 30 percent.” Hagan said. “While this is on the extreme end, more recent trials show a four to five percent yield loss for every 100 juveniles found in a fall soil sample.”
In studies run by Alabama Extension professionals thus far, no known resistance to root-knot nematode has been found.
Stubby Root Nematode on Corn
Stubby root nematode has become more prevalent in the past few years. Producers may see patchy, stunted areas in corn, easily confused with fertility and pH issues.
“The host range includes many of our field crops, but the highest rate of reproduction is in corn,” Hagan said.
Peanuts, grain sorghum and soybeans are hosts, but corn is the most favorite host. Stubby root nematodes prefer sandy soils. While there have not been specific studies to determine the yield impact of stubby root nematodes on corn, Hagan said there is no doubt these nematodes are capable of damage to corn on a comparable scale to root-knot nematodes.
The threshold for treatment is as low as 10 nematodes per 100 cc’s of soil, but may be as high as 40 nematodes per 100 cc’s. Numbers appear to be higher in the spring and remain the same, or even decrease throughout the growing season.
Lesion Nematode on Corn
Lesion nematodes, like root-knot and stubby root nematodes, prefer sandy soils and have a broad host range. These migratory endoparasites can cause particularly heavy damage to peanut pods.
The damage threshold is near 200 nematodes per cc of soil.
Corn Nematode Control Options
“There are not a lot of control options for nematodes in corn,” Hagan said. “The most effective means for control is management through crop rotation, and the second option is to use a nematicide.”
The best crop to manage cotton root-knot nematode in cotton and corn is peanuts. Hagan said even one year of peanuts pushes the population back to a point where producers may not need a nematicide.
There are also root-knot resistant soybean varieties. Sesame and sunn hemp are both rotation options if producers are looking for a summer cover crop.
In-furrow nematicides in infested fields boost yields up to 30 bushels per acre. Treatment of fields with no nematode population have no known yield boost.
(Source -http://www.farms.com/news/corn-nematodes-silent-yield-thieves-120018.aspx)
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Tips to growing great strawberries

There’s no doubt Californians have a love affair with strawberries. The delicious berry is the state’s fifth most valuable crop, and California farmers are responsible for about 80 percent of all the strawberries grown in the nation.
The home gardener loves them, too, and because of our climate and the variety of berries available, we can enjoy pretty much a year-round harvest.
Here are some tips on fulfilling your strawberry dreams:
Berries like full sun and soil that drains well. They also need potassium, so add pot ash when planting in clay soil.
Don’t plant where you have grown tomatoes, eggplants or peppers as strawberries are susceptible to verticillium wilt, a fungus that can infect the soil and damage or kill the plant.
Strawberries have shallow roots and need to be watered frequently. Keep plants moist but not soggy.
Strawberries do best when refreshed every year. Dig up and discard of the mother plant. Snip off and replant the healthiest runners that are putting out strong roots and, to ensure large harvests and superior taste, plant new plants every 3 to 4 years.
Strawberries fall into three primary categories: Everbearing, day neutral and June bearing.
Everbearing requires long days of sunlight to set fruit and, although they don’t bear all year-round, they produce multiple crops in spring, summer and fall.
• Mara Des Bois, developed by a French breeding program, produces small, extremely fragrant, very flavorful fruit.
• Quinault produces up to 2 inch berries that are exceptionally sweet, great fresh or in preserves. It grows well in containers.
• White Carolina, or pineberry, is a unique white to pale pink berry that tastes like a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple. It produces medium size fruit from spring through fall and is heat tolerant and disease resistant.
Day Neutral berries do not depend on a set number of daylight hours in order to flower. They are a great choice if you want a small amount of fruit throughout the year.
• Alpine, sometimes thought of as wild strawberry, is a compact, clumping variety that can be grown in part sun. It has small, aromatic, rich tasting berries. Plants do not sent out runners so it makes a great edging option.
• Albion produces large, firm very sweet berries. It is disease resistant but needs more water and nutrients than other varieties. It spreads out rapidly, so space accordingly.
• Seascape, produced by the University of California in 1992, is productive. Many think it has the best flavor that any of the day neutral varieties.
June bearing strawberries require short day lengths, as in the fall, in order to flower. They are the most widely grown berry and make up the bulk of what you find at the supermarket. They tend to be vigorous plants, putting out lots of long runners, so require room to grow.
They are prolific producers of large fruit, but since the fruit comes on all at once you have to use it all pretty quickly. They are great for jams, jellies and pies.
Unlike the name implies, they don’t all produce in June.
• Chandler offers good color and flavor, and the fruit holds well on the vine. It is susceptible to anthracnose disease.
• Earliglow is known for its wonderful strawberry flavor. The fruit is sweet, firm and medium sized. It produces vigorous runners, so give it plenty of space.
(Source – http://www.farms.com/news/secrets-to-growing-great-strawberries-119219.aspx)
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How to manage septoria disease in wheat

That makes attention to detail more important than product choice, he believes. “We have the tools to manage septoria, even though the disease is mutating.

“But getting behind with spraying is the worst thing you can do. It’s better to be a day or two early than a day or two late.”

Spray timings

  • T0 – protects leaf 4 – GS30 (or about two to four weeks before the T1 spray)
  • T1 – protects leaf 3 – GS31-32
  • T2 – protects leaf 1 (flag leaf) – GS39
  • T3 – protects the ear – GS61-65


The septoria fungicide toolbox is limited to three main groups: the azoles, the SDHIs and multi-sites.

Of those, the azoles have seen the biggest decline in performance, with their eradicant control dropping by over 60% since they were introduced. Despite the discovery of a few insensitive strains in 2016, the SDHIs are still giving good control in the field.

The multi-sites, which have been in use for many years, remain unaffected and have a low risk of resistance.

Other chemistry, such as the morpholines, can have some effect on the disease, but are not active enough against septoria to be used as a key component of a septoria strategy.

However, the strobilurins are ineffective against septoria, due to widespread resistance.

Given the developing situation with resistance and the complex nature of the disease, the multi-site fungicides are a vital tool for septoria management.

According to Jonathan Blake, principal research scientist at ADAS, they should be the first product into the tank at both T1 and T2 when it comes to septoria and should also form the backbone of any resistance management strategy.

“Chlorothalonil is an essential component. Although it can have negative effects on the curative activity of all products, the benefits of it outweigh any negatives.”

The T0 spray does very little for septoria control and it is rare to see a benefit from it where this disease is concerned if the T1 and T2 sprays are applied correctly, he notes.

“For other diseases, the T0 is more important and offers some insurance. But with septoria, the T1 and T2 timings are the main ones.”

Filling up a sprayer © Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

For Mr Sparling, the T0 spray acts as a holding treatment and buys some time if there are any subsequent delays, so he will often make use of chlorothalonil and a strobilurin at this stage. However, he accepts that the T1 and T2 sprays are more critical with septoria.

“Getting those two right is really important. The other spray timings are just frittering about at the edges.”

Bill Clark, technical director of Niab Tag, notes that there won’t be a yield response from a T0 in most years.

“But it offers some help if you don’t get the T1 spray right, so it gets applied for the flexibility it brings.”

Including an SDHI at T1

While most field situations will warrant the use of an SDHI at T2 in a three-way mix, the more difficult decisions about product choice come earlier in the season at T1, believes Dr Blake.

“The worst thing to do is to apply an SDHI where it is not needed, so try and keep two applications of SDHIs as the exception,” he says.

“At T1, an azole plus chlorothalonil mix may be adequate.”

However, growers in the West with susceptible varieties are likely to see a benefit from including an SDHI at T1, while others will do it for risk management purposes, he accepts.

At T2, it’s worth using all the firepower on offer, believes Mr Sparling, who will be planning to use one of the best SDHI products with a high rate of triazole.

“And if it’s a bad spring for septoria, I will have no hesitation in recommended an SDHI at T1 too.”

He advises growers to look at what they’re getting for their money.

Spraying T1 in wheat © Tim Scrivener

© Tim Scrivener

“There is more choice of SDHIs than ever, which then need to be partnered with either prothioconazole or epoxiconazole at a rate of 80-100%.

“There’s no need to be spending crazy amounts on fungicide programmes, but quibbling over an extra £3-£4 at the flag leaf timing is a false economy and pointless.”

If septoria control needs topping up at T3, an azole will do the job, with prothioconazole and tebuconazole being the main contenders.

Finally, all fungicide programmes used on wheat in 2017 must adhere to the guidelines on resistance management.

High-risk practices are thought to accelerate declines in sensitivity to both triazole and SDHI fungicides.

(Source – http://www.fwi.co.uk/arable/how-to-manage-septoria-disease-in-wheat.htm)

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Saving Water, Fertilizer in Durum Wheat

Irrigation is a must for wheat producers in Arizona’s hot, dry climate, but most of the water comes from the Colorado River, and that supply is being depleted by the long-term drought.

Fertilizer is getting more expensive, and when too much fertilizer and water are applied, the excess amounts can percolate too deeply into the soil and contaminate the groundwater.

Maximizing yields with as little water and fertilizer as possible is a top priority for today’s Arizona wheat growers.

Optimal irrigation levels for wheat means hitting a sweet spot: Applying abundant water will increase yields, but overwatering wheat as the grain is filling in can reduce the protein content and potentially reduce the value of the crop.

Bronson and his colleagues grew durum wheat for 2 years using 5 fertilizer rates and 10 irrigation rates to compare yields and how efficiently the wheat used nitrogen. They focused on durum wheat, a $131 million crop in Arizona that is used in pastas and sold at premium prices. Durum wheat is also an important crop in several other southwestern states. Kevin Bronson, a soil scientist at the U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Arizona, conducts research that can guide Arizona wheat producers on irrigation and fertilizer practices that maximize yield and grain quality. The advice is timely: advances in overhead sprinkler systems and other technologies are giving farmers more control over how much water they use.

The scientists used daily weather data to calculate a base irrigation rate. They irrigated two to four times a week with a mobile overhead sprinkler system. Plant samples were analyzed for nitrogen content to determine how efficiently the plants used nitrogen fertilizer. The scientists calculated optimal irrigation and fertilizer rates based on total yields. They also calculated an “economic rate” that factored in fertilizer costs and market prices for durum wheat.

The researchers found that the more water and fertilizer they applied, the higher the yields. Going beyond optimum water and fertilizer rates produced taller wheat plants that tended to lodge, or fall over, which cut into yields.

For maximum yield, the optimal fertilizer rate was 225 pounds of nitrogen per acre. But they also found that when they factored in fertilizer costs, more isn’t always better. The economic rate, with the fertilizer cost included, was about 175 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

The optimal irrigation level was about 20 inches of water throughout the growing season. Going beyond that causes some of the water and nitrogen to percolate too deeply into the soil.

The results also showed that an impressive 70-90 percent of the applied nitrogen was used by the crop irrigated with overhead sprinklers. That compares to nitrogen use rates of 50 percent or less seen in many row crops irrigated with surface flooding, Bronson says.

Growers in Arizona are gradually shifting away from surface flooding and adopting the type of overhead sprinklers used in the study. Bronson hopes that the results, published in the March 2016 issue of Field Crops Research, will encourage more growers to start using overhead sprinkler systems.

“Overhead sprinklers are more precise, ensure that less water is wasted, and can save on fertilizer, because a carefully watered crop is more efficient at using the nitrogen fed to it,” he explains.

(Source – https://www.no-tillfarmer.com/articles/6443-saving-water-fertilizer-in-durum-wheat#sthash.10zhEOfl.dpuf)


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