June 23, 2017

Wood Chip Bioreactor Controls Tile Line Nitrate Load

The Dudley Smith research farm in Illinois is tiled and wired. Todd Gleason has more on how the University of Illinois is doing nitrogen loss research near Pana.

Farmers gathered this week for a peek at the nitrogen loss control methods installed in Christian County. It’s a farm that rolls just a bit, but is pretty typical for the area other than the pastures on a portion of it. They came to hear from Laura Christianson. She’s a University of Illinois Crop Scientist, “At the Dudley Smith farm we have a wood chip bioreactor installed. A wood chip bioreactor is a little mini water treatment plant to clean nitrate out of tile drainage. The thing that makes the Dudley Smith bioreactor different is that is has baffles inside it. So, rather than the water just running straight through the wood chips, like most bioreactors, this bioreactor has baffles in it to make the water move in more of an S shape to improve how much nitrate is taken out of the drainage water”.

Early indications are the baffle is working as hoped. Wood chip bioreactors, even without the baffles, can remove between 20 and 40 percent of the annual nitrate load from a tile line. It’s technology farmers are interested in seeing and hopefully, says Christianson, deploying, “I think farmers are interested in wood chip bioreactors because it is something they can do that doesn’t impact their production practices. It is an edge of field practice, so you can keep on in the field however you are comfortable, but this catches that nitrate at the edge of the field before it goes down stream”.

A bioreactor is pretty simple to build. Use a backhoe to make a trench near the end of the tile, put a plastic liner in the trench, fill it with wood chips, be sure to have control structures on the inlet and outlet, and cover it with dirt. The chips will need to be replaced about every 10 years.


June 22, 2017

What Makes a Top Third Farm

There are just two items that make the difference between a top third farm and an average farm. This University of Illinois study was on a small set in McLean County. This was done to limit the influences of weather and a few other factors. Gary Schnitkey says he wanted to know why some farms made more than others. Turns out, the answer is pretty simple say the ag economist, “What we found were distinct cost differences between the two groups. This was a $45 per acre difference between the average group and the high return group. The $45 came primarily in two items; machinery depreciation and interest cost.”

The more profitable farms tended to have lower machinery and non-land interest cost. The two are related.

If you buy more machinery, you have more depreciation and likely more interest costs. Other differences included storage costs, with high profit farms storing less at elevators and their cost of hired labor was lower, too. Over all, these farms usually had lower costs, but these are the cost groups that stood out.

A couple of notes. The most profitable farms expanded acreage at a faster pace than those in the average group. They also had higher average yields for soybeans and did a better job of marketing soybean.


June 22, 2017

Feeding Wheat Co-Products to Pigs

Research from the University of Illinois is helping to determine the quality of protein in wheat middlings and red dog. Both are co-products of the wheat milling process. Each can be fed to pigs and other livestock.

There is information about the digestibility of crude protein in some wheat co-products produced in Canada and China, says University of Illinois Animal Scientist Hans Stein, but only very limited information about the nutritional value of wheat middlings and red dog produced in the United States.

Stein and U of I researcher Gloria Casas fed wheat middlings from 8 different states and red dog from Iowa to growing pigs. Despite the variety in the wheat middlings sources the concentration of crude protein were generally consistent. However, they did find some variation in the digestibility of the amino acids.

The red dog contained slightly less crude protein than wheat middlings. 

Stein says the results of this study provide guidance to producers who hope to incorporate wheat co-products into diets fed to pigs. The paper appears in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Animal Science. The National Pork Board provided funding for the study.


June 05, 2017

Crop Progress Reports & End of Season Yields

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Last week USDA released its first national corn condition rating of the season. The crop, as you’ll hear, wasn’t in great shape. While it doesn’t mean much at this time of year, there is a relationship between the first crop condition rating and the end of the season yield.

The weekly Crop Progress report is mostly the work of Extension and FSA employees, at the least the data collection part. They report local crop conditions to state USDA offices, mostly on Monday morning, who in-turn tally those numbers and pass them along to Washington, D.C. for compilation and release on Monday afternoon. Work at the University of Illinois shows a strong relationship between the end-of-season crop condition ratings and crop yield, however, agricultural economist Scott Irwin says that doesn’t hold so well for the rest of the season, “but, of course, what you really want to know is how soon do they become really predictive of final yields. Our analysis says they become pretty useful about mid-July for corn and not until about mid-August in soybeans”.

The first corn rating of the season, released just after Memorial Day, wasn’t good. the crop had been cold and wet. It showed up, or in this case didn’t show up, in the good and excellent categories USDA NASS uses. Those are the two grades the U of I economist say correlate. The math works like this; the first corn condition rating was 65% good or excellent, minus 8 points for the average drop to the end of the season rating, which brings you to 57% and then you plug that into the relationship the U of I presented in the article says Irwin, “and you end up with 164.3, basically on that set of calculations. It is an intriguing and pretty low number. Clearly that is not where the market is at and it is just one model, one exercise. Certainly, it is something to keep your eye on”.

“and you end up with 164.3”

If you do, in about mid-July you can use the math in the farmdocDaily article to forward calculate the national average yield for corn; mid-August for soybean.


June 01, 2017

Another Rough Income Year for Grain Farmers

It looks like 2017 will be another rough year for grain farmers in the United States. Even in Illinois, where the trend line yield for corn is 200 bushels to the acre and 61 for soybeans, the average income on a 1500 acre grain for this year is just $25,000. That’s not good says University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey, “That $25,000 isn’t enough to cover all the family living withdrawals and capital purchase expenses needed for a family farm of this size. Seventy to eighty-thousand dollars is needed to be sustainable in the long run. So, we are looking, again, at some financial deterioration if these projections hold”.

That $25,000 isn’t enough to cover all the family living withdrawals and capital purchase expenses needed for a family farm of this size. Seventy to eighty-thousand dollars is needed to be sustainable in the long run.

It is a projection that wasn’t quite so low earlier in the year. Then, like today, Schnitkey was using an average cash sales price of $3.70 a bushel in the Illinois crop budget for corn. What has caused the University of Illinois forecast to come down is the decline in soybean prices. Earlier in the year it was $9.70 for price, but now it has come down and Schnitkey is using $9.00 in the 2017 soybean crop budget. Even this is above the current fall delivery price at about $8.85 in central Illinois.

University of Illinois 2017 Projected Crop Budgets


A decline in soybean prices to $9.00 likely will trigger 2017 ARC-CO payments, given county soybean yields are at trend levels. As a result, U of I’s 2017 projections build in a $15 per acre government payment. It won’t arrive until the fall of 2018, but an estimated $20 payment from last year’s crop should arrive this fall.

In 2017, revenue is projected to be $755 per acre for corn, down by $77 per acre from last year. Gross revenue for soybeans is projected at $564 per acre, $140 per acre lower than in 2016.


May 30, 2017

Post-Emergence Herbicides in Corn

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It is time for farmers to control weeds in their corn fields. However, the cool, wet start to the growing season makes it doubly important to read and follow herbicide labels.

The post-emergence herbicide labels they’ll be following usually allow applications to be made at various growth stages says University of Illinois Extension Weed Scientist Aaron Hager. He says it is really important to read the label, making sure to get the height, or the stage, maybe both, of the crop correct.

This is because most all of the products for corn have a growth stage listed on the label beyond which applications, at least broadcast applications, should not be made. It is usually either plant height - measured at the highest arch of the uppermost leaf at least 50% out of the whorl - or a leaf number. Hager says if both are listed, then it is important to use the more restrictive of the two, For example, because of some of the weather conditions we’ve had across a large part of the state this year we may have corn plants which are older than their height would suggest. Using the leaf collar method is typically a better way to stage the development of the corn plant. If you can do both the height and the counting, the leaf collar method is the better method to determine the stage of the corn plant."

Using the leaf collar method is typically a better way to stage the development of the corn plant. - Aaron Hager, University of Illinois

Corn plants under stress conditions may be more prone to injury from post-emergence herbicides. On that note, Hager says farmers should be sure to consult the product label when selecting spray additives. Many labels suggest changing from one type of additive to another when the corn crop is stressed. Also, trying to save a trip across the field by applying a post-emergence corn herbicide with liquid nitrogen as the carrier is not advisable. The U of I weed scientist says while applying high rates of UAN by itself can cause corn injury, adding a post-emergence herbicide can make it worse.


May 26, 2017

Adjusting Nitrogen for this Corn Crop

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Despite the wet weather many think may be causing nitrogen fertilizer to get away from corn plants, it is still far too early to make that decision.

While it seems likely some nitrogen fertilizer has moved out of the upper soil as a result of rainfall this year University of Illinois Agronomist Emerson Nafziger says if soils dry out, the torrential rains stop, the sun shines, and the weather gets warmer things should be all good, “The crop is going to tell us this. If by the middle of June some of the crop has really greened up nicely and some has not, then we might need to think about those that haven’t and determine if enough nitrogen is missing to cause this to take place. My suspicion is we will not see very much of that at all. If we are warm and dry and with sunshine for a week, I think the crop is going to look good in almost every field.”

My suspicion is we will not see very much of that at all. If we are warm and dry and with sunshine for a week, I think the crop is going to look good in almost every field. - Emerson Nafziger

One indication the topsoil hasn’t been stripped clean of nitrogen is the good recovery of green leaf color. Nafziger says, as soils dry out, root systems start to expand and the color will change. He explains the corn crop at this point looks like it does not because of lack of N, but due to cool temperatures and abundant rainfall. While it is premature to revise nitrogen management based on what has happened so far, Nafziger cautions it cannot be ruled out, “I would be very reluctant now to make a decision that we need to go put more nitrogen on, especially if we’ve already put the full amount on. If we still need to side-dress and we add 10, or 15, or 20 pounds I don’t have a problem with that. But I think it is premature to decide so much of the nitrogen is gone that we put out there that we need to go back and plan to put more on at this point.”

The good news is there is still time to make such decisions. The corn crop takes up barely one pound of N per acre for every inch of growth it makes up to about knee-high.

Nitrogen deficiency develops over time, and Nafziger says it is almost always more related to current soil moisture than to the amount nitrogen in the soil. So, if fields aren’t extra wet or extra dry over the next month, this season could still turn out to be much more typical than many now expect.


May 24, 2017

Trump’s Proposed Cut to SNAP & Food Insecurity

The White House has released a new budget proposal, and it’s not good news for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, commonly known as food stamps or Link in Illinois. The plan calls for a $193 billion, or 25 percent, cut to the program that currently serves 42 million Americans. Craig Gundersen, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, has been studying SNAP and its effects on food insecurity for years.

“SNAP is a great program. It is the key component of the social safety net against food insecurity,” Gundersen says.

Given the success of SNAP, Gundersen emphasizes that efforts to cut the size of the program will lead to dramatic increases in food insecurity.

Food insecurity and SNAP were the topics of a recent podcast and Twitter chat with Gundersen.

According to Gundersen, food insecurity is a major contributor to negative health outcomes in the United States. These range from depression and malnutrition to behavioral problems for children in school. Given this, it is not surprising that food insecurity also leads to substantially higher health care costs. “Because SNAP leads to greater food security, the program also brings down health care costs,” he says.

Overall, Gundersen says he can’t think of a more successful government program than SNAP. The research indicates that the program is associated with higher nutrient intake, reductions in poverty, and reductions in infant mortality. But it does more than that.

“One of the key advantages to SNAP is that it gives dignity to recipients,” he says. “They can purchase what they think is best for their families. Restricting that is demeaning and stigmatizing to poor people.”


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