>> home page
Kochia, Cattle, and Pluvials
January 19, 2018
We recently attended the annual Cover Your Acres conference in Oberlin's Gateway Center. As usual, they had an exhibit floor and a lot of seminars on many topics, including herbicide options, climate trends, grassland management, and soil probes as irrigation management tools.
Curtis Thompson, KSU Extension Agronomy, talked about kochia and palmer amaranth control. Both species are major problems, due to multiple herbicide resistance patterns. Thompson believes the best solution for both weeds is using soil active herbicides pre-emerge, to prevent germination.
As to kochia in wheat, treatment to the rosette stage with dicamba still mostly works, but waiting will likely result in unacceptable failure rates. Their studies show that treating weeds during the wheat growing season improves the percentage of kochia controlled in the fallow season. In corn, the use of pre-emerge applications followed by up to 16 ounces of dicamba will probably be effective. As usual, timing is everything.
Keith Harmoney, Range Scientist, K-State Research, Hays, spoke on managing rangeland. Harmoney noted that while cropland has increased in Kansas, rangeland acreage is decreasing. The three tools available are stocking rate, stocking systems, and managing encroaching species.
Yucca now has several products labeled for broadcast treatment--Cimarron Plus and Chaparral, both with ester 2,4-D--and they give about 70% control, so KSU recommends treating at least twice over a three year period. Harmoney noted that yucca on steep slopes can provide erosion control, but on flat ground, 1,000 plants/acre can reduce forage production from 300 to 1,000 pounds/acre. To estimate the number of plants, he said to walk 363 feet with your arms outstretched, and count all the yucca covered. Multiply your count by 20 to get the number of yucca per acre.
As to stocking rates, when comparing light, moderate, and heavy, their data shows that in the short and long term, the best practice is a moderate stocking rate. This is the most profitable and protects the rangeland. Moderate is defined as 48% forage consumption: "take half and leave half." Surprisingly, when half of the forage is used, the cattle only eat about half of it: the rest is lost to insects, wildlife, trampling, and destruction from urination, etc.
Dr. Jeffrey Basara, Oklahoma University, spoke about climate in the Great Plains. One of the subjects of their research team is studying is droughts, and the wet spells between the dry spells: called pluvials. Basara is worried that the High Plains might be entering into a drier period, but cautioned that predictions are dangerous, and that regional variations are common.
Basara noted that the Great Plains is unique when compared globally in a couple of ways. First, the rainfall and temperature gradients are orthogonal: temperature varies north to south, while precipitation varies east to west. Also, unlike most grasslands, the peaks of temperature and rainfall don't peak at the same time.
You can read much more by clicking here.
Agricultural Conditions in the Midwest
January 12, 2018
We attended the Farming For the Future conference in Scott City on January 10, 2018. There were perhaps 100 people in the room, including the sponsors and presenters.
It was noted that from 2007 to 2013, the US agricultural production had high profitability which has then been followed by big losses: this was deemed a "normal cycle". The said that the cattle market had a similar but less difficult pattern, because the last three years represented lower profits instead of losses.
The number of farm bankruptcies is double the number of a few years hence: now 65-70 per year. Young farmers and those with high debt loads are the most at risk.
Land values in Kansas are down but the amount of reduction varies, depending upon how you measure it. The biggest declines are in dry land, with irrigated and pasture declining more slowly. Based upon property valuation figures from Topeka--from 6,845 actual land sales in the three years from 2014 to 2016--overall prices were down 10%.
This same sales data showed dry land down 17%, irrigated down 9%, and pasture 5% lower. For Cheyenne County, Kansas, the dry land is priced at $1,776, irrigated land at $3,786, and pasture is $1,278. Their agmanager.info website has detailed information: click here to see more information on land values.
Other topics included FSA loans, land rental values, and custom farming rates. To read more about the latter topic, please click here.
The presenters believe that a strong US economy will prop up oil prices, possibly raising fertilizer costs a little, although this trend isn't clear. It is possible that the weak farm economy will result in fairly constant prices for seed, pesticide, and machinery.
As to commodity prices, demand is strong across all sectors, and US production is strong but stable. Exports are in the middle of the normal trading ranges, but stockpiles are at record highs for corn and almost as bad for wheat. So any upward price pressure--possibly from increased exports or decreased domestic production--will be tempered by the big stockpiles.
Upcoming Meetings For Farmers
December 30, 2017
Jeanne Falk Jones, K-State Multi-County Agronomist, recently sent an email reminding everyone of two upcoming meetings for farmers. The first meeting, Farming For the Future, is in Scott City on January 10, 2018. Jeanne said that, "This meeting will give an overview of the current farm situation, a discussion of interest rates outlook, and a look at input costs..." The registration fee is $20 by January 5, and then $30. Register online here, or contact Jeanne Falk Jones.
The second meeting is the annual Cover Your Acres Winter Conference, held in Oberlin, Kansas, on January 16-17, 2018. Topics include smart spending of your fertilizer dollars, weed management, using soil moisture probes, and soil health and profitability in dryland cropping. They will also discuss farm economics, including profitability opportunities and pitfalls, and surviving and thriving in tough economic times. The cost to attend is $40 per day or $60 for both days, until Jan 10, 2018. Register online here.
December 22, 2017
We hope that you have a wonderful holiday season and a safe and prosperous 2018!
Glyphosate and Cancer
December 10, 2017
According to this two-decades long study, which involved 89,000 farmers and their spouses, glyphosate is a not a risk for cancer, even among groups which apply the pesticide.
There are other studies which do find carcinogenic links, and the information is confusing. This Wired article does a good job of explaining some of the contradictions, and explains the different terminology employed: the difference between "hazard" and "risk", using a clever shark tank analogy.
Our take? Most human activity represents health risks: most of these risks are minor, but non-zero. In this case, we think farmers face many much greater risks than this one.
Dicamba Story Continues
November 26, 2017
According to this CropLife article, 3.1 million acres of soybeans were damaged by dicamba in the 2017 season, spurring a staggering 2,200 injury investigations. As the image shows, Kansas had 100,000 acres of beans reportedly damaged.
We have reported on this issue twice before, here and here , and yet the controversy has not abated. Monsanto has sued the government, there are rumors of banning dicamba except for early season applications, and Monsanto also accuses its customers of improper use and claims that illegal, out-dated formulations are being sold.
The CropLife article is a good summary of the present situation.
Corn Rootworm Resistance Options
November 12, 2017
We recently attended a re-certification seminar, and one of the speakers was Jeff Whitworth, KSU Entomology. Whitworth reviewed the 2017 growing season in terms of crop insects, and noted that the Sugar Cane Aphid, which was a major pest in milo in 2016, did little damage in 2017. We reported on the Sugar Cane Aphid here.
Whitworth also spend a fair amount of time discussing the issue of increasing Western Corn Rootworm resistance to Bt corn. He said KSU is seeing more and more resistance, and increase crop damage, including lodging.He added, "Bt is just an insecticide", and therefore resistance was to be expected. He said that some seed companies are going back to planting time treatments.
Jeff also noted that adult rootworm control--where the females are controlled via aerial application in the silking phase--can be very effective. He thinks adult control is "under utilized": Typically two treatments will keep the number of adults below 5 adults per ten plants: 0.5 beetles per plant is the threshold.
Since Grace Flying Service is in the business of treating adult insects, we want to agree with Whitworth. But even publications like the Huff Post are discussing the issue, perhaps with a little more alarm that it deserves.
In a related aside, we learned at a later conference about the history of pesticide resistance. Thaddeus Gourd, CSU Extension, said the first documented case was insecticide resistance: DDT in house flies in 1947. The resistant flies developed longer foot pads so that they didn't absorb the pesticide when they walked over treated surfaces. The first herbicide resistance was spreading dayflower, against 2,4-D in 1957, and benomyl debuted resistance to fungicides 1969.
EPA Reverses Course On Renewable Fuels Mandate
October 31, 2017
According to this Reuters article, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed a previous agency plan which threatened to open the door to cuts to the renewable fuel plan.
This reversal by Pruitt is a big win for corn producers and the biofuels industry, since about 40% of US corn production is used for ethanol. Reuters said the decision was spurred by lobbying "by Midwestern lawmakers, including Republicans Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, had vocally opposed all those ideas, calling them a betrayal of the administration’s promises to support the corn belt." Grassley issued a statement saying, “It’s a great day for Iowa and a great day for rural America. Administrator Pruitt should be commended for following through on President Trump’s commitment to biofuels.”
The move dealt a blow to merchant refiners like PBF Energy Inc and Valero Energy Corp who have argued that biofuels compete with petroleum, and that the blending responsibility costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
"The program disproportionately hurts mid-sized refiners and mom-and-pop gas stations that are the backbone of the nation’s energy infrastructure and needs to reformed", said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the Fueling American Jobs Coalition. In the EPA's letter, Pruitt said the EPA was prepared to work with Congress to examine the possibility of a waiver that would allow the year-round sale of E15 gasoline (which contains 15 percent ethanol), which is currently not permitted during the summer due to concerns about smog.
Monsanto Sues Arkansas Over Dicamba Ban
October 21, 2017
Monsanto is suing the Arkansas Plant Board, a state regulatory agency, over its ruling to ban dicamba usage in Arkansas for the 2018 growing season. This article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has details on the story, as well as a video which interviews two farmers with different views on the issue. In addition, we have previously reported on this issue: please click here to read our older articles.
Monsanto said this: "The Plant Board's arbitrary approach also has deprived, and if left unchecked will continue to deprive, Arkansas farmers of the best weed management tools available--tools that are available to farmers in every other soybean and cotton-producing state in the nation."
The lawsuit came on the heels of an agreement between the EPA and Monsanto, DuPont, and BASF. The agreement adds new restrictions to the dicamba label, including changing the product to a Restricted Use Product (RUP), which means that dicamba can now only be legally sold to certified pesticide applicators.
It is not clear how many of the problematic applications last year--which resulted in over 1,000 farmer complaints in Arkansas alone--were done by non-certified applicators. Many farmers in our geography already have pesticide certification, so it is possible that the change to RUP status alone might not make much difference out in the real world.
It is also not clear how much of the dicamba problem is due to physical drift as opposed to volatilization: We believe that the physical drift portion of this problem can be managed with careful planning and disciplined use of modern application techniques. Physical drift occurs at the time of application, and should be correctable with better training and enforcement of existing regulation. The thornier issue is rate of volatilization of the dicamba.
While pesticide volatilization often results in much lower concentrations of off-target movement than does physical drift, it can be damaging to sensitive crops, including cotton. Volatilization can also affect larger geographic areas. Volatilization commonly occurs hours or days after application, and is greatly affected by climatic conditions--including high ambient temperatures and atmospheric inversion layers.
Volatilization effects can be minimized with timing of applications, but the issue could only be truly solved if Monsanto changed the dicamba molecule itself. Alas, changing the chemical formulation is almost certainly technically difficult, and it would also likely require expensive and time-consuming re-regulation by the EPA.
It is worth repeating that the degree to which a herbicide volatilizes is inherent in the formulation, and is something that only the manufacturer can change: it is not in the control of the users of the herbicide.
There is no question that dicamba is an important herbicide for crop production, both because of the affordable price and the wide-spectrum control which it provides. However, since there are increasing numbers of weeds which are developing tolerance to dicamba, we fervently hope that Monsanto (and other manufacturers) are working on developing new, less volatile, products.
Land Sale In Bird City
October 13, 2017
A quarter section of mixed farm ground and CRP sold today at the American Legion building in Bird City, KS. The land was sold by the Gerdes family, and is located about half way between Bird City and Wheeler, about five miles south of the highway. The legal description is NE 1/4 13-4-39, and comprises roughly 97 acres of farm ground and 59 acres of CRP. The CRP has an annual payment of about $37 per acre until 2021.
There was a small crowd attending, and there were four off-site--internet--bidders. The bidding opened at $900/acre and slowly rose to $1,175/acre, which was the final selling price.
Farm and Ranch Realty of Colby, KS, managed the auction. Their website has a listing of selling prices of land they have sold since 2007: please click here to see those listings.
Precise Patterns For Ag Aircraft
October 9, 2017
On September 28, 2017, we attended a SAFE fly-in on the La Junta, Colorado, airport.
SAFE fly-ins are co-sponsored by the CAAA (Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association) and the KAAA (Kansas). The clinics are held several times per year in various locations to allow ag aviation operators the opportunity to fine-tune the calibration of their aircraft's spray pattern. Grace Flying Service aircraft have been calibrated using the SAFE system in the past, but at this event we were there to watch and learn.
The heart of the system is a string which is stretched across the aircraft's pass. The string collects a special dye dispensed by the aircraft. In addition, the aircraft's speed and height and the droplet sizes are recorded with other sensors. After each run, the string is analyzed with a computer which has an external device to determine the amount of deposition.
The net result is a graphic showing span-wise distribution of the swath. This allows modifications to be made to the system, if necessary. After changes, the aircraft may "fly the string" again, to analyze the efficacy of the modifications made. Trained operators download the data and make suggestions as to optimal swath width and nozzle options.
Please click on the 10-second MP4 video to see an Air Tractor applying dye to the string. After the pass, the string is rapidly rolled up and a clean string deployed for the next pass.
Airport Beacon Replaced
September 27, 2017
The flashing light at the Cheyenne County Airport has changed from a flashing white light to alternating green and white flashes. The green and white sequence is appropriate for a land airport, but for more than sixty years, the airport had only a flashing white beacon. The reason for this discrepancy has to do with aviation history, tight budgets, and truly phenomenal reliability from the Sperry Corporation about eight decades ago.
The old beacon was a retired airway beacon. It was presumably purchased as surplus, or possibly the Commerce Department donated the beacon to the tiny new airport. In any event, it was likely the cheapest way to provide a rotating beacon to the grass-runway airport, and the lack of a green flash was not considered a deal breaker. The airway beacon history is interesting:
According to this Wikipedia link, more than 1,500 of these beacons were used from 1923 to 1933. The Post Office, which had a need for reliable night flight to transport airmail, helped with the financing of this 18,000 mile network. Pilots flew from airway beacon to airway beacon, identifying them via a coded light flash, among other means. The obvious shortcoming to this system was that it was only useful at night, and in reasonably clear weather.
So when radio navigation appeared in the form of the Adcock low-frequency radio range , the airway beacons were quickly retired. But the builder, Sperry Gyroscope Company (which later became Sperry-Rand) did an excellent job of building the beacons, and this one kept spinning year after year, requiring only a few bulbs and belts. The 24-inch diameter parabolic mirror directed a very bright incandescent light as it spun round and round at 6 rpm, for more than 20,000 nights and more than a 100,000,000 revolutions, in heat waves and ice storms, all powered by a rotating brush. It's a big heavy device, so there was significant inertia, yet it was well balanced, and remarkably reliable.
This old airways beacon was, and is, a clever device. This one is serial number 11, as you can see from the photos on this page. We hope to find a happy home for this piece of aviation history.
The Adcock low-frequency radio range navigation which replaced the airways beacon is worth reading about: it required only a headset on the pilot, who listened to a continuous tone in headset: the Morse code for A and the code for N: "di-dah, di-dah" and "dah-dit, dah-dit" respectively. One letter meant that you were flying left of course, and the other indicated a right deviation. If you were in the middle, the two tones blended into a monotone. Read more about radio ranges here.
John Grace, a WWII Army Air Corps P-38 pilot, described the "radio range" system to us on several occasions. It was the only radio navigation system available, but difficult to use, especially when electrical interference--lightning, for example--made it hard to hear. Worse, the lack of precision over the "cone of silence" could create situations that were potentially fatal. War stories for another time...
If you'd like to see more photos of the retired airways beacon, please click here.
Pasture Thistle Postcard
September 7, 2017
We are mailing our annual musk and Canada thistle postcard to our customers who have noxious weeds. The text of the postcard is shown below, and the postcard will arrive next week.
If you don't get the postcard, and would like to be added to the noxious weed mailing list, please contact us.
"Fall is the best time to treat pasture thistles. Please contact us now if you want your pastures treated. We need your order and maps so that we can plan an application schedule.
"The window of opportunity can be very short in the fall. Also, the small field sizes mean we need multiple customers on a single load.
"Our deadline for taking thistle orders is Monday, October 9, 2017.
"Musk and bull thistle can be treated until the ground freezes, but Canada thistle needs to sprayed before a killing frost.
"We think the best chemical choice is GrazonNext HL, which is Milestone in a pre-mix with 2,4-D."