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Central Valley Ag (CVA) is a member-owned farmers cooperative located in central and northeastern Nebraska. Our Mission Embracing the Cooperative Spirit to deliver value to our members Our Vision To be a world-class cooperative ensuring the long-term success of our employees and customers.
Precision Ag, as a whole, has a fascination, and a conundrum when it comes to Yield Data. The Holy Grail is to take your local data and turn it into useful and useable tools that drive decisions and input application. When it comes to soil or tissue samples, it is a single point that represents multiple acres. When its imagery, it is a distant measurement of a moment in time. But, when it comes to Yield, we have a high-density data set that is unparalleled when it comes to the density of data points, or its relevance to actual representative data in your field. But, the challenge comes in just how easy it is to get bad Yield Data, or perhaps even more specifically, how hard it is to get good yield data.
But why is it difficult to get good yield data? Obviously, there are the external factors that are always at play, like having the monitor on the correct field, having fields structured on your display correctly, or even having good GPS signal. But those are the easy things to address. The one single thing that is most difficult is having your monitor properly calibrated to measure yield well. And the reason it is the most difficult is that it has multiple steps involved in doing it correctly.
I would be foolish to think that in a few minutes I can educate all of you on the proper procedure for each machine. But what I can do is try to convey the importance and the right way to handle the steps that all machines have in common.
Understanding your calibration procedure for your monitor is critical. Some require one calibration load per season, others a load every time you switch hybrids. Others take two loads, four loads, etc. And to make things even trickier, this changes as the software on your display evolves. What your manual says may no longer match up with the firmware on your display. 2 minutes to ask your service guy about any changes this year can mean the difference in good data or poor data.
While we are on the subject of calibration, understanding the load size your display needs is just as critical as the number of loads. Some take a truck load; others take 3,000 pounds. Some want you to drive at a consistent speed; others don’t care about speed. In the case of Climate FieldView, we have to calibrate the Harvest Display on the combine and the iPad separately. Are you confused yet?
But, at the end of the day, it comes back to accuracy. Even if you aren’t doing anything with the data today, chances are that within the next 3-5 years, you will want to use the data from this year in the decision making process for your inputs. That extra 1-2 hours in properly setting up your monitor might mean the difference between having this piece for a future decision or not. But I also want you to remember that all Harvest Monitoring systems are not the same. Systems like Ag Leader have an average error of 0-3% when calculated correctly. Some OEM systems still have an error of 5-10% when calibrated properly.
So, the take home for today is that we will never have another chance to collect this year’s data. We need to make sure we are doing it right and with the right tools. Even though the Yield Monitor has been around for over 20 years, it is probably still the biggest technology stumbling block that we have on the farm today. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how to use it to its fullest potential, or to ask if the OEM system you have can achieve the accuracy you want. There is a bunch of interchangeable parts now within our combines Yield Monitor System. To upgrade to a Yield Monitor that achieves a higher level of data accuracy might not be very expensive, but no matter the cost, will definitely pay dividends in the long run.
A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to travel to Madison Wisconsin to be a part of a panel at the Soil and Water Conservation Society meetings on behalf of the Soil Health Partnership. Greg Whitmore from Shelby and Myself got to address the benefits and challenges of cover crops to an entire room of Soil Conservationists. Ever since talking to a few people after the meetings I have been thinking, and then just last week a group of agronomists from Iowa and myself sat in a room and talked about the same thing as a part of the Iowa Ag Water Alliance.
In both those situations, the same thing comes up. Not one of us can argue the conservation benefits of cover crops, whether it is nutrient sequestration, erosion control or anything in between; we all get it. The problems all lay on the logistic, economic, and agronomic side, and our task that day last week in Huxley was to refine a process that helps you be successful in your cover crop endeavors. My thoughts today aren’t perfect, but I think it lays out a good road map for you and your Field Sales Agronomist to work from.
First thing is setting appropriate goals and expectations. Much like everything else we try to accomplish we need to have an honest conversation about goals and expectations. The goals are important because it will help us determine the correct species mix to accomplish them. The species or species mix to accomplish erosion control is different from that you intend to graze or one that you want to help with compaction issues. This also helps the expectation of what you should see this fall after seeding and spring when it comes time to terminate the cover crop. (more about that later)
Second is we need to have a conversation about WHAT you have DONETHIS growing season, particularly the part about what herbicides you have used, at what rate and when did you apply them. All too often we haven’t thought about cover crops till right about now, then we make a decision and investment without double checking our work up until this point. It is quite possible because of the decisions we have made we need to start planning for a cover crop application for next year instead of this one. This is where it is important that your trusted advisor knows what you have done and has the fortitude to tell you “No, this won’t work.”
This leads us to Rates, Dates, Timing, and Methods of Application. Once decide on species based on our goals; now we need to talk about who, when and how we plan on making these seeding applications. Also paying attention to how species and planting date play a role in the intended seeding rate you will target. In the case of species like Rye which we intend mostly to be for erosion control the later we seed it the higher your seeding rate will get because we are shooting for maximum ground cover, the later planted the less growth, the less growth the less ground cover. Alternatively in the case of some of the other species that may not be as big of an issue.
Finally, we come to the Termination plan. We need to decide now, how, when, and who is responsible for terminating this crop if needed. Are you going to do it with your sprayer or are you going to have us do it? When do we want to and how do we decide what the trigger is? If half the failures in cover crops come from poor planning at seeding the other half comes from poor communication and execution at termination. Do we lay that plan out and communicate now? Because next spring, like every spring we all get very busy and task-oriented.
My big takeaways from those meetings are the importance placed on cover crops isn’t going away, and that if you are not yet trying them, we need to start with the lowest hanging fruit and start small so we can build our confidence from there. When we do that those logistical, agronomic and economic challenges get a lot less challenging.
Contrary to what seems to be the popular opinion on Social Media, I hate to tell you that the 2017 crop is not in the books. Did we make progress and set ourselves up for an easier rest of the year from an irrigation standpoint? Absolutely! But, we are not done with irrigation for the year, and I think it is fairly simple to explain why.
I have talked all year about how the AquaSystems Moisture Probes add clarity to our situation, and after this rain is no different. For those of you in the North, we see a full profile for the first time of the season. Even fuller than we saw in June when the probes were installed. But, while we can rejoice in a probe that is indicating a soil that is at capacity this week, we also need to remember what that means. For those of you in the North, we continue to see a crop that has struggled to establish the root profile under it that we want. 20”-24” of roots capture a lot of what is under this corn, and even with a full profile, that does not give us more than 4” of available water for our corn crop.
For those of you across the central portion of Nebraska, there has been no rule of thumb this season. Spotty rains have meant very different things for each of you. But what I can also deduce across this portion of the state is a crop that needs more water to finish than what we have in our profile. Now, I know some of you are going to tell me how much rain was in your gauge this week, but the soil probe doesn’t lie. As I look at a field near Utica with 40” of active roots under it, I see a crop with 5”-6” of demand left for the year at a minimum, and 4” of available water left in the root zone. High-intensity rainfall events have meant that infiltration didn’t keep up with rainfall, and where you were at with your soil profile and irrigation may have meant that you had water leave your field that you wish you had captured.
And so my take-home for the day is this. What our needs for the rest of the year vary by our crop stage. Corn is still going to need 4.5” to 7” depending on where we’re at in development. Everybody’s soybeans are still going to need 6” or more of water to finish out the season. I have yet to see a moisture probe that indicates we are done. But we have some folks that are near that point. My one point of caution to you is that we need to remember the energy that the plant spends bringing moisture up from the bottom of our profile. Even when we hit that magical threshold of Available Water surpassing Water Needs, we don’t get to quit for the year. Monitoring the plant’s water use at each root zone and watching for the plant exhibiting stress does not end until physiological maturity. The end of your job as an irrigator may or may not be close, but your job as a manager of water doesn’t end for at least another 40 days.
For years (literally, years) I’ve been trying to articulate to you an approach to N that involves both serious planning and great flexibility. It makes total sense in my brain, but I don’t know that I’ve been able to convey that clarity to you all. It turns out though that there is a process that reflects exactly this though, and unsurprisingly to me, it comes from the Air Force.
More specifically, it comes from Top Gun.
As in the coolest movie ever, yes (I’m not sorry, millennials), but more accurately from the actual school that the movie is based on.
Air Force pilot John Boyd started the efforts that eventually founded the Air Warfighter school upon his return from Korea. Experienced in piloting experience John Boyd redefined what could be done with planes, he rewrote the laws of physics and influencing the course of US military strategy and brought us planes like the F-16s, F-18s, and A-10 Warthogs.
An author and contributor to a number of military theories, one of Boyd’s key concepts is the OODA Loop, a decision making cycle that conceptualizes flexibility within a larger plan. It is a process utilized in high performance situations from SWAT teams interventions to the New England Patriots play calling (kind of).
The OODA Loop conceptualizes four stages of decision making: Observation, Orientation, Decision, and Action. It is a cycle that allows one to take on targets as they present while maintaining focus on your overall objective. For those of us in agriculture, it strikes me as a way to pursue continuous improvement and a way to nail the final details of a plan that is 80% complete.
I don’t have to tell you that the situation in your fields can change in a minute. From hail storms to droughts to sudden shifts in the markets, what things look like one day can be very different from what they look like the next. The OODA Loop allows us to honor those changes, to roll with them, or better yet, to roll them into our overall plans as if they were part of the plans from the beginning. Put into action:
Observation is something that we do continuously throughout the year as we monitor rainfall and temperature, inspect root development, scout for insect and disease pressures. Imagery is observation. Models are observation. The NESP is observation. Any activity that brings us information about the situation is observation, whether we’re accessing big data or crumbing a clump of soil between our fingers.
Orientation puts that information into a context. We test the info against our experience. We consider how it fits into our plan and into our philosophies. We think logistically, what can we do with the information? What might be the ROI of this decision or that? Does the price of corn validate this action or another?
Decision emerges from the previous two steps: given what you know what do you do? This is where your trusted advisor, your FSA or ACS specialist, can play a vital role. This is where you commit to the plan going forward.
Action then is how you pull it off. Let’s say you’ve decided, for example, to apply some additional N. Action is how you do it: perhaps by fertigation or y-drops or an application of dry urea, etc. Action is the implementation of the plan, the execution.
And then? You loop back through the OODA Loop.
The OODA Loop allows for adjustment and forward movement. It makes for the fastest way to the best version of your plan and supplies to you a method of organization for clear decision making to impact your operation immediately. Armed with it, you might actually find yourself agreeing that it can be quite beautiful when things don’t go as planned. Which would be as good for your crops as your sanity.
So as we find ourselves grinding through the month of August, we also have experienced a cool down. With these cooler temperatures has come an opportunity to look at our soybean strategy. Usually, August is when things pick up for our Soybean irrigation scheduling. We find ourselves at R4 to R5 right now depending on the maturity of the beans in our field. With that still comes a tremendous amount of water use, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 5.5” or a little more. And while some people look at the number of weeks to maturity (6-7) and water use is about the same, they have an irrigation plan of 1” per week to meet their needs. But with this strategy comes several opportunities for failure as well.
With our AquaSystems platform, I think that most growers will tell you that it is every bit as important understanding when not to water as it is to water. With soybeans, this is especially true. As we look at the negative effects of overwatering, like excessive vegetative growth, lodging, and white mold, we have plenty of reasons not to over water. I was adamant back in the early part of July about not watering our soybeans unless they were truly at drought levels. I stand by that statement. I saw several fields in Northern Nebraska that had no rain from May 25th to July 25th that need 2-3 shots of water to stay alive and healthy. Anything more than that was for our benefit as producers to feel as if we were doing something to help this crop.
But now we have transitioned to the other side of the coin. With the demands that soybeans have in the last 1/3 of their life that I talked about before, can we still afford to be patient? My answer: absolutely. We have done our homework and studied these plants all season long. One of the benefits of being conservative with the amount of water to our beans early is that we developed roots. And by roots, I mean significant roots. Several fields of beans I look at have 30”-40” of active roots under them this season. As we enter mid-late August and go to September, we need to remember that those roots are there to help this crop along. Watering every time the top 8 inches is dry is more detrimental than beneficial. If White Mold hasn’t hit you in the last few years, I am willing to bet you know some neighbors that it has. Keeping the surface from being wet any more than possible is one of the best strategies against White Mold we have.
So that is the take home for today. Even though our water use will ramp back up with some warmer weather, patience still pays when it comes to irrigating soybeans. I have seen it enough times to know that we can work these soybeans backward to manage our water for the rest of the season. While we are still a good 2 to 3 weeks too early to start that strategy, the thought process begins now. For those of you without an AquaSystems moisture probe, talk to your ACS Regional Specialist about what they see in your area. For the rest of you, visit with your FSA about your field and what the best strategy for you is right now.
This is one of those same-time-every-year kind of articles—one of those that I seem to write year in and year out, I guess because the topic is so important or something…
It’s early August. You’ve been at this crop for a while now. And it’s been a challenging year. You might be feeling a little done. But you are not done.
I will repeat: You are not done.
Sorry, friends. There are still decisions to be made. Important decisions. There are bushels out there yet that you can take or leave according to the decisions you’re being called to make right now. I’m going to encourage you to take them, because they matter—these are the ones that often turn a year from red to black.
The number of ears on your plants? Set. The number of kernels? Set. Test weight?
Not set. Yet.
Today’s decisions are the ones that determine whether your corn is heavy or light.
Physiologically, two-thirds of dry matter accumulation in an ear (test weight) occurs after dent. There’s about three to three and a half weeks between dent and the end of a corn plant’s life. In that short time, two-thirds of your final yield potential occurs. You cannot overstate the significance of this period of the season and the importance of your engagement and careful decision making.
So what decisions are left to be made? I’m glad you asked.
Go stand at the edge of one of your fields for a second and find that line where the ears are set. Below this line are the stalks, which are full of nutrients that can be driven up into the ears, driving up your test weight. Above this line are the leaves, the photosynthetic engine that drives a corn plant’s ability to reallocate nutrients from the stalk into the ears. You need that engine humming to make heavy corn. Your decisions now should aim to support that engine running at full capacity.
Yield is, after all, a sum of nitrogen, water, and sunlight.
Meaning that you want to ensure that your plants are capturing the maximum amount of sunlight. Meaning that you want to ensure that your plants’ leaves are intact and healthy. Meaning that you want to check for and treat any pressures that would cause defoliation, like insects and disease.
There are, unfortunately, some fairly aggressive diseases in our neighborhood right now, that left unchecked, will damage your yield potential. So scout, scout, and scout some more, pretty much up until the moment you climb into the cab of your combine. Look for signs of disease and damage, and if you see them, decide to treat them. The R-7 tool discussed a few articles back will help you as you make decisions, as will your friendly FSA.
And take a deep breath, friends. You’re almost done.
Last week we had a significant rainfall. For some, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but for many of us, it was the first rainfall we had over 0.25” since the end of May. I know that I don’t need to remind most of you how hectic irrigation has been this season, so this was a welcome reprieve from the grind that we found ourselves in. But, this rainfall was much more than a break in the storm. It provided some valuable insight into our fields, especially around some water infiltration understanding, and compaction layers.
I know that Mike discussed this in his Reachout article this week, but I thought that I should help quantitate this with some real world data. Last week’s rainfall gave us a chance to see how irrigation events and rainfall events differ in a soil. Here I have some probe data from a field that would be a sandy loam texture. This probe was installed in June after a 3” rainfall event, so I was comfortable with where the full point was on it. But as the season progressed, and we decided it was time to begin irrigating soybeans, our irrigations just didn’t help us catch up. With limited water, at best we could refill the top 8”, but continued to see declines at our deeper depths, and found ourselves falling behind.
And then this rainfall event happened. But what I want you to focus on is what we saw at our 12”, 16”, and 20” sensors. As Mike mentioned on Monday, for Nebraska, a good rule of thumb is that we can support an infiltration rate of about 2” per hour. This field has a water holding capacity of about 1.30” of available crop moisture per foot. So easy math would say that in about 1-2 hours we should be able to absorb a 2” rainfall. But what we saw here was significantly different.
Our rainfall began at 2 in the morning, and immediately began to infiltrate at 4” and 8”. Then it was 1:45 after the rainfall before we began to see infiltration at 12”. 22 hours before we saw infiltration at 16”, and 38+ hours before we saw it begin at 20”.
And so your take home for the day is that there are many lessons to be learned when you see a rainfall like this occur in the middle of a season. Is this issue caused by soil sub layers, or is it a compaction issue? The good news is that in either case, it is a mystery we can investigate and take action against for the future. In the short term, however, these sort of things are issues we take management action with today. This field will require a different management strategy from here on out. One that focuses on irrigation rates that fill the top foot and don’t over apply is step one. Understanding how our water infiltrates and making sure we have room to hold rain when we have a good chance in the forecast is another. Finally, understanding how the depletion is happening at deeper depths and understanding our ability to manage it this season is limited will help us with realistic expectations.
At the end of the day, this is just another example of how the technology helps us understand the agronomics of what is happening in our field. With a month plus of irrigation left, now is the perfect time to refine our strategy for the remainder of the year.
It’s no secret that I have some pet topics; Nitrogen, the planter, and compaction. This spring Keith and I both said that the issues of compaction plague us all year long. So we’ve talked about it when it came to tillage, during planting, when evaluating corn roots, but now are we going to talk about how it impacts water infiltration and irrigation strategies. Settle in while I get my soapbox out.
Keith could tell you that when we look at the AquaSystems probes that we have around Central Valley Ag country, we see some weirdness when it comes to water holding capacities, infiltration rates, and root activity. This weirdness comes from soil structure issues, and those issues are due to one, if not more, forms of compaction.
Just a quick review of soil structure and compaction; your soil is comprised of either soil or pore space, and the voids of the pore space is a variable mixture of air and water. Now the amount of those voids varies by soil type, and that’s how we determine the water holding capacity and how we schedule your irrigations. When we have compaction at any depth, we reduce or sometimes remove the voids in the soil increasing the density of the soil, when there is a reduction or removal of those voids there is nowhere for the water to go when rains or we irrigate it. That is what we see in a fair number of fields with our capacitance probes.
A perfect example is at our Bellwood RD Innovation site. We strip tilled the site in April which changed (increased) the bulk density (the amount of mass per volume of soil). Today when we probe the strips with a penetrometer we see a soil tension of about 100-150 psi at all depths of the soil. Then when we go in between the rows we push the penetrometer into the soil we start to see 250-320 psi at as little as the 2-3-inch depth. This becomes a problem.
Imagine this visual, you go to the sink to do the dishes, and there is a sponge sitting there on the sink where you left it from the last time you did dishes. The longer that sponge sits there the less moisture is in it but when you look at it has shrunk and is hard. When a sponge looks like that, the pore space (voids) is where the volume was lost. When you first try to wet that sponge, it acts like it wants to repel water rather than absorb it. The same thing happens to your soil, the harder and dryer the soil is, the more hydrophobic it becomes. If you don’t believe it, pour a bucket of water on a dirt road.
The shallower that compaction is, the more hydrophobic the soil becomes, especially when it comes to rainfall where we can’t infiltrate the water at the same rate of which it is falling making rainfall less effective. If infiltration rate problem wasn’t bad enough the water holding capacity is effectively cut in half so we can’t even hold the water, we are getting anyway. Going back to our example of Bellwood, the water runs from between the rows to the stripped zone and re-infiltrates to the rows and the root zone. This difference in compaction is evident after a rainfall or irrigation event you can walk on the compacted soil hours later while the stripped zone is wet.
Take this issue across a whole field due to varying soil types, slope, aspect, residue cover we get wildly variable water related issues. There isn’t much we can do about it today, but it is something that we can go back to at the end of the year when we look at yield and start to ask questions about remediating soil compaction, variable rate irrigation, or some combination of the two.
This is something that we don’t normally think about, but with some of the new technology we have available we can evaluate and make decisions around compaction. We can improve our water use efficiency in both irrigated and dryland situations for you in the future.
Next week marks the introduction of a new age for the Advanced Cropping Systems platform at CVA. To say that I am excited would be a bit of an understatement right now. This is going to change our ability to put information directly in the hands of yourselves, and the people that help you make the decisions on your operation. So as I said, next week will be the introduction, so I hope you understand that today I am going to leave a bit of a shroud of mystery around this topic as I highlight what you are going to see.
Agriculture has evolved at a pace in the last few years that is almost unfathomable. The technology that has permeated our farms has become an integral part of what we do on a daily basis. Seven years ago the weather was something we got from TV or Radio, or from our DTN monitors. Now it’s about 12 seconds away whenever we want it on our phones, and when there’s a cloud coming our way, we are frustrated if the radar image is 9 minutes old. As you’ve all adopted soil sampling and VR applications of Fertility Products and Seed more and more through the years, the methods that those were developed with evolved, but how much evolution did we see in the delivery method.
All of this has happened at the same time that decisions have gotten more complex. As we have added the ability to have more information, it has not necessarily made the decision-making process easier. That is because putting all of that information together in one place with one person is still a challenge. As we unveil this new opportunity for us, you will rapidly see how it is going to enable your trusted advisor to be the person leading the charge, and enable them to be the field general we need on a daily basis.
At the same time, we understood that we are in a new age of information availability. With the device that most of us have in our pocket, we have more information available in mere seconds than we even thought was possible. And that is ok to a point. But I would surmise that what you want at your disposal is your data. Gone are the days of getting an answer to a question in a couple of days, now are the days of having it in a matter of minutes. We want to make sure your precision data is there for you when you want it.
But much of this still comes down to having the data you need to make your decision. As I said before, more data has not necessarily added clarity to the decision making process. That is because we could not put it all together in one place, Precision Ag Data has always been a challenge to integrate. A software package that handles yield maps does poorly at handling soil samples and vice versa. Our true need in Precision Ag is to put it all together so that we can make quick decisions about the validity of data and if it makes sense to integrate into our decision-making process.
And so the take home for today is that we are on the cusp of addressing this and more. Next week you will all begin to see the things that we are excited about in ACS. This will mark the beginning of some changes to your ACS program, but the key here is to realize that this is an evolution that has been in the works for over a year and a half. As we introduce this, I think you will become excited too. I urge you to attend the Innovation Series events starting next week to see for yourself. For those of you unable to make it, make sure you ask your FSA how the new ACS program will benefit you. Because in the end, that is what it is all about. Improving the process and results for you, the Member Owners of CVA.
Growers are a diverse bunch of people, but as I talk with you all as the season progresses, there is one refrain that I hear from every corner: “If I could do just one thing over, I’d…”
I’ve mentioned before that the typical grower desires to make around five changes to his or her operation every season. The corn matures and we see the repercussions of some decision and grumble and think, “Next time.”
I feel you. While I’m not managing hundreds of acres myself, I do have my modest little projects at our RD sites. Like you, I want my fields to be big and green and full of giant ears and so I make decisions to achieve this goal, while, like you, keeping costs under control and trying to balance and manage the rest of life as well. And sometimes, my calculus is just a bit off and things don’t work out like I thought they would.
The difference is that it’s much easier for me to look at the crappy outcome of a decision and see it as a learning opportunity. I encourage y’all always to do this same thing, but I know that it’s tough when you’re looking at a poor outcome and the calculations start: the money, the time, the thought.
So visit one of our RD Innovation Days and learn something at my expense. This is exactly what the RD sites are for: laughing at me trial and error. Trial and error is a painful thing in your own fields. I mean, it happens every season regardless, but it’s tough to put that error piece into perspective when you’re so personally invested. Not so much when it occurs at an RD site, right?
All three sites are imperfect. All three have a roughness that is ripe for discussion, and maybe a little chuckle. I think that there are definitely some decisions I made regarding irrigation management that I would take back if I could.
But also, maybe not. And here’s the other discussion to have: when you say you’d change something, why? Because, and this is truth, friends, just because you feel that you would have changed things if given the chance, it doesn’t mean that that impulse is correct. Consider why you made the decision in the first place. Consider if the change you think you want to make is actually the right change after all.
These are tough considerations to make alone. There is beauty in discussion and the best answers really do come from a group, not from individuals. So bring it. Bring your questions; bring your thoughts. Meet me halfway at an Innovation Day and we’ll talk. I have no storyboards this year and as few fliers as I could get. I do have a few healthy regrets (irrigation!) and a few lessons to share. I’d like to hear yours and I’d like to have those important discussions that will give us a good bearing as we start to wind down the beast of 2017 and look toward a new year.
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