June 29, 2016

Agronomists Leading the Charge for Cleaner Water

Since the introduction of the Certified Crop Advisor program by the American Society of Agronomy in 1992, quite a bit in agriculture has changed. Through all of the challenges and changes during the past 20 years, Certified Crop Advisors have been at the forefront of examining the situation at hand, formulating solutions, and educating others in the industry. As nutrient management challenges impact water quality around the country, Certified Crop Advisors are taking the lead once again with the introduction of the 4R Nutrient Management Specialist certification.

The 4R Nutrient Management Specialist certification was added to the Certified Crop Advisor repertoire of skills and knowledge to focus on nutrient management and the resulting environmental impact. In August of 2015 the first 4R Nutrient Management Specialist examination was held with a limited number of participants. A larger group took the exam in January of 2016 focusing on the Right Rate, Right Source, Right Place, and Right Time to apply nutrients. States participating in the new specialty certification include Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The certified agronomy staff at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories has begun earning this specialist certification, and will continue to certify agronomy staff members during future exams.

June 29, 2016

Know Your Irrigation Water!

When grain prices were on the rise, irrigation management began to garner more focus in the desire to manage soil moisture levels for optimal yield. This drove greater awareness in soil moisture monitoring and variable rate applications based on the water holding capacity of the soil. As the cost to pump water remains a large expense, there is focus on continually improving water use efficiency through maintenance of the irrigation systems and soil moisture monitoring. The traditional focus of irrigation management has been on technology and the equipment itself. However, the fundamental input of irrigation is still often overlooked; the water itself.
 
Many producers in the Great Lakes region feel that irrigation water testing is not needed since we do not face the salinity and sodium issues that are seen in arid regions of the United States. While it is true that salinity and sodium are rarely a concern for irrigated production systems in the Great Lakes region, we have our own unique challenges that must be managed appropriately.
 
The majority of our irrigation water in the Great Lakes region is “hard”, due to high levels of calcium based minerals. Long term application of untreated irrigation water that is high in calcium carbonate can lead to several challenges. This water tends to have a high pH that can lead to increased pH of surface soils over time causing nutrient availability issues, or could led to herbicide carryover issues. These effects can be exaggerated on sandy or low CEC soils. Irrigation water high in calcium or iron can also lead to calcium deposits on irrigation equipment leading to non-uniform water applications and additional maintenance costs.  An irrigation water suitability test is key in identifying the severity of high pH and high calcium carbonate levels, and can be used to identify, calibrate, and verify cost effective corrective actions.

Irrigation water quality changes during a short period may be slight, but over time can be significant. A water source that started with good quality may change so that it is no longer acceptable for the intended use.

We strongly encourage all users of irrigation water to establish a water quality baseline for each source (well) by testing the water. Follow-up tests should be conducted periodically to determine if the water quality has changed and, if so, the potential effect on the water use.

May 27, 2016

Spray Water Testing

A key tool that producers can use to reduce the risk of developing herbicide resistant weeds is to use full rates of herbicides. Reducing the application rate of herbicides can help select for and speed up the development of resistant weeds in the plant population.

Minerals in the water used to spray herbicides can reduce the effectiveness of glyphosate and, in effect, reduce the application rate. Many producers use AMS to combat this process. The following article, originally published in No-Till Farmer magazine, does a very good job of explaining the need to determine the correct AMS use rate with glyphosate products.

Our Spray Water Test packages provide a suggested minimum AMS use rate by entering the lab results into an equation developed by researchers at North Dakota State University. However, herbicide users must always read and follow the herbicide label.

 

Why Your Glyphosate May Not Be Working - No-Till Farmer

May 25, 2016

Environmental Monitoring Requirements for Livestock Facilities

A&L Great Lakes Laboratories offers many analytical services as well as the technical expertise to assist livestock producers of every size to manage and monitor nutrients both in the field and around the facility.  We are able to assist our customers in the livestock industry with nutrient analysis that will help them manage manure and site run-off water in a responsible manner that insures compliance with state and federal regulations, provides an economical source of nutrients for cropland and maintains good stewardship practices for the environment.

Many Illinois livestock producers come under the Illinois Depart of Agriculture Waste Management part 900 “Livestock Management Facility Regulations” that require perimeter drainage tile sampling, analysis and reporting for storm water around certain livestock facilities.  According to section 900.511…

“The owner or operator of the livestock waste handling facility shall sample the liquid from the monitoring port prior to the livestock waste handling facility being placed into service and at least quarterly thereafter, if any liquid is available.  The samples shall be analyzed for the following items: Nitrate-nitrogen, phosphate-phosphorus, Chloride, sulfate and ammonia-nitrogen.”

We would be happy to assist our livestock customers with facility water, tile water, manure and soil sample analysis in support of your manure management and facility monitoring program.  If your state requires a specific test for additional nutrients, please contact the lab and we would be happy to discuss your individual needs.

May 16, 2016

eDocs – A Deeper Dive

Most of our customers are aware of the basic benefits of eDocs.  In fact, some use eDocs exclusively to retrieve their reports and data files.   We want to review some of the functionality of eDocs that perhaps you aren’t aware of.

  • A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. scans each and every submittal form or Chain of Custody paperwork that is sent to us. This is an important piece of information for the customer if there are questions about who sent samples, sample or project ID’s or what tests were requested etc.
  • Data and reports are available back to the year 2004.
  • Each report number has an associated “Download All” button. The function of this command is to zip up all documents associated with a particular report into a single file.  In the example below, the Report (PDF), submittal form, CSV (Data1) and Excel (Data2) files would all be zipped into a single file for download or to save to your local computer.

Edocs Screenshot

 

  • Often a customer would like to download all the files for a given year, or perhaps for a given grower. eDocs makes this easy.  To get all the files for a given year, query out the year under the “Query Settings” and “Select Date Range”.  Once your screen refreshes, check the box along the left side of the screen which corresponds to the file type you wish to download.  If you want all the Data1 files, then check the Data1 box and press the “Download Files” button.  eDocs will zip up all of the Data1 (or whichever box is checked) type files into a single zip file that can be downloaded or saved right to the user’s local drive.  This is a great way to get many files into a single concise format to work with.

 

  • If you are an eDocs user that has multiple accounts with A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, it would most likely be easier for you to access all your accounts through a single master eDocs login. In that case, please notify us and we will create a “Master Account” that will enable you to access all accounts with a single logon.
  • eDocs normally will email you notifications when new documents have been uploaded to your eDocs account. However, these notifications are controlled by the “User Preferences” section.  If you don’t want to receive email notifications, go to the “User Preferences” tab.  Scroll to the bottom and notice the “Notification Frequency”.  Here is where you can disable the notifications.  Also, if you would prefer to receive a text message rather than an email, that option is also available under “Notification Method” as well as the option to disable notifications.

April 28, 2016

Soil Test Summaries - One Step Beyond

The International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) recently released the 2015 Soil Test Levels in North America report. This report is the latest in the series of summaries that IPNI,  along with the Potash and Phosphate Institute (PPI), its predecessor organization, have produced since the late 1960s.  Soil testing labs around the country were asked to supply soil test data with the only identification being the state a sample comes from.  Data from over 7 million samples from 60 soil testing labs is included in the 2015 summary.  In conjunction with the 2015 summary IPNI developed a Soil Test Summary website with extensive capabilities to evaluate and summarize data at a national, regional and state level.

A&L Great Lakes Laboratories contributes to the periodic IPNI soil test summaries because we believe there is significant value in knowing current soil test levels and their trends over time.  Consistent with this, each year we provide soil test summaries to each of our soil testing customers.  This enables them to review soil test levels for their business.  We also create yearly soil test summaries for the Great Lakes region, states and quadrants of states, with over 10 years of these summaries posted on the A&L Great Lakes website for public use.

The geographical size (scale) of a soil test summary determines what information can be gained.  The IPNI national survey provides a window into state and regional soil fertility management practices as well as evaluating the effects of fertilizer sales trends.  Drilling down to a sub-state, watershed or county level allows a closer look at nutrient management practices.  An agronomic consultant or fertilizer dealer may identify challenges or opportunities when viewing their soil test summary.  A farming operation can evaluate trends for their entire business, individual farms and/or fields.  When all of this data is used together, a more complete picture of the overall trends in soil fertility management come into better focus.

Trends in soil test levels are powerful tools that can be used to guide soil fertility management decisions on many levels.  A&L Great Lakes is proud to work with IPNI to contribute to this valuable resource.

April 28, 2016

Changing Faces

Welcome Steven Piercy to the full time staff of A & L Great Lakes Laboratory.  Steven is not new to our team; he actually began working for us in the fall of 2014 as temporary help for our soil season and continued in the plant room last summer.  He has great versatility and can work in many areas of our laboratory.

New A&L employee Steven Piercy working in the lab

His primary focus will be analyzing soil pH and performing germinations for compost analysis.  He resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana and is pursuing a degree from Purdue University.

The opportunity for Steven to join our staff comes with the departure of Le Matha, who had been with us since 2012.  Le is pursuing his love of nature and the culinary arts in Yellowstone National Park.  He will now have many opportunities to fish as he works for the US Parks in the kitchens of resorts within the park.  He too was a valued employee who is missed. We wish them both great success in their new endeavors.

April 28, 2016

Get the Most from Early Plant Tissue Analysis

Planting is underway (or soon will be) throughout much of the Great Lakes regions. Early season field scouting is essential to ensure good emergence, detect potential weed and insect pressure, and monitor the effectiveness of your fertility program. The earlier an issue is detected, the better chance there is to correct the issue. One tool to help detect potential fertility problems is plant tissue analysis. However, to get useful results back from the lab, the proper plant part must be collected for the current growth stage of the crop.

The proper method for collecting early season corn tissue samples is to collect 15 or more whole plants to comprise a single sample. This is only referring to the above ground portion of the plant. This method is appropriate for corn up to 12 inches tall, or approximately V4 to V5. However, corn can be sampled too early to provide useful data for making decisions. During the first three weeks after emergence, much of the nutrient content of the young plant is not coming from the soil, but from the embryotic tissues within the seed. The young plants also have a very small seminal root system during the first few weeks which are not able to access the nutrients in a large volume of soil; the main role of this root system is to get water to the seed and new leaf tissues. Nutrient deficiencies during the first few weeks are likely caused by environmental conditions and do not necessary reflect low nutrient levels in the soil. An example of this situation is young corn plants turning purple. Purpling of young corn plants can be a symptom of a phosphorus deficiency, but can also occur on soils with adequate phosphorus levels when nighttime temperatures are low. Cool spring nights slow metabolic processes in the plant resulting in the buildup of anthocyanins, which appear purple. Tissue sampling in corn should be delayed until 3 to 4 weeks after emergence, or until the plants have developed a functional nodal root system in order to ensure that the tissue analysis is representative of the nutrients that are available to the plant.

V4 corn plant showing purpling

Image 1: V4 corn plant showing purpling. Source: purdue.edu

Similar to corn, soybeans can also be sampled too early. Proper tissue sampling for all growth stages for soybeans is collecting 25 or more of the most recently mature trifoliates without petioles. The first leaves to appear on a recently emerged soybean plant are unifoliates, or cotyledons. The nutrient content of the cotyledons, sometimes referred to as seed leaves, does not accurately represent the nutrients available in the soil. Tissue sampling in soybeans should be delayed until the V2 growth stage. The V2 growth stage is reached when the second trifoliate has completely unrolled. It will generally take a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks after emergence to reach this stage. At this point, the first trifoliate is considered mature, and can be collected for tissue analysis.

V2 soybean plant

 

 Image 2: V2 soybean plant. Source: clemson.edu

Spring tissue sampling of winter wheat can be a very useful management tool. The timing of wheat sampling does not correspond to a specific growth stage though. The important factor when determining the appropriate time to sample wheat is that the wheat has broken dormancy and is actively growing again. Generally, wheat will be at a growth stage of Feekes 3 or 4 when this occurs. The appropriate method for collecting wheat samples at this stage is to collect 25 or more whole plants from ½ inch above the soil surface. One of the benefits of early season wheat sampling is to fine tuning a “green-up” nitrogen applications based on the nitrogen content of the plant at Feekes 5 (please visit the Purdue Extension News Release for more information). 

Feekes 5 wheat

Image 3: Feekes 5 wheat. Source: Kansas State University

Accurate plant tissue testing begins with proper sample collection and handling. Make sure to collect the proper plant part for the current growth stage of the crop, and collect the proper number to make the sample. This information can be found on the plant analysis page at algreatlakes.com. Always avoid soil contamination in your plant samples. Package samples in paper bags. If shipping is delayed, store samples in a cool location, but do not freeze. Never include roots with a plant sample. If you have any questions on proper plant tissue sampling, please contact the lab for assistance.

 

 

April 14, 2016

How Does Your Compost Stack Up?

A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. receives many calls relating to compost quality.  Frequently the question is somehow related to:  “How can I tell if my compost report numbers are good or not?”  The answer can vary depending on what the client is using the compost for and if there is an EPA, state, county, or municipal requirement that must be met.  Sometimes the compost is mixed in with soil or other material to make a blend which is governed by private engineering or governmental regulations, such as DOT (Department of Transportation) specifications.  All of this can lead to confusion, especially to the end consumer.  The US Composting Council has provided some very useful guides outlining the “preferred” and “acceptable” ranges of compost for different consumer uses.  Below is an example guide for use in a Flower and Vegetable Garden:

 
Table of Compost Parameters

 

While these guidelines provide excellent direction for evaluating compost quality, government and engineering specifications do not always align exactly with the US Composting Council’s ranges.  The laboratory has analyzed composts that are perfectly good and viable (as a growing medium), and within all the USCC’s recommended ranges, but failed to meet a specific engineering specification.  This can be very frustrating for the compost producer.  In one particular instance, the lab tested compost that met all the human safety requirements (Bacteria and EPA 503 Heavy Metals), plants grew well in it, and it was mature.  In addition, the nutrient content, pH and soluble salt levels were spot on. However, it still failed to meet a specification because the organic matter was 20%, which was considered too low.  In this example, the engineer was creating a blend that required a minimum organic matter content and, if using the planned blending recipe, the final blend would not have met their specifications.  Rather than invalidate this compost, an alternative was to change the blending recipe by increasing the amount of the compost used to achieve a blend that would have met the specs. Another alternative would have been to evaluate the specifications of the final blend to determine if the specified minimum organic matter content was actually necessary to meet the needs for this situation.
 
A number of different compost parameters can be analyzed, but some parameters are more important in different situations than others. For example, nutrients, fecal coliform and heavy metals may be important for composts that contain animal manures or biosolids and that might be land applied, while sieve size, odor presence, organic matter content and weed seed viability may be important to landscapers.  Also, where quantifying the concentration of man-made materials such as glass, plastic, and metal, may be appropriate for yard trimmings compost, it may not be appropriate for biosolids or food by-product compost.
 
A PDF document entitled “Compost Characteristics and Their Importance,” as well as a basic A&L Great Lakes Laboratories Compost “FACT SHEET” are available to help you understand compost data better.  If you are interested in receiving either of these publications, or would like to discuss your particular compost or composting project, please contact Greg Neyman gregn@algreatlakes.com.

March 31, 2016

Focus on the Next Generation

The staff at A&L Great Lakes works together as a team to support local and regional charities and programs as part of the ongoing commitment of the Benevolence Committee to support worthy causes. In addition to the work of the Benevolence Committee, many of the staff members reach out on their own to support worthy causes.  

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