September 30, 2019

2020 Soil Fertility Workshops Schedule

Dates and locations are set for the 2020 Soil Fertility Workshops. The goal of our workshops is simple: we provide a general overview of fundamental agronomic principles and current university research so our attendees are better able to make nutrient management decisions for their customers or for their own operations. Today’s producers are inundated with information regarding crop inputs and practices. By applying the fundamental principles of agronomy to these inputs and practices, a consultant, agricultural retailer, or producer can evaluate and decide which of those are most applicable for achieving both the short-term and long-term goals of a specific operation.

The workshops are developed and presented by A&L Great Lakes Laboratories’ Agronomy Staff comprised of Certified Crop Advisers, Certified Professional Agronomists, and Certified Professional Soil Scientists whom have a wide range of experience in the agricultural industry.

We will be presenting eight workshops in January and February in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. For a complete list of dates and locations,  please visit our website.
August 30, 2019

Fall Management of Alfalfa

Fall is a critical time of year to manage alfalfa to ensure maximum productivity and stand longevity. Unlike annual crops such as corn and soybean, fall is when the alfalfa plant begins to store additional sugar, protein, and nutrient reserves in the crown and root system, which will provide protection from the cold winter weather and facilitate vigorous growth next spring. In a year such as this one, where hot and dry weather this summer was especially stressful to the plant, it is crucial to allow the alfalfa crop to prepare for the cold months ahead.


One of the most important management practices involves timely harvest. Final cuttings should be made early enough in the fall to allow the crop to regrow adequately and replenish necessary reserves before a killing frost, and should generally be completed by early to mid-September, depending on your location and local climate. More guidance on the exact timing can be obtained from state Extension publications or your local Extension agent. This is also a good time of year to assess the overall health and quality of an alfalfa crop, including evaluating stand density and root and crown health, allowing you to address any problems before they become serious.


Also critical for maintaining a successful alfalfa stand is managing the fertility of the crop. Fall is a good time of year to make fertilizer and lime applications. Low levels of nutrients, particularly potassium (K), can also lead to reduced stand health and vigor. In addition to the other essential functions of K in the plant, K plays an important role in the plants’ ability to resist subfreezing temperatures, and low levels of K in the plant can lead to increased winterkill if conditions are favorable. In addition, maintaining a proper pH with liming is critical for a number of reasons, including maximizing the availability of other nutrients and ensuring successful nitrogen fixation. Since lime requires adequate soil moisture and time in order to affect soil pH, making lime applications in the fall allows the liming material time to react and can have a greater effect on next year’s crop.


Careful management of your alfalfa crop this fall can mean a stronger, more vigorous crop next year. Therefore, taking some time to care for your alfalfa crop today can mean better results tomorrow and beyond.

August 30, 2019

Accessing Soil Sampling History Reports

As harvest progresses, some of you may have questions about when a field was last sampled, and whether it is due to be resampled.  Many of our customers use their Soil Sampling History Reports to identify which customer fields need to be resampled. These reports are available on our eDocs online document and data management system.

 

Following is a brief overview of how to access your Soil Sampling History Reports and Soil Test Data Summaries:

 

  1. Log in to eDocs at http://docs.algreatlakes.com.  Please contact us if you have forgotten your password.

 

  1. Change your Query Settings to match the following example:

 

 

 

  1. The Query Results will then show your available summary reports:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Click the + in the row containing the summary report you wish to view or download:

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Click PDF (underlined) to view or download.

 

The Soil Sampling History Report helps identify or confirm which fields need to be resampled. Future summary reports will be posted to eDocs on an annual basis.  We hope that these tools will be useful to you and make your sampling efforts more efficient.

 

August 06, 2019

How Might the 2019 Growing Season Impact Soil Test Results

Every growing season has factors that can potently influence soil fertility results, however 2019 will have a greater potential to influence you soil test results than most. The key to success will be field notes about crop growth, yield, and management of the field as part of a total fertility management plan. View full article →
July 31, 2019

Feed for Thought

The weather conditions in the Midwest has been a challenge for all of agriculture, including those in the livestock industry and forage producers. Wet weather, small harvest windows, and severe winters have all had a profound effect on the availability of and the quality of forage products available to livestock producers.

Forage crops are a cornerstone of many livestock feeding programs. However, to get the most benefit from the forage, it is critical to know the nutritional value of the material so that a proper nutritional program can be developed around that forage. Forage testing can provide this valuable information. However, a good forage analysis begins with proper sampling technique.

A quality feed sample should be as representative of the lot as possible, and that lot should be constituted of relatively uniform materials. For example, it is best to sample each cutting of hay separately, as the quality and composition of the feed can be affected by a number of factors, such as weather, moisture content at harvest, and maturity of the crop. To collect a forage sample, collect sub samples from different bales within the lot and combine them together to make up your sample. More detailed information on how to collect samples from different types of forages can be found in our sampling guide, available on our website or by clicking here.

A question that we often get here at the lab is "is my hay any good?" Different things make a good quality hay to different people in different situations: what one person considers good is not necessarily what someone else would consider good. Analyzing your forages gives you the information necessary to see how that forage fits into an overall feeding program. By working with an animal nutritionist, you can then tailor a feeding program to meet the needs of your particular operation.

July 31, 2019

Compost Seal of Testing Assurance (STA)

Compost analysis has become an integral part of our testing business.  It is an area that has consistently grown over the years mainly because of the U.S. Composting Council’s (USCC) Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program and the fact that compost utilization is increasing as users discover the benefits of composting and using compost.  

 

                                                 

What is “STA”?
The Seal of Testing Assurance Program is a compost testing, labeling and information disclosure program designed to provide information to compost producers or users so that they can get the maximum benefit from the use of compost.  The program was created in 2000 and is the consensus of many of the leading compost research scientists in the United States.  A&L Great Lakes Laboratories, Inc. has been working with the USCC for many years, and we were one of two independent laboratories who worked with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the validation of the USCC testing methods.
We are a certifying laboratory for the Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program.  We analyze composts from throughout the United States, and have had the opportunity to analyze compost samples from Mexico, Central America, Europe and some Caribbean islands. 

What Methods Are Used?
In order to keep quality consistently high, it is important to have standardized test methods that all certifying laboratories adhere to. The United States Composting Councils’ Test Methods for the Examination of Composting and Composts (TMECC) are the standard methods used for compost testing in both the United States and Canada and are jointly published by the USDA and the USCC.  They were selected to help both compost producer and purchaser to determine if the compost they are considering is suitable for the use that they are planning, and to help them compare various compost products using a testing program that can be performed by a group of independent, certified labs across the country and in Canada. TMECC provides protocols to sample, monitor, and analyze materials at all stages of the composting process.   

It is also important to know that although the TMECC methods are primarily what we follow for compost testing, we can also perform some analyses by ASTM methods as well.  ASTM methods are often requested by engineering firms, landscape architects etc.


What Is The Process?
Compost manufacturers in the STA program will send our laboratory samples of their compost products based on the volume they produce annually.  The laboratory then analyzes the compost for a defined set of tests and produces an analytical report as well as a Compost Technical Data Sheet.  The Compost Technical Data Sheet includes directions for product use, a list of product ingredients and analytical test results.  It is really advantageous for a compost producer to be able to hand a prospective customer a Technical Data Sheet produced by an independent lab.  It really lends validity to the product.  Another benefit of the STA program is that the compost producer has the rights to use the STA logo in their marketing or promotional activities.  Some may choose to print the logo on a label, marketing materials or display it on their web site.

The STA program has a list of “approved laboratories” on its web site http://compostingcouncil.org/labs/


Did You Know? (For Compost Customers)

 

  • Whether or not you are an STA participant, if you are sending in compost samples to the lab, make sure you send enough sample to us.  With our C10 compost test packages we normally ask for 2-3 sealable gallon Ziploc bags of material.  Not having enough sample can also affect turnaround times.  Germinations take quite a bit of material and if we don’t have enough, we have to complete all the other analyses first before starting the germination test.

 

  • If you are analyzing for fecal coliform, the EPA holding time is 24 hours, so please ship the sample on blue ice packs to us in a cooler using overnight shipping for compliance. Samples should be shipped overnight Monday - Thursday to avoid weekend delays.

 

  • A&L Great Lakes Laboratories has a cooler exchange program.  We will automatically ship you back the cooler to you so that you are ready for your next sampling event.

  • We have a dedicated Customer Service Representative who ensures your compost sample is processed correctly.  For any sample processing, handling or turnaround time questions, feel free to contact Mandee Muñoz (260) 483-4759 mmunoz@algreatlakes.com

  •  For further questions about the STA program, pricing, test packages or requirements, account creation or compost testing in general, contact Greg Neyman (260) 483-4759 gregn@algreatlakes.com

July 16, 2019

Looking Back on Crop Removal

We have all seen the news headlines and experienced the challenges of the 2019 planting season first hand. Successful crop advisors will evaluate how the 2019 planting season impacted growers’ operations and look for ways to improve profitability while further mitigating risk. This maybe more profitable than simply hoping for better weather patterns and improved commodity prices.

Soil fertility recommendations have two key parts that are added together to arrive at a final nutrient application rate. Part one is crop removal. How much fertilizer do I need to apply to account for or replace the nutrients removed by harvesting a crop? The second part is how much fertilizer above crop removal do I need to apply to increase soil test levels from where they are to a target level over a given period of time. Most recommendation sets are built to move from the current soil test level to a target in 4 years, that time frame could also be extended to reduce application rates. Likewise, how much less than crop removal do I apply to reduce soil test levels to target levels over a given period of time.

Traditional soil fertility recommendations take the approach of predicting or forecasting crop yields for the coming year or two. That may be as accurate as forecasting the weather. When it comes to determining the amount of fertilizer needed to replace the nutrients removed by harvesting a crop, the 2019 planting season may show us that there maybe a more cost-effective way to approach this value that requires a shift in perspective.

Rather than forecasting yield using a 10-year average or a yield goal for future yield, and applying fertilizer in advance, shift your mindset to replace the nutrients that past crops have removed. For example, you may have forecasted a 200 bu/ac corn crop for 2019 sometime before planting the 2019 crop, spread fertilizer, and now due to late planting that yield may only reach 170-180 bu/ac. So effectively this leads to a 9-15% over application of fertilizer in 2019 by incorrect forecasting. The use of yield monitor data, storage structure estimates, and scale tickets of past yield values are significantly more accurate than forecasting future yields. Due to low yields in 2019, producers maybe looking for an agronomically wise place to cut fertilizer costs by 10-15% in 2020, here might be an option.

When forecasting yields these overages are often not accounted for in the subsequent years. In years when yield is higher than expected we can actually short for the following crops. While routine soil sampling can catch these variances, there maybe an economic or agronomic impact until the next sampling cycle, or longer.

The main questions. So, what’s in it for the producer? And what’s in for the fertilizer retailer?  The producer’s key to future stability will be through better management. This process allows a producer to follow a low yielding year with an input reduction and hopefully be able to effectively maintain strong soil fertility after an exceptional yield year. The ag retailer that takes the effort to work through this transition building a stronger partnership with the producer in these tighter times will differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Better management is often the key to better profitability for both parties. Contact your ALGL agronomy representative with any questions you may have on this topic.

May 31, 2019

2019 - Where Do We Go from Here?

It would be an understatement to say that the 2019 planting season has had its challenges, and has likely set the stage for a challenging growing season. Prolonged wet weather can be a factor in a number of critical stresses for the crop, including enhanced disease pressures, the prolonged impact of the standing water, and the potential for rooting impacts from possibly planting in less than ideal soil conditions. This newsletter contains a few articles that address questions that we have been receiving and those that we expect may arise in the new few weeks.

With so many factors that can cause crop stress, there will be an increased need to scout fields and diagnose problems during the 2019 growing season. Be sure to take a soil probe, shovel, soil sample bags, and plant sample bags with you to scout fields. A soil or tissue sample that comes back with an abnormal value is usually seen as valuable information in determining a cause, but it may be incomplete,  as tissue or soil samples that comes back normal can also provide valuable information.

It is recommended that soil and plant tissue samples are collected together, as the relationship between these types of analyses can provide great insight.

  • If both come back normal, then the issue is likely not fertility related. Instead, the focus should be on cultural and environmental factors. Be sure to dig the plant and evaluate the roots and seedbed for additional clues that may be pertinent to the diagnosis.
  • If the tissue samples indicate a deficiency while the soil sample indicates sufficient levels of nutrients, then the soil likely has the capacity to provide the needed nutrients, but the plant is not accessing them. In this case your focus should be to identify why the plant was not able to access the nutrients. Digging plants to access root distribution, density, and architecture can help to identify restrictions due to compaction or restricted rooting due to soil saturation. Restricted roots can play a big role in limiting a plants ability to access nutrients.
  • If the tissue sample comes back near normal to low, and the soil test is low, then a nutrient deficiency should be suspected. Often, less than ideal soil conditions can exacerbate underlying issues that have not presented themselves in the past. Keep in mind some of these nutrient issues may be addressed with an in-season application. However, others may be a project to begin working on for subsequent cropping years.

If you can, be sure to brush up on crop physiology! That knowledge can be very helpful when diagnosing environmental and cultural crop challenges. For example, for the first few weeks the roots of a plant are prominently providing water to the growing seedlings and the nutrients are coming from the seed, so the information provided by a plant tissue analysis must be taken in context with many other factors. For more information check out our newsletter article “Get the Most from Early Plant Tissue Analysis”. Please call your ALGL agronomist if you have any sampling questions.

May 31, 2019

Get the Most from Early Plant Tissue Analysis

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 of 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.

 

 

May 31, 2019

Emergency Forage Options

Many livestock and hay producers are dealing with forage stands, particularly alfalfa, that have been extensively damaged by this past winter and exceptionally wet conditions over the last 2 growing seasons. The following article from OSU provides timely information for producers to consider when determining their options for the upcoming growing season.

 

https://agcrops.osu.edu/newsletter/corn-newsletter/2019-14/emergency-forages-planting-early-mid-summer

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