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:

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:

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 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.

April 25, 2019

Effective Herbicide Use Starts at the Tap

Herbicide resistant weeds are an ever-growing concern in production agriculture. One of the quickest ways to encourage weeds to develop resistance to a herbicide chemistry is to use less than the labeled rates of that herbicide. Knowing this, very few applicators will use less than labeled herbicide rates. However, what if an applicator is effectively applying less than labeled rates unknowingly due to the quality of their spray water?


This University of Florida extension article discusses how spray water chemistry impacts the performance of flumioxazin, a key ingredient in the effective control of herbicide resistant marestail. We offer two spray water analysis packages to help you identify the challenges with your spray water so you to make the most effective applications possible.

April 25, 2019

Soil Testing in a Tough Ag Economy

Anyone who has worked in the agricultural industry in the last few years has heard someone say, “the days of $7 corn and $17 beans are gone.” You may have even seen “In memory of…” decals on truck windows commemorating those commodity prices. The truth is prices are down and most agricultural economists predict that lower prices are going to be the norm for several more years. In these tight times, producers must critically evaluate every crop input from seed selection to herbicide program to fertility program. However, these decisions cannot be made with a short-sighted mentality of getting though the current season and hoping for better prices next year. These decisions have to be made with consideration of how it will impact their operation for the next three, five, or even ten years, especially if commodity prices remain low.

When selecting which seed to plant, it can be tempting to simply go with the highest yielding variety from the previous year’s variety trials. Yield is obviously important, but be sure to purchase a variety appropriate for your operation. For example, do not pay extra for traits to protect against diseases or pests that are not an issue in your region. On the other hand, when selecting an herbicide program, glyphosate alone has a very attractive price tag, but it is necessary to utilize herbicides with other modes of action occasionally to prevent glyphosate resistant weeds from taking over. It may cost a few more dollars per acre at the time, but will certainly be worth it in future years when glyphosate is still an affordable option for most of your weed control.


Soil fertility inputs can represent one of the highest costs in row crop production. In addition to the cost of the fertilizers, there are additional costs for soil sample collection, laboratory analysis, soil mapping and prescription software, and variable rate application. To help reduce costs, some producers may choose to reduce the intensity of soil sampling by using larger grids, fewer management zones, or only collecting a single composite sample from each field. Others may choose to reduce the frequency of sampling or completely abandon sampling all together. While these decisions will initially reduce input costs, how will they impact the productivity and profitability of the operation in the future?

The goal of any fertility program should be produce the greatest yield with the least amount of fertilizer. The most effective way to reduce fertilizer inputs is to identify the areas that require additional inputs and those that do not need any. Soil fertility levels and soil pH can vary greatly in a single field whether it is from natural soil variation or past fertility practices. Collecting a single sample from a field and making a flat rate application of fertilizer or lime based on that single sample is likely to result in an over application in some areas and under application in others. The smaller the area that a soil sample represents, the more confident you can be that the laboratory results accurately represent the area. Maintaining an intensive sampling program, whether grid or zone, is essential to assure the greatest return on your fertilizer investment. 

Too often soil test results are used to make a fertilizer prescription and then discarded. There is a lot to be learned from reviewing previous soil test results. By evaluating the impact of a fertilizer or lime application on the soil test levels, future application rates and timing can be adjusted to better suit your soil type. For example, lime applications are intended to last for three to four years, but on some soils a lime application may only last one to two years and others soils it may last six or seven years. Soils that do not respond to fertilizer or lime applications as expected can only be identified with routine sampling frequency. It takes at least three sampling cycles to begin to identify trends such as this. If a field is sampled on a 4-year cycle, it will take eight years before any adjustments to the soil fertility program can be made with any confidence. By sampling more frequently, every two or three years, these trends can be more quickly identified and addressed.

Managing a successful farming operation means minimizing risk whenever possible. Maintaining a routine intensive soil sampling program is the best option for minimizing the possibility of excessive fertilizer application or losing yield from under application.

April 25, 2019

Monitoring 28% and UAN Solutions

UAN (urea-ammonium-nitrate) solutions are routinely applied in the late spring and early summer to deliver nitrogen (N) to young crops. Because UAN is a nonpressurized solution, it can be used without the hazards associated with anhydrous ammonia and can be spread more uniformly than granular fertilizer. Certain pesticides may also be added, eliminating an extra pass through the field. UAN solutions are usually manufactured with a 32% N analysis, transported nearer the point of use, and then diluted (“cut”) to 28% or 30% N with water or a nutrient rich solution such as ammonium sulfate. The N analysis of UAN solutions is monitored throughout the supply chain to assure quality and consistency. A hydrometer is commonly used to check the N analysis of solutions, estimating the N content by solution density. A hydrometer reading will vary with the temperature of the solution. Nitrogen and density values will differ by source of 32% UAN solution.

The density of a cutting solution should also be considered when making dilutions. The density of ammonium sulfate (AMS) solution is usually higher than water, and can vary by source. For example, if a hydrometer reading is 1.28 g/cc for a UAN solution that was diluted with water to 28% N, diluting the same UAN solution to that density with AMS would result in a product with only 26% N. The UAN density corresponding to a given N content must be adjusted when diluting with a solution other than water. A hydrometer calibration (chart) can be developed using laboratory analyses of N, S and specific gravity on the various solutions (UAN, AMS, etc.) and mixtures that might be used. Once a calibration is developed, hydrometer readings, adjusted for temperature, can approximate the N content of the UAN solution. Periodic laboratory analyses should be performed to update the hydrometer calibration since the density of new UAN and cutting solutions can change.

March 29, 2019

Managing Nitrogen Losses from Soils

The key component of any efficient nitrogen (N) program is minimizing the risk of loss. Nitrogen losses can greatly reduce a grower’s profitability and can have environmental consequences. With a better understanding of the mechanisms that cause N loss and the conditions that increase the risk of loss, we can better decide when and how much to apply.

Plants can only take up N in two forms, ammonium (NH4+) or nitrate (NO3-). Regardless of your source of N, whether it be synthetic fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia, ammonium sulfate, urea, etc.), manure, or compost, the product must first be converted or mineralized to the ammonium form of N. Ammonium can then be converted to nitrate by a microbial process called nitrification. While plants can take up either form, they are generally able to access more N in the nitrate form because it moves freely with the soil water that is taken up during evapotranspiration. On the other hand ammonium is relatively immobile in the soil because it is held by the soil’s cation exchange complex. The difference in the mobility of these two forms of N is the main reason we may lose N before a plant is able to utilize it. In this case, the mechanism for N loss is leaching. In a well-drained soil, a heavy rainfall can move water downward through the soil profile, nitrate can move with the water and may move too deep for our crops to access or may be completely lost from the field if the nitrate makes it to a drainage tile. Leaching losses can be best minimized by applying N as close as possible to the time when the crop can utilize the N. In corn, the greatest N uptake occurs from V8 until R1. Losses can be further reduced by splitting N applications throughout the vegetative growing season.

Another potential mechanism for N loss to occur is denitrification. Denitrification is a microbial process that occurs poorly drained, saturated soils. When soils are saturated, there is not enough oxygen for microbial activity to thrive. Under these conditions, certain microbes are able to scavenge the oxygen atoms from a nitrate molecule in order to survive. The remaining N is then lost to the atmosphere in a gaseous form. Extended periods of saturation, especially when soil temperatures are warm, can lead to a significant loss of N. It is estimated that 4-5% of plant available N can be lost for every day of saturation. Denitrification can be minimized by ensuring you have adequate drainage in poorly drained areas and avoiding applications prior to heavy rainfall.

Volatilization is another potential loss of N to the atmosphere. Volatilization is the conversion of ammonium to ammonia gas. This is most likely to occur when ammonium forming fertilizers such as urea, or manures are applied to the surface of a warm soil with a high pH. Volatilization can account for losses as high as 80% when topdressing wheat in excessively warm conditions. Volatile losses can best be avoided by maintaining soil pH between 6.5 and 7.0, using a urease inhibitor with urea-based materials, and applying when soil conditions are moist and cool.

March 28, 2019

Prescription Accuracy

The development and adoption of precision sampling and variable rate fertilizer application technology has been of great benefit to producers. This technology has allowed for more efficient utilization of nutrients, allowing nutrients to be placed where they are needed and not applied to areas where they are not. However, like many technological advancements, understanding how to implement these technologies is not always cut and dried. Currently in precision ag, we have the ability to collect more data at a greater resolution than ever before. However, how to effectively utilize that ability in a practical way can present challenges.

 The concept might be easier understood with a real world scenario. The names have been changed to protect the guilty and any similarities to actual occurrences are completely intentional. An agronomist is looking to utilize yield map data, along with soil test data to create a VR fertilizer application prescription while taking both data layers into account. A dry box will then be used to spread the fertilizer. With today’s technology at our disposal, it is very simple to utilize these two sets of data to make a very detailed, high resolution application map. However, just because the technology to generate the prescription exists does not mean that it is the best approach for this scenario. Let’s look into the practical application of this prescription.

 Let’s first examine the soil test data layer. Soil samples were collected on a 2.5 acre grid; therefore our hypothetical 40 acre field is represented by 16 samples. Using mathematical modeling and techniques such as kriging, we can generate a smooth, almost seamless map to represent our soil test data, and can theoretically have tens of thousands of sets of data points for this 40-acre field.  However, remember that while the color map generated from this data is filled in based on mathematical models, there are only 16 actual data points.

 Now consider the yield data in this example. Depending on the monitor and configuration of the equipment, data can be collected by the combine every second. This leads to about 18,000 to 21,000 yield data points in the same field. If the raw yield data and modeled soil test data are utilized for creating prescriptions, unless a lager grid/cell size is used, the resulting prescription map for will contain 18,000 to 21,000 unique fertilizer rates within  this 40- acre field.

 While many computers with robust GIS software can handle this data volume today, a larger question remains: is the controller and application equipment up to the task? Many GPS controllers in the cab of application equipment cannot handle more than a few hundred unique rates within a given prescription file without performance issues. Beyond the controller, the other question is whether or not the fertilizer application equipment can meet the demands generated by this level of detail.

 If, in our scenario, the combine used to collect the data was only 20 to 35 ft wide and the dry box spreader used to apply the variable rate fertilizer is capable of spreading 60 to 110 ft wide, it could be covering a number of unique fertilizer rates across the spread width. In addition, the spreader is most likely traveling 4 to 10 times faster than the combine, meaning that the spreader could be prompted a new fertilizer application rate as often as 10 times a second. When this occurs, spatial accuracy in the as applied map is usually poor. The rate controller cannot change rates fast enough to keep up with the prescription map change, and the application equipment cannot physically change quickly enough to match these rates. This usually leads to spatial inaccuracies and often the total product applied to the field will have a greater than desired level of error.

 While the addiction to high resolution data grows, it is important to be mindful of the intended outcome for that data. While contouring data can reduce the special resolution of the data layer, controller files must be contoured to the practical restrictions and abilities of the application equipment in order to improve the accuracy of the final application.


February 28, 2019

Price vs. Value

by Jamie Bultemeier


Selecting the right supplier is a key business decision, regardless of the industry. From major manufacturers to the agricultural producer, supplier selection is a key aspect of running a successful business, and with the current tight margins in agriculture, selecting a quality supplier is especially crucial. Lower revenues often make the lowest cost supplier look very enticing, but before making the purchasing decision, successful business managers must carefully weigh all options to decide what is the best option for his or her business.

The adage of “You get what you pay for” still holds true. We need to keep in mind the magnitude of the supplier decision and the impact to our business. There are a number of factors beyond the price of the product or service we need to consider, such as:


  • Does the supplier’s business reflect your own? If you are selling on value and only look for the lowest cost supplier, this disconnect will be seen by your customer as some point and will diminish your value position.


  • What is the reputation of this supplier? If the reputation of the supplier is questionable, it can reflect on the reputation of your business.


  • What is the quality of the product? Usually if the supplier is significantly cheaper than the rest, there is a reason, and it may negatively impact your customer.


  • Is the product or service consistent? In agriculture, we often compare products or values from year to year. If the results are inconsistent, it may result in your customers questioning your products or services.


  • What if you have a problem with the product or service or need additional support? A good supplier is easy to contact and is responsive to your needs. Many low-cost suppliers cut this overhead first. If you need to get answers for your customer and you are not getting answers yourself, it is your customer (and reputation) at risk, not theirs.


  • Is this supplier flexible? Many low-cost suppliers expect business to be conducted in a specific way, and this may not be compatible with your business and lead to additional costs on your end.



  • Is the supplier offering something for “free”? In business, all expenses have to be absorbed into the price of the product or service, nothing is free. If not reflected directly in the price of the good or service, then it must be accounted for somewhere.


  • How fast can a supplier turn your request into a final deliverable product? If the product is sitting in a warehouse and simply needs shipped, this is not an issue. If the supplier has to build the product or perform a task, you need to know that the product or service will be delivered in a timely (and consistent) fashion.


  • How big of an impact does this product or service have on my profitability? If the potential savings of a supplier’s goods is a small portion of your total cost, the price should have a smaller impact on your discussion. If the product or service has a large impact on either your, or your customers’ profitability, supplier price should be a lesser part of the decision.


As a farmer every year I make a choice on not only what products I want to buy, but also who I want to buy those products from. I can look at a bag of seed as a basic input commodity and look for the cheapest price, or I can choose to realize that there are major differences in those products. Those differences, whether it be in genetics, versatility of the product line, research, and support after the sale from someone that is genuinely interested in my success, all will help me to reach my goals and to make me (and them) more profitable. Choosing a supplier that helps you generate greater revenues is usually more profitable than simply choosing the one offering the lowest cost.
February 28, 2019

Early Spring Wheat Sampling

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 tune a “green-up” nitrogen application based on the nitrogen content of the plant at Feekes 5 (please visit the Purdue Extension News Release for more information). 


Image: Feekes 5 wheat. Source: Kansas State University 

Once the plants reach Feekes 6 and beyond, indicated by stem elongation and jointing, only the most recent fully developed leaf should be sampled. The most recent fully developed leaf is the highest leaf on the plant with a fully developed collar. Once the plant begins heading (Feekes 10 and beyond), the flag leaf should be sampled. Generally, 40 to 50 leaves should be sampled at these growth stages.

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 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.

November 30, 2018

It's Tradeshow Season!

Tradeshows offer a great opportunity to get out and talk to many of our customers, as well as to see what is new and exciting in the industry. We attend or exhibit at a number of tradeshows throughout the late fall and winter. Some of our upcoming shows include:


Date Location Tradeshow or Event
Dec. 4-6, 2018 Grand Rapids, MI The Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO 
Jan. 14-16, 2019 Lansing, MI Michigan Agribusiness Association (MABA) Winter Conference and Trade Show
Jan. 15-17, 2019 Madison, WI Wisconsin Agribusiness Classic - Wisconsin Agri-Business Association (WABA)
Jan. 15-17, 2019 Ft. Wayne, IN Fort Wayne Farm Show
Jan. 23-25, 2019 Indianapolis, IN Agribusiness Council of Indiana (ACI) Conference & EXPO
Jan. 28-30, 2019 Peoria, IL Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA) Annual Convention and Trade Show
Jan. 28-31, 2019 Phoenix, AZ

Compost 2019 - U.S. Composting Council Conference and Trade Show

Jan 31-Feb. 1, 2019 Columbus, OH

 Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) Industry Conference


Please stop by and say hi!

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