The ALGL Winter Soil Fertility Workshops for 2021 have been cancelled. This decision was not taken lightly with the long tradition of these workshops. A key value of the in-person workshops is the personal interactions and conversations that take place during the workshops and we feel those interactions could be lost in a virtual platform. With the increased number of virtual offerings during the current pandemic situation, there are many virtual offerings already. While this may seem early to make such a decision, the lead time to secure meeting locations and finalize logistics required a decision to be made by the end of October. With the growing uncertainty of public health projections for January through March we are not left with many options other than to cancel the 2021 workshops in the best health interests of our staff and customers. We are already starting our planning for the workshops to return in 2022!
Nutrient management is dynamic and challenging, so why write a nutrient management plan if it might change? What is the value of writing down what you might already be doing? All too often when we write a plan, we get to focused on the final product when the value is found in the journey.
For example, fertilizer rate recommendations are built around crop removal, which is yield multiplied by a crop removal value for the given crop. If the soil test values are below the target level, we apply crop removal plus some additional fertilizer to build the soil fertility. Likewise, if the soil test level is above a high target level, we apply less than crop removal to lower soil test levels. If this seems too simple to even write down, let alone put into a nutrient management plan, you need to take a closer look and think through the steps.
Yield goal is a simple concept, but specifically how do you determine a yield goal value to be used in the fertilizer rate calculations? Is that the running average of the past 3 years for the given crop? The last five years with the minimum and maximum yield removed? Is it the field’s APH? Is it the average for the field, the farm, the overall operation? Do you add 5 or 10% to the yield to reflect increased crop potential? Does the crop removal reflect what was removed last year, or what will be removed in the coming year? Is the crop yield averaged across the field or based on calibrated yield maps for last year or the last few years for the given crop? This is only one of many decisions that are being made when determining how much fertilizer to apply.
Writing a plan on how soil fertility is to be managed forces you to think through these fundamental details. While this may only seem to be practical for those producers writing their own plans, this is true for all nutrient management plans. If you are an independent consultant, have you documented how you manage soil fertility for your clients? If you are an ag retailer or cooperative, have you documented how you develop soil fertility recommendations for your customers?
Also keep in mind that this written plan is a living document, it can and will change. The second key value in a written plan is the evolution of the plan. As you implement the plan, situations and challenges will arise that will force you to question the plan. When this happens, document in the plan what occurred, and what the revised direction on the subject is. With this information you can revisit the topic and evaluate if the new direction accurately addressed the challenge or created others.
The ALGL agronomy staff is ready to discuss the various aspects of soil fertility to support you in your development of a nutrient management plan.
Sometimes we as agronomic professionals become a bit anesthetized to the amazing and complex natural systems that we work with every day. The myriad of intricate chemical, physical, and biological interactions that make our soils function to support plant growth, clean our water, recycle nutrients, and overall sustain life on this precious planet are awe inspiring. And the plant, that "simple" form of life that has existed in different forms over millions of years, and that we as professionals have harnessed to feed the world, is a delicate and complex machine, capable of utilizing light from the sun and elements in our atmosphere and the soil to feed almost every other form of life on the planet.
While most of the time these lowly systems work without much pomp or fanfare, every fall they put on a show for all of us to enjoy.
The tourism industry is gearing up for 6-8 weeks of high traffic, full restaurants and hotels and increased incomes as travelers head to their favorite locations to view the fall colors. As days become shorter, temperatures become cooler the chemistry of the changing tree leaves begin to reveal the spectacular fall scenery. The National Park Service fall foliage map published September 21, 2020 show areas across northern MN, WI and MI at or near peak fall color and the prime viewing will move southward over the coming weeks.
Arborists have discovered some of the key environmental conditions needed to bring out the best colors are adequate summer rainfall with good growing conditions followed by a dry fall with cool nights, warm daytime temperatures and good sunlight.
Chlorophyll (green), carotenoids (orange), flavonoids (yellow), Anthocyanins (red/purple) and tannins (brown) are present in the leaves during the summer growing season but chlorophyll dominates the light spectrum absorbing reds, yellows and blues while reflecting the green color that we see. Chlorophyll production slows during the early fall and anthocyanin production increases which allows the vibrant colors to come into view. In late fall tannin content increases giving many of the leaves a dark brown color and the bright reds and yellows slowly disappear.
These chemical processes involve many of the same components that we see in crop production, ornamentals and foods. Anthocyanin is produced and stored in corn leaves early in the season when nights are cool and plant growth is slow and it reveals the same purple colors in corn leaves that are apparent in the trees during the fall. Carotenoids give carrots their orange color and the yellow flavonoids give egg yolks their bright color. Many combinations and variations of these same chemical components make up the bright flowers and unusual leaf colors that we see in ornamental plants. Tannins that give leaves their brown colors are responsible for the signature flavor of a green persimmon and they give tea leaves a variety of flavors.
The staff at A&L Great Lakes Laboratories would like to wish you a safe a prosperous harvest season and we hope you take some time to enjoy the beautiful fall colors.
With harvest in full swing through much of our region, fall soil sampling is ramping up also. As the number of samples coming into the lab keeps increasing, we want to make sure the data is flowing back to our customers as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This past summer, ALGL agronomists were not able to make the in-person visits that we traditionally do. The purpose of these visits is to make sure that we are providing the best possible service for our customers. It also gives us the opportunity to address any changes that may impact the delivery of your data. This means making sure that we have up to date contact names, e-mails, proper export data formats, etc.
If you or your company have had any changes recently such as mergers, personnel changes, new software packages, new billing systems, or a change of physical address, please be sure to contact your ALGL representative to make sure the information in your account is up to date.
We introduced you to Brian and Diane Thayer last Friday. This Friday, we focus on Diane.
Diane started working at A&L Great Lakes after graduating from college in June 1985. She worked as a lab technician in the Ag Lab. She left ALGL in 1987 to stay home with the kids until 1994 and then returned as a part-time lab technician in the Ag Lab. In 1999, she moved to the fertilizer lab and worked part-time until 2008 when she took the full-time role as Fertilizer Chemist.
She said what she likes best about being a part of the team is something she would not have expected when she started as a fertilizer chemist. She was completely terrified of taking phone calls. The best part has been getting to know her clients and being able to help them. She will probably never get a chance to meet many of them in person, but she will miss the interactions. She will also miss the relationships she has with her co-workers. They have laughed, argued and worked together in good times and in bad.
Diane’s favorite memory is meeting her husband Brian. Aside from that, she has fond memories of the ALGL Olympics—a day set aside for the staff to compete in groups. Each team competed in relay games where they did the job that they did not usually do. They were able to see what it was like to do another person’s job in a fun, competitive way. The day ended with a barbeque and a cornhole tournament.
When she retires at the end of September, Diane plans to spend more time with Brian and her grandchildren. She would also like to do more traveling, take some classes, and do more gardening.
Best wishes, Diane. We will miss you!
Landowners, producers and crop consultants are sometimes faced with the challenge of creating a soil sampling plan for unfamiliar land with limited cropping history, yield data or other pertinent information that might normally be used to build management zones or properly position sampling points. This update will highlight a few sources of aerial maps, soil data and cropping information available online usually for free or very little cost.
A good starting point would be an aerial image and soil survey layer that is available from WebSoilSurvey. https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm Users can identify the predominant soil types, descriptions and physical properties, locations and the number of acres of each type within a field. It can also be used to mark boundaries, measure linear distances and measure field acres within a boundary.
Google earth https://www.google.com/earth/ can be used to view historical satellite images and the colors shown can indicate which crops were grown each year, and might give clues about previous planting dates, reduced crop stands, flood events and prevent plant years. If the user has general knowledge of local growing conditions in a particular year, such as the severe drought in many areas in 2012, these satellite views can show the crop grown and how various areas performed under harsh conditions. Try to search for images from a corn year grown under very wet conditions and a corn year grown under very dry conditions and attempt to do the same for soybeans or other crops.
USDA DataGateway https://datagateway.nrcs.usda.gov/GDGOrder.aspx offers a wide range of high-resolution aerial images, climate and precipitation records and lidar elevation maps at the county level. Many of these are large files that must be ordered and then downloaded through an email link later. It requires extra time to perform the initial setup, but subsequent orders are quick and easy.
Historical aerial imagery can reveal old building sites, fence lines, ponds, forested areas, abandoned oil wells and other artifacts that might impact current crop production. Several of these sites are reviewed here. https://gisgeography.com/free-historical-imagery-viewers/
There are several tools available that can add to your knowledge base about a new and unfamiliar land area, A few hours spent gathering imagery can help you develop a quality soil sampling plan.
Brian and Diane Thayer met each other while working for A&L Great Lakes, got married, and have been with the company for 34 and 35 (off and on) years respectively. They will retire together at the end of September.
Brian started as an Ag Department Technician in 1986, then became an Environmental Chemist is 1990, and for the last 19 years, he has been the Senior Quality Chemist. His meticulous attention to detail makes him a great fit for this role and he has done a tremendous job.
He says the best part of being part of the A&L Great Lakes team is everyone working together to get the job done every day. His favorite memory from his time here is meeting Diane, of course. They met his first day on the job and were married 2 years later. They now have 2 children and 2 grandchildren, with grandchildren 3 and 4 on the way.
When he retires, he plans to catch a few more fish, hike a few more trails (near and far), and spend more time with his family. He’d also like to develop a new hobby or two.
We wish you the best Brian. You will be missed
It's almost the deadline to submit a picture for our 2021 A&L Great Lakes calendar! We want to see pictures that illustrate what fuels your passion for agriculture and customer service. When you get that picture captured, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org along with your name and address. Please submit your pictures in the highest resolution possible before September 15th, 2020. We will then select our favorite pictures, and letting our followers on Facebook vote on their favorite, to be on the cover of the 2021 calendar. Follow us on Facebook for voting details.
Photo Credit: Adam Farmer, Mercer Landmark
The hot dry conditions throughout our region have raised concerns about the potential for nitrate toxicity in corn chopped for silage. Nitrates have the potential to accumulate in a corn plant under any stressful conditions hinder plant growth. There are many guides, articles, and fact sheets available that discuss the interpretation of the lab data and sampling procedures for corn that has already been chopped, but there is little guidance for sampling the corn prior to harvest.
The most important step in collecting a sample from a standing corn field is that the sample must be representative of the portion of the plant that will be harvested. That means cutting it at the same height as the chopper. Nitrates accumulate primarily in the lower stalk section, so a few inch difference can have a significant impact on your results. Second, the plants that are collected need to be representative of the condition of the field. For example, if a quarter of the field is performing poorly as compared to the rest of the field, a quarter of the plants collected for the sample need to be from that section, three quarters from the good area of the field. A sample should consist of a minimum of 15 plants to best represent the average of the whole area being sampled. The sample also needs to be collected as close to harvest as possible, because nitrate levels can change quickly due to changes in the weather.
Prior to sending the sample to the lab, the plants need to be chopped and thoroughly mixed. This is best accomplished with a lawn chipper shredder. Once all the plants are chopped and mixed, collect a 1-gallon zip top bag subsample to be shipped to the lab for analysis.
Please note that a Corn Stalk Nitrate Test (CSNT) and a feed nitrate test are very different in the sample collection and will give you very different results. A CSNT involves collecting only an 8-inch section of the lower stalk around black layer. This test is used to evaluate the effectiveness of a nitrogen program and does not necessarily represent a potential for nitrate toxicity.
For more information please see our A&L Great Lakes fact sheet, Nitrate Toxicity in Feed.
Another excellent resource is from the University of Wisconsin Extension, Nitrate Poisoning in Cattle, Sheep, and Goats.
The Ohio State University Extension has also the topic of corn silage harvest in their most recent issue of the C.O.R.N. newsletter.
For any additional questions regarding feed nitrate testing and sampling, feel free to contact your A&L Great Lakes Laboratories agronomist or call the laboratory directly as 260-483-4759.
The new Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations for Indiana, Michigan and Ohio have been released and more information can be found at https://agcrops.osu.edu/FertilityResources/tri-state_info. There are a couple of key changes.
ALGL has been using M3 as a standard method since 1991 and converting the data to equivalent Bray-P and ammonium acetate K values for reporting. Both values have been available and will continue to be available. Rather than making any wholesale changes to data formats, we will be only converting customer data to M3 upon request. If you have any questions on how the change to M3 will impact your data, or need any additional question feel free to contact the lab or your ALGL agronomy representative.