Lynn Betts

Going all-in on cover crops

Some farmers want to try a new idea on a few acres to evaluate it before using it in a big way. Not Robert Harvey––at least when the idea is cover crops. The Guthrie County, Iowa, farmer went all-in on cover crops two years ago, seeding cereal rye on all 1,100 acres he farms with his father, Gerald.

Control water levels and nitrogen with tile systems

Nitrate management in tile water is a big reason why this water control structure has slowly gained a foothold in the Corn Belt, but its potential for providing timely water to corn and soybeans may spell the future for this underground tile water management tool.

Detect crop stress with thermal maps

What is the earliest possible way to detect stress or disease in your corn and soybean fields? Brian Sutton, a flying farmer from Lowell, Ind., takes their temperatures. The thermal cameras used in his AirScout service detects stress and disease in plants before they change color, when he still has time to take corrective action, he says.

Farmers try controlled drainage to keep water, nutrients in place

"I can't make it rain, but I can do my best to capture and keep what I have to use it for my crops," says Arliss Nielsen, a Wright County, Iowa, no-tiller. This year he took the unusual step of venturing into controlled drainage.

Focus on yield stressors to maximize return on crops

To make up for lower corn and soybean prices, you might be tempted to emphasize spending on inputs across the board for top corn and soybean yields. Instead, consider a plan that funnels your focus and money into management decisions that target top yield stressors.

Help with on-farm trials

If you want to test products or management ideas on your farm but don’t have the time or expertise for your own comparisons, help could be as close as your seed corn dealer. They can likely do most of the heavy lifting in setting up the trials and analyzing the results of testing nitrogen rates, plant populations, herbicides, fungicides seed varieties and more.

Landlords seek cover crops?  2

“In a 2010 survey, we asked landlords to rate the importance of characteristics they consider when evaluating tenant performance,” says J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., a sociologist at Iowa State University. “More than 90% of landlords ranked ‘ability to maintain soil productivity’ and ‘ability to avoid soil erosion’ as important or very important."

New nitrogen management tools 1

Farmers may soon have a new set of tools along with professional guidance that tells them not only how much nitrogen they currently have in specific, small areas of their fields, but how long they can expect that nitrogen to last.

Q&A: Do your soil tests represent your fields? 1

Recent developments in soil testing, plus challenges to longstanding tests raise the question, how confident are farmers that their soil tests represent their fields? Three farmers share their takes from Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

Seed treatments reduce early-planting risks 3

Seed treatment is all about reducing risk, especially in the first 72 hours of a plant’s life. And farmer use is proof. Aided by newer systemic fungicides and insecticides, their global sales more than tripled from $700 million in 1997 to $2.25 billion in 2010, and they’re estimated to reach $3.4 billion in 2016.

Aerial images identify problems in corn, soybean crops during growing season

Consider a three-way look at your crop — from above and below and at ground level. That means a close-up look at plant roots and soil for clues to plant growth, plus aerial images to detect, confirm and define a problem.

Odd field patterns help identify yield variation at plant level 1

When Bob Recker sees odd patterns in cornfields from the air as he flies across farmland in northeastern Iowa, he can’t wait to land and investigate up close. As owner of Cedar Valley Innovation, Waterloo, Iowa, he uses digital and GPS technologies, along with well honed engineering analytical skills to identify yield-loss problems.

Farmer Facebook group talks agronomics, strip-till

Tim Dritz didn’t hesitate to drive 350 miles from his western Minnesota farm for a day and a half August meeting in Waterloo, Iowa. Neither did Charlie Hammer from Beaver Dam, Wisc., whose drive was about 250 miles one-way. The veteran strip-tillers didn’t mind because they were going to a peer meeting they valued – in meetings and online. They met on an invitation-only Facebook page dedicated to strip-till, which quickly branched out to technologic ways to boost agronomic efficiency, says Loran Steinlage, one of the group’s early members.

nitrogen choice
Nitrogen choice depends on application timing, equipment, handling, availability and cost

Your choice of nitrogen (N) comes down to when you apply, your equipment, handling preferences, availability and costs. And the weather wild card often determines whether you’re happy with your choice in any given year.

Steve and Dennis Berger use multiple N applications for corn.
Weather extremes challenge corn nitrogen management 27

Nitrogen management is entirely about risk management, especially this year. “There’s an economic risk of wasting money and being seen as environmentally reckless by applying too much N, and a risk of corn yield loss from applying too little,” says Dan Frieberg, president of Premier Crop Systems, LLC, in West Des Moines, Iowa. “But there’s also a risk that’s not talked about much — allowing nitrogen-management decisions to adversely affect other crop-production operations.”

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