As we reach the end of another production season, we’re in the process of collecting and analyzing our 2018 data. As always, some of the preliminary results have been interesting.
First, some observations from our nitrogen studies. Our post-black-layer soil sample results, both nitrate and ammonium from the 0”-24” levels showed very little residual nitrogen remaining following the crop, regardless of how much N was applied. This came as a surprise, though having seen the visual differences within the corn treatments, perhaps it should not have.
As to a cause, I suspect that our cold April played a major role. Compared to the past three years, I believe the low temperatures resulted in much less mineralized nitrogen from organic matter being available to the corn crop early in the growing season. My estimate would be that the nitrogen available through mineralization, which had provided a good measure of N the past three years, was reduced by 50% this year.
This finding was a wake-up call to us and may cause us to re-evaluate nitrogen programs to prevent any future shortcomings in N that may be available from organic matter. More to come on this.
Turning to yields, reports that we have received from the field show a fairly wide variation. Overall, yields have been good. What is interesting is the fact that we’re finding a high degree of variation within certain fields. We’re working now to unravel the causes of that variation.
Finally, we are currently posting plot results and other items of interest on our website. Be sure to check out UP Trial Results on our website periodically as we continue to update as harvest progresses.
Our plot harvest is completed for 2017, and I’ve been busy crunching the numbers. We have gathered great data on the corn hybrids we carry as well as both Xtend® and LibertyLink® soybeans. These results and more can be found on our website under the “UP Trial Results” tab.
We’ll be discussing our research results at the upcoming winter meeting Jan. 16, 2018, at the I Hotel in Champaign. Watch for times and more information on speakers and topics.
Plans are already in the works for 2018. We’ll be conducting intensive side-by-side studies at some new locations, one of which will be Crescent City.
As seen in the attached shot of soil temperatures from Data on Touch, it’s go time for fall ammonia applications. Soil temperatures are 50 degrees and lower, and the extended forecast looks good. Soil moisture is very good and will help keep soil temperatures from rising rapidly, even if air temperatures rise.
We highly recommend the use of nitrogen stabilizers like N-Serve® to keep your nitrogen in stable form through the winter and early spring months. Our recent winters haven’t been that cold, making the use of a stabilizer even more important.
Anhydrous will again be applied this fall on our nitrogen-rate time trial at the Innovation Farm. We’ll begin monitoring soil nitrate and ammonium through soil sampling throughout the winter and spring. This greatly increases our understanding of what is happening to nitrogen and feed valuable information into our Data on Touch nitrogen model.
Our findings this year were surprising, as we normally would have assumed we lost quite a bit of nitrogen in April in May. Our soil testing showed that was not the case. What we found was that although the nitrogen moved deeper, we did not lose it from the profile. That illustrates the importance of sampling at both the 0-12- and 12-24-inch depths.
This process of ground-truthing data by sampling puts our system well ahead of others that are strictly based on computer models. Based upon the work that we have done, I believe a lot of entities have made nitrogen a much more complicated topic than it needs to be. More often than not, the recommendations that come from personal experience and the maximum return to nitrogen model are good tools to get us in the ballpark. Then we can fine-tune it.
In terms of the side-by-side data we have to this point, we’re seeing very good results with MicroShield on soybeans, and a positive impact from the use of stabilizers on spring pre-plant applied nitrogen.
I look forward to sharing a lot more information with you at our winter meeting. Please plan to join us.
Heading into another production season, I’ve been involved in several projects intended to put technology to work for our customers. One of those involved putting together variable-rate seeding recommendations for some of our growers. To do that, I used multiple years of yield data to determine management zones. In those zones, we also look at organic matter to determine both water-holding capacity and cation exchange capacity. The prescription then adjusts seeding rates, based on the management zone and hybrid, to deliver the most economical return for each zone.
Several of our growers have been working with variable-rate seeding prescriptions for several years now. If you’re interested in giving it a try, we’ll be more than happy to help you get started.
A second project involved fleet connectivity. Currently, all of our dry spreaders and lime machines have wireless modems to transfer as-applied data. We’re now expanding that capability to our entire sprayer fleet. This will enable us to retrieve even more as-applied data for record-keeping purposes.
Finally, we continue to expand our network of weather stations. At present, we have 55 weather stations connected to our Data on Touch program. We’ll be adding five to 10 more stations this year, some of which will fill in some gaps and others that will expand the network.
As many of you know, we have been installing weather stations across our trade territory, primarily for our Data on Touch program that calculates soil Nitrogen (N) levels and provides N recommendations. So far we have 29 stations installed, and plan to install many more this year. While we at United Prairie, the academic community, and those who observe the agricultural industry are all very excited about viewing our weather station’s data, we have decided to do our community a service and allow them to be publicly accessible instead of keeping all of the information private in our Data on Touch program. You can find local rain totals, wind speed and soil temperature and moisture information from all of our stations easily online.
If you just want to have handy access to our weather station information, you can download the Davis WeatherLink App on your smart phone. To add stations, press the plus sign at the bottom left hand corner of the screen, and another screen will open where you can add/delete stations. To add a station, press the plus sign at the top left of this screen and enter the name of the town near where you would like to locate stations. All of the available stations will show up and you can simply click on each one to add it to your list of favorites. You can add as many as you like. All of our stations are labelled United Prairie/Grower Name, where the grower name is the cooperator who has allowed us to install a station in their field or property. If you want to delete a station, just hit the red arrow to the left of the name and hit “delete”.
Once you have a station selected, you can go back to the main screen. At the top you can scroll through and select which station you would like to view from your list of favorites. Normal weather information that you would expect is listed like temperature, wind speed/direction, rainfall and humidity. If you keep scrolling down you will find Soil 1-4 and Temps 1-4. These tell you the soil moisture and temperature at the 2,5,10, and 15 inch levels. To interpret moisture, the lower the cb (centibar) number, the wetter the ground is; 0 is total saturation, and 200 is bone dry. You can also swipe to the right and find the highs and lows of all of these sensors for the day, month, and year.
If you don’t have a smart phone and still would like to view the weather station information, you can go to www.weatherlink.com/map and zoom in on the Champaign area and see where all of the weather stations are located. Once you click on a dot to highlight it, you can click again on the station name to open up the page and see more information. If you go to the top of the page and click on “summary” you can see the highs/lows of the day and all of the soil probe information that was mentioned above.
Of course weather information is just one part of our Data on Touch program, we encourage you to observe weather data and soil temperature information as we feel there is a lot we can learn about our fields, both above and below the ground. If your interest is piqued, we encourage you to get signed up for our Data on Touch program and app where you will gain access to a much more robust platform that allows access to our Nitrogen Model, the ability to query historical weather information, access all of your soil test maps, account information, and scouting reports. While the Data on Touch program is free to most our customers, we do have a couple of minimum requirements to qualify. We will be showing you highlights from Data on Touch in the weeks to come.
If you have any questions about our weather stations, or Data on Touch, please contact Aaron Grote by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the main office at (217) 485-6000.
Below is a map of all of our weather stations to date.
Since last fall, we have been working with Luke Lightfoot (Co-Alliance and DataOnTouch agronomist) on the equations behind our nitrogen model. Our own soil test results (nitrate/ammonium) and those of others in Illinois this past winter were instrumental in fine-tuning the equation set we have presently settled on for United Prairie. This is a work in progress, and we will make continued improvements as we seek to build this into the best model possible.
One thing that sets us apart from others is our commitment to ground-truthing the systems and products we develop, use and recommend to our producers. As part of this process, continued sampling at both the 1-foot and 2-foot level will be implemented throughout this next growing season at four different IFCA/University of Illinois nitrogen-rate trials in our footprint to further ground-truth the model. We’re also aided in developing our model by the fact that we have local weather stations equipped with soil probes at 2-, 5-, 10- and 15-inch depths that help us monitor both soil temperature and soil water levels.
Take a look at the table below which contains data taken from our Nitrogen-Model. This table represents averaged data from three separate farms close to existing United Prairie weather stations within our footprint that represent both lighter and heavier soils (CECs from 18-25). I used a base rate of 120 pounds per acre of nitrogen to get a sense of what the model presently tells us.
The results are, in my opinion, quite revealing. With the unusually warm fall/winter season, the state of fall-applied N is a key topic of discussion. Based upon the results shown above, N-inhibitor use greatly impacted estimated fall applied nitrogen conversion to the nitrate form and overall nitrogen losses. However, weather conditions from here on (warmer soil temperatures + rainfall events) will have the greatest effect on potential soil nitrate-N losses.
Preparing for another season
Decision time has arrived for farmers as they plan for spring work, and the Innovation Farm is no different. As a team, we are working very hard to develop protocols for our 2016 trials. It appears we’ll have even more products and programs to evaluate this season than we did in 2015.
As we welcome farmers with Northern Illinois Alliance, we’re anxious to get involved and learn more about the production practices used in the north-central Illinois area. We’ll see a wider diversity of soil types there, so I’m excited to take some of our trials into that area.