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By Staff | Feb 19, 2010

Two more blinks and the second month of 2010 is over with. Then March is upon us to hopefully signal the arrival of spring. By now everyone is ready for warmer weather.

Everyone living on gravel roads knows that it only takes a few inches of snow and 10 miles per hour winds and they are snowed in until the plows arrive. Weather like this can’t be an attraction for any college recruiter to sell southern athletes on the joy of living in the upper Midwest.

Even Texas, Tennessee and Florida have gotten enough snow to snarl traffic and send drivers into ditches and fellow vehicles. Thus is seems like Gore has disappeared for the winter to leave us shoveling snow instead of mowing lawns or working outside all winter. Maybe his picture will show up on milk cartons soon.

Winter reading

Late winter is when many people finally get the chance to read through the stack of magazines that have piled up since the summer months.

Typically I like to tackle a few good books during that time period, though this is not a normal winter.

Thus I feel more comfortable getting a good book or two that are on CD or cassette. One that I listened to was on called Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

That Pulitzer Prize winner sounded more like an adventure story but the author, who is a physiologist and evolutionary biologist at University of California at Los Angeles, likes to explore domestic and foreign countries to learn their cultures, backgrounds, and food sources and then trace back the major technologies and crops they have developed and adopted.

In this book he has examined how major developed countries have tamed their societies, crops and animals over the last 13,000 years, creating food and technology systems that are either top notch and fully functional, or have barely evolved above tribal sustenance levels.

He told how and where each of the major fruit and grain crops came from, who was responsible, and why they did it. He did the same for animals and what purpose their taming served.

Grain quality, monitoring

As the weather warms everybody storing grain needs to keep a close eye on that grain. In the latest Iowa State University IPM Newsletter Charlie Hurburgh gives his advice on how the warming temps need to be managed when frozen and wetter grain is in storage.

Much of it was in less than ideal condition when it went into the piles and bins and it has not improved in quality.

Blowing snow often got into the tops of bins and increased the chance of problems developing. So don’t forget to check each bin on a regular basis.


Spring is the second most popular time to have soil samples pulled. After a wet fall and greatly delayed harvest there will likely be a larger than normal amount of acres sampled in the next few months as operators update their sampling to try to maintain a four-year program. Of the samples I am looking at and making recommendations for the quest to see lower levels of boron, sulfur and manganese continues.

Each of those elements are very important in the development and functioning of our major crops and if shortages develop crop symptoms and yield penalties are likely.

In too many cases those elements are not tested for, thus the farmer is not made aware of any shortages. If and when shortages occur the question then needs to be asked if the minerals might be present in the soil, but are not biologically available to the plants.

The crop advisor and farmer could then better know if more of the nutrient or biological inoculants should be prescribed.

Double-rowed corn

The issue and potential of double-rowed corn rises every few years. The goal of planting corn in that row orientation is to hopefully increase yields while still being able to use 30-inch equipment and corn heads.

Thus far, the two companies that make twin-row planters have been Monosem and Great Plains. The first does a great job of singulating the seeds, but dealerships and service are harder to find in the Midwest.

The farmers whom I know that use twin-row systems are aggressive and innovative in their crop management practices and like the systems. Both already had established very high yield records and very good rooting depth in their fields.

Because they had roots going down 4 to 5 feet, moving up the yield ladder meant getting more plants into each acre.

They actually had few plants per cubic foot of soil than most farmers who planted 34,000 to 35,000, but had shallower root systems. They held to the creed that they could make more money boosting yields on the acres they farmed rather than trying to capture more land.

New crop instruments

Just as professional carpenters need a full tool box to get their jobs done there are new instruments that can help monitor fields and plants with the end goal of trying to manage the crops better.

I have continued to fill my tool box with products from a company called Spectrum Technologies out of Plainfield, Ill. Mike Thurow and his brother Robert had farming and engineering backgrounds and continued in business as they now engineer and sleuth out new instruments that farmers can use to better monitor crops and their soils.

In fact, anyone who plants with a new IH planter is already using some of their handiwork. Tools that I have purchased from them include a computerized soil penetrometer that lets me measure soil densities in 1-inch increments down to 20 inches in depth.

I also have soil pH meters, NO3 meters and soil thermometers their company built. I added an EC and soil temp probe last fall and used it immediately.

The one I hope to add this spring will be a PAR light meter that will let me measure light in the 400 to 700 nanometer range. A researcher showed me last week how he has been using it to calculate how much light was available versus how much was ground and plant absorbed or reflected. In that manner they are using the instruments to enlarge the study by Swanton at the Guelph, Ontario Station, in their weed competition research projects.

Besides the high dollar meter they will be marketing a $30 to $40 meter that can record daily light totals. Combined with GDU tallies the light meter will provide a better indication of how much or how little solar energy is available to the plants each day.

This coming season, if cool conditions persist and plant growth is slow, growers with such instruments can better gauge the need to jump to a foliar program to speed crop development.

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