March 2012, Early Spring

March 19, 2012

A warm winter followed with record high temperatures in March, finds me in the fields earlier than ever.

I fed round bales of hay in a feeder to my fall-calving cows on a field which was corn last year and will be oats and new hay seeding this year.  I moved the feeder every time I fed a new bale so the manure would be spread across the field, pictured below.

The cows had to walk across a hay field to get to water.  Any time the ground wasn’t frozen resulted in damage from the cows’ hooves.

I dragged the damaged areas with a chain harrow pictured above.  I also spread some oats on the worst areas, using the silver seeder located on the back of the tractor, pictured above.  The oats will give some ground cover and forage.

I also fertilized last week.  I put 100 lbs of gypsum and 100 lbs of ammonium sulfate on every acre.  Gypsum supplies Calcium and Sulfur, while ammonium sulfate supplies Nitrogen and Sulfur.

I decided to not add any Phosphorous or Potassium.  My soil tests showed high levels of Phosphorous in the soil.  My forage tests showed high levels of Potassium in the hay.  These two elements, along with Nitrogen are considered the primary macro-nutrients.  Another reason I decided not to fertilize with Potassium is “luxury consumption.”  If potassium is readily available, plants will suck up more than they need.  This is one of the reasons I prefer to fertilize with Potassium in the fall.

Secondary macro-nutrients include Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulfur.  My forage tests were lower in Calcium than I liked.  So I decided to add gypsum which is 22% Calcium.  I could have added  lime, but that would raise the pH of the soil, which is already high at 7.4.

My soil is high in Magnesium because the rock underlying our soil is dolomitic limestone, which is high in Magnesium.

Needed Sulfur was supplied from the polluted atmosphere in acid rain for many years.  Now that the air is getting cleaner, there is less Sulfur available to plants, and plants deficient in Sulfur are being seen.  Gypsum is 17.5 % Sulfur, and Ammonium Sulfate is 24% Sulfur.

I didn’t add any of the micro-nutrients.  I plan on soil testing in late summer and fertilizing in the fall if my budget allows.


March 2012, Fertilizer Prices

March 14, 2012

We priced fertilizers with our local dealer.  Most prices have increased from last year.  I referred back to last year’s post to compare prices.  All prices are per ton.

Product:     2012 Price  2011 Price  % Change

Urea            $650           $462           +41

Am. Sulfate $418           $343           +22

Potash        $620           $537           +16

MAP            $640           $673           -5


Forage Testing

October 13, 2011

I took three cutting off this hay field, and it’s ready to be cut or grazed again at the end of September.  I’ll wait until after a hard frost, but before the snow gets deep, to graze this field with cattle.

If I grazed this field now, the alfalfa may use most of its root reserves to initiate regrowth.  If a hard frost shuts down the alfalfa at this point, it may have a difficult time surviving the winter because its root reserves are too low.  Grazing or cutting after the plant has gone dormant has little effect.  The time I avoid cutting or grazing is from about September 15th to October 15th, for this climate.

Justin, formerly of  Midwestern Bio-Ag, took two forage samples, one from first cutting, and one from second cutting.  The samples were taken from square bales, stored in the barn.  First cutting was baled June 1st.  Second cutting was baled July 8th.  The alfalfa was full-bloom both times.

I don’t understand forage testing very well.  If you want an in-depth explanation, check out this excellent article from the University of Kentucky.

These were the first forage tests I’ve ever taken on my farm.  I’ll share some of what I learned.

Even though both cuttings were taken when the alfalfa was full-bloom, 2nd cutting was considerably higher in quality than 1st cutting.  The cattle’s preference confirms this.  2nd cutting was higher in protein, (17.28 to 16.58), lower in ADF fiber, (31.96 to 37.23), higher in TDN total digestible nutrients, (57.06% to 51.13%), and higher in RFQ relative feed quality, (143.91 to 108.68).

I’ll summarize what these numbers mean to me.  Cattle can maintain their weight eating the first cutting hay, and gain some weight eating the second cutting hay.

Some other interesting findings, calcium was low, lending credence to the importance of added calcium, which I have not done.  Manganese was fine, which is strange because my soil tests show low manganese.  Potassium was high, which is also strange because I didn’t add any potassium in the spring, eliminating the theory of luxury consumption, and the soil tests show medium potassium.

If you have any thoughts about this, please share.


Midwestern Bio-Ag

September 1, 2011

I enjoyed attending a Midwestern Bio-Ag field day.  Fertilizer is their main business, but they also deal in feed and seed.  Pictured is a large truck which is used to spread fertilizer, and a red buggy which a farmer can pull behind a tractor to spread fertilizer.

Gary Zimmer is the founder of Midwestern Bio-Ag.  I picked up a copy of his new book, “Advancing Biological Farming.”  He sold me in his introduction, when he wrote:

“So please, when you read this book don’t be too quick to judge.  Don’t read between the lines.  I’m sure you can find some details you won’t or can’t agree with, but remember, these are my thoughts, observations, ideas, and experiences up to this point in time.  Show me a better way and I’m ready to make changes and take on new ideas after they have been tested and their success demonstrated on the farm.  I want to know when it works, how it works, why it works or doesn’t work.  If a new idea makes sense, improves quality and/or yield, and is profitable, then let’s go with it.”

I always listen to a person who admits he doesn’t know everything.

I have a difficult time knowing if a fertilizer is real, or “foo-foo dust”.  There are so many variables in farming, it’s nearly impossible to know if a little something we spread on the fields has an effect.  Unless I correct a visible deficiency, fertilizer is almost faith-based.

That being said, I’m thinking about working with Midwestern Bio-Ag for my fertilizer wants and needs.  I plan to figure ways to test the effectiveness of their products.


Soil Testing and Fertilizer

May 1, 2011

We tested the soil in a few of our fields last week.  Pictured is the probe, laying on its side, which is pushed into the soil vertically, and then pulled back up, removing a small core of soil which you can see in the bottom part of the probe. It takes five samples to fill a testing bag.  We sent our samples to AgSource Soil & Forage Laboratory, located in Bonduel, WI.

This is also the first picture in a series showing how this field changes throughout the year.  We call this field M6.  It was planted to corn last year.  It will be planted to oats this year.

We last tested this field in 2006.  It looks like our management has improved the soil profile in five years.  I’ll go through the soil test without much explanation.  If you have anything to add, please do.

Organic matter increased from 2.1% to 2.9%.  pH stayed constant at 7.4.  Cation exchange capacity increased from 10 to 11.

The next observations are all in parts per million.  Phosphorous increased from 38 to 41.  Potassium decreased from 109 to 97.  Calcium increased from 1285 to 1600.  Magnesium increased from 395 to 500.  Boron increased from .5 to .9.  Manganese increased from 4 to 6.  Zinc increased from 3.2 to 10.4.

Our soils are different types, based mainly on our management.  The soil close to my parents’ farm, next to the buildings, has had a lot of hog manure spread on it over the past thirty-plus years.  The soil on my farm has received a lot of hog manure since we built the three hoop buildings in 1996-1997.  The cowherd is usually fed hay in the winter on some of this land as well.  As a result, the soil is high in phosphorous, and optimum in potassium.

The soil on the east hills receives no manure except for when the cows graze the fields.  This soil tests low in both phosphorous and potassium.

The other farm soil receives some manure, so it’s optimum in phosphorous and low in potassium.

Our chosen fertilizer is manure.  The problem with manure is it is not perfectly balanced.  Our management of the manure and crop removal has caused  phosphorous to increase relative to potassium.  We are doing a few things to combat this.  1. Managing the spreading of manure better.  2. Feeding phytase, an enzyme which helps pigs digest phosphorous better, resulting in less phosphorous in the manure.  3. Fertilize with potash, 60% potassium, in the fall, when our budget allows.  We spread 200 lbs of potash on all the crop acres last fall.

Our plan for this spring. 1. Hog manure will be spread and tilled in to all 2nd-year corn fields.  Oat and hay fields on my farm and my parents’ farm close to the buildings will receive nothing.  2. Other farm and fields farther from my parents’ buildings received 200 lbs of potash to increase potassium.  3. East hills received 100 lbs of potash and 100 lbs of MAP, 52% phosphorous, to increase potassium and phosphorous.


March 2011, Fertilizer Prices

March 24, 2011

We priced fertilizers with our local dealer.  Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), and Potassium (K) are the macro elements we are usually most concerned with.  I’ll list the fertilizer, the percent of each nutrient, and the price per ton.  The percent of each nutrient is listed in this order: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Sulfur.

Urea 46-0-0-0 $462/ton

Ammonium sulfate 21-0-0-24 $343/ton

Monoammonium phosphate (MAP) 11-52-0-0 $673/ton

Potassium chloride (Potash) 0-0-60-0 $537/ton

Which source of nitrogen, Urea or Ammonium sulfate, is a better deal.  We need to calculate the nitrogen cost per pound.

What is 46% of a ton?  Multiply .46 times 2000 equals 920 lbs. nitrogen per ton of Urea.  Divide $462 by 920 lbs. equals $.50 per lb. of nitrogen.

Ammonium sulfate is 21% nitrogen.  .21 times 2000 equals 420 lbs. nitrogen per ton.  Divide $343 by 420 lbs. equals $.82 per lb. of nitrogen.

The Ammonium sulfate is higher priced per lb. of nitrogen.  Ammonium sulfate also contains sulfur, which is needed by plants, and it is more stable, releasing its nitrogen more slowly than Urea.  Urea will volatilize, turn into a gas, in hot, dry, conditions.  Urea is best spread before a rain, or when the ground is cool and moist.  So someone may want to use Ammonium sulfate even though it is more expensive.

I realized when I started writing, this is part of a much larger post about the philosophy of fertilizer.  For our farm, animal manure is our preferred fertilizer.  We just purchased a new manure spreader which I’m excited to use, and will show in a post soon.


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