SOIL LOSS: A CASE FOR REDUCED TILLAGE

Agriculture is a large portion of the economy in Illinois.  Every farmer in Illinois has their own method of planting and raising their crop.  Every farmer must make decisions on what is the best way to raise their crop with the conditions and location they have.  Tillage, which is when farmers dig into the soil and mix it, is one decision that farmers make every year.  Three types of tillage exist conventional tillage, reduced tillage, and no tillage.  This blog is going to focus on why farmers are utilizing reduced tillage.

Reduced tillage is sometimes referred to as conservation tillage and is just what it sounds like, less tillage than conventional tillage, but more tillage than no tillage.  Farmers may choose to utilize reduced tillage for a variety of reasons including prevention of soil loss, reduced soil compaction, improved soil’s organic matter, and decrease in labor cost.

Soil loss is a growing problem today. The soil is vital for agriculture, and we are losing our soil faster than our earth can make it.  It takes the earth 500 to 1000 years to create an inch of topsoil.  When we are losing an inch of topsoil every 20 years.  With the reduced tillage practice, we can reduce the soil erosion because of the crop residue and the roots. Think about weeding a garden, when you pull a weed usually soil will come up with the weed.  This is because the roots hold the soil.  With reduced tillage, the previous crops roots are still buried beneath the ground and are still able to anchor the soil in place to prevent loose particles from running off through water or the wind.

There are three sizes of soil particles, listed from largest to smallest, sand, silt, and clay.  Over time these particles can squish tighter together.  This causes a problem for the crops because the crops need air spaces in the soil to absorb water and other nutrients from the soil.  Heavy machinery such as tractors can compact the soil over time, and because reduced tillage requires less preparation for planting the soil is not driven over as much, and results in a decrease in soil compaction.  Look at this triangle showing the different steps and machinery needed for the different styles of tillage.  (Insert Tractor triangle photo)

Reduced tillage can increase organic matter because the decomposition process is slower when the residue is left on the top of the soil and will cause an increase in nutrients on the top layers of the soil, and overall increase soil health over time.

Less labor is another great advantage of reduced tillage.  Because there contains less steps in the process for reduced tillage less time will need to be invested as well as less money will be needed for equipment or labor cost.

Reduced tillage is a great option to help reduce soil erosion, reduce soil compaction, increase organic matter, and reduce time and labor. If you are interested in learning more about different soil tillage management systems, please review this document linked here: Soil Management and Tillage.

Mary Marsh
University of Illinois

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #5: THE HEAVY COST OF FARM MACHINERY

[Originally published March 14, 2016]

Here in Illinois, we are all fairly familiar with the big farm machinery in the fields during spring and fall, but have you ever wondered what kind of financial investment a farmer undertakes?

3-14-16Tractor
Photo Credit: Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer

It’s mid-March, the weather is getting more pleasant, and all farmers seem to have one thing on their mind: planting.

The first field of corn was planted near Pearl, Illinois last Tuesday and it is expected that many farmers from all over the state will soon be following suit to start the long process of getting food to your dinner table. However, for farmers to get the food from farm to table, they need machinery to do it, and machinery costs money. Lots of it. But what exactly is the financial investment a farmer undertakes when it comes to their machinery?

Chad Braden, President and Chief Operating Officer of Arends Hogan Walker (AHW), one of the largest John Deere dealerships on the continent, says that the image created by the media about the cost of farm equipment is a negative one, but in reality, it is a necessary part of the production cycle. In order “to sustain a long-term farm operation, you must be able to invest in, and support, a reasonable amount of equipment to maintain the farming operation.” He also suggests that the general rule of thumb should be spending “$95-$100 per acre on machinery costs. This gives a 1,000-acre farm about $100,000 of cash flow to cover annual machinery payments and maintenance, insurance, fuel, etc. Only $70 per acre of this is direct machinery costs.“ Braden closes by adding, “$70 per acre is about 10% of the total costs of production in 2016 for an acre of corn.”

So, it costs $95-$100 per acre for machinery costs, but what about the expense of the actual machinery itself? John Spangler, my uncle, as well as a grain and livestock farmer from Western Illinois, states that this all depends on the size of your operation. A small farmer, who may have around 350 acres, needs nothing more than a $50,000 tractor, $20,000 planter, and a $50,000 combine. But, that is about as “minimum” as you can get. “A 1000 acre farmer is going to need a couple of tractors around $150,000, a $50,000 planter, and $100,000 combine.”

This may seem like lots of money, but Spangler mentions that it is better to keep the combine, planter, and sprayer up to date. “A lot of dollars flow through those machines and a breakdown at the wrong time can be expensive.”

If buying new isn’t something you want to do or can afford to do right now, have no fear. Leasing has become more popular in recent months. Also, there is a company called Machinery Link who connects farmers from all over the U.S. who need different types of equipment at various times. Some farmers even share equipment over two or more farm families. In reality, there are tons of other options to make machinery more affordable. “Everyone has their own philosophies on machinery,” says Spangler. “It basically comes down to what fits best in your operation.”

Kaity Spangler

 

Kaity Spangler
University of Illinois

TOP POSTS OF 2016 #4: 6 THINGS ABOUT FARMING I DIDN’T LEARN IN SCHOOL

[Originally published: February 23, 2016]

We all love our teachers, but looking back there are things we wish somebody had told us. Here are six things about agriculture that I wish were taught in school.

  1. Food is not easy to grow.

farmer in fieldOn TV you always see farmers portrayed as a bunch of uneducated hillbillies, but that is not the case! There is a lot more to growing food than most people realize; farming is a science. Farmers have to be masters of chemistry, agronomy, physics, mathematics, economics, and meteorology. In fact, there are over 70 colleges across the country that offer degrees in Farm Management. Who knew?

  1. Most of the corn we see in the fields isn’t sweet corn.

There are several different types of corn grown in the US, but the main type is field corn, also called dent corn. This corn is used for animal feed and also processed into ethanol, corn syrup, and other products like makeup and plastic. Less than 1% of the corn grown in the US is sweet corn! Check out this math lesson teachers could use to teach students about corn.

  1. Dirt is not the same everywhere you go.

soilHave you ever wondered why Arizona soil is so much redder than the dark black soils we have here in central Illinois? It turns out there is much more to dirt than meets the eye. All soil is made up of a combination of three components: sand, silt, and clay. The way a soil looks, feels, and even how well crops can be grown in it can all be predicted by looking at the age of the soil (some soils are thousands of years old!), mineral composition, topography of the land, and what the native vegetation was. There are even people whose whole job is studying soil!

  1. Hamburgers and milk don’t come from the same place.

eat mor chikinEveryone has seen the Chick-fil-a commercials where the black and white cows are telling you to eat more chicken, but besides being a cute marketing strategy it doesn’t actually make sense. Holsteins, like the Chick-fil-a cow, are one of hundreds of breeds of dairy cattle that are milked to make cheese and ice cream, but very rarely used for meat. A more accurate commercial would have a Black Angus because they are the most common beef breed in the US. These are the cattle that are raised for their meat to be processed into steaks, roasts, and burgers.

  1. Farmers do care about the environment.

The media is always pointing its finger at the agriculture industry for polluting the atmosphere or causing global climate change, but farmers really do care about the environment. In fact, they are affected even more than the rest of us by global climate change. As the climate patterns change over time, new pests invade our fields that they are not equipped to handle. This in turn lowers their yield and actually costs them money!

  1. There are chemicals in your food. Gasp!

Pyridoxine, Natamycin, and Carboxymethylcellulose, oh my! Find out what these chemicals are. Just because something has a long name doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, all food is naturally made out of chemicals called vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A chemical-free diet would mean that you couldn’t eat anything!

elizabeth brownElizabeth Brown
Purdue University

A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF THE FARMER: NOVEMBER

Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the eleventh post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.

november

Start at the beginning!

JANUARY
FEBRUARY
MARCH
APRIL
MAY
JUNE
JULY
AUGUST
SEPTEMBER
OCTOBER

You’ll continue to get stuck behind slow-moving vehicles on rural roads throughout November, but at least visibility at stop signs improves with the corn and beans down. That’s right, harvest is (finally) wrapping up!

This year’s crop:

  • snow-harvestHarvest: A farmer could still be harvesting his grain in November, especially if he’s in Northern Illinois or if the weather is uncooperative. Rain stalls harvest by making soybeans tough and difficult to cut, or by making the fields too squishy to drive heavy machinery through. As for SNOW… it’s not impossible to combine grain with snow on the ground, but it certainly makes picking, transporting, drying and storing it more difficult. Let’s just hope they don’t have to go there!

Farm Maintenance:

  • field-tileManage Break-Downs: As always, managing breakdowns is an ongoing task on the farm. Gotta keep the equipment in good working order to get the job done.
  • Install or fix tile lines: After the crop is out, it’s a good time to install or repair tile lines. Field tile is like a big underground gutter system that aids in field drainage. Sometimes tile can become broken or clogged and needs to be dug up and repaired. Or maybe the field didn’t have any tile to begin with. Post harvest is a good time to install it.

Next year’s crop:

  • Looking ahead: With “this year’s crop” being hauled away, it’s time to implement next year’s game plan. This is where things could vary greatly from farm to farm depending on the farmer’s individual preferences and management techniques. Some options could be:
    • empty-fields-landscapeFall tillage: working up the ground to break up plant matter and prepare the seed bed for next year’s crop
    • Fertilizer and other dry product application: Examples would be phosphorous and potassium (commonly referred to as P&K) and lime
    • Anhydrous ammonia can be applied in the fall.
    • If farmers are using over-wintering cover crops such as cereal rye, it may be applied post-harvest, depending on what is being planted.
    • Research and place 2017 seed orders

This year, USDA, NASS stated that harvest was at least 97% complete at Thanksgiving. What a relief for farmers and their families! With the crops out of the field, the Stewards of the Land were able to enjoy some much-needed family time around the dinner table giving thanks for the bountiful harvest!

Deal_Ashley

Ashley Deal
Membership Administrative Assistant
IL Corn

360 FARM TOUR TAKES ON #HARVEST16

Illinois Farm Families is back with another edition of the Illinois Runs on Homegrown Corn video series using 360-degree video technology. IL farmer Justin Durdan takes us on quick journey to highlight what exactly harvest means when you’re a farmer. Be sure to catch the whole series!

#360CORN – VIRTUAL TOURS FROM THE FIELD!

We’ve launched a fun new way to experience Illinois agriculture from the city, across the ocean or just around the corner.

#360Corn is a series of 360 degree videos featuring our own Illinois corn farmer, Justin Durdan.  Justin lets us plant corn with him, spray for pests, fertilize those little baby corn plants, and even harvest and sell his crop – all while we can look 360 degrees around the tractor cab, the farm and even the field.

Check out the entire experience at www.watchusgrow.org/corn

Or just enjoy the latest video featuring corn harvest right here:

A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A FARMER: OCTOBER

Some people think that the only busy times of the year are planting and harvest and the rest of the year farmers spend their glorious amounts of free time vacationing or tinkering with antique tractors. This may be true for some, but not the majority. Today is the tenth post in my one-year series which will give you an idea of a farmer’s workload throughout the year. Keep in mind that all farms operate differently and I am just providing one example of a year in the life of a grain farmer. There are several factors that contribute to the seasonality of the farm such as size and scale of the operation, crops grown, location, livestock, management style and general upbringing or personal work ethic! I hope this provides some insight to what versatile businessman farmers are.

october

Start at the beginning!

JANUARY
FEBRUARY
MARCH
APRIL
MAY
JUNE
JULY
AUGUST
SEPTEMBER
NOVEMBER

Harvest is in full swing! If you’re married to a farmer (like me), or have many farmer friends, you KNOW you won’t be seeing much of him or her this time of year. Even once they’re done cutting corn or beans, farmers are still up early and out late this month.

This year’s crop:

  • general-harvest-1Harvest: Combines are rolling through the fields with auger wagons following closely alongside. Grain trucks, grain carts, and semis are bumping down gravel roads. Wives, kids, or a spare hired man is following in the pick-up truck to help move equipment from field to field. Farmers are constantly moving during harvest. They don’t want the grain to get too dry before hauling it to the elevator, and they certainly don’t want a bad wind knocking a stand of corn down before they can get to it. Farmers have been investing blood, sweat, tears, and MONEY in this crop for the last 11 months and it’s time to cash in on the literal “fruits of their labor”.
  • dumping-at-the-elevatorMoney in the bank: September and October are busy grain marketing months. As the trucks roll across the scales at the elevator a farmer may choose to sell it immediately rather than storing it there. As you’ve learned in past posts, elevators charge a small fee to store grain in their facility. You can think of it as paying rent. A downside to selling it immediately, though, is that since there’s such an abundance of it available, the price the farmer is getting is typically lower in the fall. (Sometimes a farmer just needs some cash, though, or has sold it ahead for a better price).

Farm Maintenance:

  • Manage Break-Downs: As mentioned last month, with all those moving parts there are bound to be breakdowns during harvest. Be it with combine, tractor, flat tire on a grain cart, an overheating truck, a jammed up grain auger or a miscalibrated dryer, breakdowns happen and then need to be dealt with in an efficient manner.

Next year’s crop:

  • Looking ahead: With “this year’s crop” being hauled away, it’s time to implement next year’s game plan.
    • Some farmers do fall tillage by working up the ground to break up plant matter and prepare the seed bed for next year’s crop, while others follow the “best management practice” of reduced-till, which leaves the ground intact, preventing soil erosion and compaction.
    • fall-fertRegardless of tillage decision, most farmers apply fertilizer and other dry products such as phosphorous and potassium (commonly referred to as P&K) and lime may be applied to fields. Some farmers may also apply liquid nitrogen in the fall, but The 4Rs of nitrogen management, per the The Fertilizer Institute’s 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program, recommends applying nitrogen as the crops need it:“By postponing a portion of the N treatment until the crop is better able to utilize the nutrient, plants take up the nitrogen more quickly and efficiently. That means growers get more from their fertilizer investment and fertilizer losses that can contribute to environmental concerns are lessened.”
    • If farmers are using over-wintering cover crops such as cereal rye, it may be applied post-harvest, depending on what is being planted.
    • Finally, this is the time of year winter wheat is planted in order to harvest the following summer.

Enjoy this beautiful season and be thankful for all that is sown, Happy Harvest!

Deal_Ashley
Ashley Deal
Membership Administrative Assistant
IL Corn

FIVE THINGS ABOUT THIS PHOTO

Here in Illinois, the harvest is in full swing. Over in western Illinois, it seems as though there isn’t much left to be harvested. Most of the corn and beans are gone, and it seems like everyone can take a small sigh of relief…for now.

However, for me, I’m sad that it’s all coming to an end. Sure, I’m glad it’s over because that means my dad gets to enjoy a less stressful Dad’s Weekend at the University of Illinois with me, but the harvest is easily one of my favorite times of the year. The picture below is one that I shot coming home from the University of Illinois a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes we can take this harvest for granted, but if you look a little closer at the photo, there’s a story to tell. So here are five things about this photo!

corn

  1. As I mentioned, this picture was taken on my way home from school. I noticed a few family members in the field and decided to stop by. My grandma was ready with a field meal (complete with homemade bread and cake… she doesn’t mess around when it comes to this stuff), and the sun was setting on a long and relatively warm day. I enjoy being able to come home from school and spend a little bit of time hearing about how everything is going!
  2. The grain cart has an orange and yellow triangle; this shows to the people driving down the road that it is a slow-moving vehicle. This cart takes our corn from the combine to the elevator. It is important to notice these triangles while traveling on the road and to drive cautiously. These people are feeding you!
  3. If we look at the sky, we see it is a perfect day for harvest. The clouds are covering the sky just enough to ensure the farmer has shade to take a rest, but the sun for them to remember why they do what they do. In the FFA, the sun is the token of a new era in agriculture. As more and more technologies are brought into the agricultural industry, this new era is becoming one of the greatest we’ve seen. However, it’s important to trust the agriculturalists who are making these great strides!
  4. The field to the side of the tractor and semi show the promise there is still more to go. Agriculture is an industry that will always thrive and produce. The field in the background illustrates the essence of harvest, the work that never ends in the life of the farmer.
  5. This picture most importantly shows hometown agriculture. I am thankful for having the opportunity to grow up in a town that is so heavily reliant on agriculture and for it being such an important industry to my family. The sense of community is only strengthened by the bond of agriculture, and for me, it is always exciting to come home and witness this first hand.

Kaity SpanglerKaity Spangler
University of Illinois