On the first day I started Extension nearly 15 years ago, I met two other Extension Educators and a farmer in a Clay County farmer’s field. The farmer was cooperating with us in an on-farm research project. It was great for me to see farmers answering their own questions by partnering with Extension to conduct field-scale, replicated research on their own farms. It also became a key tool for me to learn via field observations and build relationships with growers.
Any of you who know me know on-farm research is something in which I’m pretty passionate! The reason? You’re all going to meetings and reading information regarding various practices/products and you may wonder if any of those things will work on your farm. You may try various tests on your own, which can provide some information. But because fields are so variable, scientific tests can’t be conducted by just splitting fields in half or without true randomization and replication. Another reason I believe in on-farm research is because we answer much with minimal money invested! I think of numerous studies our farmers have partnered with us in which University faculty wouldn’t have been able to obtain grants because they were too applied. However, in farmers utilizing their equipment on their own ground partnering with Extension to collect and analyze data, we’ve been able to conduct these studies with minimal cost other than some additional time and travel to fields. We’ve tested numerous products including soybean inoculants, growth promoters, soil health, and nutrient management ones. We’ve tested various practices such as populations, planting dates, planting depths, nutrient timing, cover crops, and much more. A good portion of our results can be found at http://resultsfinder.unl.edu. That site is still missing the first 15-20 years of Greater Quad County on-farm research studies, but everything is there from 2010 on. (I hope to one day help get the rest added).
I’m so grateful for all of our on-farm research cooperators-especially to all of you who have worked with me-for your investment of time and trust in partnering! We can’t do this without you! And, I hope more growers consider partnering with us in on-farm research in the future!
On-Farm Research Updates: Next week will be our Nebraska On-Farm Research updates. It’s an opportunity to hear from the growers themselves who conducted studies in 2018 regarding why they chose their studies, how they conducted them, and what their plans are for the future. I really enjoy these meetings and learning from the discussions! While many of the studies may show there’s no differences, those are still answers to specific questions! Research projects include: cover crops, variable rate seeding, planting populations, starter fertilizer, fungicide applications, alternate crop rotations, seed treatments, and sidedress nitrogen management technologies including drone and sensor-based, variable-rate nitrogen management. Certified Crop Advisor Credits have been applied for and are pending approval. Call (402) 624-8030 or e-mail email@example.com to register. Locations and times are listed below. There’s no charge with lunch included due to the partnership of the following: Nebraska Corn Growers Association, the Nebraska Corn Board, the Nebraska Soybean Checkoff, and the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission.
- Feb. 18: Grand Island, Hall Co. Extension Office, College Park, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Reg. 8:30)
- Feb. 19: Norfolk, Lifelong Learning Center, Northeast Com. College, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (Reg. 8:30)
- Feb. 20: Beatrice, Valentino’s Restaurant, 701 E. Court St., 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. (Reg. 8:30)
- Feb. 26: North Platte, West Central Research & Extension Center, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. CST (Reg. 8:30)
Soybean Yield Gap On-Farm Research Project: A number of you have helped through the years in providing field history information for Dr. Patricio Grassini for the Soybean Yield Gap project. That’s the difference between current farm yield and potential yield as determined by climate, soil, and genetics. An analysis of survey responses from over 2000 soybean producers indicated a 20%-30% yield gap for soybean. In Nebraska, three practices have been identified as being important for improving yield and producer profit: planting date, seeding rate, and the use of foliar fungicides and insecticides. An on-farm research study in eastern Nebraska is seeking 20 growers to test “improved” practices versus “baseline” practices in 2019 and 20 again for 2020. A PDF handout with the regions and more details can be found at: https://go.unl.edu/h8hc. Please let me or your local Extension Educator know if you’re interested in this!
On-Farm Research: It’s been fun discussing on-farm research projects and putting together protocols with growers the past few weeks! Some have asked if there’s already projects for which we need cooperators. We do have those and we also custom develop protocols depending on the question(s) you wish to look at. For those curious about protocols developed, you can view some at: https://cropwatch.unl.edu/farmresearch/extensionprotocols.
One question I’ve received quite a bit the past few years is about establishing cover crops into V5-6 corn. We don’t have on-farm research data yet for this study topic, but perhaps this year a few of you will consider it! The thought is to get the cover established, even though it won’t grow much during growing season, and hopefully provide for faster growth after harvest. I have developed an on-farm research protocol if growers are interested in trying this (it can be found at the same website listed above). In our brainstorming session, growers talked about interseeding via retrofitting equipment to put seed on similar to Y-drops, using a coulter, or seeding during cultivation. There is also a field day on March 21 to discuss what one farmer has tried the past three years regarding different seeding mixes and ways of establishing the cover at V6. If you’re interested in attending, it will be held at 4th Ave and 1/4 mile north on Arthur Road near St. Libory, NE from 1:30-3:30 p.m. The following website has more information regarding this field day: http://cpnrd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Cover-Crop-Field-Day-Flyer-March21.pdf. If you’re interested in attending, please RSVP Dean Krull: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please let me know if you’re interested in the V6 cover crop protocol as well! Also just a note, this protocol can also be adapted for any of you looking at applying nutrients during that V5-V6 time-frame. The plot pattern would be the same; the objective and perhaps some of the data collection would change.
Soil Moisture Status in Non-Irrigated Fields: This week I plan to install soil moisture sensors into some non-irrigated fields in the southern area of counties I serve. I’m just curious where we’re truly at for soil moisture deeper in the soil profile knowing Kansas is in drought and moisture this winter has been spotty. I did this in 2013 as well to see where we were at after the drought of 2012; it showed we didn’t have a full soil profile going into the growing season. If you have moisture sensors, you may wish to consider doing this as well for your fields or pastures to know where you’re at. It may influence cropping decisions for 2018. If you connect sensors to dataloggers, you will want to also install a temperature sensor to allow the datalogger to base the moisture readings on the current soil temperature.
Check out this week’s UNL CropWatch at http://cropwatch.unl.edu for information on averaged land values dropped by 3% from 2017, negotiating fair leases, assessing alfalfa winterkill, interseeding into thin alfalfa stands, and more.
Innovative Youth Corn Challenge: Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Corn Board are offering the seventh Innovative Youth Corn Challenge contest. This contest, open to 4-H members (age 10 & older as of Jan. 1st) or FFA members (in-school members), guides participants through all aspects of corn production, as well as agricultural careers related to corn production. As a team (2 or more participants), youth will be challenged to implement a production practice different than normal to determine if they increased their yield. Economics and sustainability of the practice will also be considered. Yields, cropping history, and production information will be collected in the Corn Yield Challenge management summary. Cash prizes and plaques are given. First place receives $1,000, second place receives $500, and third place receives $250. Sustainability, crop scouting and “extra mile” awards are also given as cash awards. To participate in 2018, youth must complete and return an entry form by APRIL 1st to the Fillmore County Extension Office in Geneva, NE. Forms can be downloaded at https://cropwatch.unl.edu/youth/cornchallenge. For more information, contact Brandy VanDeWalle at email@example.com.
Horticulture Information from Kelly Feehan, Platte County: “Interested in getting an early start on vegetable gardening? You don’t need a greenhouse; just check out row covers that can be placed over plants to provide some protection from cold temperatures. Row covers are spun-bonded or woven polyester or polypropylene material that can be placed over plants to extend the growing season by retaining heat. Row covers are permeable and allow in light, water and air for plant growth. Depending on the weight of material used, between 2 and 8 degrees of frost protection can be gained, allowing earlier planting in spring or later planting in fall to move the harvest season up by a week or two or extend it a week or two later in the fall. Row covers can be draped over plants and secured with bricks; or they can supported by hoops, in which case they’re called low tunnels. Low tunnels are an easy and good season extender for home gardeners to use.
Rhubarb is a perennial that can live for years; however, plants should be dug and divided every 5 to 10 years. This is best done from late March into early April. Dig rhubarb plants, then use a sharp knife or axe to cut crowns into sections, each containing two pinkish buds. Incorporate organic matter into soil; then replant divisions 2 to 3 feet apart. Plant shallow so buds are only one-half to one inch below soil. Do not harvest newly divided or planted rhubarb the first year to allow plants to establish roots and recover from division or transplanting. During the second season, harvest only a few stalks to allow plants to continue to build up energy reserves. For three year or older plants, the harvest season can last up to 8 weeks. Harvest the largest rhubarb stalks by pulling them slightly to the side so they break away from the plant. Avoid harvesting more than one-third of rhubarb stalks at one time so plants are not weakened.”
On-Farm Research: Last week a team of us did a series of meetings throughout the State regarding on-farm research updates. It’s always great to have the farmers presenting their research and adding in additional details that we didn’t have when the results booklet was published! Two more meetings continue in western Nebraska this week.
Perhaps my biggest reason for strongly promoting on-farm research is because there often is no better way to obtain answers to some of the questions you all have. These types of studies are often difficult to obtain funding (or can take months to obtain funding, resulting in a lost window of opportunity) and by conducting this research on your farms, we obtain the answers for your specific situations. Sometimes challenges such as storm damage also become opportunities to answer a question via on-farm research. Growers tend to appreciate research conducted on other growers’ farms when we share this research at various meetings, field days, and in articles. A variety of topics are researched every year including nutrient management, various products, row spacing, and new technologies including multi-hybrid planters, use of drone sensors, etc.
In this week’s UNL CropWatch at http://cropwatch.unl.edu, three on-farm research cooperators are featured. One of these is Ken Herz along with sons Zach and Aaron in the Lawrence, NE area as first-time cooperators. Ken approached me with several questions the winter of 2015. As growers with a non-irrigated, no-till wheat/corn/soybean rotation and a cattle operation, his family was curious about the impacts of grazing cover crops for cattle gains and improving soil organic matter. They were also curious about the trade-offs of the cover crop vs. any soil moisture loss or impact on the successive corn yield. They also wanted this study to be something that would be applicable to what farmers in this area did and something they could all learn from together. Thus, it was decided to not plant cover crops into the corn or soybean residue as that isn’t common and this would need to be a long-term study. Dr. Mary Drewnoski and I met with the Herz family to develop a plan for this study. Also thankful for Dr. Suat Irmak for his help in providing additional soil moisture equipment and advice I needed, to the Little Blue NRD in partnering with reduced cost of soil moisture equipment and also for the partnership of Green Cover Seed.
In 2016-2017, this study evaluated four treatments on the effects of successive corn yield: 1-ungrazed wheat stubble 2-grazed wheat stubble 3-ungrazed cover crop 4-grazed cover crop. Wheat was harvested July of 2016 and a five-species cover crop mix of spring triticale, winter peas, oats, collards, and purple top turnips was planted August 14, 2016 (they wanted a mix that would winter-kill). The cover crop received moisture within a week of planting that allowed for germination. Some additional fall moisture allowed for good growth and cover crop biomass was measured (3401 lb/ac) prior to grazing 28 (1100 lb) first-calf heifers for 22 days resulting in the cover crop carrying 2.4 animal unit months (AUM)/ac. The goal was not to graze too heavy to allow for ground cover and any long-term soil improvements, thus 2177 lb/ac of biomass was present post-grazing. Soil moisture was monitored from after cover crop planting through corn harvest. The soil was so dry after wheat harvest prior to planting the cover crop that it took using a drill to install the second and third foot moisture sensors. Beginning soil health parameters were also taken to be compared long-term in this study.
Corn was planted May 15, 2017. Prior to planting the corn, the soil moisture where the grazed and ungrazed cover crop plots were located were at 35% depletion (top three feet) compared to at field capacity (full soil moisture profile) in the grazed and ungrazed wheat stubble plots. Eight inches of rain in May evened out the soil profile allowing all plots to be at a full profile (top four feet) at the beginning of the corn growing season. As the season progressed, the grazing treatments started separating out from the ungrazed treatments from July through end of the season. I don’t know how to explain that yet.
Corn was harvested the Thursday of the major wind event with a calibrated grain wagon. Yields were not statistically different and were 218 bu/ac, 211 bu/ac, and 213 bu/ac for the ungrazed wheat stubble, grazed cover crop, and ungrazed cover crop respectively. The grazed wheat stubble treatment yielded 212 bu/ac but only had two reps at the end of the growing season so was not included in the statistical analysis. Economically, grazing the cover crop was as competitive as the ungrazed wheat stubble treatment when it came to ensuing corn yields and the spring rains made all the difference in beginning soil moisture. Because of the crop rotation, there wasn’t an opportunity to add a cover crop in this field Fall 2017. The Herz’ feel they lost an opportunity as environmental conditions vary so much every year, and this year, cover crops didn’t have as much growth in area fields. Thus, they’ve chosen to dedicate three fields to this study topic in the future, allowing for one of the fields each year to have wheat/cover crop/grazing to account for environmental variation. Continuing this for the next 5-7 years will better answer their questions while benefiting all of us with what is learned. Perhaps other growers are interested in some variation of this study for your farms?
Most studies are not this in depth and this is just one example of how growers are answering questions they have for themselves via on-farm research. It can take extra time at planting, harvest or other times of the season depending on the study. I believe most growers I’ve worked with would say the effort has been worth it to scientifically answer their questions for themselves. Truly am grateful for all of you I’ve had the opportunity to work with via on-farm research! So, if you’re thinking about a question you’d like to answer on your farm this year, consider reaching out to me or your local Extension educator and we’d be happy to talk with you now about how to set up your study. It is important to talk this through, especially if this is your first time conducting research. If you’d like to learn more about on-farm research, view some protocols, or view results from previous studies, please check out our website at http://cropwatch.unl.edu/farmresearch.
Bake and Take Month: March is Bake & Take month, a time when wheat organizations encourage others to bake a wheat good and share it with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and shut-ins. In honor of the month, the Nebraska Wheat Board (NWB) is again sponsoring recipe cards and stickers for any 4-H groups or other organizations that wish to participate. This year’s recipes are mini dessert tacos and crockpot cherry chocolate lava cake. Those interested in participating or who have questions can contact the NWB office at (402) 471-2358 or firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no cost for the supplies, and no limit on the number that can be requested. Those wishing to preview the recipes before requesting materials can find them listed at http://wheat.nebraska.gov starting March 1.
York County Fair Volunteers: Gary Zoubek asked me to mention he’s looking for a few volunteers that could help with 4-H and Open Class primarily on entry and judging day in Ag Hall on July 31 and August 1st. If you’re interested, please contact Gary at 402-326-8185 or email email@example.com.