Thank you to Tena with Faller Landscape in York and to all the youth who participated in our 4-H landscape design workshop and helped plant the Nebraska area! It will hopefully be beautiful for fair!
Crop Update: Rain continues to be spotty and windstorms have resulted in various levels of greensnap in some fields. Overall crops are growing and getting a decent canopy. It’s been interesting watching the radar on weather apps as so often they look like precipitation should be occurring yet that’s not always the case. Grateful for all of you who share crop updates-including things such as impacts on hay crops, pastures, etc. and for our farmers working with me on soil moisture monitoring. I was told this past week of the impact of our groundtruthing on the drought monitor; radar would make it appear we’re not as dry as we truly are. So just wanted to share that with you-that your input is important as we then share that input with those who work with the models and maps! I plan to get soil moisture sensors installed in non-irrigated fields in York, Seward, and Clay this week as well.
Soil Moisture Sensors Tips: With cultivating and hilling progressing, some are now looking at getting soil moisture sensors installed. If you utilize watermark sensors, the following are some tips I’ve learned.
Test sensors with wet/dry process to remove all air bubbles:
- First, make sure sensors read 199.
- Then, soak sensors for at least 24 hours. They should read 10 or less (Jenny’s note-I realize they may read this in a matter of minutes to hours but it’s our best practice recommendation to ensure all air bubbles are removed).
- If they don’t read 10 or less, gently rub any soil loose on them with your fingers (don’t use a brush) and allow to continue soaking for another 24-48 hours. If they still don’t read under 10, I don’t use them.
- Best practice is to then allow the sensors to completely dry out again to 199 to complete the wet/dry process. (Jenny’s note: I realize, due to time constraints, many sensors get installed once they have been soaking and never go through the complete drying process).
- Avoid installing sensors in saturated soil conditions in clayey soils. Doing so allows a thin clay film to develop on the sensors which then affects readings .
- Prior to installation, the sensors should be soaked again and installed wet. The soaking process only takes a matter of minutes to get back to 10 or below. I carry the water bucket with sensors with me into the field.
- When soaking, water moves into the PVC pipe, thus it can take time for the water to drain providing accurate readings if not removed. Some sensors have a hole drilled in the PVC pipe above the sensor to allow water to drain. Otherwise, it’s important to remove the caps and tip the sensors over to dump any water that has accumulated in the PVC pipe during the soaking process. I then put the cap back on, take my hand and wet the PVC pipe with water so it pushes in easier. Some like to use WD-40 but my concern with that is it getting on the sensor affecting readings.
- Install all sensors where the sensor itself sets using an ag consultant tube (can be 12 or 18 inches). An ag consultant tube has a slightly smaller diameter that provides a tight fit for the sensor. Use a regular soil probe for the foot above that. For example, for 1’ sensor, I use ag consultant tube. For 2’ sensor, I use regular probe for first foot and ag consultant tube for second foot. For 3’ sensor, I use regular probe for first 2 feet and ag consultant tube for third foot. The reason for this is in clayey soils that are wet, there’s greater resistance to pushing in that sensor, so this is one way I’ve found which is easier for someone like me to push them in. (Jenny’s note: many have installed sensors with a regular soil probe through the years and that’s also fine. Just know that you may see more water run along side of tube before soil makes a tight fit around where sensor is located. I’ve just found less issues with this when I use the process described above).
- NEVER pour water into the hole or make a slurry. Make sure the sensor hits the bottom of the hole as air gaps can make the sensor readings inaccurate. Some people find it better to not remove the entire amount of soil for a specific depth and then push the sensor the rest of the way till the correct depth is obtained. I’m not always strong enough to do that so do what works for you as long as the sensor is at the correct depth and there’s no air gaps.
- Make sure to fill in any gaps around the sensor with soil and make sure there’s no soil cracks around the sensors.
- Make sure to mark each sensor and flag them well.
- Sensor readings should equilibrate with the soil within 48-72 hours but especially within a week.
- If a sensor starts reading really dry, before replacing it, I often remove it and reprime it in the field. This can be done by re-soaking in water for 1 minute or so till it goes back below 10 and then reinstalling in same hole. If it doesn’t go below 10, I replace it. If it reads strange the next week, I also replace it.
- A reminder to use distilled water in the tube and to fill the ceramic top when you’re also filling the main tube. I usually fill the ceramic top and wait for it to soak up a little then fill again.
- Prime the ET gage ensuring no air bubbles are in the second tube with the stopper. I always overfill the ET gage to help with priming and ensuring there’s no air bubbles.
- Excess water can be removed and also air bubbles can be removed by gently pulling down on the glass site gauge tube at the rubber base and releasing extra water from it. Air bubbles can also be released in this process. Place the site gauge tube back in place when you are at a water level between ‘0 and 1’. Then place one red marker ring on that beginning start level.
- I always plan to refill the ET gage when it gets down to ‘9’ on the site tube.
- The green canvas cover should be replaced at least every 2 years and be sure to dust it off and the white membrane below it.
In another column I’ll share how to use the two tools together for irrigation scheduling. All videos and charts with more information can be found at: https://water.unl.edu/category/nawmn. This is a checklist I made awhile back with Daryl Andersen which has more detail and could honestly be updated: http://www.littlebluenrd.org/pdf’s/forms/etgage_sensor_checklist.pdf but may also be helpful.
Tree Damage: Recent windstorms have caused for many downed branches and even some trees. When removing broken branches or dead branches, it’s important to prune correctly for tree health. Correct pruning of larger branches can often involve 3 cuts per limb. The first two cuts are made away from the trunk of the tree to remove most of the weight of the limb. The third cut is near the trunk itself at the bark collar ridge where the tree will eventually seek to heal. I like this Backyard Farmer YouTube video as a good visual of correct pruning: https://youtu.be/9cl0Qxm7npk. Pruning is best done in the dormant season of February and March. It’s best avoided in April and May when trees are putting energy into new leaves and in the fall as fall pruning can result in growth instead of the tree preparing for and going into dormancy. Some great resources with more information on proper pruning are: https://go.unl.edu/v9uf, https://go.unl.edu/gdb9, and this blog post https://jenreesources.com/2014/04/20/proper-tree-pruning.
The sun has been welcomed and crops are rapidly growing in South Central Nebraska! Corn right now is between V6-V8 (6-8 leaf) for the most part. Quite a few farmers were side-dressing and hilling corn the past two weeks. It never fails that corn looks a little stressed after this as moisture is released from the soil and roots aren’t quite down to deeper moisture.
Installing watermark sensors for irrigation scheduling, we’re finding good moisture to 3 feet in all fields in the area. The driest fields are those which were converted from pasture last year and we want to be watching the third foot especially in those fields. Pivots are running in some fields because corn looks stressed, but there’s plenty of moisture in the soil based on the watermark sensor readings I’m receiving for the entire area. So we would recommend to allow your crops to continue to root down to uptake deeper moisture and nitrogen.
The last few weeks we observed many patterns from fertilizer applications in fields but as corn and root systems are developing, they are growing out of it. We’ve also observed some rapid growth syndrome in plants. This can result from the quick transition we had from cooler temperatures to warmer temperatures, which leads to rapid leaf growth faster than they can emerge from the whorl. Plants may have some twisted whorls and/or lighter discoloration of these leaves, but they will green up upon unfurling and receiving sunlight. This shouldn’t affect yield.
Damping off has been a problem in areas where we had water ponded or saturated conditions for periods of time. We’ve also observed some uneven emergence in various fields from potentially a combination of factors including some cold shock to germinating seedlings.
We began applying sugar to our on-farm research sugar vs. check studies in corn. We will continue to monitor disease and insect pressure in these plots and determine percent stalk rot and yield at the end of the season.
Leaf and stripe rust can be observed in wheat fields in the area and wheat is beginning to turn. We had some problems with wheat streak mosaic virus in the area again affecting producers’ neighboring fields when volunteer wheat wasn’t killed last fall. Alfalfa is beginning to regrow after first cutting and we’re encouraging producers to look for alfalfa weevils. All our crops could really use a nice slow rain right now!
It’s wonderful receiving the rain we did, seeing how quickly planting progress came along, and how quickly corn is popping out of the ground! Being mid-May, it’s time to get our Evapotranspiration (ET) gages out. A reminder to only use distilled water in the gages, make sure to fill up the ceramic top portion of the gage before inserting the stopper, and gently dust off the ceramic top and replace the white membrane and green canvas cover. We recommend replacing those membranes and covers each year so if you need a new one, please let the Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) or me know and we’ll get you a new one! For those of you recording ET information online, please be sure to do so consistently each week to help your neighbors and crop consultants.
Early after crop emergence is the best time to install watermark sensors. For those of you with watermark sensors, read them to ensure they read 199 kpa (dry). Then “prime” them first by soaking them for 24 hours in water to ensure all the air bubbles have been released. The sensors should have a reading of 10 kpa or below to be considered good. If they read higher than that, either continue soaking them another 24 hours and read them again, or plan that they no longer are reading correctly and replace them with others from the NRDs. Remember after soaking sensors that water moves up into the PVC pipe via capillary action, so be sure to dump the water out of the pipe as well.
When installing the sensors, be sure to install them wet, drain excess water, and look for areas that are not compacted, avoid tractor wheel tracks, and look for even spacing of plants. Carefully install without breaking off any plants (thus easier when plants are small!). It’s also important not to install sensors into extremely wet fields. What we have found is that a thin soil layer can cover the sensor when pushing it into the soil of very wet fields. When that soil layer dries, it can provide a reading of 199 saying the sensor is dry when it truly isn’t. If this happens to you, simply remove the sensor, rewet for one minute and re-install. It should be acclimated to field conditions within 48 hours. If you have any questions regarding the installation process, please let the NRDs or your local Extension Educator know. You can also view videos of the installation process and receive additional information to answer your questions.
While farmers may be tired of irrigating right now, I think all who have irrigation are thankful for it in such a dry year. Honestly, thankfully with our irrigation we have some of the best looking crops in the Corn Belt right now. Even so, with corn that hasn’t been replanted nearing dent or stages of starch fill, you may be wondering how to schedule for your last irrigation.
For those of you in our Nebraska Ag Water Management Network using watermark sensors, the goal is to use them to determine when the soil profile reaches 60% depletion (for silty-clay soils in our area aim for an average of 160 kpa of all your sensors). You may be thinking, “An average of 90kpa was hard enough!” but as Daryl Andersen from the Little Blue Natural Resources District points out, you’re only taking an additional 0.30 inches out of each foot. So if you’re averaging 90kpa on your three sensors, you have depleted 2.34 inches in the top three feet so you still have 0.96 inches left (see the Soil Moisture Depletion Chart). If you add the fourth foot (using a similar number from the third foot), it would bring the water available to the plant up to 1.28”.
At beginning dent corn you need 24 days or 5 inches of water to finish the crop to maturity. If you subtract 1.28 from 5 you will need 3.72” to finish out the crop. Corn at ½ milk line needs 13 days or 2.25” to finish the crop to maturity-so subtracting it from 1.28 would be only 0.97”.
Soybeans at the beginning of seed enlargement (R5) need 6.5”. Soybeans in R6 or full seed which needs 3.5 inches yet for maturity. Subtracting off the 1.28” in the four foot profile would lead to 2.22”. The UNL NebGuide Predicting the Last Irrigation of the Season provides good information on how determine your last irrigation in addition to showing charts on how much water the crop still needs at various growth stages.
Several people I’ve talked to who have been irrigating using watermark sensors aren’t replenishing the second foot, so you may have a few rounds yet to go on corn and beans. For a quick way to know where you’re at, think about irrigating this way as explained by Daryl Andersen at the Little Blue Natural Resources District:
One way to look at this is by the numbers of days left. At 1/4 starch, there are about 19 days before maturity so you can let your sensors average 130kpa on the first week and 150kpa on the next week. If these targets are met during the week, you would put on about 1 inch of water. By going to these numbers, it might give you a higher probability for rain in the next couple of weeks. I’m hoping for many answered prayers that we will see rain in August!
Drought conditions have affected much of Nebraska. In our area in south-central Nebraska particularly in our southern tier of counties, we’re seeing brown pastures and alfalfa that stopped growing. Wheat was harvested nearly a month early and yields range from 0-50 bu/acre depending on if it was hit by the hail storm Memorial Day weekend which totaled it out.
I’m unsure how many planting dates we currently have in Clay County! The spring planting season went so well with corn and many beans being planted in April. Soybeans planted in April that haven’t received hail are forming a nice canopy. Corn that hasn’t received hail should be tasseling by beginning of July. One Clay Co. field planted in March was only 3 leaves from tasseling when I took this picture this week and looks great (it’s probably 2 leaves by now!). Adding another picture from a farmer friend Bob Huttes near Sprague, NE showing his field currently tasseled out and love the smiley face barn 🙂
But then there’s the hail damaged fields. The hail pattern has been fairly similar all year for this area of the State with some producers receiving four consecutive hail events on their fields. Every week of May was spent helping our producers determine replant decisions, particularly for soybeans…leaving irrigated stands of 85K and dryland stands of 60-65K when beans were smaller before stem bruising was so severe later. We would leave a stand one week and end up needed to replant after the hail hit again the following week. Some farmers got through the first two hail storms but the Memorial Day weekend storm did them in. I never saw hail like where ground zero of this storm occurred. After replanting after that weekend, they received yet another hail storm last week with the wonderful, much needed deluge of rain we received in the county. My heart hurts for these farmers yet for the most part they have good attitudes and are making the most of it. That’s the way farming is…lots of risk, thus an abundance of faith and prayer is necessary too. One farmer I talked to has had hail on his house seven times this year (including prior to planting).
Pivots have also been running like crazy prior to the rain last Thursday night where we received 3.30-4.40 inches in the county. Installing watermark sensors for irrigation scheduling, we were able to show the farmers that there was truly moisture deeper in the soil profile and attempted to convince them to hold off. It’s a hard thing to hold off on water when the neighbors are irrigating, but several farmers who didn’t irrigate told me they were able to let the rain soak in and their plants weren’t leaning after that rain because the ground wasn’t saturated prior to the rain event.
Water use efficiency (or crop water productivity) is important in crop production. The seed Industry has invested scientific efforts and financial resources into developing hybrids and varieties that can better tolerate environmental stresses such as water stress.
Rainfed corn has increased in acres, replacing sorghum year after year. This trend may be partly due to the basis price, herbicide options, and newer corn hybrids bred with root systems to better withstand water stress. In 2009 the question was posed, “Is sorghum still the most crop-water-use-efficient crop, given newer corn hybrids in rainfed fields are providing decent yields and more herbicide options?” To answer the question the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board funded a project in south-central Nebraska.
On-farm research was conducted for three years in rainfed production fields near Lawrence with the most adapted and high-yielding corn, sorghum, and soybean hybrids and varieties for that area. The research was conducted in no-till fields where the previous crop had been sorghum. A randomized complete block design with three replications was used.
Corn and soybean were planted between May 5 and May 7; sorghum planting ranged from May 19 to May 28. Corn was planted at 20,000 seeds/acre, soybean at 135,000, and sorghum at 65,000. Rainfall in this area varied greatly from 2009 to 2011: 2009 was dry with only 10 inches of rain during the growing season; 2010 had 16 inches, and 2011 had 20.5 inches from May 1 to October 15.
To monitor soil moisture, Watermark sensors were placed at 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-foot depths in each plot and the readings were recorded hourly throughout the growing season via Watermark dataloggers. Data were compiled and analyzed to determine crop water use efficiency (CWUE) values. The CWUE values were determined from the Watermark soil moisture data, actual crop water use (evapotranspiration), and grain yield for each crop.
Results: Table 1 shows actual crop evapotranspiration (ET) in inches, grain yield, and crop water use efficiency for each crop in each year. Corn was the most water use efficient of the three in 2009. Sorghum results in 2009 might have been different if rainfall had occurred to activate the sorghum herbicide as grass pressure was heavy in the sorghum plots that dry year. In 2010-2011, sorghum yielded the most, had good weed control, and had the best crop water use efficiency value.
|Table 1. Crop water use efficiencies in on-farm field trials conducted near Lawrence, Nebraska, 2009-2011.|
Overall in this study, sorghum had a crop water use efficiency of at least 5.5 bu/inch; corn, at least 4.3 bu/inch, and soybean, at least 2.0 bu/inch. These results show sorghum’s continued value as a crop that efficiently uses water. Sorghum produced more grain per unit of water used than corn or soybean, an important benefit in water-limited environments. On a three-year average, sorghum resulted in 1.2 bu/inch and 3.5 bu/inch more grain production per inch of water used than corn and soybean, respectively. This study did not compare sorghum or soybean with new “drought-tolerant” corn hybrids. Graphs, charts, and production information can be found here.
Acknowledgements: Special thanks to John Dolnicek of Lawrence, Nebraska for allowing this research to be conducted on his farm and for all his help and efforts to make it a successful study and to the Nebraska Grain Sorghum Board for funding this study.
Crazy? Perhaps! Which according to one of my farmer friends is a little typical of me when I put my mind to figuring out something. So I had been analyzing my crop water use data from my dryland corn, sorghum, soybean crop water use comparison study. It’s the one where we had coon problems this year and ended up trapping a skunk! I noticed how much the soil moisture profile had been depleted and knowing we’ve received minimal precip during fall and winter, I wondered what our soil moisture profile would be for dryland fields by planting. During a meeting yesterday I thought it would be good to install some watermark sensors to determine soil moisture profile recharge with the pending storm. Problem was I was at a meeting over 100 miles from my equipment and the pending storm was starting today. But I was still determined to get them in the ground as early as possible in order to measure the soil moisture status. So I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to heavy rain. Great! It was such a gorgeous day yesterday, and the past week…past month… The first thing my colleagues had asked me when I told them my idea was “Why didn’t you think of this sooner?” Answer: “Guess I needed a precipitation event!”
So I drive to the field in the rain, get the gear together and start installing the sensors. First foot went in easy with the rain that had soaked in. Then it seemed like I tried for 20 minutes (although probably not near that long) putting all my weight on the soil probe to get the 2nd foot in. Wind-driven rain soaked my jeans since I didn’t have rainpants on…fingers were numb from the cold. I kept telling myself this will still hopefully be worth it! On the research data from this field, the second foot was driest of all the crops (was depleted well above plant available water). I got the third foot in and John, the man who farmed the field appeared.
While he thought it was crazy he graciously volunteered to help as he always does. He put in the rest of the sensors while I
hooked everything up.
The last several years we have been blessed to have a fully charged profile going into planting. Even with this rain/snow event, I’m not sure we will have that in dryland fields in this area of Nebraska. So I thought it would be interesting to know where we stood before planting and figured the farmers may want to know that as well. Perhaps a little crazy regarding installing the sensors on such a bad weather day but hoping the data in the end will benefit our farmers and be worth it!
Last week was fun and somewhat exhausting teaching with my colleagues in Extension and several area Agencies at the Water Jamboree at Liberty Cove in Lawrence. Water Jamboree started over 15 years ago to teach 5th and 6th graders about the importance of water and water-related subjects. Nearly 800 youth learned about where water goes when it goes down the storm drain, about irrigation and siphon tubes, the aquifer, life inside and outside of the lake, mosquitoes, water movement, and much more. Holli Weber and I utilized the nature trails through the tallgrass prairie to teach a session on life outside the lake focusing on the importance of plants as buffers to filter chemicals and allowing youth to run through the trails doing a photo ID scavenger hunt of the area plants (also to burn off energy!). While I’ve done this session the past 5 years, this year I took time to show the youth specific characteristics to ID grasses. God created each plant unique and I was showing them how Indiangrass has rabbit ears when you pull the leaves back from the stem…or the M/W on the smooth brome leaves. It was fun watching the youths’ faces light up and then try to find these and other characteristics for themselves while on the trails. It was a great day, although I really don’t know how teachers do it day in and out! I wish I could’ve attended something like this when I was young! A special thanks goes to Marlene Faimon at the Little Blue NRD for coordinating this each year.
After Water Jamboree, I headed to my research plot at Lawrence. It’s been a trying year of coon damage and most recently a skunk inside our traps instead of the coons (and it still smelled like skunk out there!). Anyway, I was pulling watermark sensors and the 1st and 2nd foot ones were really rough but the 3rd and 4th feet came out easily. So just a reminder, when pulling watermark sensors, clamp a vice grip below the cap, twist and pull up. I’ve taken out hundreds of these and have only pulled apart four. If your sensor won’t pull up, simply take a spade and dig around the sensor and also bring a jug of water with you. This is the first time I’ve had to dig sensors out but the water really helped as I got it to run down the tube, it eventually loosened at the base to pull out easily without removing the sensor from the pvc pipe. Sensors can be gently washed with a hose or in a bucket of water using your fingers to gently clean them-don’t use a brush. Allow to dry and store in your shed, garage, basement, etc. Also a reminder (although I should’ve done this during the cold of Husker Harvest Days), to get your ET gages inside. Pour out the water and empty the ceramic top by pulling out the tube and then store that inside where it won’t freeze during the winter.
With corn in various stages of dent and starch fill, you may be wondering how to schedule for last irrigation. For those of you in our Nebraska Ag Water Management Network using watermark sensors, the goal is to use them to determine when the soil profile reaches 60% depletion (for silty-clay soils in our area aim for an average of 160 kpa of all your sensors). You may be thinking, “An average of 90kpa was hard enough!” but as Daryl Andersen from the Little Blue Natural Resources District points out, you’re only taking an additional 0.30 inches out of each foot. So if you’re averaging 90kpa on your three sensors, you have depleted 2.34 inches in the top three feet so you still have 0.96 inches left (see the Soil Moisture Depletion Chart). If you add the fourth foot (using a similar number from the third foot), it would bring the water available to the plant up to 1.28”.
At beginning dent corn you need 24 days or 5 inches of water to finish the crop to maturity. If you subtract 1.28 from 5 you will need 3.72” to finish out the crop. Corn at ½ milk line needs 13 days or 2.25” to finish the crop to maturity-so subtracting it from 1.28 would be only 0.97”. Taking into account the good potential for rainfall and what moisture is in the profile, you should be done irrigating corn. Soybeans at the beginning of seed enlargement (R5) need 6.5”. Most soybean fields that I’ve looked at are in R6 or full seed which needs 3.5 inches yet for maturity. Subtracting off the 1.28” in the four foot profile would lead to 2.22”. If we don’t get a few more rains then beans may need one more round. The UNL NebGuide Predicting the Last Irrigation of the Season provides good information on how determine your last irrigation in addition to showing charts on how much water the crop still needs at various growth stages.
Daryl Andersen explains how to use this information in a simplified way. One way to look at this is by the numbers of days left. At 1/4 starch, there are about 19 days before maturity so you can let your sensors average 130kpa on the first week and 150kpa on the next week. If these targets are met during the week, you would put on about 1 inch of water. By going to these numbers, it might give you a higher probability for rain in the next couple of weeks. ET rates this summer have been running less than 0.25” per day for the most part, so with the humidity we’ve had, the crops have not been using much water, which has really helped our dryland corn again in areas where we aren’t receiving rain events.