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Crop Tour 2016: Indiana Edition

By Darren Goebel

Greetings once again from Crop Tour 2016.   During the last week of July, I travelled to the Kevin Trimble farm in Amboy, Indiana, about an hour north of Indianapolis.   While most of the Midwest has been getting plenty of rain, this pocket in north central, Indiana is super dry.   In fact, Kevin told me that his farm has not received any appreciable amount of rain since the latter part of June.

Crop Tour Sign

As a result of the dry weather, the crop is showing signs of stress, highlighting some key differences in our plots.

DeltaForce left-400# right

This is the split between automatic hydraulic downforce (DeltaForce) on the left and 400# downforce on the right.    Notice that the corn on the right is showing more drought stress; lower leaves are brown and desiccated with overall lighter plant color.   This is a result of heavy in furrow packing that created compaction in the root zone.  While you would not normally see this in a whole field, differences show up very clearly in the plot.  In a three-year study, growers that used DeltaForce averaged 11 bushels per acre higher yield.  I suspect the yield difference will be much higher in this field, but we will have to wait until fall to know for sure.

Compaction problems quickly show up when moisture is limiting.

IMG_2132

Kevin drove his backhoe along the end to demonstrate how automatic hydraulic down force can adjust to differences in soil bulk density.  Above: The crop is suffering in the compaction zone.  Below: Planting Map showing compaction zone.

Compaction zone

This report shows that compaction from backhoe path prior to planting caused Deltaforce to react at planting.

The depth of planting study is showing some interesting results.  Many growers plant corn shallow because they believe there is less risk in stand establishment.  Unfortunately, shallow planting can cause as many problems as it solves.   Most agronomists recommend a minimum of 1.5” planting depth with 2” preferred.  Of course, soil type and moisture level should be taken into account.  One great thing about White planters is that depth control can be calibrated to ensure consistent planting depth across the entire width of the planter.  In this case, the planter planted the corn consistently at 1” deep.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t uniform enough moisture at 1” to get all of the seed up consistently.

1_ planting depth - note runts

This is the split between 1” planting depth on the right and 1.5” planting depth on the left.  The 1” planting depth is exhibiting runt plants as a result of delayed emergence due to dry soils at that depth after planting.   These runt plants will not produce an ear.   The 1.5” and deeper planting depths do not have any issues with runt plants.   Stand establishment is similar at all planting depths (1.5, 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0) except 3.5” depth.   The 3.5” planting depth is suffering about a 10% reduction in stand.  We will take these plots to yield and share results in an upcoming report.

Stand uniformity in corn has been getting a lot of attention since the late 90s.   Most farmers and agronomists know there are heavy yield penalties for skips and doubles making planter performance absolutely critical.   Making things even more challenging, seed companies can’t always guarantee requested seed sizes for that hot new hybrid; and refuge in the bag is a whole other story since seed from different lots must be blended in the same bag.   The 9800VE series incorporates meters that can accurately singulate and row units that can accurately plant any corn seed size.

Near picket fence stand

Above:  Near picket fence stand.  Below:  Doubles and Skips from a poorly adjusted planter.

Skips and Doubles

During the last two weeks of August, a team of Agronomists and Product Specialists will be travelling throughout the Midwest speaking at Crop Tour 2016 plot locations. RSVP to attend a Crop Tour event near you: http://agcocropcare.com/crop-tour-rsvp/!

Women in Agriculture

By: Nicole Schrock, Miss Rodeo Oregon

Growing up, agriculture and farming had a huge influence on me. Farming was a family affair. Both my parents came from farming families, so that lifestyle was the only one I knew. Being the daughter of farmers taught me to have a lot of respect for the land and our way of life. As I grew older, I had no desire to leave that way of life, and I chose to pursue a higher education in a field that would keep me close to the agriculture lifestyle that I had grown up loving.

During my travels as Miss Rodeo Oregon, one of the organizations I worked with was my local Oregon Women for Agriculture chapter. I have so much respect for these women, not only because of their involvement on their own farms, but for their passion for agriculture and their willingness to take extra time out of their schedules to promote that way of life to the public. They support other women in agriculture through fundraisers and scholarships for youth, and they work to educate through public events such as fairs and ag day celebrations. Women for Ag and Miss Rodeo Oregon walked parallel paths and so it was an honor and pleasure when I got to work side by side with them — working toward a common goal of promoting agriculture in our area.

nicole event

Another thing that I noticed in my travels as Miss Rodeo Oregon is the common misconception among the general public that farming and ranching are all-male vocations. Growing up on a farm, I know firsthand that farming is not just for men and boys. In our house, everyone had a role to play. Whether it was in the office or the field, everyone contributed to the success of the harvest — man or woman, adult or child, we all helped out.

As a woman in agriculture, I think the most challenging obstacle to overcome is stereotyping from outside people. Because agriculture is generally viewed as a male-dominated industry, I’ve found that women often have to work harder than their male counterparts to prove their worth and knowledge in the industry. But women are slowly making their presence known, and I look forward to a future where women and men are recognized equally as they work toward promoting and making innovative leaps in techniques, practices and technology for the industry.

nicole event 2

I love being a woman in agriculture… getting to work outside and admire nature’s beauty while giving back to my community. On my family’s farm, summer is the busiest time of year — the same time that rodeo season hits full swing in the Northwest. So, like clockwork every year, I find myself dividing my time between the two loves of my life… and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Whether I am driving my Massey Ferguson tractor in the fields or galloping my horse in the rodeo arena — you can bet I’ll have a smile on my face!

Educating the Public on Ag

At first, things look pretty quiet at the dairy, located a few miles northwest of Fort Wayne, Ind.

The only activity, it seems, is dozens of healthy-looking Holsteins with full udders munching feed. Drive a little farther, though, and a long line of parked cars comes into view, as do scores of parents and children walking into an open area surrounded by cattle and cornfields, where the Kuehnert family is hosting its newly initiated fall festival.

Al Kuehnert

Al Kuehnert

For more than 100 years, the Kuehnerts have been farming on this land, where they grow corn, soybeans and hay on 1,100 acres. Their bread and butter, however, is the farm’s 300 mature Holsteins, which produce 7 million pounds of milk a year. Ask fourth-generation producer and family patriarch Al why he added yet another element of work to his day (and night) in the form of a family-oriented festival, and he’ll tell you, “It’s amazing how many people think milk comes from the grocery store.”

Al sees the festival, which his family started in 2013, as a way to educate the general public about agriculture and, more specifically, dairy. The family also uses the festival as a means to promote the dairy products marketed through the 700-member Prairie Farms Dairy cooperative, of which the Kuehnerts are a part

Then, there’s the benefit of introducing the public to Kuehnert Dairy Farm, which supports Al and his brother Stan as full-time farmers, as well as partially supporting the families of Al’s two sons, Nathan and Andrew. All together, there are currently four generations of Kuehnerts working in some capacity on this dairy farm.

Last year, the festival drew 3,500 visitors—no small feat in Al’s opinion. “We had a really good turnout, especially given the bad weather we had every weekend,” he says, and adds that it accomplished job No. 1. “Our main thing with doing the festival is to educate the consumer about dairy and show people where their milk comes from.”

At AGCO, we salute farm families across North America who are involved in pubic outreach in all forms. That’s no small task and one that’s vital to agriculture, present and future.

For more about the Kuehnert Dairy Farm Fall Festival, which continues through October 26, 2014, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/educating-the-public-on-agriculture/.

Smaller Farms Are Down, But Not Out

Gary Ellis

Gary Ellis

“The economics of the whole modern situation don’t really allow you to support yourself, strictly from a family farm,” says Gary Ellis, who raises about 50 head of cattle and some 500 bales of hay on about 200 acres of Tennessee farmland, pasture and wooded mountainside. But in an ironic turn that’s become the norm these days, it’s his “day job” as an electrical engineer that supports his work on the farm.

“We have gotten to where it’s really hard to support your family and maintain the farm … in terms of how much you can produce,” says Ellis. “So I’ve had to work full-time in order to maintain everything, including a standard of living.”

Ellis says he could sell the land “and make a little money off it,” or rent it out to custom farmers, but enjoys the work and is passionate about keeping a working farm in the family. “The No. 1 thing I want to do is to maintain the land the way it is and pass it on to my children.”

Then he pauses and says, “It’s getting to be kind of an odd thing to farm your own land, when it comes to these small to midsize farms. It’s getting to be a rarity.”

The latest census data from the U.S. and Canada backs up that assertion. In Canada, the number of farms earning less than $100,000 in gross receipts fell by about 12% from 2006 to 2011—that after a drop of 38% in the previous two decades. In the U.S., the actual number of farms in the 50- to 999-acre range fell by almost 56,000 from 2007 to 2012, a 4.7% decline.

For many smaller and middling operations, selling directly to consumers or joining co-ops has helped. Ellis has yet to work with a co-op or sell direct to consumers. Instead, he sells to a nearby stockyard. He says there’s currently not an applicable co-op in his area, but direct sales is something “I could move into, but I’m currently too busy for the added attention it requires.”

In something of a catch-22, he doesn’t have the time because of his off-farm job, which allows him to keep the farm. The long days are, however, worth the effort for Ellis, but for him it’s more than a hobby. It’s a business that provides a product, and small and midsize farms such as his offer additional capacity to feed the world.

“Parcels like these will never be incorporated into the big tracts,” Ellis continues. “So, unless the small guy farms them, the opportunity is lost and the land will go into forest or residential development. That is where the little guy … can really pick up the slack.”

For more on this story and to watch a video interview with Gary Ellis, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/smaller-farms-down-but-not-out/.

Thermochemical Processing: Converting Biomass into Fuels and Chemicals

By: Robert C. Brown, Director, and Robert Mills, Communications Specialist, Bioeconomy Institute, Iowa State University

The use of fermentation to produce ethanol from corn and other biomass is well known in the agricultural world. There are, however, other technologies that can convert biomass into fuels and chemicals. Foremost among these are thermochemical processes, which use heat and catalysis to break down biomass to intermediates that can be upgraded to transportation fuels.

Thermochemical processing uses heat and pressure to convert various types of feedstocks into fuels and chemicals.

Thermochemical processing uses heat and pressure to convert various types of feedstocks into fuels and chemicals.

One advantage of thermochemical processing is that the end result can be “drop-in fuels,” those that are fully compatible with the existing fuel infrastructure. While not perfect, these drop-in fuels are good enough to run in today’s engines without modification.

Another advantage to thermochemical processing is that most systems can work with a variety of biomass feedstocks. Often the feedstock is lignocellulosic biomass, such as corn stover, switchgrass, miscanthus, wood, etc. But thermochemical processing can also use lipid-rich biomass such as distillers dried grains and algae as well as mixed wastes from commercial and municipal sources.

There are two basic types of thermochemical processing, indirect and direct liquefaction. Indirect liquefaction includes gasification, where the solid biomass is heated to create synthesis gas, or syngas, that is subsequently upgraded to liquid fuels. Various catalysts are then used to convert the gas into alcohols or hydrocarbons. The advantages of gasification is that the process produces a uniform product and it is commercially proven. Gasification, however, requires technologies to clean the gases, which are still under development, and the capital costs can be high.

Direct liquefaction uses heat and pressure to convert the biomass into liquids which can then be further upgraded into finished products. Direct liquefaction includes pyrolysis and solvent liquefaction. In the case of pyrolysis, biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen. The process yields bio-oil, syngas, and a solid product known as biochar. The bio-oil can be upgraded to drop-in fuels. Pyrolysis can be performed at relatively small scales, allowing it to take place close to the source of biomass rather than moving biomass to one large, centralized processing facility. One of the major problems with pyrolysis is that the bio-oil is unstable, complicating its conversion into fuels.

Iowa State University researchers discuss a new pyrolysis pilot plant during its construction. The plant is now up and running and is used to research the multi-stage fractionation of bio-oil, a process that promises a way to economically convert biomass into many value-added products.

Iowa State University researchers discuss a new pyrolysis pilot plant during its construction. The plant is now up and running and is used to research the multi-stage fractionation of bio-oil, a process that promises a way to economically convert biomass into many value-added products.

At Iowa State University, we have invented a process to condense the pyrolysis gases in fractions, resulting in better, more stable products. The economics of fast pyrolysis are promising. In addition to producing fuels and chemicals from the bio-oil, the biochar may also have economic value. Consisting mostly of carbon, biochar can be used a soil amendment, helping retain moisture and nutrients. There is also research underway to use biochar as a filter medium for purifying water.

Solvent liquefaction, or solvolysis, is similar to pyrolysis except that it is performed in a solvent at elevated pressure. Though the fundamental chemistry of solvolysis is not well understood, the technology has promising economics. The process can upgrade bio-oil in a way similar to oil refining, and it can create sugars which can be further upgraded without expensive enzymes.

In addition to extensive research into thermochemical technologies, there are also many efforts underway to commercialize these technologies. Like all start-ups, these efforts have met with various degrees of success. There are, however, several pilot-scale systems being tested and commercial plants being built.

Bioenergy is a complex topic. There are many pathways from raw material to finished product. What’s more, bioenergy technology must be viewed in context of larger energy issues and policies. You can learn more in a book written for the general public, “Why are We Producing Biofuels,” by Robert C. Brown and Tristan R. Brown. The book is available on Amazon. You can read the first chapter for free online at: http://www.brownia.com/content/whyareweproducingbiofuels_excerpt.pdf.

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