Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Choosing Cellulosic Biofuel Crops

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 288 million gallons of cellulosic biofuel must be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply in 2018. Although down slightly from last year, the industry is still growing at a modest pace.

A new multi-institution report backed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Sun Grant Initiative provides practical agronomic data for five cellulosic feedstocks - switchgrass, Miscanthus, sorghum, energycane, and prairie mixtures - in long-term trials spanning a wide geographical area.

Crops were grown for five to seven years in multiple locations and with varying levels of nitrogen fertilizer. Although most of the crops are known to tolerate poor soil quality, the researchers found that they all benefited from at least some nitrogen. For example, Miscanthus did best with an application of 53.5 pounds per acre.

Due to shortages in plant materials, Miscanthus and energycane were grown on smaller plots than the other crops, but researchers say the new results are still valuable for producers.

Prairie mixtures, which were grown on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), also benefitted from added nitrogen. Yield kept increasing with the addition of up to 100 pounds per acre. But even though it increased yield, it is economically not profitable to use more than 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

And although most of the crops are somewhat drought-tolerant, precipitation made a difference.

The results showed the greatest yield potentials for lowland switchgrass varieties in the lower Mississippi valley and the Gulf coast states, whereas Miscanthus and prairie mixture yields are likely to be greatest in the upper Midwest.

Prairie mixtures, which are typically grown on CRP land to conserve soil, didn’t live up to their potential in the study.

Energycane could reach very high yields, but in a relatively limited portion of the country.

The crop that shows the highest potential yields in the greatest number of locations is sorghum. The annual crop is highly adaptable to various conditions and might be easier for farmers to work with. In terms of management, it is almost the same as corn. It germinates and grows so quickly, weed control is not a big issue. If you plant by early June, it will be 15-20 feet tall by September. It also has good drought tolerance.

Downsides to sorghum? It’s wet at harvest and can’t be stored. It also requires nitrogen and can lodge, or collapse, prior to harvest in wet or windy conditions.

Biomass production of herbaceous energy crops in the United States: Field trial results and yield potential maps from the multiyear regional feedstock partnership

Growth Spurts
Energy Farming
Plants and Seeds
Artwork: Sorghum vulgare

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Frost Seeding.

Livestock producers looking to renovate pastures should consider frost seeding, a low-cost method which increases yields and improves quality with little commercial nitrogen.

Frost seeding involves broadcasting a grass or legume seed over a pasture and letting the natural freeze/thaw cycles of late winter and early spring move the seed into good contact with the soil.

The best time to frost seed is usually from mid-February to the end of March.

Continued in... Frost Seeding

Home Grown
Farm Supply
Artwork: Spring Seeding

Monday, July 31, 2017

Grain Bin Maintenance

Before grain harvests begin, it is critically important to check the condition of harvest equipment and bins before bringing in the crop.

Your grain crop is a major investment that needs to be protected. Grain quality does not improve in storage. At best, the initial quality can only be maintained. If you take the extra time to make sure conditions are good for storing grain, then you are protecting that investment.
Proper storage begins with the condition of the harvested grain, including moisture level and how it leaves the combine and then is transported and handled.

continued in Grain Bin Maintenance

Farm Supply
Farm Magazines
Artwork: Grain Bin model 1/64 scale

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Weed Blasting

Organic growers now have a new tool to control weeds: abrasive weeding, or “weed blasting,” which uses an air compressor to blast organic grit at weed seedlings during vulnerable growth stages.

Weed blasting can reduce weed biomass in organic tomato and pepper crops by up to 97 percent, while maintaining crop yields similar to hand-weeded control plots.

Organic fertilizers, such as soybean meal, can be used as abrasive grit, which could mean farmers could control weeds and fertilize their crop in a single pass.

The method, recently field-tested at the University of Illinois, has been proven effective. In conjunction with plastic mulch, abrasive weeding reduced final weed biomass by 69 to 97 percent compared to non-weeded control plots.

During the study, grit was applied through a hand-held siphon-fed sand-blasting unit connected to a gas-powered air compressor, which was hauled down crop rows with a walk-behind tractor. A number of grit sources were tested: walnut shells, granulated maize cob, greensand, and soybean meal. If applied at the right plant growth stage, the force of the abrasive grit severely damages stems and leaves of weed seedlings.

No significant differences were fund between the grit types in terms of  efficacy.

Plots with plastic mulch and one or more blasting treatment achieved the same fruit yields seen in hand-weeded plots, and 33 to 44 percent greater yields than in non-weeded control plots.

According to the study, weed blasting does affect some weeds more than others. Essentially, the smaller the seedling, the better. Also, seedlings whose growing points are aboveground (annual broadleaf species) are more susceptible to blasting than seedlings whose growing tips are located below ground (grasses and broadleaf perennials).

Source: Samuel Wortman, University of Illinois.

Farm Supply
Artwork: Portable Air Compressor

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Maple Syrup Migrating

As the climate warms this century, maple syrup production in the Northeast is expected to decline by 2100, and the window for tapping trees will move earlier by about a month, according to a Cornell University study.

Currently, the best times to tap maple trees are within an eight-week window from late winter to early spring when temperatures cause freezing at night and thawing by day. By 2100, Northeast producers can expect to begin tapping maples closer to Christmas.

Sap flow is related to pressure changes in the trees' xylem, which are tubes beneath the bark that carry sap from the maple's roots up to the leaves. As maple trees freeze in winter, gases are pushed out of the xylem into surrounding tissues, and negative pressure is created within the xylem compared with atmospheric pressure. When the trees thaw, the gases expand and dissolve back into the sap, creating positive pressure. When tapped, the sap flows out because the pressure inside the xylem is greater than outside.

Based on this principle, researchers identified that the best days for sap flow are when diurnal temperatures swing at least a few degrees below freezing at night to a few degrees above freezing by day.

They scaled down global climate computer models to regional scales to determine daily temperatures for 10,000 locations across the sugar maple's range -- from North Carolina to Quebec to Minnesota, with optimal production areas in the Northeast and Quebec -- from 1970 to 2100. In this way, the researchers could identify daily minimum and maximum temperatures during optimal eight-week windows for tapping sugar maples.

By "backcasting," they validated their models with temperature data, which revealed that start dates for tapping maples in the Northeast are about a week earlier than in 1970.

Under a high carbon dioxide emissions computer model scenario, syrup production will decline slightly in the Northeast, mostly after 2030. According to the study, by 2100, the average number of flow days will stay constant in Saranac, N.Y.; decline by about two days in State College, Pa.; five days in Montpelier, Vt.; and by 10 days in Jackman, Maine. In a more moderate emissions scenario, producers will lose about half as many days in each location. Similarly, in the high emissions scenario, start dates for tapping maples will be earlier by about a month between now and 2100: In Jackman, the current optimal start date of March 11 shifted to early February; in Saranac and Montpelier, the current start date of March 1 moved ahead to Feb. 1; and in State College and Ithaca, N.Y., start dates advanced to mid-January from mid-February.

Maple syrup production south of Pennsylvania will likely be lost by 2100 due to lack of freezing, while production in Quebec may benefit from climate changes.

Brian Chabot, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Cornell University

Outgoing: Tapping at Kripplebush
Out There: Serious Climate Changes Looming Closer
Artwork: Collecting Of Sap From Maple Trees

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Tar Spot Appears in the Midwest

Tar Spot, a fungal disease in corn typically found in Mexico, South America and the Caribbean has been spotted in fields near the Indiana-Ohio border. While no threat for growers this year, it could cause problems in next year's crop if the fungus survives the winter.

This corn disease is not only new to Indiana and Illinois, where it was first reported, but its appearance is a first in the U.S., according to Pierce Paul, a corn and small grain Extension specialist with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University. It may have been transported to the Midwest earlier this season by Tropical Storm Bill.

“We don’t want to cause a panic, but we do want to raise awareness of the issue and let growers know that this disease is out there,” Paul said.

Tar spot begins as oval to irregular bleached to brown lesions on leaves in which black spore-producing structures are formed. Affected areas of the leaf will have a rough or bumpy feel to the touch. Signs of tar spot can also appear on leaf sheaths and husks.

“Because tar spot is generally considered a tropical disease, it’s unlikely that the fungus will survive the harsh Midwest winter to become established here,” Paul said. “We’ll just have to wait and see and do more research on the disease in the Midwest.”

While most corn growers are either harvesting corn now or their crops are in the drying down stage, the disease is still detectable on dry, senescent leaves, he said. Growers who suspect they’ve found it in their fields can send samples to Pierce Paul at OARDC, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, to have the samples lab tested to determine which fungus — Phyllachora maydis or Monographella maydis — may be present.

“At this point, only P. maydis-infected plants have been found,” he said. “Both fungi would have to be found before substantial yield loss occurs.

“Growers who find tar spot in their fields may want to take note of the hybrid they’ve used this year and avoid using that same hybrid next year just in case the fungus survives the winter.”

Source: Ohio State University Extension

Plants and Seeds
Farm Supply
Covert Art: Compendium of Corn Diseases

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cover Crop Grazing No Problem.

Cover crops reduce soil erosion, boost organic matter, keep moisture in soil and sequester carbon in the soil so less of it is released as a greenhouse gas.

Conventional wisdom holds that if cattle were allowed to graze on cover crops they would eat up and remove the nitrogen and carbon otherwise left on the soil in the cover crop plant residue. Allowing cattle to tread on the soil also could compact it, preventing air and water from passing through the soil to reach plant roots.

Now, a 7-year study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) ecologists has demonstrated that relatively low levels of grazing do not significantly affect the amount of organic matter in soil and do not compact the soil. It also showed that cover crops provided high quality forage and that the organic matter lost by allowing cattle to graze on cover crops was likely made up in the organic material supplied as manure. As in previous studies, they also found that no-till soils generally contained more carbon and nitrogen than conventional till soils.

The researchers grew winter or summer grains and used cover crops for both in the off-season. They also compared no-till versus tilling, and grazing versus no grazing. Cow/calf pairs were allowed to graze at a rate of one pair per 4 acres.

Plants and Seeds
Farm Supply
Artwork: Cattle Grazing