View From the Cab
Farmers Talk Biologicals, Carbon Credits and Harvest Hopes
DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Marc Arnush got an honest-to-goodness Colorado Rocky Mountain high as he checked a pivot sprinkler this week. The late afternoon sun painted a breathtaking view of Prospect Valley and its mountainous backdrop.
This droughty growing season hasn't literally "rained fire from the sky" as the John Denver song heralds. But it has given Arnusch and his farming partners plenty of pause. They had to destroy a portion of the wheat crop early in the year and dribble out what irrigation water was available to save the rest. Meanwhile, new technologies and innovations clamor for their attention and a piece of their pocketbook as many 2023 input decisions come before this year's crops have all been harvested.
Do biologicals pay in crop production and how do you measure their value? What about carbon credits? Who do you trust to provide independent analysis of these new programs?
These are some of the questions Arnusch and Ohio farmer, Luke Garrabrant, tackle this week as part of DTN's View From the Cab feature. This unique diary-like series allows an ongoing, first-hand look some of the decisions farmers face while growing commodities and living the rural life. This is the 19th installment of the series.
Read on to learn some of their thoughts on understanding new-fangled inputs, how their current crops are faring and how they are preparing for harvest.
LUKE GARRABRANT: JOHNSTOWN, OHIO
The combine is undergoing some minor repairs this week as Garrabrant readies it and himself for what he hopes will be an exceptional harvest. "If you'd asked me what I thought the crop would turn out like at the beginning of season, I would have said this is not going to be a fun year," said Garrabrant.
"But things have really turned around. We might get in the field and be totally surprised by it not being as good as we think it is. But everything we're seeing so far is looking good," he said.
Early planted crops are just beginning to show signs of beginning to finish. A few early planted soybeans are turning, he noted. So far, disease incidence has been low and if anything, the health of the plant coupled with the late planting date are his only concern.
"We could see some early beans start coming out by the end of September in this area. Meanwhile, we're still getting good rains to help fill both corn and soybeans. That should contribute to yield, as well," he said.
A front moving through the eastern Midwest this weekend is going to pick up some moisture from a little low-pressure center moving through southern Missouri and should bring rain to the Johnstown area through Labor Day, said DTN Ag Meteorologist John Barnick. Showers could linger into the following week and keep temperatures in the upper 70s or lower 80s through most of next week. Lows won't drop far though, being forecast in the middle-to-upper 60s, he added.
Garrabrant has plenty of rainy-day projects, such as replacing the auger fingers showing wear and putting new guides and poly skid shoes on the bean head. "Mostly, I'm going over every portion of it to make sure I'm ready to go when the crop is," he said. Unlike other farmers, he's not had problems finding parts to make repairs.
Finding part-time labor to help with harvest was an earlier concern that has resolved itself, too. Garrabrant has also been able to rent a grain bin in a strategic location. This storage will help him better choreograph harvest and transportation to keep the combine running during the day and leave most of the trucking to times when harvest isn't possible.
Garrabrant has already been looking ahead to 2023. His goal is to continue pushing yield levels and he's spent time this summer looking for an agronomist who can help develop a crop health plan to do it. He's kicking wheat and hay out of the rotation to free up man hours and concentrate on row-crop acreage. So, there's some possible adjustments to be made in how he manages nutrients and continues to fit cover crops into the cropping mix.
"I really want to work with someone who can help me draw up that plan and hold me accountable throughout the year," he said. Part of that strategy could involve utilizing different micronutrients and biological products -- an industry that he sees value in but isn't sure how to weigh or analyze.
"There's a lot to sort through and I'm looking for the right partner to help me understand product lines and someone who knows the kind of testing we need to do to make sure I'm doing the right things," he said.
As a young (age 26) farmer, who is farming independently, he feels the pressure to learn and try new things, but the angst of finding the time and resources to do it.
His wife, Paige, works as a water quality specialist with The Ohio State University and assists on the farm. The couple has been discussing what it might take to take advantage of carbon markets on their farm.
"Again, it's something we are investigating and whether it fits. While I know that the concept is tied to farm practices, it still reminds me somewhat of cryptocurrency. Like many farmers, I am used to dealing with physical things that I can put my hands on -- such as fertilizer, grain or seed," he admitted.
"As a young farmer, I think the hardest thing I face is juggling the time to learn new things and finding ways to take advantage of them. I'm not saying that farmers that have larger operations don't need a sharp pencil, but I feel like my pencil must be really sharp because I don't have as many acres to spread the risk.
"I guess this is what it means to become an adult. There's very little idle time and always something more I can do," he said.
MARC ARNUSCH: KEENESBURG, COLORADO
Arnusch Farms isn't afraid to pull out the stops to test products on commodity crops. Perhaps that comes from having once grown vegetables -- an industry that's always innovating and trying new things.
The word biologicals, though, has become something of a junk drawer classification for a lot of inputs, he noted. "We're learning on this farm that proper placement of those kinds of products has a lot to do with soil pH, and that can be a challenge for us in eastern Colorado," said Arnusch.
In this valley located about 45 miles east of Denver, soil pH can become problematic because of the salts in the irrigation water. "We tend to have very sodic soils," Arnusch said. "I think in the past that we've looked upon many soil amendments with some skepticism.
"But we're understanding our soil profiles better than ever. And, at least on our farm, we're trying to implement an all of the above strategy when it comes to improving soil health," he added.
Arnusch has found there are products in the marketplace that do not work on his farm. "It doesn't mean they are a bad product. They just don't work on my farm and in my environment. Testing and sorting the potential of many of these new products be a tough order," he said.
Yield, often the driver or hallmark of success, isn't always the final benchmark for Arnusch. "We're trying to bring our soil profile into more balance. And just because a product didn't provide a 2% or higher yield bump doesn't always mean it wasn't worth it.
"Did we see better root growth? Are we creating an environment where we can drought-proof our crop? Can we get better uptake of nutrients? We continue to soil test, tissue test and build an archive that we compare against metrics and see if we can see trends," he said.
As a rule, Arnusch doesn't care for in-furrow products because of their salt content and the proximity of product to the seed. Still, he has had success with a biological provided by Nutrien in a corn starter fertilizer that also contained fulvic and humic acid.
"We were pleasantly surprised to see an improvement in phosphorus and potassium uptake and were able to back down our starter rates to about 1.5 to 2 gallon per acre instead of 3 to 4 gallon per acre," he noted.
Coming back with the same biological at V3 to V5 growth stage was also part of the game plan. "We are finding we need soil temperatures of 60 degrees or above when using these type of products," he said.
He's also seeing benefit to using some seed applied biological products on wheat seed. "Again, we don't always see a yield bump every year. But when we do see a bump, it has covered the cost for two or three years," Arnusch said.
The myriad products coming to market and the need to tailor them to environment makes Arnusch hesitant to point to specific production recommendations. "I used to be one of those guys that wanted to try everything. I probably still do get hoodwinked to try a product here and there," he admitted.
"But now, I tend to lean more on a specific company that I trust and look at full portfolio and recommendations, rather than taking a shotgun approach," Arnusch said.
Side-by-side check strips with a non-treatment are also important when trying anything new, he maintained. "We play with rates a lot and need that comparison. We'll give a product a couple of years to see if we see some improvement in something. If not, we jettison and move on," he added.
The delivery system is another important component that biologics industry would do well to heed, he believes. "The quickest way to irritate a farmer is to not have an easy-to-use product," he said. As a seedsman, he also treats seed for farmer customers and delivery systems in biological marketplace can be frustrating, he noted.
When it comes to carbon markets, he wonders how successful they will be in his arid region. "The carbon sequestration programs feel a bit ambiguous here in eastern Colorado," he said.
"We participated in a program last year and were paid for carbon credits. But it was a daunting task -- not so much in implementation in the field, but in the paperwork and proof on the backside," he reported.
His biggest concern though is how the program handcuffed his management practices, particularly when it came to weed control. Kochia has become resistant to almost every herbicide available. "Were it not for the program we were enrolled in, I would have done some surgical tillage to try to knock it back," Arnusch said.
"We want to do what is right by the land, but we also need some checks and balances to keep this weed from gaining a strangle hold on the environment we are trying to protect," he said. "When chemistry fails, the carbon program has some huge drawbacks for us." Range lands, pastures and high mountain forest blocks where farmers and ranchers can plant trees and introduce new grass species might be better suited to such efforts, he added.
If he could make a wish list for the agriculture industry, new chemistries would be near the top. Even 2-inch Kochia laughs at glyphosate these days. Palmer amaranth is becoming problematic and common lambsquarters and even barnyard grass are showing their abilities to best herbicide controls. The thought of moving back to some older chemistries makes him cringe -- both from the angle of being environmentally challenging and what that does to crop budgets.
Lately, Arnusch is simply thankful that he's a silage corn farmer. The corn crop has finally finished pollination and the recent 90-degree temperatures are adding growing degree units (GDU). However, dips into the low 50s at night beg the question of how long before a freeze?
Temperature changes are coming, said DTN's Baranick. A cold front is expected to sweep down around Sept. 9. That front stands as the best chance this month to get some rain, which Arnusch desperately needs. Temperatures should pull back into the 80s for a few days before returning to the 90s the following week.
Right now, Arnusch's hopes for this corn harvest lie in getting enough heat units to reach an acceptable moisture level to ensile.
Pamela Smith can be reached at email@example.com
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