By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dr. Victor Martin Column
Placeholder Image

As I write this, there is a forty percent chance of rain and if you are reading this on Easter Sunday, hopefully the chance of rain is falling outside your window. If not, it means the wheat crop is continuing to decline and prospects for dryland corn in the ground aren’t great. And while we are examining all this “good” news, the first cutting of alfalfa is still being hammered in many locations by alfalfa weevil in spite of repeated sprays on many fields.
This week I had the opportunity to examine several wheat fields in the area. The most typical thing found was that although the best dryland wheat is around twelve to sixteen inches tall it is very close to the boot stage. Surprisingly, the heads waiting to pop out didn’t look bad and appeared healthy. Also evident was the benefit of a summer fallow period that provided more soil moisture for the wheat compared to following corn, soybeans, and especially grain sorghum. While harvesting a summer crop and returning to dryland wheat can work well, there simple wasn’t recharge of soil moisture to properly establish the crop, even using no-till.
Speaking of no-till, without going into great detail, producers need to remember that while there are potentially great benefits to eliminating tillage; there are also some downsides, particularly when you start. Soils that have been aggressively tilled for decades have little structure or organic matter. When there is adequate soil moisture that’s not a big problem. However, when conditions are extremely dry you are essentially asking a crop to grow in a rock. Roots can’t grow in and explore the soil for moisture and nutrients. This condition is often worse on the sandy soils typical in our area. It takes years, even under ideal conditions for soil structure and organic matter to develop to alleviate this problem. So when a farmer decides after decades of tillage to no-till in wheat due to dry conditions, what can be termed “opportunistic” no-till, it often leads to a poor crop and often crop failure if conditions stay dry. Successful no-till production requires a commitment, time, and aggressive management to work.
Remember there are some positives, especially if we receive good rains in May and early June. Test weights and protein level should be good.  As of now, levels of foliar diseases are essentially zero and there shouldn’t be added expense from foliar fungicide application. And the weather in the wheat belt combined with low world carryover stocks of coarse grains promise that the price for the wheat harvested should be very strong.
Last week this column discussed the challenges and changes in modern agriculture. Let’s take moment to briefly explore one change, precision farming. Precision farming is much more than an autosteer guidance system used when planting or chemical application. Although, very shortly producers will have the ability to turn a tractor loose with no one inside have it start, turn around at the edge of a field, finish the job and stop when done. Many know of yield monitors on combines that can produce maps monitoring crop yield and moisture. This can be combined with detailed maps based on grid sampling to relate yield map data to maps of soil properties ranging from soil pH and nutrient levels to soil moisture. Variable rate technology will allow producers to apply variable rates of fertilizers and even pesticides based on recommendations from these layers of maps and equipment mounted sensors.
It’s now possible to use remote sensing to monitor everything from crop nitrogen status to soil moisture and crop drought stress. New center pivots can be turned on, shut down, and adjusted via cell phone or over a computer and the internet. The pivot can tell you where it’s at and even call you if it prematurely shuts off. This isn’t your grandfather’s agriculture.