Innovations in the Field

Sponsored by BASF

Welcome to the 2017 BASF Innovations in the Field. This yearlong program is designed to showcase four progressive farmers and their use of technology and agronomic practices to enhance their return on investment and profit potential. Check back each week for new blogs and videos from the farmers as they share their experiences and crop management decisions throughout the growing season. Here is a brief overview of our four participants.

J.C. Henrekin

Deer Grove, Illinois

JC Henrekin

Blog Entry #8: September 21, 2017

Anxious For Harvest

2017 has truly been an interesting year in northwest Illinois! We started off unseasonably cool and wet at planting, then on to a short dry spell, followed by adequate rain and moderate temps in July, then back to cool, but dry in August. We wrapped up the growing season with September experiencing above normal temps and extremely dry.

We have run irrigation more in September than nearly any other month this year, mostly due to the delayed crop development. In previous years I can easily count on one hand the times I've run irrigators in September. The last rain over ¼-inch was in late July. We received a scattered 2 tenths of rain mid-August and nothing since.

 

We finished spraying Defol on the seed corn the second week of September, which is two weeks later than "normal". Seed corn harvest started for our local seed plants the week following Labor Day. The few harvest crews that I have talked to suggest they are now pushing 20 to 25% finished and so far yields have been very good. We are in the process of putting our first seed order together to capture the early incentives for the 2018 growing season…crazy since we have yet to harvest one acre of crop.

This year we switched to 100% of our soil sampling in the spring, and very glad we did. It allows us to be better prepared for fall nutrient/lime application. Lime is a precious commodity this year, in limited supply locally. Thanks to the heads up from our supplier, we were able to get 90% of our needs stockpiled on the appropriate farms awaiting the crop removal. Lime takes precedence over P and K in my mind. If your soil pH isn't in the proper range (mid 6s) nutrients become unavailable to the plant. Lime, Lime, Lime, Potassium, Phosphate, Micros.

Harvest is getting closer but still at least 1 week off before anything is ready. The warm/dry weather has been drying the crop down faster than I expected two weeks ago. Our soybeans, while they still look like they are going to yield well, I'm seeing some of the upper pods aborting beans due to the dry conditions. So I am pulling back my yield expectations from last month.

Corn continues to dry down and looks remarkably good. One thing that has amazed me this year is our ear count. We pushed populations this year and it's looking like it's going to pay off. Lots of 18 rows around by 36 long by mid to upper 30s on the ear counts equals good yields.

The Farm Progress Show was held this year near Decatur, Illinois. We attended on the second day of the show. As usual there are always a couple mechanical innovations that amaze me. The two that really stuck out to me was the GSI self-cleaning grain bin and the Kinze 24-row interplant (15-inch row) planter. The self-cleaning grain bin uses a "big balloon" on the floor that uses 1 psi air to slowly push the grain from two sides to the center. The Kinze planter swivels to transport down the road, similar to previous "smaller" planters. Amazing engineering.

I got the opportunity to visit a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada the second week of September while on a waterfowl hunting trip. It was really interesting to see how a wheat, dry pea, lentil and canola farm runs. They were half finished with harvest when I was there with yields good on most crops, except where a hailstorm had come through. They had a very dry growing season. The wheat field they were harvesting at the time was 900 acres. Wow! Amazing how big and vast their land is. You can drive miles before you see a house. Waterfowl hunting was unbelievable as well (see photo).



 

My Friday nights have been busy taking in high school football. My son is a senior and I'm still in a little disbelief that in less than a year my wife and I are going to be "empty nesters". Logan has been having an incredible football season and we are very proud of him! Kassi is a junior in college pursuing her nursing degree and doing very good as well (see photo).



 

The older I get I realize that raising children and growing crops have a lot of similarities; you work as hard as you possibly can to give that child/crop everything it needs as it grows, you work through the ups and downs of the "growing season" and in the end, you sleep well and take great pride in seeing how your child/crop has matured.

Blog Entry #7: August 17, 2017

Time For Yield Checks

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Greetings from northwestern Illinois. Summer seems to be winding down quicker than normal. August has been feeling more like Mid-September!

While it has been great to work in these temperatures, our crop is missing out on much needed heat units. I'm thinking grain driers are going to be very busy this fall. In fact, I booked my LP already for the winter and the talk here locally is a considerable price increase coming soon. School starts soon as well so that usually brings the heat back into the forecast. We'll see.

Moisture wise, we have been very fortunate this summer. We've run the irrigators a few times around, but haven't had any long dry spells. Locally, we just received a nice rain this past week— 0.6- to 2-inch range. We had a nice field of soybeans get hammered with hail, and reports of widespread quarter-size hail west of us 20 miles with quite a bit of crop damage.

I just finished the last of the Headline Amp spraying on some late-planted seed corn fields. The next and final step in the seed corn is spraying Defol, which will get underway over the next 2 weeks. The product basically turns the plant completely brown and is used to help increase the cold germ on the seed, among several other benefits.

Over the past few days, I have been taking "preliminary" yield estimates in corn. Assuming the weather cooperates through grain fill and dry down, we are going to have great yields. I mentioned in my July blog that our corn looks as good as it ever has, and my opinion hasn't varied much. We do have some ear tip pullback in most of the fields I've checked, but our ear count is higher than we have ever had. I remain very optimistic. The Headline Amp did its job very well— the ear leaf and above remains disease free.

Soybeans are also looking very good. I don't have a lot of confidence on soybean yield estimates, but I have never seen so many 4 bean pods in my life. With the pods on the top part of the plant still not fully developed, I'm cautious about making any yield guesses as they are far from being in the bin. I have been happy with every dimension of our Dicamba soybeans this year. Seeing the yield potential as we go through August is icing on the cake.

Stay safe out there!

Blog Entry #6: July 17, 2017

Seasonal Steps

Late June and early July saw us finishing up any late soybean herbicide spraying, as well as the time of year when we put our last pass of nitrogen on the corn. The 360 Y-Drop system has become a "planned" pass for us to put on the remaining "needed" units of nitrogen and sulfur, based primarily on three criteria: 1) amount already applied; 2) amount of rainfall since previous applications; 3) soil type. I finished with the last field around July 4th.

We were blessed with great weather during that time with only a couple small delays due to weather, unlike the previous two years when we were dumped on with rain, making for slow and slick conditions in the field.

After covering every single acre of our corn with the Y-Drop, I think our corn crop looks as good right now as I think I have ever seen it. Yes, we did lose some pockets due to the early heavy rains, but even the sand hills are looking great going into pollination. It’s critical the next couple of weeks that we get through pollination with adequate moisture and fewer 90-plus degree days!

 

We are now getting started applying Headline Amp to our corn acres. While scouting, I have started to see lesions beginning to develop on the lower leaves, so we are turning our pilot loose to begin covering some acres. Also, we have been scouting for rootworm beetle and Japanese Beetles clipping silks, but so far I have not seen any fields at economic threshold. The Japanese Beetle populations seemed to have peeked last week, and seem to be on the decline now…hopefully.

 

Soybeans are looking good as well, although (to no surprise) they seem to be late to canopy compared to previous years. It’s looking like it will be a week or two yet before they’re ready for a fungicide treatment of Priaxor. As with the corn, everything seems to be delayed this year.


This footage of the crop duster was taken for him and we were in radio communication the entire time to coordinate the footage.

 

Blog Entry #5: June 19, 2017

Weather Extremes Create Challenges

Wow! What an interesting growing season this has been so far. As a farmer, I feel it is my "duty" to complain about the weather⁙too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, etc. Mother Nature has been making it real easy to "complain!"

As with a vast majority of the Corn Belt, northern Illinois has had its share of rough weather. It was cold and wet most of the planting season, on to the hot and dry throughout most of the post herbicide application season. It has been a humbling lesson in water management; one week we are cutting drainage paths to remove standing water off our crop, and 10 days later after a week of mid-90 degree temps, we have every irrigator running like it was late July.

While I don't believe we were dry enough on the vast majority of acres to require irrigation this early, it was the sand hills, the late planted farms, preemergence herbicide and side-dressed nitrogen laying on dry ground, that justified the watering. The weekend of June 10-11, I'm pretty sure every Irrigator in our area was running, only to be followed with 3 inches of rain five days later. Needless to say we are wet again.

With all of that being said, I am very pleased with how our corn and soybeans look at the moment. Our crop is behind last year by a week or so, but it looks unbelievably good. I bought my own sprayer seven years ago, and while there are plusses and minuses to doing your own spraying, it offers a front row seat to see every acre you farm. Except for a couple of late planted seed corn fields, all of our post spraying is finished.

This year with the heavy rains, I wasn't able to get as much preemergence herbicide down on our soybean acres as I would have liked. It was noticeable when it came to post spraying too. I was very impressed with the performance of the Dicamba-tolerant soybean program, especially on the larger seeded broadleaves like giant ragweed.

Our next couple of weeks will consist of putting on our last pass of nitrogen with the 360 Y-Drop system. It has been a huge plus for our operation over the past couple of years. We are able to adjust our final nitrogen rate to match the plants' needs with the available or remaining N by taking into account the weather leading up to application. Tissue samples will help finalize the amount needed.

Our High School Trap Team finished the year strong by going to the State Shoot the first weekend in June. The team proudly brought home the 2nd place in Conference Trophy as well as three of the boys making the "All State Team". I'm not sure who learned more this first season, the kids, or us as coaches. It was a great experience and I'm already looking forward to next year's team.

Blog Entry #4: May 15, 2017

The Rain Came

In my April blog, I mentioned how my sump pump in my basement hadn't run once at that point...very unusual...Well, it has been making up for lost time now! While we have received some 2.5" plus rainfall events in the past couple of weeks, I realize I need to tread lightly. We have been very fortunate compared to the farmers in Southern IL and Missouri. We have lost only pockets of crop, not whole fields.


This is a video of one of my hardest hit fields taken three days after 2.5" rain last week. Again, it could be worse!

 

I have heard some local reports of guys with as much as 30-40% of their corn yet to plant because of rain delays. We have managed to get 95% of our commercial corn planted in between the rains, 50% of our seed corn, and nearly 20% of our soybeans. The remaining corn to plant is 35 acres on a low and wet farm so hopefully we'll have an opportunity for that mid-week. The seed corn will be finishing up soon as well. The seed companies like to spread out the planting dates so they can manage the workload, from de-tasseling through to harvest. And the soybeans usually go pretty quick as soon as the fields are fit to role again. I do anticipate having to replant 30-40 acres of corn due to drowned-out spots, but we'll see what Mother Nature has to say about that.

A good 80% of our corn is up now, thanks to some long-awaited heat! Some of the early planted that had been looking yellow and pale, now has taken off and looks great, all greened up and changing daily. While our pre-herbicides are holding great, we have started getting ready for post spraying season. Hard to believe, but that will be upon us soon enough! We had great luck last year with Zidua down early on the soybean acres and are planning on utilizing that program again this year too, except on more acres.

Our trap team has shot competitively now 4 out of the 5 week season, and has been doing great! We are in 2nd place in our conference but ever so close to taking over the 1st place team. The State Shoot will be held June 3rd at Bunker Hill, IL and 16 of the 19 kids are slated to shoot.

Blog Entry #3: April 17, 2017

Fields Finally Ready

Late March to Mid-April has been very busy this year. With about a week's worth of Spring anhydrous to do, Mother Nature did not want to cooperate. However, with a few very long days and a hand full of "partial" days between rain clouds, we were able to put on the finishing touches late last week.



VIDEO: 2017 Spring Anhydrous.

 

Along with the anhydrous, we spent a couple of weeks hauling corn to the ethanol plant to fill contracts. We have a little break from corn hauling, now, until late May.



VIDEO: 2017 Spring Hauling Corn Out

 

While we have been somewhat "wet" during this period, the sump pump in my basement has not had to run once so far this spring, which is pretty unusual. Offers some indication how our sub soil is lacking moisture from the predominately dry Winter! Needless to say, all the irrigators have been serviced and ready to go, with high hopes of not needing them until July/August!

Our area has had a very strong winter annual population this year as well. I looked back on my spray log, and last year we only had to spray 250 acres of burndowns. This year it was right at 1,000 acres. But, as it did last year, the Sharpen + Roundup have worked great! My daughter came home from college last weekend and commented how "pretty" the flowers were in the field behind the house (the day I sprayed that farm)...needless to say, I think it looks much "prettier" now with brown, Winter annual carcasses!

We are ready to start planting corn as early as tomorrow mid-day. Generally we would have started by now, but received an inch of rain over Easter weekend on already damp fields.

Our High School Shooting Team is doing great! The kids have 2 of the 9 weeks behind them, and wow how they are improving! First 2 weeks are practice only, so hopefully their worst scores are behind them!

 

Blog Entry #2: March 20, 2017

Spring Is Here

Spring is here, although it has felt that way for a couple of months now, it is nice for it to "officially" be here! With that and the recent lift on the posted roads, we have been able to get some of the spring dry P and K spread on the last remaining fields. Along with that, it is looking like this week will offer us a chance to get our Spring anhydrous started as well. We typically wait until spring to apply the majority of our anhydrous for one reason only, to help ensure that it is still there this June. While I have faith in nitrogen stabilizers, these unusually warm winters the past two years have left a certain amount of doubt in my mind as to the "remaining" fall applied N come Summer time. HOWEVER, in a wet spring, we all know the challenges that come with that! Hence the reason we still apply a portion in the fall to better manage our available time.

Along with fertilizer, March is also busy for us continuing to move grain out of bins to the local ethanol plant, with the remaining bushels staying put until summer time. Here is time lapse photography of our new Bin Build from last year.



VIDEO: Time lapse photography of our Bin Build

 

Planting prescriptions are beginning to get finalized also. While we have been using them on corn for quite a few years, we are beginning to write them for our soybean acres too. While corn has been, and continues to be, "King," each year we continue giving soybeans a better chance and no longer consider them, "The Ugly Stepchild".

On a personal note, my wife and I have recently started the very first Shooting Team for Prophetstown High School. U.S.A. High School Clay Target League has been around for over a decade, but only beginning the second year in Illinois. It came about rather quick in order to get a team signed up before the March 1st deadline, but after school board approval on Wednesday, a thrown together open team meeting on Thursday, and all 19 kids applications entered before the deadline on Friday, we hit the ground running! With overwhelming community support, all 19 kids will have all 9 weeks of shooting competition paid for in full! So our first shoot will begin the first week of April. Win lose or draw, the kids seem very excited to get started!

 

Blog Entry #1: February 20, 2017

Gains and Losses

2017 has started off way above normal in this part of the world, temperature wise anyway! After a very mild and dry January, February is following the exact same cycle. Mid 60's in February have me a little bit concerned about what this summer may bring….

The past couple of months of mild weather have allowed us to get some brush cutting around field edges and timber edges underway, a necessary but thankless job in an effort to reduce the shading effect on the outer crop rows as well as making it easier to farm along. We also have most of our seed in the shed and are putting the finishing touches to this year's crop plans. Along with Corn and Soybeans, we also raise Seed Corn as well. Working with the Seed Company on those different inbred characteristics, we are using seed scripts to vary the populations similar to how we manage our regular corn scripts. Factoring in the Yield histories, Soils data, elevation, etc…. The Seed Company has seen a nice bump in yield locally comparing the script fields to the static ones. As with our regular corn scripts, it has been interesting to see how the quality of the data behind the decisions continues to get better every year!

Speaking of technology, we recently updated our Phantom 2 drone to the Phantom 4, and holy cow! I had used the Phantom 2 for 4 years and it worked great, but like so many "electronics" these days, the advancements in the Phantom 4 have made for much easier flying! The improved batteries have really enabled longer flight times, and will be very nice for covering more acres at a time this season. Not counting the dozens of other improvements and for ½ the price of the original one we bought 4 years ago!

Last season we again saw a very nice response to our fungicide applications across most varieties. So we took advantage of the rebate offer and locked in our Headline Amp and Priaxor gallons at the end of January. While we can count on this upcoming season being different than 2016, we have consistently had a positive return on investment, every year we have applied the products. Seeing improvement of the stalk quality and overall plant health was an added bonus.

I recently attended 2 different land auctions in the area. Both auctions consisted of 8 tracts of ground on each. Neither farm had much "non-tillable" and was pretty level with only a few gently rolling hills. The first consisted of 700 acres with the tracts varying from 53ac to 158ac in size. All were class "C" soils with the average productivity index at 109. I was among the majority in underestimating the outcome….the overall average price ended at $8950/ac.! The second sale two weeks later and about twenty miles from the first also did very well! It had a total of 520ac ranging in tract size from 14ac to 160ac. This farm was also considered class "C" soils, with a slightly better average productivity index of 115. The overall average price ended at $7503/ac. The majority of the buyers were farmers, however there were a couple tracts on each that were bought by investors. I underestimated both farms! It was a good chance to see where the land values are holding on a local basis and will make the balance sheet look good!

On a darker note, we lost a good friend and neighbor the beginning of February due to an on-farm accident. He was working on a dump trailer and put too much confidence in the cylinder and didn't put blocks on the dump, and was crushed. He will be missed by all who knew him! So as we continue to get busy with the upcoming season, let's not forget how important it is too take the extra time to do things safely!