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Glyphosate and Cancer
December 10, 2017
According to this two-decades long study, which involved 89,000 farmers and their spouses, glyphosate is a not a risk for cancer, even among groups which apply the pesticide.
There are other studies which do find carcinogenic links, and the information is confusing. This Wired article does a good job of explaining some of the contradictions, and explains the different terminology employed: the difference between "hazard" and "risk", using a clever shark tank analogy.
Our take? Most human activity represents health risks: most of these risks are minor, but non-zero. In this case, we think farmers face many much greater risks than this one.
Dicamba Story Continues
November 26, 2017
According to this CropLife article, 3.1 million acres of soybeans were damaged by dicamba in the 2017 season, spurring a staggering 2,200 injury investigations. As the image shows, Kansas had 100,000 acres of beans reportedly damaged.
We have reported on this issue twice before, here and here , and yet the controversy has not abated. Monsanto has sued the government, there are rumors of banning dicamba except for early season applications, and Monsanto also accuses its customers of improper use and claims that illegal, out-dated formulations are being sold.
The CropLife article is a good summary of the present situation.
Corn Rootworm Resistance Options
November 12, 2017
We recently attended a re-certification seminar, and one of the speakers was Jeff Whitworth, KSU Entomology. Whitworth reviewed the 2017 growing season in terms of crop insects, and noted that the Sugar Cane Aphid, which was a major pest in milo in 2016, did little damage in 2017. We reported on the Sugar Cane Aphid here.
Whitworth also spend a fair amount of time discussing the issue of increasing Western Corn Rootworm resistance to Bt corn. He said KSU is seeing more and more resistance, and increase crop damage, including lodging.He added, "Bt is just an insecticide", and therefore resistance was to be expected. He said that some seed companies are going back to planting time treatments.
Jeff also noted that adult rootworm control--where the females are controlled via aerial application in the silking phase--can be very effective. He thinks adult control is "under utilized": Typically two treatments will keep the number of adults below 5 adults per ten plants: 0.5 beetles per plant is the threshold.
Since Grace Flying Service is in the business of treating adult insects, we want to agree with Whitworth. But even publications like the Huff Post are discussing the issue, perhaps with a little more alarm that it deserves.
In a related aside, we learned at a later conference about the history of pesticide resistance. Thaddeus Gourd, CSU Extension, said the first documented case was insecticide resistance: DDT in house flies in 1947. The resistant flies developed longer foot pads so that they didn't absorb the pesticide when they walked over treated surfaces. The first herbicide resistance was spreading dayflower, against 2,4-D in 1957, and benomyl debuted resistance to fungicides 1969.
EPA Reverses Course On Renewable Fuels Mandate
October 31, 2017
According to this Reuters article, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed a previous agency plan which threatened to open the door to cuts to the renewable fuel plan.
This reversal by Pruitt is a big win for corn producers and the biofuels industry, since about 40% of US corn production is used for ethanol. Reuters said the decision was spurred by lobbying "by Midwestern lawmakers, including Republicans Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, had vocally opposed all those ideas, calling them a betrayal of the administration’s promises to support the corn belt." Grassley issued a statement saying, “It’s a great day for Iowa and a great day for rural America. Administrator Pruitt should be commended for following through on President Trump’s commitment to biofuels.”
The move dealt a blow to merchant refiners like PBF Energy Inc and Valero Energy Corp who have argued that biofuels compete with petroleum, and that the blending responsibility costs them hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
"The program disproportionately hurts mid-sized refiners and mom-and-pop gas stations that are the backbone of the nation’s energy infrastructure and needs to reformed", said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the Fueling American Jobs Coalition. In the EPA's letter, Pruitt said the EPA was prepared to work with Congress to examine the possibility of a waiver that would allow the year-round sale of E15 gasoline (which contains 15 percent ethanol), which is currently not permitted during the summer due to concerns about smog.
Monsanto Sues Arkansas Over Dicamba Ban
October 21, 2017
Monsanto is suing the Arkansas Plant Board, a state regulatory agency, over its ruling to ban dicamba usage in Arkansas for the 2018 growing season. This article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has details on the story, as well as a video which interviews two farmers with different views on the issue. In addition, we have previously reported on this issue: please click here to read our older articles.
Monsanto said this: "The Plant Board's arbitrary approach also has deprived, and if left unchecked will continue to deprive, Arkansas farmers of the best weed management tools available--tools that are available to farmers in every other soybean and cotton-producing state in the nation."
The lawsuit came on the heels of an agreement between the EPA and Monsanto, DuPont, and BASF. The agreement adds new restrictions to the dicamba label, including changing the product to a Restricted Use Product (RUP), which means that dicamba can now only be legally sold to certified pesticide applicators.
It is not clear how many of the problematic applications last year--which resulted in over 1,000 farmer complaints in Arkansas alone--were done by non-certified applicators. Many farmers in our geography already have pesticide certification, so it is possible that the change to RUP status alone might not make much difference out in the real world.
It is also not clear how much of the dicamba problem is due to physical drift as opposed to volatilization: We believe that the physical drift portion of this problem can be managed with careful planning and disciplined use of modern application techniques. Physical drift occurs at the time of application, and should be correctable with better training and enforcement of existing regulation. The thornier issue is rate of volatilization of the dicamba.
While pesticide volatilization often results in much lower concentrations of off-target movement than does physical drift, it can be damaging to sensitive crops, including cotton. Volatilization can also affect larger geographic areas. Volatilization commonly occurs hours or days after application, and is greatly affected by climatic conditions--including high ambient temperatures and atmospheric inversion layers.
Volatilization effects can be minimized with timing of applications, but the issue could only be truly solved if Monsanto changed the dicamba molecule itself. Alas, changing the chemical formulation is almost certainly technically difficult, and it would also likely require expensive and time-consuming re-regulation by the EPA.
It is worth repeating that the degree to which a herbicide volatilizes is inherent in the formulation, and is something that only the manufacturer can change: it is not in the control of the users of the herbicide.
There is no question that dicamba is an important herbicide for crop production, both because of the affordable price and the wide-spectrum control which it provides. However, since there are increasing numbers of weeds which are developing tolerance to dicamba, we fervently hope that Monsanto (and other manufacturers) are working on developing new, less volatile, products.
Land Sale In Bird City
October 13, 2017
A quarter section of mixed farm ground and CRP sold today at the American Legion building in Bird City, KS. The land was sold by the Gerdes family, and is located about half way between Bird City and Wheeler, about five miles south of the highway. The legal description is NE 1/4 13-4-39, and comprises roughly 97 acres of farm ground and 59 acres of CRP. The CRP has an annual payment of about $37 per acre until 2021.
There was a small crowd attending, and there were four off-site--internet--bidders. The bidding opened at $900/acre and slowly rose to $1,175/acre, which was the final selling price.
Farm and Ranch Realty of Colby, KS, managed the auction. Their website has a listing of selling prices of land they have sold since 2007: please click here to see those listings.
Precise Patterns For Ag Aircraft
October 9, 2017
On September 28, 2017, we attended a SAFE fly-in on the La Junta, Colorado, airport.
SAFE fly-ins are co-sponsored by the CAAA (Colorado Agricultural Aviation Association) and the KAAA (Kansas). The clinics are held several times per year in various locations to allow ag aviation operators the opportunity to fine-tune the calibration of their aircraft's spray pattern. Grace Flying Service aircraft have been calibrated using the SAFE system in the past, but at this event we were there to watch and learn.
The heart of the system is a string which is stretched across the aircraft's pass. The string collects a special dye dispensed by the aircraft. In addition, the aircraft's speed and height and the droplet sizes are recorded with other sensors. After each run, the string is analyzed with a computer which has an external device to determine the amount of deposition.
The net result is a graphic showing span-wise distribution of the swath. This allows modifications to be made to the system, if necessary. After changes, the aircraft may "fly the string" again, to analyze the efficacy of the modifications made. Trained operators download the data and make suggestions as to optimal swath width and nozzle options.
Please click on the 10-second MP4 video to see an Air Tractor applying dye to the string. After the pass, the string is rapidly rolled up and a clean string deployed for the next pass.
Airport Beacon Replaced
September 27, 2017
The flashing light at the Cheyenne County Airport has changed from a flashing white light to alternating green and white flashes. The green and white sequence is appropriate for a land airport, but for more than sixty years, the airport had only a flashing white beacon. The reason for this discrepancy has to do with aviation history, tight budgets, and truly phenomenal reliability from the Sperry Corporation about eight decades ago.
The old beacon was a retired airway beacon. It was presumably purchased as surplus, or possibly the Commerce Department donated the beacon to the tiny new airport. In any event, it was likely the cheapest way to provide a rotating beacon to the grass-runway airport, and the lack of a green flash was not considered a deal breaker. The airway beacon history is interesting:
According to this Wikipedia link, more than 1,500 of these beacons were used from 1923 to 1933. The Post Office, which had a need for reliable night flight to transport airmail, helped with the financing of this 18,000 mile network. Pilots flew from airway beacon to airway beacon, identifying them via a coded light flash, among other means. The obvious shortcoming to this system was that it was only useful at night, and in reasonably clear weather.
So when radio navigation appeared in the form of the Adcock low-frequency radio range , the airway beacons were quickly retired. But the builder, Sperry Gyroscope Company (which later became Sperry-Rand) did an excellent job of building the beacons, and this one kept spinning year after year, requiring only a few bulbs and belts. The 24 inch diameter parabolic mirror directed a bright incandescent light as it spun round and round at 6 rpm, for more than 20,000 nights and more than a 100,000,000 revolutions, in heat waves and ice storms, all powered by a rotating brush. It's a big heavy device, so there was significant inertia, yet it was well balanced, and remarkably reliable.
This old airways beacon was, and is, a clever device. This one is serial number 11, as you can see from the photos on this page. We hope to find a happy home for this piece of aviation history.
The Adcock low-frequency radio range navigation which replaced the airways beacon is worth reading about: it required only a headset on the pilot, who listened to a continuous tone in headset: the Morse code for A and the code for N: "di-dah, di-dah" and "dah-dit, dah-dit" respectively. One letter meant that you were flying left of course, and the other indicated a right deviation. If you were in the middle, the two tones blended into a monotone. Read more about radio ranges here.
John Grace, a WWII Army Air Corps P-38 pilot, described the "radio range" system to us on several occasions. It was the only radio navigation system available, but difficult to use, especially when electrical interference--lightning, for example--made it hard to hear. Worse, the lack of precision over the "cone of silence" could create situations that were potentially fatal. War stories for another time...
If you'd like to see more photos of the retired airways beacon, please click here.
Pasture Thistle Postcard
September 7, 2017
We are mailing our annual musk and Canada thistle postcard to our customers who have noxious weeds. The text of the postcard is shown below, and the postcard will arrive next week.
If you don't get the postcard, and would like to be added to the noxious weed mailing list, please contact us.
"Fall is the best time to treat pasture thistles. Please contact us now if you want your pastures treated. We need your order and maps so that we can plan an application schedule.
"The window of opportunity can be very short in the fall. Also, the small field sizes mean we need multiple customers on a single load.
"Our deadline for taking thistle orders is Monday, October 9, 2017.
"Musk and bull thistle can be treated until the ground freezes, but Canada thistle needs to sprayed before a killing frost.
"We think the best chemical choice is GrazonNext HL, which is Milestone in a pre-mix with 2,4-D."
Insects in Sunflowers
August 15, 2017
As sunflowers begin to bloom, insect control becomes an issue. The two primary pests are head moth and red seed weevil, although there are several other pests which can be an issue. With confectionary flowers, most growers simply plan on two insecticide treatments about ten days apart, because the dockage from damage is so expensive, and the economic thresholds are so low.
With oilseed flowers, it makes sense to scout. With red seed weevil, the easiest method is spray the head with insect repellent to make the insects active and easy to count. The economic threshold is 10-20 per head. For head moths, 2-5 moths per head is considered economic. The moths can be difficult to find: scouting at dawn and dusk in light winds, while walking quietly, is recommended. Some scouts use a flashlight in the dark. Much more information is available from KSU by clicking here.
Wheat Streak Mosaic Meeting
August 14, 2017
We attended the KSU Wheat Streak Mosaic meeting at the Goodland 4-H building today. Speakers included Erick De Wolf, Plant Pathology KSU and Jeanne Falk Jones, K-State agronomist. The meeting included a brief overview of the method that disease is transmitted, and much of the information we reported here in our Wheat Field Day article.
In 2017, Kansas suffered wheat yield losses of $76 million dollars due to mosaic. Mosaic can be a very serious problem in wheat production. The severity of the 2017 disease was attributed to the very late first-freeze we experienced last fall, which was as late as mid-November.
Controlling volunteer wheat now is an important step. Because KSU recommends two weeks of dead, dry volunteer wheat before planting, and because chemical applications can take a week or more to dry the wheat out, treatment should occur very soon for proper timing. There is no chemical control for the wheat curl mite, so other than volunteer control, the two other options to control the virus are planting resistant wheat varieties and delaying wheat planting. The K-State Wheat Streak Mosaic guide is a good summary for managing the disease.
It was noted that some resistant varieties, such as Oakley CL and Joe contain the WSM2 gene, which provides resistance to the Wheat Streak Mosaic virus itself. This WSM2 resistance works best in temperatures below 65F, but KSU research is working on WSM3, which will provide resistance in higher temperatures and against other viruses. De Wolf estimated that it might be five years before a commercial wheat variety with WSM3 would be available.
Other varieties, such as Tam 112, Byrd, and Avery are instead resistant to the primary vector of the disease, the wheat curl mite. An excellent resource for more information on disease and insect resistance in various wheat varieties is the K-State Wheat Variety Disease and Insect Ratings 2017.
KSU would like to work with local farmers this fall to monitor wheat fields and even experiment with techniques to improve mosaic management. If you would like to help out, or just want more information, contact Jeanne Falk Jones.
Customer Postcard Is On The Way
July 14, 2017
We are sending a postcard to our customers today. The text is shown below. Please contact us if you aren't on the mailing list and would like to be added.
Postcard Text: "Late season control of spider mites in corn is no longer effective, so most corn is treated with miticides designed to kill eggs. Early treatment--before damaging numbers occur--is required because the mite population response to the miticide is slow.
"Product choices include Comite II, Oberon, and a new product: Portal. Comite II provides good mite control, and Portal has good reports. We have heard mixed reports about Oberon's efficacy in some areas, but if you have had good results in the past, it could be an option.
"Comite's restricted entry interval (REI) has been reduced, but it is still 13 days, which can be an issue for sprinkler repair. The other two products have REIs of 12 hours. Oddly, Comite's REI in milo is only 48 hours.
"Pricing for Comite II and Oberon is about equal, in the $25-$30/acre range (applied), depending upon rates. Portal is maybe 8-$10/acre more. The mite application is an excellent opportunity to give a "free ride" to Coron and/or a fungicide, since the timing for all three products is excellent.
"Spider mites can cause significant yield reductions. Please call us or talk with your consultant if you have questions."
Update On Dicamba Ban
July 10, 2017
Soon after we posted the article below, both Missouri and Arkansas have announced a ban on the sale and use of dicamba herebicide.
In this article, Missouri Director of Agriculture Chris Chinn announced that sales and on-farm use of dicamba would be suspended, and that the ban is being made "with an abundance of caution and is temporary until a more permanent solution is reached." In Arkansas, the ban is for 120 days.
Dicamba Ban Possible in Arkansas
July 7, 2017
Dicamba herbicide is making headlines in Arkansas and in the national news. This article explains the issue in some detail.
The issue is both complicated and politically sensitive: the Arkansas Plant Board asked Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson to ban dicamba for 120 days. Hutchinson then referred the decision to the Legislative Council, and that group has delayed making a decision on banning the herbicide outright, although they did impose stricter penalties for "egregious" misuse violations. Presumably, no one really knows what that statement means, further adding to the general confusion.
It is estimated that a third of Arkansas's 3.5 million acres of soybeans are a GMO variety which are dicamba tolerant, and can be treated with BASF's special formulation of dicamba, Engenia. The farmers who have invested in the dicamba tolerant seed want to continue dicamba use to control pigweed, a plant that is resistant to most other herbicides.
Reportedly, in some cases, the damage did not occur from physical drift but rather volatilization. This means that even if the herbicide was applied with proper drift control techniques, high temperatures and atmospheric inversion layers that occurred hours--or even days--later can create conditions wherein the herbicide volatilizes off of the treated plants and moves downwind in high enough concentrations to damage non-tolerant soybean crops. This type of damage cannot be blamed solely on the pesticide applicator because volatilization is caused by the inherent chemical properties of the herbicide and by so-called "acts of God."
Since volatilization often results in relatively low concentrations of herbicide on susceptible crops, our observation is that the crop damage is sometimes cosmetic, limited to cupped leaves. In these cases, the soybeans will often grow out of the symptoms with minor yield loss. But this is not always the case, and in a politically charged atmosphere, these types of arguments often fall on deaf ears.
We will keep you updated on this issue.
Growing Milo? Read This!
July 6, 2017
In the last two or three years, a new insect threat has emerged in sorghum: the Sugar Cane Aphid (SCA). Many farmers in our area remember that twenty years ago milo was a common crop, and the insect which did the most damage was the greenbug. The Sugar Cane Aphid is of the same family of insects, but is even more damaging to milo production.
The good news for local farmers is that the SCA has not been found this far north. The bad news is that it has been moving our way: it was prevalent in the Dodge City area last year. No one knows if it will get this far north, but if it does, careful scouting and early treatment is essential to protect your milo yields.
At one of our meetings last year, Brent Bean reported that the Sorghum Association has spent $700,000 in 13 states to research the insect. He said that in some cases, yield reductions were 100%, and 50-70% reductions are quite possible without timely treatment. In the 2016 season, there were two insecticides that were effective: Silvanto and Transform. If you have headworms at the same time, other products are used in the tank mix. Naturally, the greenbug is still a threat, but it is generally less expensive to control.
The SCA is a milo insect: it generally does not invade other crops, including sugar cane. There are some reports of millet infestations, however.
Bean said, "Early treatment is critical, because of the rate of increase of the population: you can go from 50 to 500 aphids per leaf in two weeks or less. All SCA are born pregnant, and have 6-10 young per day for ten days, then the rate slows somewhat, but does not go to zero. Data shows that late treatment, even when it works well, results in reduced yields." In instances when the SCA arrives early in the season, two treatments might be necessary.
This KSU article says, "The SCA has a smooth body with a light colored head and light colored legs with dark feet. They have dark colored, short cornicles (tail pipes) with no shading at the base of them as on the corn leaf aphid."
Proper scouting is critical: this KSU guide has scouting techniques, treatment thresholds, and more photos. But the general guidelines are to scout weekly until insects and/or honeydew is observed, then begin twice-per-week scouting. Bean mentioned treatment when you reach 50-125 aphids per leaf. KSU's guide has slightly different guidelines. Taking photos at each scouting can help estimate the rate of increase of the population, too.
There are resistant varieties of milo, and these can delay the need for treatment significantly. Seed treatment with the common insecticides is also effective in delaying treatment: both of these techniques are recommended if the SCA moves into our area. Early planting might also help, Bean said.
In 2016, there were cases where the insects arrived late in the season, and growers hoped to simply skip treatment and harvest the grain because the plant was mature. But this tactic failed, because the insects were so numerous that the combines plugged up, and they had to treat to allow harvesting. Since both labeled insecticides have a 14 day pre-harvest interval (PHI), this was a major issue. Clearly, the SCA is a serious threat to milo production.
If we hear of SCA infestations near this area, we will keep you informed. It is probably a good idea to click on the KSU links above if you aren't already informed about the Sugar Cane Aphid.
Kansas Court Rules For Corn Farmers Against Syngenta
June 23, 2017
Today, a federal jury in Kansas City ordered Syngenta AG to pay almost $218 million to 7,000 Kansas farmers. The farmers claimed that, in 2010, Syngenta commercialized a GMO corn seed--Agrisure Viptera--before that variety was approved for export to China.
The Friday verdict included only compensatory damages, and Syngenta will appeal the verdict. A simple math calculation shows that the verdict totaled about $31,000 per farmer.
According to this Reuters story, thousands of other corn producers are also seeking damages for the same reason. Lawyers for the corn producers claim that this is "only the beginning", adding that damages will total $5.77 billion dollars: 25 times more than this ruling. The damages are based upon the price of corn dropping sharply in 2013, when China refused shipment of millions of tons of the unapproved GMO strain.
Syngenta denies wrongdoing--and in what could be interpreted as a thinly veiled threat--said, "We are disappointed with today's verdict because it will only serve to deny American farmers access to future technologies even when they are fully approved in the U.S."
Ironically, Syngenta is now owned by a Chinese company, China National Chemical Corporation, after a $43 billion purchase in early 2016.
We wonder what happened to the Viptera corn that was produced in the two seasons prior to the Chinese ban...?
KSU Wheat Test Plots
June 14, 2017
Tonight we attended the KSU Wheat Day, which is a review of more than two dozen wheat test plots which are located 5 miles south of Wheeler, Kansas, on the west side of the highway.
There were more than forty farmers attending, and detailed descriptions of each wheat variety were given by Erick De Wolf, Plant Pathology KSU, Lucas Haag, Extension Agronomy Specialist from Colby, and Jeanne Falk Jones, K-State agronomist.
Because of the extensive damage this year to wheat in western Kansas due to wheat streak mosaic (WSM), many questions were asked about that viral disease. WSM is spread in the fall with the wheat curl mite as a vector for WSM (and two other very similar viruses). In many cases this year, large areas of wheat were damaged so badly that they won't be harvested, reported De Wolf.
There is no chemical control for the curl mite, so the primary protections against WSM consist of three basic options: planting WSM resistant wheat varieties, controlling volunteer wheat in late August for perhaps a mile around the planted wheat, and delaying wheat planting for 7-10 days. None of these options provides perfect protection, but a combination of techniques will help, according to De Wolf.
Stripe rust in wheat was another topic, and De Wolf pointed out which varieties are more resistant to the various rusts: stripe, leaf, and stem. Planting these resistant varieties can provide benefits in a year when rust is prevalent, including less damage from the disease, and the option to delay or omit treatment, depending upon rust severity and timing.
When questioned about the issue of common fungicides losing efficacy due to resistance by rust, De Wolf said that tebuconazoles would likely have a gradual loss of efficacy over several years, while the strobilurin family might lose resistance quickly--with a single year failure occuring without warning. He added that research on the fungicide resistance issue is being done in the Northwest US, and resistance has been found in those studies.
After harvest, yield data will be available from the wheat test plots. Jeanne Falk Jones will send it to everyone on her email list. You can join her excellent email list by contacting her.
Supreme Court Ruling Supports "Right to Repair"?
June 4, 2017
On May 30, 2017, the Supreme Court reversed the Federal Circuit Court in the Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International Inc. case. (We previously reported on the "Right to Repair" issue here.)
According to this EFF article, this Supreme Court ruling "says that once a patent owner sells a product, it cannot later claim the product’s use or sale is infringing. This principle prevents patent owners from controlling goods after sale and interfering with your right to resell, tinker with, and understand the things you own."
Even though this ruling concerns reuse of printer cartridges, the underlying principle is likely much broader, and could reduce John Deere's ability to limit repairs of equipment owned by farmers.
Heavy Rain, Hail Damage Occurs
May 26, 2017
The spring of 2017 has been both cool and wet. This weather pattern--while providing ample and appreciated moisture--has delayed corn planting for some farmers. Some have already changed to a new seed number, and are anxious that they might have to go an even shorter season variety.
On May 26, a large line of thunderstorms moved through the area. Unofficial reports say that up to five inches of rain were dumped in portions of Sherman county. The National Weather Service issued both tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings early in the event, and flash flood warnings afterward. The next day, many normally dry creeks were running completely full, and much wheat damage occurred from the large quantities of hail. In addition, word-of-mouth reports are that vehicles and buildings suffered severe damage.
The Salina Post published a picture of a small funnel cloud. The photo was taken by the Sherman County Sheriff.
Honor Students Recognized
May 19, 2017
We began our Honor Student Recognition Program in 2005--more than a decade ago. We wanted to recognize and reward academic excellence in our High Schools, as we believe that learning matters now more than ever.
Every May, we provide a letter of commendation and a small memento to the top five students in the high school classes of Idalia and Saint Francis. The Honor Student awards are presented at the year-end Awards Ceremony in the respective schools. This year was no exception, and the personalized USB storage keys were awarded last week. We believe that we have now recognized more than 700 students!
You may read more about the Honor Student program and view a complete list of the names of the recognized students by clicking here. It's a great group!