ASK THE AGRONOMIST BLOG

Stine’s Ask the Agronomist blog is your source to the latest information from our expert team, including advice and insight on field practices, product recommendations, planting and harvest updates, new technologies, crop management, innovative research and information about how to keep your farm operation running smoothly year round. 

  • Prioritize Harvest by Assessing Stalk Quality
    Tom Larson Image

    Prioritize Harvest by Assessing Stalk Quality

    September 30, 2021

    Posted by Tom Larson in Harvest

    The September 27 Crop Progress Report notes that 18% of corn has been harvested in the United States. Of the entire corn crop, 14% is listed in excellent condition and 45% good, 26% fair, 10% poor and 5% very poor. For growers who haven’t started corn harvest yet, now’s the time to check each field for stalk integrity and standability. Stalk quality and standability will be a concern in areas where lack of moisture and nitrogen have caused plants to cannibalize the stalks in order to finish ear development. Fields with more than 10% of the plants exhibiting stalk issues should be considered for early harvest. Here are some tips for assessing stalk quality and standability.

    Walk the fields
    As you do throughout the growing season, get out and scout. Don’t just check the edges of fields. Check areas where ponding or heavy moisture occurred throughout the year or dry, stressed areas. Or, if you experienced plant stress at any point throughout the growing season, check those areas to make sure stalk lodging or breakage hasn’t occurred. Stalk discoloration may be an indicator of poor stalk quality, but one of the easiest ways to check if your stalks are compromised is the old-fashioned push and pinch tests or by cutting the stalk in half.

    Push and pinch test
    The push and pinch tests are exactly what their name indicates. The push test is simply pushing the stalk over. I recommend doing this at a 45-degree angle. If the stalk doesn’t return to its natural upright position or if it kinks or crushes at the bottom, that’s a good indication that your stalks are compromised, and harvest should begin as soon as possible.

    The pinch test is simple, but where you perform the test on the stalk is important. To execute the pinch test, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch down on the stalk roughly one foot off the ground. Next, run your fingertips up and down the stalk. If you feel your fingers touching and both sides can squeeze together, that’s a good indicator that the stalks are compromised and could lodge if not harvested soon. If the stalk is also soft and squishy to the touch, that’s a good sign that the field is ready to go.

    Examine the inside of the stalk
    Another common practice for examining stalk quality is to cut open the stalk, preferably in half lengthwise. Stalks should be selected at random throughout a field, and you want to look at more than one plant per section. Experts recommend randomly selecting a minimum of 100 plants per field for either of the tests. When you open the stalk, you’re looking for discoloration or rotting of the pith or areas that are hollow with hanging vascular strands. 

    Scout for stalk rot
    When scouting for stalk quality and standability, be on high alert for symptomology of stalk rot. Stalk rots, such as anthracnose, Fusarium and Gibberella, typically occur as a result of pathogens or environmental stressors. These pathogens like to infect plants that are already weakened, and different stalk rots have different features. Gibberella, for instance, causes dark streaks on the outside of the stalks and a noticeable dark pink to red pith when the stalk is opened. Anthracnose appears as black lesions on the outside of the stalk, and Fusarium develops brown steaks on the outside of the stalk with white to light -ink discoloration inside the stalk.

    Recommendations
    If stalk rot is present in your fields or if you detect weakened stalks in various areas, prioritize those fields for harvest based on which field is at a greater risk for lodging. This may help you save time and yield this fall.

    For next year, consider corn products with excellent disease and insect control packages and ones that respond well to stress. Work with your local Stine sales rep to determine which product will work best for your situation. Happy harvesting!

  • 8 Tips to Prioritize Farm Safety
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    8 Tips to Prioritize Farm Safety

    September 23, 2021

    Posted by Stine Seed in Harvest

    According to the most recent National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report (2019), farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers have among the top most dangerous jobs. Of the dangerous occupations listed, transportation incidents and falls, slips and trips were the top reasons for fatalities. Farm safety is imperative to the livelihood of a farm operation and its operators. In honor of National Farm Safety and Health Week, we’ve dusted off a few of our most important tips to keep you, your family and others F.A.R.M. S.A.F.E. — not only this harvest season but year-round.

    Familiarize yourself with potential health and safety hazards on the farm and in the field. Ensure all employees and family members are adequately trained when using any farming equipment. A lack of experience or training can put anyone at risk on the farm.

    Alert children about these hazards. Whether helping a parent out in the field or playing on or near farm equipment, children are always at risk of a slip, fall or spill. Consider finding farming safety courses for youth through your local extension office or use online resources to help teach your children the do’s and don’ts around farm equipment.

    Rest — it’s important! Long hours in the field contribute to fatigue, which can lead to increased accidents on the farm. While you’re burning the midnight oil, make sure you and your team are well-rested, hydrated and in good health to prevent any accidents, injuries or other setbacks.

    Maintain and inspect your farm equipment to ensure it’s running properly before you hit the field. Last week, we provided some of our favorite pre-harvest safety tips for inspecting your equipment. But remember — inspecting and maintaining equipment is a year-round job. Always take a walk around your equipment before you begin operating to check for any wear and tear, loose parts, flat tires and more. Ensure all lights are in working order, especially as you work in the late hours or early mornings, so you (and others) can see where your equipment is heading.

    Steer clear of loose clothing around farm equipment as it can get caught and lead to trips or dangerous falls. This is especially true around augers and other equipment where parts are continually in motion. And always wear protective equipment such as gloves, goggles and steel-toed boots to help reduce farm-related work injury.

    Avoid power lines, gas pipelines and other hazards on the road. Adjust equipment to its lowest level when traveling so that you’re at least 10 feet or more from power lines. If you plan to dig on your property, remember to call 811 in advance to have gas pipelines and underground electric wires marked before you start a project. And always be aware of your surroundings when driving, especially in areas where children are present or on busy county roads and highways.

    Follow instructions. Read safety manuals to ensure you properly operate farm machinery. Each piece of equipment should have manufacturer recommendations for safety usage within its manual.

    Employ the buddy system when operating dangerous equipment or working in grain bins or with vertical elevators and augers. Grain bin safety is especially crucial this time of year. Also, wear a mask in and around grain bins and silos to prevent diseases or conditions related to dust and gas inhalation. Always have another person present as you enter a bin and secure yourself to a harness or rope to ensure you have a solid escape plan.

    Keep farm safety top of mind today and always. Be aware of your surroundings, know your limits and have an emergency plan in place. Get more tips on harvest safety from your local extension office or by visiting with a Stine sales rep.

  • Prep Your Harvest Equipment to Prevent Untimely (and Costly) Breakdowns
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    Prep Your Harvest Equipment to Prevent Untimely (and Costly) Breakdowns

    September 16, 2021

    Posted by Stine Seed in Harvest

    Harvest is around the corner for many across the Corn Belt. In fact, we’re already combining some of our plots at the Stine Seed Farm in Adel, Iowa. According to the September 13 United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, only 4% of the nation’s corn crop has been harvested. There’s still plenty of time to prep your harvest equipment, so we’ve brushed off a few of our favorite tips to help prevent untimely (and costly) breakdowns this fall.

    Plan Ahead
    Time is hard to come by for farmers who are already tasked with scouting crops and evaluating products for next year. But it’s important to set aside a few days for equipment inventory before harvest begins to check for any necessary repairs. Last-minute repairs can be costly and, depending on when parts can be delivered and installed, can greatly set back your harvest timeline. Consider making a checklist of your harvest equipment, including what parts to review and what machinery to test well in advance of hitting the fields. Then, set aside a few days to evaluate each piece of equipment to get a head start on necessary repairs. Even if you've already started combining, there's still time to check your equipment before you get into the full swing of harvest. 

    Check Your Engines Before You Start Your Engines
    Always check your equipment engines for red flags before you give it the green light for harvest. This is especially important as combines have likely sat idle for most of the year, if not for an entire year. Our experts recommend checking and cleaning the posts and cables around the battery to make sure there are no signs of wear and tear or heavy grime that could prevent the battery from properly functioning. Consider using a pressure washer to help remove dirt and grime or caked-on grease that could result in a fire down the road. If engines have difficulty starting or burn through fuel, it may be worth consulting a mechanic.

    Inspect, Secure, Fill and Clean Even the Smallest Parts
    If your machinery endured last year’s harvest and sat idle for the year, it’s likely gathered a lot of dust and dirt over the months. Cleaning up equipment is extremely important before hitting the field. In fact, combine and tractor fires result in more than $20 million in property losses each year, and 75% of machinery fires begin in the engine. Think of the loss of income and loss of time that results from something that may have been prevented by a simple inspection. Be sure to inspect, secure, fill and clean the following on your combines, tractors and other equipment this fall:

    • Batteries — A dead battery means your equipment won’t operate. Always check your battery to ensure it holds a charge, and also clean the battery to remove any grease, dust or corrosion to ensure a better connection. 
    • Hoses — Most equipment has several hoses to inspect. Be sure to look for cracks or leaks and replace any worn-down hoses before you operate your machinery.
    • Belts and chains — Like hoses, check any belts and chains for wear and tear. Ensure all belts and chains are secure and ready for use. Replace any that seem worn or stretched. Also, make sure they're properly tightened to manufacturer specifications. 
    • Fuel lines — Leaking fuel lines can be devastating to equipment and can also lead to engine fires. Always check your fuel lines to ensure they’re not cracked or leaking fuel.
    • Fluids — As you would with a vehicle, always check your equipment fluids — coolant, oil, fuel, hydraulic and any other fluid your equipment uses. 
    • Tires — A flat or popped tire can slow down harvest. Check for wear on each tire, from the combine to grain carts to field trucks. Also, check the tires for proper pressure and to ensure uniformity across equipment.
    • Lightbulbs — Growers often burn the midnight oil during harvest to ensure all crops are out when they’re ready. Burned-out lightbulbs can be hazardous in the early mornings or late night when operating equipment, not only for the operator but also for others driving down country roads or busy highways where equipment is traveling. Make sure to test all headlights, taillights and turn signals on your equipment.
    • Nuts and bolts — Loose equipment is never a good thing. Check out all the nuts and bolts on your equipment to ensure they’re properly secured and ready for use.
    • Electronics — Most equipment nowadays has several electronics, such as monitors, GPS and other precision software to ensure a more efficient harvest. Always test and calibrate electronics before you hit the field.

    Remember: Safety First
    Next week is National Farm Safety and Health Week, but farm safety should be a top priority year-round. Not only do you want your equipment to be safe for a successful harvest, but you also need to be more aware of your own surroundings and well-being in the field and on the road. Stay tuned for our next edition of Stine Weekly, where we’ll discuss tips for farm safety, which is especially important as we head into the busy harvest season.

    In the meantime, if you have any questions on prepping your equipment for harvest, your local Stine agronomist can assist or put you in touch with an equipment expert. Happy harvesting!