Posts Tagged ‘fertilizer’

Quick Update

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

We mostly missed the weekend rain that was forecasted for the northern Illinois region, and as a result, we’ve been busy since Monday. There has been a tremendous amount of field work going on in the area, as well as a lot of fertilizer going out the door. We’ve spread a thousand acres or so since Monday, and have perhaps 1400 to go, a very doable number. Anhydrous ammonia has been flying out the door so fast that it has been hard to get transport semis in here on a timely basis to keep the storage tanks full. At the moment, the storage is completely empty, there are eight tank wagons waiting to be filled, and we have just five full ones on the property for customers. It’s going to be an interesting morning tomorrow; but I’m hoping at least a couple of the five loads I’m currently waiting on show up overnight.

Rain is in the forecast again for the end of this week, but right now it looks like we’ll get another full day of work tomorrow, and possibly part of Friday, as well. We’re at the point now where I would actually welcome a (short) rain delay; the first week of hard running at a fertilizer plant always identifies things broken that we missed during March prep, and we’re waiting for two critical pieces of machinery to show up that have been repeatedly delayed (a new RoGator 1194 sprayer, and a rebuilt trailer to tend the sprayer). Rain Friday night would give us Saturday to make some critical fixes, and a Sunday to recuperate from the long days we’ve been pulling this week.

With that, I’m going to finish making tomorrow’s Plan for the application crews, and get set to watch some Blackhawks playoff action. Go Hawks!



April 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Today was a good day. It did not rain overnight, and we were able to start spreading fertilizer early in the morning and continue until late in the evening. My floater operator covered over 450 acres, with quite a few miles of roadtime, as well. We had a field 3 miles south of Marengo to spread, and that’s a long drive from home base for a floater doing 35mph.

I was in Marengo around 10AM, checking the field in advance of the floater. Honestly, it was a trip I probably didn’t need to make. Fields in the area were very dry, drier by far than up here on the state line. It was like a different world, just 20 some miles away. Dust was flying from all the fieldwork going on, NH3 tanks were everywhere, and I saw a planter in the final stages of being readied for the field.

Closer to home, we were busy, but not frantic. We had a couple of customers call for spreader cart loads of fertilizer, and had a couple of people pick up alfalfa and oats for seeding. NH3 tanks trickled out, and I had to deliver a couple late in the afternoon. We sprayed preplant herbicide on a 14 acre plot of sweetcorn (this job is always our first spray job of the season). We made some in season sales, and I was particularly happy when a large vegetable/row crop grower in McHenry called me out of the blue (we’ve talked and met before, but not in a couple months), asking if I could find some specialty chemicals for him. One of my other veggie customers has apparently been talking me up…referral business is awesome. The distributor I use for weird chemistry pulled through for me, and was able to locate what he needed. Score!

The fancy weather forecasting from Intellicrop that I’m accessing this month tells me that it is unlikely to rain until tomorrow night, meaning that tomorrow is definitely going to be busier than today was. We will finish all the remaining Illinois wheat acres (aside from some acres that will be sprayed with liquid N instead of dry urea), and may possibly finish the wheat acres in Wisconsin, as well.

I’m finishing the evening with a beer, Blackhawks hockey, and the iPhone WordPress client. Hawks are up 3-2 at the end of the 2nd period!

On Sulfur

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

Non-ag readers: Geeky agronomy content ahead! You’ve been warned.

Sulfur is an important plant nutrient in all of the crops that we grow: corn, wheat, alfalfa, and even soybeans. Corn, for example, will remove 12 lbs of sulfur for a 180 bushel corn crop. Alfalfa is a very heavy user of sulfur, removing 5lbs of sulfur per ton of alfalfa…that could be 20-40lbs per year, depending on your alfalfa cut schedule and yield. In a nutrient hierarchy, it ranks about 4th in importance, behind nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Sulfur deposition

Yet, up until recently, I’ve rarely talked about sulfur with my customers. One reason is scale; that same 180 bushel corn crop requires 150-200 lbs of nitrogen, 77lbs of phosphorus, and 50lbs of potassium. We put our focus where the most nutrients where required. Another reason is that for many years, we have to some degree depended on air pollution to provide us with sulfur fertilizer. Coal-fired coal plants used to be prodigious producers of sulfur dioxide, which led to acid rain, which led to sulfur deposition on the soil, and sulfur availability for our crops.

With most coal plants now having scrubbers installed to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, our ‘free’ source of sulfur fertilizer has diminished. I’ve been seeing a lot of sulfur deficiencies in corn over the last couple of years during certain parts of the growing season. From a distance, it can easily be mistaken for nitrogen deficiency, but when you get up close, the interveinal yellowing is obvious.

Sulfur deficient corn

Luckily, there are many commercially available sources of sulfur that we can apply to our crops. If you are near a large coal plant, as I am, you may even have access to the synthetic gypsum that many power plants generate as a result of their sulfur scrubbing process. Fertilizer grade ammonium sulfate should be readily available at many fertilizer dealerships. You can also get liquid ammonium thiosulfate. I generally recommend avoided elemental sulfur: while it is a high anaylsis (90% sulfur, compared to 24% or 26% for the sulfate products), it has to convert to a sulfate form in the soil in order to be available to the plant. This takes time, and can result in sulfur not being available to your crop when it is needed. Talk to your local agronomist, and see is recommended and available in your area.