About Me

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As an Agriculture Extension Agent for Texas AgriLife Extension Service I have had an opportunity to be involved in just about every aspect of agriculture. From the 5,000 cow dairy to the types of trees to use in a home landscape I have had a chance to learn how the different parts of an agriculture systems work together. Seedless watermelons, drip irrigation, pecan orchard management, fruit crop development, dairy nutrient management, environmental issues confronting agriculture, producer tours, field days, research projects and more have been a part of my life for over 30 years as I lived and breathed agriculture. Since 2004 I have been actively involved in consulting internationally working in Honduras, Guatemala, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, India, and China. I have worked with missionaries and other groups dedicated to alleviating poverty among third world farmers. I lived in the Middle East in 2007-2008 working on a project for the Borlaug Institute of International Agriculture at Texas A&M University. In this project I was the Chief of Party and Team Leader for a $5.7 Million dollar effort to train Iraqi Extension agents and specialists in all aspects of agriculture.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Stephenville Regional Pecan Show Results

The Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show was held December 4th and the results of that show produced some great pecans from all the outstanding pecan growers in these two counties. The first place winners in each county pecan show automatically advance to the four regional pecan shows held throughout the state. Bell-Williamson Counties are in the Central Region and all our pecans are judged at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center in Stephenville by Dr. Tommy Thompson, Pecan Research Geneticist and Dr. Larry Stein, Extension Horticulturalist.
Bell-Williamson County growers always do well in the regional show and this year was no exception. There were 71 entries at the regional show which was held this past Friday, December 12. Seventy one pecan entries is about one-third the normal numbers owing to the significant drought this year.
In the Commercial division there were 42 entries. In the Choctaw class, Warren Sefcik placed first and this pecan was placed Reserve Champion of the Commercial Division. David Phillips placed first with his Desirable and Darwin Karkoska placed third in that class. In the Kiowa class Darwin Karkoska placed first and in the Oconee Class Warren Sefcik placed first as well. In the Mohawk class David Phillips placed first.
In the Classic Division Bell-Williamson growers again did an excellent job with Darwin Karkoska placing first with his Brake and winning Champion Classic. Darwin Karkoska also placed first with his Nacono, Shawnee, and Goertz pecan varieties.

Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show Results

The Bell-Williamson County Extension Pecan Committees hosted the annual Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show this past Friday, December 8, at the Comanche Community Center. This year’s show featured 28 entries, from 6 area growers. Mr. Bill Ree, State Extension Specialist-Pecan IPM served as the Pecan Show Judge for this year’s show. Bill is known throughout the state for his work in pecan entomology and pecan orchard improvement.
The Commercial Division features pecan varieties that are typically found in commercial orchards and are sold in the largest quantities to Pecan Shellers. The fact that they are sold commercially does not limit their popularity with homeowners and small growers who either eat the pecan themselves or peddle the pecans in roadside stands. Every year new pecans are added to the Commercial Division list and old ones are moved to the Classic Division or dropped completely for lack of interest.
In the commercial division there were 19 entries in 9 classes. In the Cheyenne class Warren Sefcik of Georgetown won the class and this pecan was named Champion of the Commercial division. Robert Kaderka of Taylor placed second and Ronny Wells of Belton placed third. Choctaw is a very popular variety in Central Texas noted for its large size and kernel quality. In the Choctaw class Warren Sefcik won 1st, David Phillips of Little River won 2nd and Darwin Karkoska of Granger won 3rd. In the Desirable class 1st place went to David Phillips, 2nd to Ken Gerstenberg of Belton and 3rd to Warren Sefcik. The Forkert Class was won by Darwin Karkoska. The Reserve Champion Commercial pecan was won by the 1st place entry in the Kiowa class and was shown by Darwin Karkoska of Granger. 2nd place Kiowa went to David Phillips. The Oconee class was won by Warren Sefcik and 2nd place went to Ken Gerstenberg. Both the Mohawk, Sioux and Wichita classes were all won by David Phillips of Little River in Bell County. The Sioux pecan is known for being a small pecan with a long slender shape. Its size of 60 nuts per pound compared to a Choctaw at 36 makes it seems like a “native” pecan. But when you start to shell a Sioux you realize it is thin shelled and the pecan meat is one of the lightest colors you will find in a pecan. It is high in oil content which makes it a constant favorite in taste tests.
The Classic Division is made up of pecan varieties that are no longer propagated by commercial orchards but are still enjoyed by growers, hobbyists and homeowners. The Classic Division featured 9 entries in 5 classes. In the Brake Class Darwin Karkoska placed first and this pecan entry was named Champion of the Classic Division with a 58.2% kernel. Darwin Karkoska also placed first with his Nacono entry and Ken Gerstenberg placed 2nd. In the Shawnee class Darwin Karkoska placed first. The Variety Seedling class features pecans from trees where only one parent is known. In this class there were two entries, Darwin Karkoska again placed first and David Phillips placed 2nd. The Other Variety class is for pecan varieties that do not have a specific class and so all are judged together. The winner of the Other Variety class was Darwin Karkoska with a Goertz Seedling and this pecan was named Reserve Champion of the Classic Division. David Phillips placed second with his Imperial and he also entered an Aggie variety to win 3rd.
The Native Pecan Division consists of pecans grown on trees that are the result of nature planting the trees mostly in pecan bottoms. The genetic background of the trees is unknown but in some cases the pecans can be quite good. In fact many “native” Texans claim that the only good pecan is a native. It is a myth to think that natives have to be small and hard shelled in order to be termed “native”. Many natives are thin shelled and large compared to other native pecans. There have been many years that native pecan entries from the Bell-Williamson pecan show have won the state pecan show. Unfortunately this year the native production was very low and growers did not enter.
All first place class winners automatically advance to the Regional Pecan Show held in Stephenville on Friday, December 12th. The first three placings from each class at the Regional shows advance to the State Pecan Show held each July as a part of the Texas Pecan Growers Annual Meeting. Congratulations to all the winners in this year’s Bell-Williamson Counties Pecan Show!

Lessons to Learn from the Drought

I received an article from the Noble Foundation that discusses the three lessons we should learn from the drought or should I say should have learned from the drought. The rains in August/September helped a little but unfortunately our problems continue and will continue mostly as a result of these three lessons.
Number one, “with no plan in place, producers hoped for the best then waited too long to react.” Waiting led to a severe depletion of forage resources and in most cases damaged the very resource that can help see us through a drought. Because there was no plan or even an early discussion of worst case scenarios this led to severe culling in August. In most cases producers would say to me, “you don’t understand, I have been building up my herd for years and I can’t sell them now.” Remember that you not only build your herd but you build your range and pastures. As we have overgrazed the bare spots are now being invaded by noxious weeds like nightshade, broomweed and ragweed and it will take years to recover these areas. No one would suggest selling all the animals but as was said by many in the drought of 2005, you should only plan for a drought by only using 70% of your potential forage resources in any one year.
Number two, “too often this year, the focus has been on figuring out how to rough them through” rather than maintaining adequate body condition (BCS 5). Producers that use palpation as a way to determine pregnancy and ultimately cow culling are seeing much lower conception rates in fact some might say disastrous! As cow condition slips cows don’t breed or they lose their calves. Only a bred cow has a chance to pay off their drought debt at some point in their lifetime. You must keep your cows in Body Condition Score “5” year round or expect to see reproduction go south.
Number 3, “emergency feeding and marketing were and continue to be nightmares in herds with year round calving.” When you are in supplementation or even full feeding situations like we are in, it is impossible to economically or efficiently feed dry cows and nursing cows together. They have completely different nutritional needs and then you add in the problem of calf ages all over the place and weaning/marketing is even more messed up. Define your breeding season and stick to it. In this area spring calving, fall weaning fits our forage base but whatever time you choose STICK to it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Pecan Varieties: Where Do They Come From?

In the preface to Dr. Tommy Thompson’s book entitled “Pecan Cultivars - Past and Present he says there are over 1,000 pecan cultivars (varieties) and he documents 1,012 in his book plus 44 hican cultivars. Of all these cultivars we only truly know the parentage, at least one parent, of 156 cultivars leaving all others to be called natives or seedlings. Needless to say we don’t know a lot about the pecans we so dearly love to eat and grow.
Basically there are three categories of pecans used currently to identify pecan cultivars. The first is Native Cultivars. These trees and their resultant nuts have by chance been planted by flood waters, birds, squirrels, etc. and have grown up and flourished in the environment in which they grew. Natives are by no means always small and hard shelled, in fact we have several named varieties today that started out as just chance seedlings known as natives. Consider the Burkett pecan tree grown throughout Texas and it started as a single tree found in Callahan County. There are literally hundreds of named cultivars that started out as native pecans but over time the person who owned the tree named them and then propagated them because they were good pecans. Most of this naming of natives happened prior to 1920 and since then we have used controlled crosses.
The second category of pecans is Seedlings. These pecans originate from a nut planted by man, where only one or neither parent is known. The planted nut could be from a native or an improved cultivar but when it was planted they really didn’t know what kind of tree or pecan that it would make. For instance the Western variety is one of the largest planted pecan varieties in West Texas and New Mexico and it is a San Saba seedling meaning it was a nut planted from a San Saba pecan tree by E.E. Risien. All we know is that the female parent is a San Saba pecan but we don’t know where the male pollen came from so it is called a seedling. Schley and Mahan are both like this too where only one parent is known. In some cases we don’t even know what one of the parents is but it was planted by man from a favorite native pecan tree and grew up to be good trees such as Stuart or Success.
The last category of pecans is Pedigreed Cultivars. This category is made up of pecans where both parents are known because some form of pollination control was used in producing the seed nut. Basically the female nutlets are covered so that no pollen can get to the pistillate flower cluster and then when it is receptive male pollen from another tree is brought over and fertilizes the nutlet. This cross results in a nut with the genes from two identified cultivars. This nut is planted and grows up into a tree and if the nuts from this tree are of exceptional quality and the tree doesn’t suffer from any problems then the nut may be released with an official name.
This may sounds like an easy process but it is anything but easy. It takes years to know if a cross will be of the quality growers need and expect. For instance many pecan varieties can do extremely well as young trees, such as Cherokee, but as they get older their bad qualities begin to show up such as overbearing, dark kernels and poorly filled nuts. Pecan breeders don’t know this until they grow the trees 20 years or more. Basically the process involves making lots of crosses between the two varieties so that there are lots of nuts produced from the same two parents. These nuts are planted and grown until a fruiting bud or limb can be taken from the small tree and placed on a large tree. This step bypasses the long process of growing a small tree till it produces nuts. These grafted or budded limbs are carefully marked with the number of each tree that they came from and then when it produces nuts they are evaluated for quality and size. Of all the crosses with the same parents there may be only one or two that have good nut quality, but if they do, then those trees that did make the first hurdle are further evaluated for production.
Just imagine how hard it is to know which cultivars to cross, there are trillions of possibilities and even if you identify a cross that seems like it might be good you have to make hundreds of cross of those two parents before you might get one that works. For instance Forkert and Jackson are full siblings, same parents crossed at the same time. Forkert is considered a commercial variety with 49 nuts per pound and grading 62% kernel - excellent. Jackson on the other hand has 38 nuts per pound meaning it is a bigger pecan but it only grades 52% kernel. The Jackson tree is considered a “trash” tree producing “trash” nuts because they’re not filled out. These two trees are from the same parents but totally different and this difference is what makes pecan breeding so very hard and time consuming.

Moving House Plants Indoors Can Create Problems

The recent cold weather has forced all of us to bring our houseplants inside and many times when the house plants come inside so do the problems. My wife has already had a problem on her African violets with citrus mealy bug insects and I’m sure there will be some other aphids appear on the other porch plants that are now houseplants. Anytime we put plants outside for the warm months they do very well but they also have an opportunity to pick up many insect problems. Outside predators, beneficial diseases, and cultural practices like a good rain or water shower do a good job keeping the harmful bugs from being a problem. Once inside though these pests can grow and multiply quickly in a warm environment free from disturbance. Here is a list of major house plant insects and signs of damage to look for.
Aphids are tiny soft bodied insects that are from lime green to yellow in color. They suck the plant juices through a piercing sucking mouthpart. The damage will show up as yellow, discolored leaves and you can usually find the insects on the new growth. Taking the plant outdoors on a warm day and spraying with strong blasts of water works well or you can use a spray of water and vinegar on a regular basis. A pyrethrin based insecticide is the safest chemical control.
Mites are a particularly bad problem if you get them. These very tiny insects on the undersides of leaves will suck out the chlorophyll leaving white spots on the leaf surface. They are hard to control, but strong water sprays on a regular basis do help. I use products containing Neem but check labels for the mention of spider mites before purchasing an insecticide.
Snails and slugs love house plants because we usually keep the soil so moist and the pot full of dead leaves. You can know if you have problems by the characteristic silvery streaks left on leaves from their travels. The best method of control is hand picking them off. You can buy a prepared slug bait or use diatomaceous earth or even beer in a lid. They’re heavy drinkers!
Mealybugs are beautiful insects, unfortunately they are harmful. Mealybugs look like very tiny balls of cotton. They move very slowly and suck out plant juices at the stems and leaf bases which cause wilting. Mealybugs can be dabbed with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol or sprayed with citrus oil, or neem oil. Diatomaceous earth can be spread on the leaf and stem surface.
Scale insects can be seen as small bumps on the surface of the stem. They really look natural until sufficient numbers are reached so that you notice them. The first stage of scale insects is called crawlers when they hatch from the egg. These crawlers move along the stem until they locate a good location to feed and then begin to secrete wax in tufts around their body. These waxy tufts form the “scale appearance” that resembles the bump on a stem. Scale is somewhat hard to control because this wax forms a fairly good barrier to other insect predators and to some insecticides. Using an oil based spray like citrus oil will smother the scale giving good control. Be careful anytime you use an oil based spray because they can be harmful to the plant if the oil is too heavy.
Have you seen small gnats flying in the house because this can be a common problem with house plants? Fungus gnats are small flies that are blackish with long legs. Since they're flies, they only have two wings. The larvae are maggot-like and live in the soil of potted plants and they are the real problem since they eat plant roots. Overwatering may be the main problem and a simple way to get rid of the gnats is to reduce the water supplied to the plant by only watering the plant when the soil is dry. Reducing the water supply will get rid of the larvae so will eventually reduce the adult gnats seen flying around. There is no good way to get rid of the adults that are already present.
One last house plant problem is not insect related at all. Remember that heaters do a great job protecting from the cold but they also dry out the air. Keeping house plants away from vents and also spraying with water occasionally will keep them much healthier. Another trick is to buy a spray form of anti-transparent to keep the leaf from releasing too much moisture in the dry winter time.

Mistletoe: Friend or Foe

Talking about mistletoe (Pharadendron engelmanni) this time of year usually reminds you of the Christmas season, presents, stealing a kiss, etc. but unfortunately that is all the pleasurable thoughts most have of mistletoe because it is a parasite for trees all the rest of the year.
A parasite is an organism that derives its survival from another living entity in this case mistletoe is the parasite and trees are the living entity on which it must survive. In this area we see most of the mistletoe on American elm, cedar elm, hackberry and blackjack oak. For some reason these trees seem to be easy hosts for mistletoe to grow in. Mistletoe is dependent on the host tree for all water and dissolved minerals. It is however, a chlorophyll containing plant which manufactures the sugars and starches needed in its growth and development.
Mistletoe stems bear conspicuous green, leathery leaves which persist for several seasons. Nutrients and water are supplied from an absorbing system called haustoria which develops in the bark and wood of the host tree. Flowers are born in the leaf axil and produce the familiar, nearly clear, whitish berries in late fall and winter. These berries are very poisonous to humans so don’t let children play with mistletoe.
Within the tough outer coat of the berry is a single seed which is embedded in a sticky pulp. Birds feed on this sticky pulp and discard the seeds which stick to their bills, feet or other parts of the body. In this way the seeds are carried to other trees or other branches of the same tree and deposited on the bark. When conditions are right the seeds germinate sending root-like structures into the host plant and another parasite is developed.
There are no sure fire ways to control mistletoe. You can break it off but it will eventually grow back. It is recommended that you cut a limb at least 12 inches past the mistletoe to insure that you get all the roots. This of course could really make your tree look bare if you take all the mistletoe out. There are no chemical controls that are currently effective. Weed or brush killers are not recommended because they can move the chemical into the tree through the mistletoe. Mistletoe seldom kills a tree but it can weaken a tree so that it becomes infected with other tree diseases. Having said this, the potential that mistletoe will severely harm a tree is minimal.


I get calls all the time about lichens on trees and the supposed harm they are doing. Lichens are the leafy, grey-green looking growths that appear on the bark of trees. Lichens are an example of a symbiotic relationship between algae and certain fungi and as such are capable of producing their own food. The effect of lichens on a tree are only slightly detrimental owing mostly to their appearance which can be “crusty” looking. These are not parasites like mistletoe but are called epiphytes since they derive their nutrition from the air and not from the plant they grow on. Lichens can indicate a problem with the tree they are growing on. They need sunlight to grow so it may indicate a thin or thinning, unhealthy tree but not because of the lichens. If you still insist on taking them out then spray your tree with copper compounds which are deadly to fungi and algae.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Upcoming Events to Note

A Farm and Ranch Seminar in Hearne, Texas for those who want pesticide credit this is the place to go. They are offering 7.5 pesticide credit hours with credits in Laws and Regulations, IPM and Drift. Contact number is 979/828-4270.

Central Texas Regional Pecan Show to be held in Stephenville at the Research and Extension Center on Hwy 281. Show processing starts at 9:00 a.m. and the judging after 1 pm.

Beltwide Cotton Conference in San Antonio January 5-8. This is the largest cotton conference in the world and well worth attending considering how close it is.

Central Texas Cow Calf Clinic to be held at the Milano Livestock Auction in Milano, Texas. The clinic will be held on January 9 starting at 9 am and lasting till 3 pm. Excellent information for beef producers on forages and cattle.

Tree Pruning and Training Seminar to be held on January 12 at 6 pm at the Extension meeting room at 3151 SE Inner Loop in Georgetown. This is a Williamson County Master Gardener sponsored program featuring Rob Grotty with the Texas Forest Service. Rob will also cover information on Oak Wilt Disease.

Vegetable Production Shortcourse to be held at the Williamson County Grain meeting room in Taylor, Texas on January 22. The meeting will start at 9 a.m. and continue through lunch. 2 pesticide credits will be offered.

On January 28 the Professional Grounds Conference will be held in Belton Texas at the Bell County Expo Center. This is a fantastic conference with presentations on turf, landscape plants, trees, irrigation and School IPM. The conference starts at 8 am and goes till 3 pm and includes a trade show. 5 CEU’s will be offered.

Taking Care of Poinsettias

Although the poinsettia is among the most traditional symbols of the Christmas season, it was cultivated by the Aztecs of Mexico long before the introduction of Christianity to the Western Hemisphere.
Poinsettias were first introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett. While serving as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, he had occasion to visit Taxco, south of Mexico City where poinsettias grow wild on the hillsides. Poinsett, a botanist when he wasn’t a politician, had some plants sent to his home in Greenville, South Carolina. After supplying his greenhouses, Poinsett also distributed plants to various botanical gardens and to some friends including John Bartram of Philadelphia. John Bartram gave them to a nurseryman friend, Robert Buist, who saw the potential for commercial sales and began production of what turned out to be the largest greenhouse crop grown in the U.S.
Poinsettias are normally grown for sale at Christmas time but by control of photoperiod and temperature they can flower almost any time. Many who buy plants want to keep them from year to year and this is a good thing but there are some problems.
Poinsettias are quite sensitive to light. They need at least 11 hours and 45 minutes of darkness to cause flower bud initiation and you can get a quicker response if the hours are increased to 14 or 15. The problem is that exposures of light even as low as less than 2 foot-candles will nullify the effect of darkness. Homeowners who try to grow poinsettias from year to year grow them indoors and unfortunately common house lights at night will not allow flower initiation.
The other problem homeowners have growing flowering poinsettias is temperature. Poinsettias require night temperatures of 62- 64 degrees F to ensure the most rapid development under the correct photoperiods in late September and October. Most homes are kept at 68 F or better and without low temperatures the plants just keep growing leaves and not flowers. After 10-14 days of the correct photoperiod and temperature you can then raise the temperature to 67- 68F to favor bract development.
Why can’t we keep these wonderful plants and have flowers every year? I think you can see that it is not the plant but the way we try to grow the plant that prevents flowering.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bareroot, Balled and Burlapped and Container Grown Plants

Winter is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. It is highly recommended that you put any tree or shrub out well before hot weather to give plants a time to grow some roots before they have to face hot temperatures. Now this winter is a little different than most since we haven’t had rain so planting any plant may take some pre-watering to even be able to dig a hole!
Container plants have the advantage of having all of their roots intact and ready to grow if the pot was properly cared for. Container grown plants are great but be careful! Nurseries grow plants in pots so that they can be sold easily but trees continue to grow even in a pot. This growing means that pots can become too small for the tree as it grows and so the plant becomes root-bound (stunted). To check and see if a plant is root-bound just hold the pot and lift the tree out of the pot. If the roots are just to the pot sides and no roots are circling then the tree should be okay. When planting a container grown plant dig a hole bigger than the plant by double the width but no deeper. Remove the container and plant into the hole as quickly as possible. Air kills the little white hair roots very fast if not put into the ground. Once the hole is back filled with soil then water thoroughly to remove the air spaces.
B&B or Balled and Burlapped plants are not container grown and you need to understand that before ordering them. These plants may have been grown in a nursery but they were dug out of the ground so that many of the roots have been cut off but the soil ball is still intact and very heavy. In fact there should be about 10-12 inches of ball for every inch of tree trunk diameter. When you get a B&B plant remove all plastic including any string or twine. You can leave the burlap only if it is not plastic. If there is a wire basket you can leave it as the roots will grow right through. The biggest problem with B&B trees is that the hole is usually dug with the same tree spade that dug the tree. Tree spades leave the hole sides very slick and hard for roots to penetrate. The best hole is wider but not deeper than the ball.
Bareroot trees are just trees that have been dug very carefully in the nursery so that the roots are pretty much intact but there is no soil. As you can imagine these trees are much more fragile but without the soil they are easier to handle both for the nurseryman and you. Most bareroot trees are dug and then “healed in” at the nursery till you purchase them. To plant them be very sure you keep the roots moist at all times while you’re planting. Dig the hole as deep as the roots go and just as wide. Put the tree in the hole and back fill slowly adding dirt while you pack it. Once the hole is full you need to water well to take out air pockets. Bareroot trees need to be planted now and most fruit and nut trees are sold this way.

Water! Water! Water!

If you haven’t noticed before now let me tell you we are way behind in rainfall last 12 months with few signs it will get better. I have had a few calls about watering in the winter and I want you to know that if you don’t get rain then all your landscape plants need at least one good watering per month to survive. Fortunately plants don’t use much water in the winter so watering is not a priority but we do need to maintain some level of moisture in the soil to protect plant roots from completely drying out. So unwind your hoses and set up your sprinklers to water at least a couple of hours for all your trees and grass.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Supplementing Beef Cows, What Do They Need

Unfortunately we find ourselves in a real bind this year. With no rain there is very little pasture, hay production is almost nonexistent, and beef cattle prices are down significantly.

Daily energy intake is the primary limiting factor affecting beef cattle performance on forage diets like coastal hay or pasture or even native grasses. This energy intake can be further limited when forages supply an inadequate amount of crude protein. The reason for this is that the amount of crude protein in the cow’s diet needs to be in balance with the energy content. This is usually expressed as a ratio of 6 parts energy to 1 part protein. For instance, hay with 60% total digestible nutrients or TDN would need a protein content of 10% to be in balance and allow the microbes in the rumen of the cow to properly digest all the energy and also have enough energy to digest all the protein. The problem is that we allow pastures and hay fields to get too mature so that they have less protein and energy as a percent of the total. It is not unusual for coastal hay to test 45% TDN and have a 5% crude protein (CP). This is a ratio of 9 TDN:1 CP which is way out of line. This kind of ratio has been researched to limit dry matter intake to just 1.6% of body weight(BW) when it should be above 2% of BW. When the crude protein of a forage falls below about 8% the dry matter intake of cattle declines rapidly. This decline is attributed to a loss of rumen microbes as they die for lack of protein. This is why feeding a high quality protein supplement will improve both the protein and the energy status of cattle. This is simply because the rumen microbes can now work better so that they improve the forage digestibility for the cow and when this happens the cow can now take in more forage so that forage intake increases. I said earlier that at 5% CP, forage intake is limited to about 1.6% of the cow’s BW. When the forage is improved to 8% CP or if a high CP supplement (25% or greater) is added with the forage then forage intake increases to 2.3% of BW. This is a 44% increase in forage intake or nearly half again more. This means that she will eat more of the lesser quality pasture or hay and lose less weight in the winter because as she eats more forage she gets more energy. If you remember what I first said was that energy is the limiting factor for cow performance on forage diets. Most of the time we say it is protein and we will usually buy hay based on protein but what we really mean is we want the higher protein in order to balance the energy. Again that ratio needs to be about 6 TDN : 1 CP or you will find that the cattle will perform poorly even though you have plenty of feed.

Now for some rules of thumb you may want to go by for supplementing cows. First if you have plenty of pasture (I doubt you do this year) but you know it is low quality then feed a protein supplement but no hay. This will help them digest the low quality forage. Second, remember cattle are designed to lose up to 15% of their BW in winter we just don’t like to see them do it. Force them to eat the low quality stuff as long as possible. Third when you start feeding hay you can’t quit. This is mainly because they don’t want to if you will feed them and secondly the higher energy in the better hay puts the rumen on a new level and so they really can’t go back to the pasture as easily. Fourth know what your hay tests. You may need to add a protein supplement to your hay if it is not balanced to be 6 TDN: 1 CP. Fifth stay away from energy supplements as long as you can since they are the most costly. This may not be possible if your hay and pasture are really poor quality and/or you don’t have much forage which is definitely the case this year.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What Do Deer Eat?

This has got to be one of the worst Falls I have ever seen. It is so dry and hot for fall weather and all of this has taken a toll on plant growth. Just look for an acorn crop - there isn’t much of one and on top of that most of the browse, forbs and grass deer might eat is dry. Anyway with all the problems landowners do need to know what deer eat to manage for this important resource.
One of the best publications for plant identification in the Cross Timbers I own is “White-Tailed Deer: Their Foods and Management in the Cross Timbers.” This is a publication of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and is probably the most valuable book anyone interested in deer management could have, but it also makes an excellent reference because of its color photos of area plants. In the front of this publication is an appendix that lists the species composition of deer diets from Summer 1985 to Spring 1987. This chart shows hundreds of plants and basically how much of them a deer eats.
The top plants for the fall and winter may surprise you at least they did me. Bromes and tall fescue can make up to 25% of the diet composition. These are the green grasses that you see growing mostly under trees and resemble wheat or oats. Two to eight percent of the fall diet can be made up of honey locust but not necessarily the plant mostly the seed pods. Osage orange or Bois d’Arc (horse apple) trees can make up 17% of the diet mostly for their leaves. Deciduous oak trees like post, red, blackjack all are very valuable in a deer diet most of the year but acorns can account for a significant percentage in the fall if the acorn crop is good. In 1985 42% of the diet was acorns but in 1986 only 1.5% was acorns, owing I’m sure to a bad acorn crop. Coralberry is a significant plant for the deer diet in the fall and winter of every year. As much as 31% of the deer diet in the winter of ‘86 was composed of coralberry. What is coralberry? Around here we normally call it buckbrush and it is a shrubby plant 3 - 6 feet in height found in woody to open sites. It produces a small fruit but for deer all the plant parts are like t-bone steak. Here’s one you may not ever guess that deer eat, mushrooms. Almost every fall deer diets will consist of 4-5% mushrooms and I guess they don’t have a problem with the poisonous kind like we do.
Lastly let me add that small grains (wheat, oats, rye, etc.) can make up a significant portion of deer diets especially in the winter. In 1985 these were 21.5% of deer diets but almost 0 in 1986 when other plants were available. I am constantly amazed at deer hunters and landowners who want to provide small grains as a source of nutrition in deer diets in hopes of having bigger bucks and does, especially trophy bucks. If you want to produce trophy deer, extensive deer habitat management is almost always more important and more efficient than intensive management i.e. planting small grains and providing feeders. Plus the management of deer habitat means that they get the nutrition earlier in the year when they need it to produce the big antlers and develop good body condition.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Economics of Farming??

The Blackland Crops Clinic was held this past Thursday, October 30 and we had some really interesting speakers. I think everyone was surprised by how much can be packed into just a few hours but the information was really flowing! One of our speakers was Dr. Mark Welch, Extension Economist for Grain Marketing. Mark is really a down to earth economist basically because he was a farmer first, farming in the High Plains of Texas before becoming an economist. Mark gave us a situation analysis and discussed the outlook for grains in the coming months and there were some real interesting parts to his talk that I thought the general public should know about.
First his outlook for grain demand and even price is pretty good. We have seen corn prices drop continuously since the middle of summer but according to Mark we are probably at the bottom basically because we don’t have much corn in storage. Economist use the term “days of use on hand,” to look at the amount of corn available in the world and currently we have on 49 days of corn left, the lowest since 1974. This means we are in short supply and a short supply means higher prices are around the corner. Also he said that ethanol accounts for 34% of all US corn use and this is up from 23% in 2007. This trend will continue which only helps to push prices higher; I hope he is right because we can’t farm corn at $4.00 a bushel!
On another note Mark discussed the costs associated with farming corn. Currently corn accounts for the largest share of nitrogen use of all crops and fertilizer is the largest expense of the variable costs for producing corn. Fertilizer is 43%, seed 21%, fuel lube and electricity 14%, chemicals 11%, repairs 6% and custom work 5%. In 2008 farmers saw a 65% increase in fertilizer prices paid over 2007, a 43% increase in fuel, 30% increase in seed costs, 7% for machinery, 6% in wages and 4% in chemicals. 2008 was a frustrating year for farmers as farmers paid high prices to plant the crop hoping the grain price was going to stay at the record prices recorded at planting time. Unfortunately grain prices began their slow descent in August and only now are they slowing down. Farmers lost thousands of dollars over the course of just a few weeks or even a few days.
Lastly Mark had a few interesting facts for farmers to consider. One is that the bushels of corn produced per pound of nitrogen fertilizer have steadily gone up. We have improved our corn varieties and our technology such that in 1965 it took one pound of nitrogen to produce 0.9 bushels of corn. Today it takes one pound of nitrogen to produce nearly 1.2 bushels of corn. This is phenomenal efficiency gains but there is another fact that startled all the producers in attendance. In 1960 it took 141 bushels of corn to buy 1 ton of anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen fertilizer source. Today it takes 161 bushels of corn to buy 1 ton of anhydrous ammonia. So even when we think we have it worse off today a quick study of history shows us we have seen these times before.

Crop Variety Testing

I get asked all the time what do you think the average yield was for Williamson county for corn or grain sorghum. Of course averages are hard to get because I don’t know what everybody made but I can make some educated guesses. I compiled the results of all the county grain tests I could find as well as looking at tests from just outside the county staying only with blackland farms. In looking at 198 corn varieties we averaged 76.3 bushels per acre with a high of 113 and a low of 40. In 77 sorghum test varieties we averaged 5202 lbs per acre with a high of 6770 and a low of 2982.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pond Weeds

I usually get a number of calls about all this “junk” on or in our tanks and ponds with the question, “what can I do about it?” Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about it this time of year but maybe an explanation about the categories of pond weeds and some control measures might be helpful.
The first group of weeds are the algae including plankton which makes the green color in water, filamentous algae or pond scum and branched algae which includes chara or muskgrass that looks like underwater hay. Pond scum is probably the number one problem in tanks and causes the most aggravation. Pond scum usually begins growing near the bottom or edges of a pond and later floats to the surface where it then looks like a mass of wet, green wool. This type algae is best controlled by pond fertilization back in February. Since it starts at the bottom if we can encourage the growth of plankton, which is a good algae, these will shade out the pond scum and keep it from growing. There is nothing worse than a clear pond because the plankton are part of the food chain which eventually feeds fish. Chemically we control algae easily with copper or copper complex chemicals.
A second group of weeds are the floating plants. Duckweed is one that we have in abundance in our area and it is a small, floating plant, green in color and about ½ inch across with usually 3 leaves and below the leaves you can see a root. Diquat is a good, relatively inexpensive chemical control or you can rake this plant off the surface.
The third group we see a lot here are submersed plants. These plants are rooted to the bottom but generally don’t have plant parts above the water surface. The most common submersed weed is bushy pondweed which resembles coastal hay growing underwater. Another similar weed is coontail and it too can fill up a pond in short order. Diquat, endothall and floridone are all chemical controls or you may want to check into the triploid grass carp which do an excellent job of long term control of these problem weeds.
The last category includes our emersed weeds which includes all shoreline, marginal and shallow water plants with plant parts that extending above the water line. These include many species but most commonly we are dealing with cattails, willow, rushes, buttonbush, water primrose and frogbit. Most of the emersed weeds are easily controlled with glyphosate products which we commonly call Roundup although Roundup itself is not labeled for aquatic weed control. There are several name brand products that do contain glyphosate and are labeled for aquatics. Another excellent product for emersed weeds is 2,4-D.
Now that last question I usually get when talking about weed control in ponds is, “will it hurt my fish?” The chemicals themselves are harmless to fish but the dead vegetation they leave behind may not be. A lot of decaying vegetation will suck a lot of oxygen from the water and could leave your fish starving for a breath. It is best to control pond weeds a little at a time so that you don’t set yourself up for a problem one morning watching all your fish floating on the surface.

Friday, October 10, 2008

New Shade Tolerant Bermudagrass

It is not available to homeowners yet but the University of Georgia is set to release a new bermudagrass variety that is able to grow in up to 60% continuous shade. This is fantastic and really gives us something to look forward to in the future. It would be fantastic to have the drought tolerance of a Bermuda combined with nearly the shade tolerance of a St Augustine. As more information is available you will know about it.

Fertilizing Your Lawn

I have received a number of calls about fall fertilizing lawns. As we have cooled off most homeowners are outside and they want to make sure they take care of their lawns. It has been a tough year for all landscape plants but turf has suffered more than its share. We have a lawn maintenance schedule on our website but basically you can fertilize your lawn now with a 2-0-1 ratio fertilizer at the rate of 1.0 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. I recommend that at least half of the nitrogen be in a slow release form so that we don’t get excessive growth too fast.
Now how much is 1 lb of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Well it all depends on the fertilizer you buy. If you buy a 20-0-10 (2-0-1 ratio) then you would use 5 pounds of fertilizer per 1,000 sq. ft. (5 X 20% N = 1.0 lbs of actual N). Most lawns are in the range of 5,000 sq. ft. so you only need 25 lbs of fertilizer to treat your lawn, so don’t overdo it!
I also am asked about weed and feed fertilizers. I don’t recommend them at all, especially this time of year. Weed and feed fertilizers contain a broadleaf weed killer with the fertilizer. This sounds really easy since you do two things at once. Unfortunately you don’t need to kill weeds now and weed control products can really do harm to trees and shrubs if you are not very careful. The weeds we have in lawns now are predominately asters and they are all flowering. This means that they are very mature and hard to kill. They should be treated earlier in the year, basically when you barely notice them. The weeds you have now will die with cold weather so just remember that next May you want to spray your yard to control the summer weeds you see now and forget the weed and feed in the fall.

Time to Use That Fire Ant Bait

It may be dry and it may seem like you don’t have any fire ants this year but let me tell you now is the time to load the spreader and put out your fall fire ant bait. Fire ant baits are wonderful tools for controlling fire ants. They are low in toxicity to users, kids, pets, and even most other non-target ants. They are one of the most economical methods to control fire ants, and one of the most effective, consistently providing 90% or more control. So what's not to like about baits? One of the few disadvantages of baits is that they are not equally effective throughout the year. Throughout the temperate areas of the southern U.S., fire ants stop searching for food (foraging) when soil temperatures drop below about 60 degrees F. If the ants stop foraging, they will not pick up baits. For this reason, baits should not be part of your winter fire ant program unless you work in the far parts of south Texas. Currently, the soil temperatures are around 65-70 degrees in the early morning. This means that the daytime soil temperatures are well within the range for treatment. We want the fire ants out actively foraging during the day so that they bring the bait back into the mound for consumption. Fire ant baits are best used when fresh, so any containers that have been opened within the past few months should be used soon. Fire ant baits have a relatively short shelf life once opened. Even unopened bait should be used within two years of manufacture. Because of this, buying large quantities of bait (perhaps because it's at a good price) is not a wise idea unless you are certain you can use the bait up during the season of purchase.
Are you asking, “What is a fire ant bait?” Fire Ant Baits are chemically treated granules, normally corn that the fire ants consume as a food source. Fire ants will be out foraging for food and these baits are very tasty since they are corn grit that has soybean oil on the outside. This is why they don’t last long once opened because the oils will turn rancid. The chemicals used on the fire ant baits are designed to control growth in the fire ants, either as larva or in egg lay. These products can be labeled as organic or nonorganic but all are insect growth regulators that are same for human contact.
As temperatures drop over the next month or two, it will be best to limit all fire ant control to treating individual mounds with labeled contact or residual insecticides. Be generous when treating fire ant mounds with liquid insecticide mixtures. Research shows that best control with liquids is obtained when 1-2 gallons of liquid is used per mound. I recommend that homeowners with pets and children avoid the use of granular or dust treatments of mounds on school grounds, since these products may remain visible on the soil surface for several days or weeks after application. For more information about when and how to use fire ant baits, check out the fire ant website at http://fireant.tamu.edu/broadcastbait/

Friday, October 3, 2008

Yes, You Can Afford to Fertilize Your Pasture

There are a few conversations that I have a lot here lately with cow/calf producers. Number 1 is how low the cow and calf prices are and number 2 is how high fertilizer is, was and probably will be next year and lastly what do I need to do to my pastures for next year.
Let me start by saying there are 3 things I tell people to do to take care of bermudagrass pastures. Number 1 is to control grazing! Most producers have way too many cows and they have grazed the bermudagrass to the dirt. This causes compaction and opens up the canopy to allow weeds to grow. Number 2 is to control weeds next March or April. Many studies have proved that for every pound of weeds controlled you get one pound of grass with it going as high as 3-4 pounds of grass. Number 3 is to fertilize your pasture even if fertilizer is high because it pays $2 to $1!
As we end this dry year let me elaborate on the fertility part because fertilizer is so high it may not seem to be a bargain but if we want to raise plenty of beef cows then we need to grow lots of grass and the only way to do that is fertilize. Even though nitrogen fertilizer is high it is still a bargain when you consider the return in grass growth. Nitrogen fertilizers are terrific for increasing the efficiency of bermudagrass especially as it relates to water use. Numerous tests conducted throughout the south confirm that with fertilization it takes 16 to 20 inches of water to produce one ton of low quality forage. With adequate fertilization one ton of good forage can be produced on only 4 to 6 inches of water. This chart gives some sample results:
Tons of Forage per Year
Rainfall Inches Without Fertilizer With Fertilizer
30 1 - 1.5 5 - 7
35 1.5 - 2 7 - 8
40 2.0 8 - 10
45 2.5 10

Another chart shows how much hay can be produced by different rates of nitrogen fertilization. Again all of these tests were conducted over several years in several different locations so the results certainly apply here. Not only does bermudagrass use the water more efficiently but it also translates into higher quality.
Lbs./32%N fertilizer/Acre Yield in Tons % Protein
0 2.67 7.9
300 4.38 9.1
600 5.93 10.5
1200 8.59 11.7
1800 10.65 12.4

If we use liquid nitrogen at 32% N and a price of $570 per ton then 300#’s of fertilizer per acre is worth about $85 per acre, 600#’s is $170 and so on. Using this chart with 300#’s of fertilizer you get 1.7 more tons from an $85 of investment. If hay is $100 a ton then the 1.7 extra tons is worth $170, double the investment.
Let me leave you with a thought about where to spend your money next year, don’t waste fertilizer on poor land. What I would suggest is that you use your best land for growing and fertilizing bermudagrass so that when you do make this investment in fertilizer you will realize even more return than this chart shows. Control your grazing and use weed control on the poor land and spend most of your dollars on the good land.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blackland Crops Clinic to Address Technology to Lower Input Costs

The Williamson County Extension Crops committee has planned an excellent Crops Clinic to address the increasing cost of producing corn, sorghum and cotton. Even with the highest commodity prices on record still producers are struggling to make a profit, some economists believing this may be the some of the most difficult times in recent memory. Producers have a few opportunities to increase their income through marketing strategies along with some technologies to adopt that will decrease some of the input costs. Speakers at the Blackland Crops Clinic will share the latest information available for reducing inputs and increasing value.

The Blackland Crop Clinic will be held on Thursday, October 30, 2008 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on business 79 in Taylor, Texas. Registration will begin at 8:00 a.m. and the program will start at 8:30 a.m. and continue through a sponsored lunch. The Blackland Crops Clinic will feature a unique way to get pesticide credits. There will be two continuing education credits for private, commercial and noncommercial pesticide applicators given for the morning program. After the noon meal at 1:00 p.m., one continuing education credit will be given in laws and regulations. Producers who need this credit can stay and sign in again for this credit or pesticide applicators who need an hour of laws and regulations are encouraged to come at 1:00 p.m. for this credit. To preregister for the Blackland Crops Clinic please call the Williamson County Extension office at 512.943.3300 or email at williams@ag.tamu.edu.

Individuals with disabilities who require an auxiliary aid, service or accommodation in order to participate in this tour are encouraged to contact the Extension office at 512/943-3300 by October 24, 2008 to determine how reasonable accommodations can be made.

Speakers for the Blackland Crops Clinic include Extension Specialists and Agricultural Research Service Scientists. First on the program will be Dr. Paul Baumann, Extension Weed Specialist, discussing weed control options for producers that includes information on reducing costs in weed control. There are many options in weed control but they are all expensive. Dr. Baumann will explore the varied options and how they fit for Blackland farmers.

Next on the program is Dr. Rick Haney, Soils and Tillage Scientist with USDA Agricultural Research Service. Dr. Haney works on Blackland soils and crops at the Texas AgriLife Blackland Research and Extension Center in Temple. Dr. Haney has been working on breakthrough research for increasing soil nutrient availability and tillage practices that reduce trips across the field and so save money.

Along with Dr. Haney’s presentation, Archie Abrameit, Farm Manager and Specialist, Stiles Farm Foundation, will discuss the tillage work that has been done for several years at the Stiles Farm. Archie will share insights gained from years of work to increase soil conservation, reduce equipment passes and lower input costs for Blackland farmers.

Farmers like to learn about the latest corn and sorghum varieties and there are more available now than ever. Bob Whitney, County Extension Agent-Agriculture, Williamson County will discuss results of the many variety trials conducted in the blacklands and give producers some idea of what to expect to see in 2009.

High commodity prices don’t mean a profit. There is a lot of uncertainty with today’s markets and producers are facing the highest per acre costs ever. With fertilizer costing over $1.00 per pound, seed costs higher, diesel higher, tractors more costly, steel prices up 50%, and interest rates climbing, crop farmers are caught in a real squeeze. Dr. Mark Welch, Extension Economist, will discuss what producers can expect from commodity prices in 2009, marketing possibilities and some forecasts for the new year.

Last on the program is Nicole Gueck, Extension Program Specialist with the FARM Assistance Program. As the size and risks associated with agricultural production have grown larger, farmers and ranches are finding that more of the information they need to make sound financial decisions is either unavailable or beyond their field of expertise. The FARM Assistance program, which is part of Texas AgriLife Extension’s Risk Management Education Program, seeks to bridge this gap and provide individuals with a sound, statistically-based strategic financial analysis. Nicole will discuss the FARM Assistance program and how producers can take advantage of this valuable service.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Armadillos: It's Either Them or Us!!

The calls have been pouring in about armadillos this week. As an Extension Agent I am obligated to answer all calls but I am about to decide no more armadillo calls! It seems that we want to live in the country but no one wants the country to come live with them.
Armadillos or more specifically the Nine-banded Armadillo is a cat-sized, armored, insect-eating mammal. Similar in form to an anteater, the bony, scaled shell of the armadillo protects it from attacks by predators. By the way the females always have four young!
A prolific digger, armadillos dig many burrows, as well as dig for food. Distribution is often determined by soil conditions, since the animal will not survive in areas where the soil is too hard to dig (our drought is the reason they love wet lawns). Many other wildlife species use and benefit from these abandoned burrows. Although occasionally considered a nuisance by home owners, the armadillo's habit of digging up lawns is driven by its appetite for grubs, which can also harm lawns.
Armadillos have poor eyesight, but a keen sense of smell. In spite of their cumbersome appearance, armadillos can run fast when in danger. They also are good swimmers and can walk across the bottoms of small streams.
Armadillos are active primarily from twilight hours through early morning hours in the summer. In the winter they may be active only during the day. Armadillos are burrowing animals. Their burrows are usually 7 or 8 inches in diameter and up to 15 feet in length. Burrows are most commonly located in rock piles or around stumps, brush piles, etc. Armadillos dig a number of burrows within an area for escape.
More than 90 percent of the armadillo’s diet is insect matter. They also feed on earthworms, scorpions, spiders, snails, etc., as well as on fruit and vegetable matter such as berries and tender roots.
One method to control an armadillo is to trap them (the other is to wait up at night and shoot them but the police don’t particularly like this in our neighborhoods). This is easier said than done. Since they are somewhat blind, setting out a live trap just anywhere in your yard will not work. It is best if you can find its burrow or trails that the armadillo uses. Once you’ve located these areas, your chances of having the armadillo stumble into your trap are much greater.
The best method of trapping is to funnel them into a live trap. You can use plywood or lumber about 6 inches wide or wider and about 8 feet long. This funnel will guide the armadillo into the trap. In the trap it is good to use rotten fruit as bait and since the armadillo can feel the wire of the trap on its feet you may want to use some type of mulch laid down at the entrance of the trap. This hopefully will keep the animal walking straight into the trap. With a little patience, determination and a lot of luck anyone can catch an armadillo! Remember once it is in the trap it is yours…..

Feral Hogs: What Can You Do With a 300 Pound Pig in Your Yard?

Feral Hogs or “wild hogs” have made the news recently as they have taken up residence in some of our nicer housing additions. As we continue to struggle with our lack of rainfall our wildlife population is moving into those areas where the vegetation is the best and that happens to be our landscapes. If you think an armadillo is bad just have a 300 pound pig digging in your yard or flower beds and the real problem is not one pig it is the 10-20 that show up all at once.
Feral hogs are nothing but domesticated swine that have escaped domestication and returned to the wild. They have no trouble finding the wild a great place to live and they have done so well that their numbers are becoming staggering. For years they have caused havoc to farmers and ranchers but now they are moving closer and closer to population centers and finding an even better home. Part of this is due to the way we are building our new homes. We love the great outdoors and so are building homes with lots of open spaces or “wild” areas close by and most lots don’t have fences anymore. This proximity to nature means feral hogs have easy access to our landscapes and can cause hundreds of dollars in damage overnight.
What to do? This is the hard question because we can’t poison them, shooting them is impossible and fencing is impractical. The only solution is to trap them and that takes a cooperative effort. Most homeowners call the city and say, “what are you going to do?” Unfortunately most cities are not equipped to trap feral hogs or even dispose of feral hogs. What is needed is for homeowners associations and cities to work together much like rural county landowners do and work as a group to trap and take them away. Traps are easy to build (check out feralhogs.tamu.edu for a design) and if done properly it is not difficult to trap the whole herd in one night. Anyone up for grilled pork chops tonight???

Friday, September 19, 2008

Treating Oak Trees Isn't Hard At All

This past week I will have to call the Oak Wilt Week! On Tuesday, September 16 Rob Grotty with the Texas Forest Service and I did a program together on Tree Health and the Oak Wilt Fungus. Actually I talked on tree health and Rob, who is an expert in the oak wilt fungus, talked about oak wilt and how to treat it. We didn’t have many to attend the program but I don’t think that means that oak wilt isn’t a problem in our live oak and red oak trees.

On Wednesday, Christi Stromberg, the Williamson County Horticulturalist, and I along with some Williamson County Master Gardeners treated some live oaks near the County Courts building. Christi had noticed a few weeks ago that one of the live oaks in a row of 5 or 6 had lots of dead leaves and limbs. As she looked closer she saw the typical oak wilt symptoms in the leaves. She invited Rob Grotty over for another opinion and he also agreed that the tree was severely infected with the oak wilt fungus. Christi quickly contracted with a tree service to remove that tree to the ground and ordered the fungicide Alamo to treat the surrounding trees in hopes of stopping the spread. This is where the Master Gardeners and I stepped in to help with the Alamo injections.

Oak wilt is a devastating disease of live oaks and red oaks, the two predominant oaks in western Williamson County area and of the Hill Country in general. The oak wilt fungus lives in live trees and typically is spread from tree to tree by the common root system that they all share. It is not uncommon for live oaks to come up in motts sprouting from the roots of some mother tree located nearby and these motts in turn send out more sprouting roots forming more live oak motts. All this propagation makes for a beautiful Hill Country landscape but also allows a disease to spread very easily from tree to tree. Red oaks on the other hand don’t root sprout or form motts but they are very susceptible to the disease and they also have died by the thousands in the Hill Country.

As you drive around western Williamson County you see that most of the development has happened in these oak covered hills. It is beautiful scenery but with rapid movement of oak wilt through the trees homeowners can be left with nothing but stumps. Fortunately there are some treatments available but unfortunately they cost money and time. First you can trench trees. What this means is cutting a 5-6 foot trench to break the roots so that disease spread is stopped. This is not foolproof by any means but the Texas Forest Service has had an 80-90% success rate where they can trench. Of course you can’t trench a neighborhood so homeowners are left to treat trees to prevent the disease from killing trees.

Treating trees by injecting Alamo fungicide into the root system is very effective if you treat them before they are infected. I like to think of Alamo as a vaccination for the tree. It is much better to vaccinate than it is to treat the disease, in fact it is almost impossible to save a tree once infected.

Treating is easy. You simply dig out around the base of the tree exposing the root flares. We do this so that we can inject the fungicide easier and in more places than in the rough bark. Once we dig out some of these big roots we drill holes about 1 inch deep and insert a T into the hole. We join all the T’s together with plastic hoses and hook that to a pump-up sprayer full of Alamo and water. We use 20 ml of Alamo per liter of water per inch of trunk diameter. As soon as the tree takes up the mixture we cover the roots back up and move to the next one. The trees we injected last Wednesday took about an hour and a half per tree.

How much does it cost? Christi bought a kit that included the T’s, plastic tubing, pump-up sprayer, drill bit and the Alamo for about $275. This is enough Alamo for about 4 ten inch diameter trees. I believe the Alamo purchase alone is about $100 for one quart. Of course for those who say they don’t know how or can’t do this I say, “If I can do it anybody can!”

Friday, September 12, 2008

St. Augustine Lawns Get a Bad Rap

Hot dry summers can sure make our water bills expensive as anyone who survived this summer can testify. We all like a beautiful lawn but continual watering to keep it beautiful has made many homeowners call to ask for another grass to plant besides St. Augustinegrass.
St. Augustinegrass can be a high water use lawn grass. In fact some cities are banning the installation of St. Augustinegrass in any new home landscapes simply because it has one of the highest water requirements of the commonly used turfgrasses. While this is true what is the requirement? Well, Extension recommends watering St. Augustine just like you do bermudagrass, one inch of water per week! Of course when you water like this the more drought tolerant Bermudagrass will look better than the St. Augustinegrass in really dry years like this one. BUT the St. Augustinegrass will still do just fine. This is really just a matter of personal appeal not a matter of life or death for the St. Augustine.
Right about now you are disagreeing with me but I have proof. Here at our Extension Office on the Inner Loop in Georgetown we have many different varieties of turf so that you can look at their individual differences. We have a large area dedicated to an old turfgrass drought study and in that area is St. Augustinegrass. This patch of St. Augustinegrass has not received any water except for rain. In August is looked dead, really dead. I thought it would not come back, but after a couple of small rains and cooler weather this area is full of new leaf blades. It is certainly not pretty but it is not dead either.
What does this tell us? First St. Augustinegrass is very drought tolerant, not as much as some other turfgrasses but still more than enough for this area. Second, with just a few irrigations this summer it would be in very good shape. Third, we water our St. Augustinegrass too much!
Last, I want to ask a question that most people just can’t answer. If we don’t have St. Augustinegrass to plant, what turfgrass are we going to plant in shade? Some of the zoysiagrasses have shade tolerance but still nothing to compare with St. Augustinegrass.

Treating Cut Stumps Now Saves Work Later

Our Extension Range Specialists have developed a tremendous series of publications called “Brush Busters.” One of those is titled “How to Avoid Lumps When Treating Cut Stumps.” Many landowners in Williamson County are clearing out brush but it is not going to go away but instead will resprout and cause even more problems.
Most species of woody plants resprout profusely from belowground crowns or roots if the aboveground growth is damaged or removed. Because these sprouts grow very rapidly, removing the aboveground growth of these plants with pruning shears, chain saws, axes, hydraulic shears, shredding, fire, etc., often intensifies woody plant problems. A high percentage of these plants can be killed, however, if you spray the stump with a specific herbicide treatment immediately after cutting it.
Professionals with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service and Texas AgriLife Research have developed, tested and approved the cut stump method for general woody plant control. Although your results may vary, you should be able to kill about nine of every ten plants you treat. Brush Busters recommends two different herbicide sprays for cut stump applications, depending on the species treated. One spray is for many species of hardwoods, the other is for redberry cedar.
For hardwoods a mixture of Remedy™ herbicide and diesel fuel oil or vegetable oil is recommended. Diesel fuel oil or vegetable oil acts as coating agents and penetrates to ensure good coverage and absorption of the herbicide. The recommended mixture is 15 percent Remedy™ and 85 percent diesel fuel oil or vegetable oil. Using vegetable oil instead of diesel fuel oil increases the cost but may be desirable in some situations. One vegetable oil known to mix well with Remedy™ is JLB Oil Plus™.
For redberry cedar use a mixture of 4% Tordon 22K™ herbicide and water. To ensure that you coat the cut stump thoroughly and that the herbicide is absorbed adequately, add either liquid dishwashing detergent or a nonionic surfactant to the spray mix. It may be helpful to add a spray-marking dye such as Hi-Light™ Blue Dye to mark the stumps that have been sprayed. When mixing, add half the desired quantity of water to the spray tank. Then add the Tordon 22K™, the surfactant and the dye to the tank. Finally, using water under pressure to agitate and mix the spray mix, fill the tank to the final volume.
For both methods cut every stem of the plant as close as possible to the soil surface, but not below the soil surface. Make sure your cuts are level so that the herbicide mix won’t run off too quickly before absorption. Avoid leaving soil on the cut surface which will interfere with chemical uptake. Spray the stump immediately after cutting it. Adjust the spray nozzle so that it delivers a coarse mist in a cone-shaped pattern. Hold the spray wand so that the nozzle is within 1 or 2 inches of the stump and spray the entire cut surface until it is wet, especially the outer edges. Spray the sides of the stump and root collar also, almost to the point of runoff. Remember that this is not fool-proof but you can get 90% control.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Seed Treatment Decisions for Use on Winter Wheat

The decision to treat wheat seed should be based on several factors that will vary between farms and individuals. There are many variables involved when making this decision. These include seed cost, cost associate with treating, crop value, field/crop history, seed quality, soil condition, tillage practices, planting date, anticipated disease and insect pressure, and an individual's tolerance to risk. Most of us look at seed treatments as "insurance". Seed treatments can be a means of preventing or reducing the risks from a number of soilborne and seedborne pathogens or insects. Seedling diseases tend to be more severe if poor quality seed is used and if conditions at planting are not favorable for quick germination and stand establishment. Seed treatments can improve stand establishment under poor growing conditions. If seed is to be used that was harvested from a field with common bunt or loose smut, a fungicide seed treatment should be strongly considered. Similarly, any seed that is going to be planted in a field with a history of common bunt is a good candidate for seed treatment. The following table is a partial list of those seed treatments. Check your local distributors to determine which products are available in your area and at what cost. The cost of adding these products will increase your cost from $2 up to $9, depending on applicator cost. If you do decide to treat your seed with any insecticide, please read the label for possible grazing restrictions.
Which diseases are we concerned about?
Loose or black loose smut; Common Bunt, Stinking Smut, Covered smut; Karnal bunt; Black point; Others Rhizoctonia Spring Blight, Take-all, Scab (Head blight), Sharp Eyespot and Rhizoctonia Root Rot, Common Root Rot, Foot Rot, and Crown Rot, and Pythium spp.

Pesticide, Oil and Battery Collection Day in Milam County

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service have teamed up to provide two opportunities to get rid of unwanted pesticides and used motor oil. On October 29 there will be a collection in Fayette County at the Fayette County Fairgrounds in LaGrange and on October 30 in Milam County at the Milano Livestock Exchange in Milano on Hwy 79 East. Both of these collection days will start promptly at 8:00 a.m. and end at 1:00 p.m.
What can you take to these collection sites? First you can take up to two 55 gallon barrels of used motor oil and/or filters per participant. This is great for farmers who have saved their oil changes for farm equipment this past year and need a chance to get of used motor oils and filters. Second you can take almost any pesticide made except 2,4,5-T which hasn’t been sold in twenty years so basically any pesticide and also any pesticide container! Third, you can take any kind of motor fluid like brake fluid, antifreeze, or transmission fluid. Fourth if you have lots of those partial gallons of paint here is your chance to clean out the storeroom and lastly you can take those unwanted and heavy lead-acid batteries that have accumulated behind the barn!
Remember that this pesticide and oil collection is for people who use pesticides not pesticide dealers or businesses who change oil.
If you have questions don’t hesitate to call the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Williamson County at 512/943-3300 or email Bob Whitney, County Extension Agent-AG at rwhitney@ag.tamu.edu.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oak Wilt Disease Devastating Neighborhoods

If high summer temperatures and lingering drought weren’t enough to humiliate landscapes add in the Oak Wilt disease and homeowners are finally ready to sell out and move into an apartment!

This has been a terribly hot, dry summer for lawns, trees and shrubs. Homeowners have had some of the largest water bills in history but heat and drought are not the cause of death for thousands of Live and Red Oak trees in Williamson County. We can blame the disease Ceratocystis fagacearum commonly known as Oak Wilt with steadily marching across the county landscape killing oak trees that are hundreds of years old. It is not at all unusual for homeowners to notice a few limbs with brown leaves one week and then within two to three weeks have a beautiful red oak turn completely brown and be dead. For live oaks the process is slower with trees looking thin and loosing leaves over a complete year before dying. Since both red oaks and live oaks are the predominate tree species in western Williamson County, dominating the beautiful Hill Country landscapes, it is no wonder landowners as well as homeowners are concerned both for the loss of trees and the loss of property values.

To help landowners better understand Oak Wilt and know their treatment options the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Williamson County and the Texas Forest Service have teamed up to offer a “Tree Health and the Oak Wilt Fungus.” This program will address some of the issues concerning tree health including fertility and water management as well as look at the oak wilt disease and treatment options. The program “Tree Health and the Oak Wilt Fungus,” will be offered on two different dates to allow landowners two opportunities to attend. The first program will be offered on Tuesday, September 16, at 10:00 a.m. at the Williamson County Training Room, 3151 SE Inner Loop, in Georgetown. The second program will be offered on Tuesday, October 7, at 7:00 p.m. at the Williamson County Training Room.

Speakers for the program will include Rob Grotty, Staff Forester with the Texas Forest Service and Bob Whitney, County Extension Agent-Agriculture with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Williamson County.

For more information about the program, “Tree Health and the Oak Wilt Fungus,” trees in general or the oak wilt disease you can contact the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Williamson County at 512/943-3300 or visit the website at williamson-tx.tamu.edu.

What To Feed When There Is No Grass

In a few conversations lately I have talked to beef producers who are feeding high protein tubs or licks or even cottonseed cake. I understand why since this is the way we have always done it but it not at all the way to do it if grass or hay is short. Traditionally cattlemen are told to feed high protein feeds (35-44% CP) to increase forage intake. One study in Kansas showed that feeding a crude protein supplement that was greater than 30% CP increased forage intake response over 60%. We feed these supplements so that the cow will take in more forage and by doing so increase her energy intake.
This is well and good if you have excess forage but I don’t think we have excess forage, grass or hay, this year and so feeding high protein supplements is not the answer. Since we don’t have forages what most producers should do is provide high rates of energy supplements especially starchy feeds. Now this is not at all easy to do and most producers won’t do it. When you start to feed any high energy supplement you must do it every day. Energy feeds can easily disrupt the rumen microbes if not fed daily. Second you need to provide adequate trough space for each animal, 2 - 3 feet is recommended. Third you should provide .7 to 1% of the animal’s body weight in supplement. If you figure your cows weigh 1200 lbs then they need 12 lbs of supplement a day and I don’t know too many cattlemen that can handle the feed bill for cows eating that much each and every day!

Pecan Weevil: A Lingering Problem This Year

This is a year to put in the books as one we don’t want again especially for pecan growers. Not only has it been dry but the crop is so light that many growers won’t have a harvest. The only good part is that the trees don’t have much crop to cause even more damage than the drought is causing. Having said all that if you have pecans and if you got some of this good rain then you can be assured that the pecan weevil is going to be around eating all it can.
The pecan weevil is a peculiar insect because it lives in the ground for at least two years before it emerges as an adult. This adult can fly but prefers to walk up the tree from the ground and begins finding nuts. The weevil has a long snout that it uses to puncture the pecan and either feed or lay an egg in the hole. This egg hatches out and the red-head or larva feeds inside the nut before boring a hole in the shell and dropping to the ground. The hole you see in so many pecans is the result of the weevil leaving the pecan. The female weevil can feed in a pecan in the water stage but she cannot lay an egg in the pecan until the nut has the gel like substance inside. We are have gone from the water stage to the gel stage and some of the early varieties are already in the dough stage. The water stage is very easy to tell, just cut open a pecan and if water comes out then you know what stage you are in!
Several things have to be together in order for the weevil to be a problem. First the soil has to be loose enough for the adult pecan weevil to leave the ground. Second be sure and check the pecans to make sure they are in the right stage of development. Third, if the ground is loose and the pecans are right then make sure you have the pecan weevil. Put out a white cloth under some limbs and then shake the limbs to knock out the weevils. Look for them on the sheet, if you find some then it is time to spray.