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- Bob Whitney
- 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, September 29, 2008
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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 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
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. 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.
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
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.
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 email@example.com.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
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.
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!
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.
What’s wrong with all these trees? Simply put it is the driest summer on record and our trees are showing us the effect of continual hot, dry weather. Let me put it in perspective. Our evapotranspiration rates this summer were averaging 0.4 inches of water a day with high temperatures in the 105º range. Evapotranspiration is water lost through the plant to the atmosphere, but it is used by the plant to cool itself. When a plant cannot take in enough water to transpire (sweat in human terms) it can “burn” in these high temperatures. Now I know that most of you will immediately say “yes but I ran my sprinkler system every week.” I am sure you did, but you also had turf and that turf captured all the water with very little if any going to the tree. I have used a sharpshooter shovel around many of these sick trees to demonstrate that the effective water penetration is only 2-3 inches in many cases. If you still don’t believe me just remember that a mature peach tree needs 80 gallons of water per day and a mature pecan tree needs 222 gallons per day. Raise your hand if any of you even came close to this??
So you can see that our “hottest summer on record” has hurt our trees and shown us as humans that we don’t know how to water. Trees need deep watering and the only way to do that is to put a water hose on a slow trickle and leave it for hours under our trees, moving it occasionally. But all is not lost, most if not all these trees will overcome our lack of understanding and forgive us by putting on lots of new growth this year and next!
Heavy Test Seed Light Seed Test
Wt (lbs/bu) - Heavy Test Seed 59.5 Light Seed Test 44.1
Germination - Heavy Test Seed 91% Light Seed Test95%
Emergence - Heavy Test Seed 60.8% Light Seed Test28.4%
Days to Emergence - Heavy Test Seed 21 Light Seed Test 27
Yield (bu/Ac) - Heavy Test Seed 44 Light Seed Test 39
A second way Gaylon showed producers how to save money was in seeding rates. Producers commonly plant between 90 and 120 lbs of wheat seed per acre. This is probably due to using poor quality seed in the past and needing the extra seed to make up for the loss in viable seed but as Gaylon pointed out you can save kja tremendous amount of money using good seed. Using research done over the course of many years he showed that producers can achieve the same yields per acre with a 30 lb seeding rate as they can with a 120 lb rate. Going from 120 lb all the way down to 30 lb may be a bit extreme but Gaylon did advise producers that a 60 lb per acre rate would be plenty.
So Dr. Morgan showed us how to increase yields by buying good seed for an approximate $40 return per acre and to reduce seeding rate for another savings of about $10 per acre and the last thing he recommended for reducing costs was a soil test to determine residual soil nutrients. Many producers planting wheat this year also grew corn or sorghum this summer. Since we had such a dry summer neither of these summer crops used all the nutrients applied. Low yields mean low fertilizer requirements but as Gaylon pointed out those nutrients are still in the bank! Since fertilizer is at historic high prices, this is the year to spend $10 and get a soil sample to determine how much money you have in that bank. It might be a real surprise to find that your fertilizer bill which was going to be $100 per acre is now only $80 because you spent a few pennies per acre to check your savings account.