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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.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Small Grains Clinic: Picking Out the Words of Wisdom

There is a lot of excitement this year over the prospects of planting wheat and all indications are that there will be many more acres planted to wheat than have been in a long time in Williamson County. What’s driving all the excitement is the potential to sell wheat next spring for the highest prices per bushel possibly ever seen. Because of this interest Bell, Williamson and Milam County Extension offices teamed up to offer a Small Grains Clinic on August 22. We had 3 speakers but I suppose the main take home points came from Dr. Gaylon Morgan, Extension Small Grain Specialist, who didn’t talk about high wheat prices but instead focused on the high cost of inputs including wheat seed and fertilizer. Gaylon shared with the group how important it is to buy good quality seed. In the following chart based on research done way back in the 50’s we still see what can happen when a producer plants light testing seed. You can see that the light test seed had a good germination but it had 53% less soil emergence and yielded 5 bushels less per acre. This means at least a $40 per acre loss at today’s wheat prices.

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.

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