February 2016

February 29th, 2016

"Simplot Grower Solutions announces the first five facilities to be certified through ResponsibleAg for Safety organization and leadership within agricultural retail facilities.

The Hanford, Firebaugh, Five Points, Colusa, and Madera, CA, operations have been audited and certified as compliant with all federal environmental, health, safety, and security rules regarding safe handling and storage of fertilizer products.

“Simplot’s facilities take safety and security very seriously,” said Dave Dufault, J.R. Simplot vice president and general manager, retail AgriBusiness. “This responsibility is not just about our employees, but a commitment to the safety and security of the communities we call home. I am incredibly proud of these first three locations for gaining this recognition on a job well done.”

ResponsibleAg is a non-profit industry-led organization founded in the U.S. in 2014 to promote the safe storage and handling of fertilizers. Utilizing on-site assessments, ResponsibleAg educates fertilizer storage and handling facilities to achieve and maintain compliance with federal environmental, health, safety and security laws and regulation."

Read more from Crop Life.

February 23rd, 2016


"Ethiopia is in the grip of a devastating drought sparked by the worst El Niño in a generation, and aid agencies warn that food aid could run out as soon as May.

Unlike in the past, the government and aid groups have kept food shipments flowing to areas ravaged by drought in recent months. But they need more money, at a time when international donors are distracted by a string of humanitarian disasters around the world.

Ethi­o­pia burned itself into the West’s collective memory with the horrific famines of 1973 and 1984, when hundreds of thousands starved to death and images of dying children appeared on the world’s television screens.

Since that time, the government has struggled to shed this image of the world’s charity case by turning Ethiopia into Africa’s new economic juggernaut, with a decade of 10 percent annual growth. Barring natural disasters, the country is also practically self-sufficient in food.

There has also been a concerted effort in cooperation with international aid agencies to create safety nets to ensure that the kind of famine that inspired the 1985 Live Aid concert would never happen again.

These days, early warning systems alert the government when famine threatens, and in 2015, these kicked into action after the spring and summer rains failed, leaving herders trapped in desert pastures and farmers with extensive crop failures across the north and east of the country."

Read more from The Washington Post.

February 18th, 2016

Contributed by Dr. Rob Mikkelsen

"Soil is the fragile skin on the earth that provides more than 95% of our food. Soil also provides an essential life-sustaining role in cleaning air and water. When we lose our soil, many vital functions are also lost. It has been estimated that over 40% of the soil used for agriculture around the world is already degraded or seriously degraded and that half of the topsoil on the earth has been lost during the last 150 years.

Soil degradation is the slow decline in land quality caused by human activity. We have plenty of reasons to be concerned with this growing threat to food security. Soils become degraded from bothman-made activities and accelerated natural processes.

Some impacts of soil mismanagement and degradation include compaction and poor drainage, depletion of essential plant nutrients, rapid loss of organic matter, accumulation of salts,and acidification. Soil degradation frequently accelerates soil erosion and may result in permanent loss of a soils productive capacity.

Soil degradation is a severe challenge that threatens the sustainability of crop and livestock production worldwide. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, about 65% of the land area is degraded, with devastating economic and human impacts. Some major constraints to agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa resulting from soil degradation include soil acidity and aluminum toxicity, nutrient depletion, and soil erosion with resulting shallow soils. The slow process of restoring these soils begins by balanced addition of crop nutrients and lime, adjusting cropping rotations to include cover crops, and adopting practices to halt soil erosion."

Read full version here.

February 18th, 2016

Contributed by Dr. Steve Philips

Director, IPNI North America Program

Part 2 (of 2 part series)

In his presentation at the 2015 InfoAg Conference, Dan Frieberg, President of Premier Crop Services, said of VRT, “Real world agronomy is integrated and complex; we can’t make what is truly complex simple –we can make it easy, but not simple.”"

Varying rates of fertilizer, seed, water, and other inputs across the field is the easy part. The challenge lies in choosing the information that goes into defining the management zones (MZ). The days of creating MZ solely from a yield map or grid soil sampling are behind us. Decision-making in precision agriculture (PA) has become more data-driven and our ability to incorporate multiple layers of agronomic data into MZ development is greater than ever before. So, which data layers are most valuable in creating reliable MZ?

Yield monitoring remains one of the most popular and commonly used data layers in defining MZ. Yield maps can provide a measure of the scale and location of variability in the field, but if used alone without properly understanding the data, they can be misleading. In his presentation at InfoAg 2015, Dr. Raj Khosla, professor of PA at Colorado State University, discussed the process of yield mapping, how to eliminate errors in yield maps (e.g., “cleaning” the data), and how to evaluate multiple years of yield data to create reliable “decision maps” for MZ delineation. Yield maps are good for answering “where” and “how much” variability exists in the field, but they don’t say anything about “why.”

Soil fertility and other soil properties are often highly correlated with yield as the why” in spatial variability. The best way to collect a soil fertility data layer is by grid sampling the field. The Plant Nutrition Today article “Grid Soil Sampling: How Small? How Often? How Useful?” addresses several questions about grid sampling procedures, but the consensus is that soil sampling density (e.g., grid size) is critical in developing quality soil maps.

Read full version here.

February 17th, 2016

Contributed by Dr. Steve Philips

Director, IPNI North America ProgramPart 1 (of 2 part series)

"As variable-rate fertilization increases around the U.S., some of the most common questions being asked are related to grid soil sampling. In a grid sampling strategy, the field is divided into areas of a pre-defined size and soil samples are collected from each grid area using one of several sampling strategies, i.e. grid point, grid cell, offset grid point, etc. Like traditional soil sampling, the objective of grid sampling is to assess the nutrient status of the field. The differ¬ence is that instead of a single average value for the entire field, a contour map is created using GIS software that shows the range and pattern of soil nutrient status, which is used to establish management zones within the field.

What grid size should I use? This is an important question, as grid size will affect the cost of establishing the pro¬gram. Ideally, the grid size will be small enough to accurately capture the range of nutrient status in the field; more highly variable fields should use a smaller grid size, while grid size in less variable fields can be larger. Research in Nebraska showed that increasing sampling density from 4.2 to 42 samples/A resulted in 45% of the field receiving a different N fertilizer rate recommendation and the average N fertilizer rate for the entire field was reduced by 14 lb N/A. However at another site, sampling densities of 14 samples/A  and 1 sample/3.7A resulted in only 18% of the field receiving a different N recommendation and no change in the average N rate for the field."

Read full report here.

February 9th, 2016

"When Mark Anson came home with his hair on fire after a seminar on the seemingly soporific topic of soil health, his younger brother, Doug, was skeptical.

What had Mark lit up was cover crops: fields of noncash crops like hairy vetch and cereal rye that act on soil like a nourishing facial after the harvest.

Mark, 60, and his two brothers, together with assorted sons and sons-in-law, run Anson Farms, a big commercial soybean and corn operation in Indiana and Illinois. Concern about the soil quality of the family’s fields had nagged at him for some time. “Our corn was wilting when temperatures hit 103 degrees,” he said, and such heat isn’t so unusual in the summer. “I felt like I had a gorilla on my shoulder.” What he learned about the benefits of cover crops gave him hope.

But to Doug, planting some noncommercial crops seemed an antiquated practice, like using a horse-drawn plow. Cover crops had long been replaced by fertilizers. Still, he shared his brother’s concern about their soil. Its texture was different, not as loamy as it had once been, and a lot of it was running off into ditches and other waterways when it rained. So in 2010 the family decided to humor Mark by sowing some 1,200 acres, which Mark describes as highly eroded farmland, with wheat cleanings and cereal rye. Additionally, they spread some cover crops to eroded areas in a few fields.

The next spring, Doug had to admit that the soil texture on that strip was better. And the water that ran off it during a rainstorm was clear, a sign that the roots of the cover crops were anchoring valuable topsoil in place.

But Doug didn’t become a believer until 2013, when the family was grappling with a terrible drought. “In the part of a field where we had planted cover crops, we were getting 20 to 25 bushels of corn more per acre than in places where no cover crops had been planted,” he said. “That showed me it made financial sense to do this.”

Now some 13,000 of the 20,000 acres that the family farms across nine counties are planted with cover crops after harvesting, and farmers around them are beginning to embrace the practice."

Read more from the New York Times.

February 1st, 2016

"HOUSTON — Nearly 20 fertilizer plants in Texas and others nationwide have the same dangerous proximity to schools, parks, nursing homes and housing as the one that exploded in the Central Texas town of West in 2013, federal officials said in releasing a final report on the blast Thursday.The proximity of homes and schools to the plant in West contributed to the widespread damage and death caused by the blast, and a lack of regulations has put other communities at risk of another disaster, the officials said. Fifteen people died and more than 260 others were injured in the explosion.

Nearly three years after the deadly conflagration, the officials with the United States Chemical Safety Board discussed the findings of their final investigation report on Thursday in Waco, 20 miles south of West. The 265-page report, released this week, found a series of shortcomings in federal and state oversight, as well as in the plant’s handling of the fertilizer and the training of the responding volunteer firefighters. And it warned of the dangers of the locations of fertilizer plants in Texas and around the country.

For decades, West had slowly developed schools, parks, nursing homes and housing around the plant — the nearest cluster of homes was about 370 feet from the property line and the West Intermediate School about 200 feet. The majority of those injured were within 1,500 feet of the blast."Read more from The New York Times