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Out Croppings: Important crop news from the field!

Upcoming Field Day Focuses on Soil Health

Posted: August 14th, 2015 by outcropn

Joel Myers talks soil health  at 2014 field in  Addison County .

Joel Myers talks soil health with farmers at 2014 field in
Addison County.

On Friday, August 21, we will hold a day-long field day focused on soil health. The Summer Soil Health Field Day will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Gervais Family Farm #2 on Davis Road in Enosburg Falls.

The day will feature Joel Myers, a private consultant in continuous no-till systems and cover cropping. Joel was a state agronomist with USDA NRCS in Pennsylvania before his 2006 retirement and has more than 40 years working with farmers on soil health benefits of no-till systems, as well as crop rotations and cover cropping.

The field day will also include information about cover crops, no-till, and manure management as well as equipment and field demonstrations. The event is a collaboration among the UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program (NWCS), Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Registration is free –with lunch generously sponsored by Champlain Valley Equipment– but please register online at http://bit.ly/1IoSrpm.

View the Summer Soil Health Field Day Flyer for more information.

School may be out for Summer but the Testing Lab is In Session!

Posted: July 29th, 2015 by outcropn

NWCS staffer Erica Cummings with Falling Number machine in UVM Extension Cereal Grains Testing Lab.

NWCS staffer Erica Cummings with Falling Number machine in UVM Extension Cereal Grains Testing Lab.

The University of Vermont Extension Cereal Grain Quality Testing Laboratory is run by our NWCS team. Since it opened in 2011, we have tested hundreds of grain and hop samples from our research plots as well as commercial samples from farmers throughout the region.

The lab is now back open for the season and ready for business! Here are the tests offered by our lab for grain samples:

Test Weight: Test weight is a measure of the density or weight recorded in pounds per bushel of a grain at a standardized moisture level. It is a general indicator of grain quality; higher test weight generally means higher quality grain.

Grain Moisture: Determining moisture content is an essential step in analyzing flour quality since this data is used for other tests, namely falling number and protein, and is an indicator of grain storability. Whole grains and flour with high moisture content (greater than 14.5%) attract mold, bacteria, and insects, all of which cause deterioration during storage.

Whole Grain Protein: The lab is equipped with near-infrared technology (NIR) for protein analysis. Protein content is often a key specification for wheat and flour buyers as it can affect flour processing properties like water absorption, gluten strength, texture, and appearance. In general, higher protein indicates higher quality wheat.

Falling Number: The lab houses a sophisticated machine to test the Falling Number of wheat, an internationally standardized method for sprout damage detection. The Falling Number system measures the alpha-amylase enzyme activity in grains and flour to detect sprout damage and is crucial for final product quality of bread, pasta, noodles and malt. The falling number is measured by the amount of time, in seconds, it takes for a plunger to fall through a slurry of flour and water to the bottom of the sample tube. In general, a falling number of 350 seconds or longer indicates low enzyme activity and sound wheat. Falling numbers below 200 seconds indicate high levels of enzyme activity and much sprouting damage.

Seed Germination: New in 2015, the lab is offering germ tests of grains, particularly helpful for seed that is not certified or that is carried over from a previous year.

Corn Analysis: Our lab is able to provide analyses of corn samples. Results include % moisture, % crude protein, % crude fiber, and % starch.

Vomitoxin “DON”: We can test for deoxynivalenol (DON) also known as vomitoxin. Contamination of wheat with DON is directly related to the incidence of Fusarium head blight and strongly associated with relative moisture and timing of rainfall at flowering. The results are expressed in parts per million (ppm). Occurrences of vomitoxin in wheat at or above 1 ppm are considered unsafe for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has also established DON advisory levels to provide safe livestock feeds – a 10 ppm level is set for grains destined for cattle older than 4 months and for poultry (provided it does not exceed 50% of the diet); and a 5 ppm level is set for grains destined for swine (not to exceed 20% of the diet) and other animals (not to exceed 40% of the diet).

If you are interested in submitting samples to the lab for testing, please keep the following in mind:

  • Submit 1 quart of clean and dry (<14% Moisture) whole grain (do not send flour) for each sample submitted. Grain samples with stones and dirt will NOT be accepted. Remember, your results will only be as good as the sample submitted. Payment MUST be included with samples. Please clearly label each sample.
  • A sample submission form MUST be included for EACH sample–we cannot accept samples with no or incomplete forms.
  • Payment MUST accompany the samples to be analyzed. Samples with no payment included will not be accepted.

For more information about the testing lab and to download submission form(s), visit our website at: uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil/cereal-grain-testing-lab and/or send us an email at: cropsoilvt@gmail.com.

Annual Field Day This Week! 7/23

Posted: July 20th, 2015 by outcropn

imageJoin us this Thursday, July 23, 2015 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for our annual Crops and Soils Field Day at the Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh.

The day will include our infamous tour where you will see many of the research trials we are conducting, including those on heirloom beans, silage corn, flax, wheat, malting barley, summer annuals, and much more!

We will also run demos of the highboy cover crop seeder, box manure spreader, and manure injector. Come see a drone in action that can monitor crops. Take at look at the equipment researchers use to measure greenhouse gases, as well as some low cost cooling and monitoring equipment.

Registration, which includes lunch, is $10 for farmers; $25 for others. To register online and for more information, visit https://www.regonline.com/cropsfieldday.

Be on the Lookout for Armyworms

Posted: July 10th, 2015 by outcropn

Armyworms, courtesy of Sid Bosworth, UVM Extension

Armyworms, courtesy of Sid Bosworth, UVM Extension

Armyworms have been spotted in Addison, Franklin, and Grand Isle Counties of Vermont, as of July 9, 2015. Please don’t panic but do scout your corn and grass fields for armyworm caterpillars.

True Armyworm, Pseudaletia unipuncta, are typically spotted each year on some acreage in Vermont — crops most affected are grasses including field corn, grass hay and pasture crops. It is important for farmers and consultants to be monitoring fields–at high enough populations, armyworms can create a lot of damage very quickly.

To scout, look for caterpillars — when full grown, they can be almost 1.5 inches long. The caterpillars are usually greenish or brownish, but can be almost black. The sides and back of the caterpillar have light colored stripes running along the body. They normally feed at night and much damage can occur before they mature. Their preferred foods are grasses including corn, grains, and timothy but they will feed on other plants if grasses are unavailable. Feeding will start on the lower leaves and move upwards. A large population of armyworm caterpillars can strip an entire field in just a few days. When the field is eaten they “march’ to adjacent fields. Corn fields that are minimum or no-tilled into grass sod or fields infested with grass weeds are most susceptible.

For more information on armyworm, see “When Armyworms Come to Town” and/or  True Armyworm resources on the Vermont Crops & Soils webpages. For additional scouting and control options, please contact Dr. Heather Darby at the University of Vermont Extension at (802) 524-6501.



Using the Penn State Interseeder to Plant Cover Crops

Posted: June 30th, 2015 by outcropn

Cover crops can add organic matter, increase soil fertility, and reduce erosion, among many other benefits. However, our short growing season makes getting covers established after corn harvest challenging. As an alternative, farmers and researchers alike are looking at ways to establish cover crops as the corn is growing.

The first window to establish covers is just prior to corn canopy closure–at this stage of corn development, there is enough light to allow for solid seed germination. As the corn crop grows, the canopy will shade the cover crops. The cover crop growth slows but resumes after the corn harvest when the cover crop can have unfettered access to the sun.

Penn State interseeder.

Penn State interseeder.

During this time of year, some farmers broadcast seed using a tractor-mounted seeder and/or mixed with fertilizer and applied at the time of topdress. However, there is new equipment available to interseed cover crops at the same time of N topdress and herbicide application. The Penn State Interseeder is designed to function like a no-till drill. As a result, the seed is incorporated and has better germination than if the cover crop was broadcast. Thus, the cost of seed is often reduced by a quarter of the amount of broadcast seed needed to meet requirements by the USDA NRCS guidelines for cover cropping.

A common concern about planting cover crops this early in the season is that they may compete with the corn crop for nutrients. However, the cover crop roots are very shallow while corn roots are growing deeper in the soil profile, so the cover crops are not pulling nutrients from the same zone of soil as the corn crop.

Newly planted cover crops in test plots at Borderview Research Farm (June 19, 2015).

Newly planted cover crops in test plots at Borderview Research Farm (June 19, 2015).

After the corn harvest, the cover crop growth resumes. The biomass increases and the roots deepen. This living crop provides an ideal mechanism for capturing the nutrients applied during fall manure spreading. Come spring time, the dying cover crop will add organic matter to your soil and the decaying biomass will add the nutrients it sequestered from last season’s manure application.

More information about the Penn State Interseeder and cover crops can be found in “Under Cover: Integrating Cover Crops into Silage Corn Systems” on UVM Extension NWCS. If you have any questions, please give our office a call or email cropsoilvt@gmail.com.

Sidedressing Your Corn: How Much is the Right Amount?

Posted: June 25th, 2015 by outcropn

Recommended nitrogen rates for corn based on the Pre-sidedress Soil Nitrate Test (PSNT).

Recommended nitrogen rates for corn based on the Pre-sidedress Soil Nitrate Test (PSNT).

Before you sidedress your corn, we recommend doing the Vermont Pre-Sidedress Nitrate Test (PSNT). The PSNT measures nitrate, the main form of nitrogen (N) taken up by plants and an indicator of N available to the crop for the remainder of the season. The PSNT should be taken right before you sidedress, so you can identify if there is enough, too much or too little soil-nitrate for the crop to reach your yield goals. Applying too much fertilizer wastes money and can lead to environmental damage by nitrate leaching into waterways. Applying too little can decrease yields.

How to Use the PSNT

Sample fields when corn plants are 8 to 12 inches tall, taking 15 to 20 soil cores per field at a depth of 12 inches. Avoid sampling close to where you had banded fertilizer near the row. Take the samples in a zig-zag pattern all over the field so you get a good representation of the area. Do not specifically choose ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ spots – be random. Mix the soil cores together in a clean plastic bucket and place a few handfuls of the soil in a paper bag. For more tips on how to soil sample, check out this link from the UVM Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab.

When in the field, keep the samples cool in the shade or in a cooler. The main reason to keep the samples cool is to prevent microbes that are active at warmer temperatures from further breaking down organic nitrogen, which would give you less accurate test results. Ideally, get the sample immediately to the laboratory for analysis. If this is not possible, dry the sample by spreading out the soil on a paper bag in the sun so it dries quickly. Or, put the sample in a glass dish in a very low temperature oven, less than 150 degrees Fahrenheit until dry (2 to 4 hours should be fine). If drying is not possible, put your samples in the refrigerator.

See below for a helpful chart to interpret your PSNT results. If the PSNT is 25 ppm or higher, there is little or no yield increase from applying more nitrogen (Jokela, 2008). The chart comes from the extension publication, Nutrient Recommendations for Field Crops in Vermont, where you can find more information on soil and nutrient management.

For more information, contact the UVM Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab at 802-656-3030, call our office 802-524-6501, or email us at cropsoilvt@gmail.com.

Recent Rain Creates Stress on Crops

Posted: June 16th, 2015 by outcropn

Recent intense rainfall events have caused flooding, ponding, and soil saturation in many of our corn
and hay fields. What are the prospects for these crops?

Corn Fields

Corn plants can turn pale green to yellow because they have not been able to absorb enough nitrogen.

Corn plants can turn pale green to yellow because they have not been able to absorb enough nitrogen.

Beautiful and dry spring weather allowed most folks to get corn planted in a timely fashion. We’ve seen corn around the state that is just about knee high and ready for nitrogen topdress! The recent rain, however, has caused some fields to become flooded, ponded or saturated with water. Flooded or ponded soil can create risks for corn. Soil oxygen becomes depleted after about 48 hours of soil saturation. Without oxygen, corn cannot perform critical life functions (i.e. nutrient uptake, root growth inhibited). Corn that is at the 5th leaf stage and younger still has its growing point below ground and it is directly subject to the stress of oxygen depleted conditions. The likelihood of crop injury is less where the flooded and ponded conditions last less than 24 hours. To confirm plant survival, check the color of the growing point and look for new leaf growth 4 to 7 days (with 70 degree weather) after the water drains from the field. Healthy growing points will be firm and yellowish white, not mushy and discolored.

Even if ponding and saturated soil do not kill the plant outright, it can have a negative impact on the crop performance. Excess moisture can retard root growth and plants may become more susceptible to drought stress later in life. Saturated soils can also result in significant losses of nitrogen through denitrification and also leaching. A pre-sidedress nitrate test taken just prior to nitrogen topdress can help you understand how much additional nitrogen will be needed to growth a high yielding corn crop.

Hay and Pasture Fields

Forage plants (other than perhaps wet site-tolerant reed canary grass) can survive for several weeks in saturated soils, but the lack of oxygen in the root zone will adversely affect their growth. These plants do not take up soil nutrients normally, an increasing part of the root system deteriorates, and legumes cease “fixing” nitrogen. They appear stunted and yellowish-green in color. If the soils drain quickly, plants begin to recover.

Flooded forages may contain fine silt, fungus spores, bacteria that are bad for you and your animal’s health. Forage that has been flooded with silt and debris can cause health problems, production problems, and/or reproduction problems in livestock. To be safe, avoid making silage out of it. However, if you do, keep it separate from the rest of your unflooded silage. It may spoil and it could contaminate adjacent silage. If you ensile these flooded crops, you may find that once the silo is opened, they spoil faster than other silage. Generally, you should avoid feeding this material if possible. However, if you haven’t already done it, try to get this standing material off the field as soon as possible to encourage regrowth. If hay fields were flooded, remember to wear a dust mask when harvesting. Grazing animals can be exposed to clostridial organisms that can lead to some serious diseases. The safest approach would be to clip the contaminated pastures and then wait to graze the regrowth. But don’t graze it too closely – avoid letting your livestock get down into the old dead material. Watch your livestock closely. If any of you animals appear sick, call your vet immediately.

If you have any questions, please give our office a call or email cropsoilvt@gmail.com.

Be on the Lookout for Loose Smut!

Posted: June 9th, 2015 by outcropn

As winter grloosesmutains start to head out and flower, it’s time to start scouting your fields for Loose smut (Ustilago nuda, U. avenae, U. tritici). Loose smut is found in winter and spring spelt, barley, and wheat, as well as oats. Spelt and barley are particularly susceptible to infection. Loose smut is one of the easiest grain diseases to spot in the field. During spike or head emergence, diseased heads emerge slightly earlier than healthy ones and appear as a mass of dark brown spores covered with paper-like membrane. This membrane tears easily as healthy plants begin to flower, and windblown spores infect the embryos of developing seed. After the fungus invades the grain seed embryo, it remains dormant until the seed is planted and germinates. Infected plants appear to be normal, but develop smutted heads.

Planting contaminated seed, especially in organic systems, can exponentially increase grain infection rates, resulting in yield reductions; 100% of the smutted heads are lost. Eating Loose smut infected grain poses no harmful health effects and doesn’t appear to impact baking quality.


  • If you find Loose smut in your fields, don’t save the seed.
  • Plant certified or otherwise high-quality, disease-free seed.
  • Plant resistant varieties.
  • Infected seed can be treated with various systemic fungicides in conventional systems.
  • In organic systems, hot water seed treatment can be used to rid infected seed of the Loose smut fungus.

If you have questions about Loose smut or any other plant disease, the University of Vermont Plant Diagnostic Laboratory can help. Click on this link for details on submitting a sample for identification – http://pss.uvm.edu/pd/pdc/pdf/pdcform.pdf

Now, it has started raining…

Posted: June 2nd, 2015 by outcropn

After a pretty dry Spring, the rain finally came and has pushed back a lot of our schedules. Hopefully you were able to make the first cut off your hay field, before all of this rain came in. If you haven’t, harvest will be pushed back and by that time the hay will lose up to ½ point of protein per day from its optimum harvest date. You may want to consider using this cut for dry cow and heifer feed. If you were able to make the first cut, wait to put manure down until the ground is no longer saturated with water. Vermont’s 590 Standard requires that manure not be applied onto saturated ground since there is an increased risk of runoff into waterways. Also, for those of us who were planning to put no-till corn in the ground after the first cut of hay, we’ll have to wait until the ground has dried. Muddin’ in seed will not work on most soils as it is very difficult to close the slot when the soil is wet and sticky.

For corn that has already emerged, now is a good time to scout for weeds. This rainy period may create a flush of weeds if herbicides with residuals were not applied. As for late planted corn, it would be worth it to check on germination rates as it has been wet and cool lately. Be sure to use the appropriate herbicide if you are planning to put cover crop in the ground in July. Some residual herbicides will have a lasting effect until August. UVM Extension has obtained a document, which makes good recommendations and is worth checking out. Click on this link to view the document “Improving the Success of Interseeding Cover Crops in Corn”. If you have questions, feel free to contact us at 802.524.6501.

Just Drill It

Posted: May 12th, 2015 by outcropn

Haybuster no-till drill.

Haybuster no-till drill.

Now that spring is in full swing, corn is going in the ground and farmers are evaluating their pastures and meadowlands.  Rumor has it that winter kill was substantial this past winter, and now is the time to mend your pastures and meadows.  UVM Extension has 4 drills available for rent throughout the Champlain Valley.  Currently, the Northwest Crops and Soils Program has a 10 ft Sunflower no-till drill and a 15 ft John Deere no-till drill.  Both of these drills are available for use for a fee of $10 per acre to help offset repairs (contact Jeff Sanders at 802-524-6501 to use).  The Middlebury Extension office and the Champlain Valley Crops, Soil, and Pasture team has two 10 ft Haybuster no-till drills available for use (contact Jeff Carter at 802-388-4969 to use).  If you call the UVM Extension Offices, we can help get the drills to you and instruct you on how to use them most effectively.

When using a drill, there are several important considerations to keep in mind.

  • Pay close attention to your seed mixes. When getting seed custom blended or if purchasing pre-mixed seed, you need to be mindful of seed size. Mixing clover and alfalfa with orchard grass may cause problems in the small seed boxes. Light bulky seeds like orchard or brome grass can be problematic in the seed boxes with the smaller seeds. Try to keep seeds of similar sizes and weights together for a more consistent flow through the drill and more accurate seeding rates.
  • The drills need to be calibrated. It is recommended that you put in a known amount of seed and cover a known area to check your rate. If you dump all of your seed in and only use the chart on the inside of the lid of the drill, you will probably not be happy with the results. The charts are only approximations and once you start putting multiple species of seeds together, you need to check the seed rate manually.
  • Keep track of seeding depth. Spring seeding forage seed only needs to be planted ¼ inch deep to be effective. When checking out the drill, make sure the seed depth is where you need it. The best way to do this is to drop the drill in the field and drive forward about 10 feet. Then get off and carefully investigate the seed trench and check the depth with a ruler. This becomes critical when using no-till drills in ground that has been conventionally tilled. These no-till drills are designed to plant on hard soils. They are heavy and when used in worked ground, all the settings need to be backed off to allow the seeder to “float” as much as possible on top of the soil.
  • When overseeding into a poor stand to rejuvenate it, a seeding rate of 8-10 pounds of seed should be drilled depending on seed varieties selected.
  • When drilling a clearstand or filling in winter kill spots in a field, a seeding rate of 12-18 pounds is recommended, again depending on what you are seeding. Please consult with your seed salesperson, crop consultant, or Extension personnel for more information regarding seeding rates.
  • Don’t plant when it is too wet. The key to drilling seed is getting good soil-to-seed contact and wet muddy soils will result in poor stands.
  • Using GPS. If you have access to a GPS unit, try to get it put into the tractor before you drill. It can be difficult to see where you have been and none of the drills have marker arms.

If you have questions or would like more information about drilling, please contact Jeff or Heather at the St. Albans UVM Extension Office at 802-524-6501.

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