FEATURE — Top 5 Ag Topics From 5 Years

Nutrient deficiencies can cause severe yield loss. (Photo by Tyler Williams)
Nutrient deficiencies can cause severe yield loss. (Photo by Tyler Williams)

By Tyler Williams, Extension Educator, Lancaster County

The model of Extension has shifted over time, but the mission of “helping Nebraskan’s enhance their lives through “research-based education” has remained the same. I hope I have been able to achieve this mission in my time in Lancaster County, but I am sad to say I have left Extension for a career in private industry.

In the five years I have been in Lancaster County, there are a few agricultural topics that most-commonly landed on my desk, my phone or my email. What better way to help address these issues than to tackle them right up front? Although, Extension receives a wide range of requests or issues, I have compiled a top five list of the most popular issues.

The most common issue I receive has to do with pasture management. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest reason is, it can be pretty challenging. The area soil types, range in management strategies, variable weather patterns and just plain logistical challenges, can make managing pasture or rangeland difficult. This makes each situation unique, but I will cover some overarching themes I come across.

The most common challenge is weed control. The best way to prevent a weed from growing is to have grass “out compete” the weeds. The most common challenge for that is caused by overgrazing. This can be due to overstocking, leaving animals on too long, poor quality grass, horses grazing or lack of cross fencing. The best advice I can give is to make smaller paddocks (or small pastures) and rotate when grazed down to 4 inch height (this can vary). This takes fence, time and money, but it will increase your grazing days and decrease weed pasture. There also may be cost-share funds for cross-fencing through the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Cedar trees and locust trees, among other trees, continue to invade pastures and decrease the grazing value of the land. The best strategy for this is prescribed burning. This poses many challenges and risks, but is natures way of restoring grasslands. The local fire department, prescribed burn groups and Pheasants Forever may be resources for burning pastures. Cutting and removing trees is likely the best option for larger trees. There are some herbicide options found in the 2020 Guide for Weed, Disease, and Insect Management, but these are often for very small trees or used on recently-cut trees.

When restoring these pastures or planting new grass, it can be difficult to know what to plant. This depends on what grows well in your area and what you plan to do with it. Grasses can either be cool-season or warm-season and this determines when it grows the best. In our climate, cool-season grasses grow well from April to mid-June and September through mid-October. Warm seasons will grow well from mid-June through August, but weather conditions dictate the success in any given year. It is best to have both warm-season and cool-season grasses to graze, but these should, ideally, be in different paddocks. Mixing cool-season with warm-season is not recommended, since the cool-season will often dominate.

• Getting to Know Your Pastures: Techniques to Enhance Monitoring http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g2212.pdf
• Recommended establishment and seed selection can be found here: http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/html/g1705/build/g1705.html
• Certified Perennial Grass Varieties Recommended for Nebraska http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/ec120.pdf
• Prescribed Burn Associations https://nebraskapf.com/prescribed-burn-associations-pba/

Two unique issues regarding farmland ownership found in Lancaster County are the challenge of urbanization and development on agricultural land, and the number of absentee landowners residing in the county. As the population of Lancaster County (estimated at over 300,000) continues to increase development of housing, acreages, schools, etc., the value of each parcel of land can vary significantly. Landowners want to know what it is worth, what they can do with the land and how much to charge someone else to use the land.

My first response to all of this is there is not a single source or number to give the value of the land. The value is often determined by who owns it or wants to own it and can be heavily dependent on local nuances. In order to get an official estimate or appraisal, contact a Nebraska licensed appraiser https://appraiser.ne.gov/appraiser_listing.html.

Cash rent or lease arrangements are common questions and the 2020 estimated values for this information was presented in the May 2020 Nebline. This information can be valuable to find the “ball park” rental rates in the area; however, these are estimates provided by land managers in the area and should serve as a guide. The number you eventually determine should be dictated by land quality, local demand, discussions with partners and most importantly, discussions with the tenant. Communication with the tenant is number 1, 2 and 3 when it comes to importance for deciding rental agreements and rates.

• A good resource to access farm management and lease information is https://lancaster.unl.edu/ag/farm-mgt
• Southeast Nebraska Ag Economist Extension Educator, Austin Duerfeldt, aduerfeldt2@unl.edu

When all things go exactly as planned, nutrient management in crop production can be fairly straight-forward. In corn production, in particular, nutrient needs are estimated based on expected yields and nutrient availability. However, the expected conditions and reality often never align, so some modifications and adjustments are usually needed.

In addition to pre-season soil tests (discussed more in 5), there are some in-season soil and tissue tests available to analyze the current nutrient status. These can be useful when determining if more nutrients are needed, which is often due to inclement or adverse weather conditions because the environment can dictate the availability, location and form of the nutrients in the soil. Nutrients such as Nitrogen and Sulfur can change in their availability and form rather quickly due to extreme temperature or precipitation, so testing may be necessary.

You can take soil samples or take leaf tissue from the plant to submit to the testing labs. With in-season samples, you need to do this in a timely manner and plan to respond quickly before any deficiencies cause damage or reduce yield. There are other sensor-based technologies available, but not discussed here. After receiving the testing results, recommendations are often on the soil test or you can reach out to the Extension office to help resolve issues raised on the sampling results.

For more resources, go to Soil Management to Optimize Crop Production in Nebraska: https://cropwatch.unl.edu/soils

Understanding the development, lifecycle and biology of all the potential pests in Nebraska is impossible. You likely recognize many of the common weed or insect pests around the farm or home, but you will come across something you are not familiar with. Luckily, Nebraska Extension has experts and experience in plant physiology, plant pathology and entomology among other areas and can help with the proper identification and management for these pests.

The first, and most useful, piece of pest identification is to get good pictures. Take multiple pictures of the pest using a zoom to get very close, as well as pictures from further away to get a sense of the environment. You also want to capture the damage and any patterns of that damage. Once you have these pictures, you can email them to lancaster@unl.edu, with a description of the problem and any history that may help with identification. Not all pests can be identified virtually, so a sample may be needed. For more information on providing information digitally, go to http://go.unl.edu/plantclinic.

There are also digital tools that can help. The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has the Digital Diagnostics Network mobile app and online tool, which allows you to submit pictures and description to a range of specialists to help identify the pest.

For help in identifying your pest, go to http://digitaldiagnostics.unl.edu/ on your computer or use the app on your mobile device (Android or Apple, search app store).

Soil sampling is one of the most important pieces of information you can have about your land, and to be honest, Lancaster County is home to some very diverse and challenging soils. Whether it is a 100-acre field of row crops or the garden in your backyard, understanding what is in your soil is the most critical piece to growing plants. The most common questions regarding soil sampling are how to take the sample, where to send it and what it means.

To take a soil sample, use a soil probe and remove a core of soil. (FYI — you can check-out a probe at the Extension office between 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.) The sample can be taken in the fall or early spring and should be taken to at least a depth of 8-inches. Some crops will have roots much deeper, so samples can be taken down to 36-inches, especially in row crop situations. Take four to eight cores from areas that are representative of the field and do this in a few locations in the field. If in a small plot, one area may be sufficient. Mix the cores in a plastic bucket and fill a soil sampling bag.

There are few places to take the soil samples (or even forage samples) in the area. Ag Source Labs (Lincoln), Midwest Labs (Omaha) and Ward Labs (Kearney), are a few options for soil tests. You will be able to select which tests to have done on your soil and this depends on your crop and how often you conduct soil tests. The labs can assist you with this selection. The results from the tests are typically available in less than a week.

The tests results often provide a “range” for adequate values based on the crop(s) you are trying to grow. It is difficult to give a blanket recommendation for these tests, so please reach out to the Extension office if you are having challenges or need help interpreting the results.

• Soil and plant testing lab nearby:
AgSource Labs https://laboratories.agsource.com/lincoln/
Midwest Labs https://midwestlabs.com/
Ward Labs https://www.wardlab.com/

• Guidelines for Soil Sampling NebGuide http://extensionpublications.unl.edu/assets/pdf/g1740.pdf