Western Pa. farmers drill down into soil health

Western Pa. Crop Day
Richard Cole, director, grain origination for Pennsylvania and New York at Perdue AgriBusiness talks about grain marketing and outlooks at the Western Pennsylvania No-Till and Soil Heath Crops Day, West Middlesex, Pennsylvania. (Katy Mumaw photo)

WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. — Penn State University Extension held a Western Pennsylvania No-till and Soil Health Crops Day March 2 in a hotel conference room in West Middlesex.

The crowd included approximately 40 farmers, about half the crowd from a few years ago, said Joel Hunter, PSU Extension agronomy educator.

Yield contest

The day started with recognition of the 2016 Pennsylvania Soybean Yield Contest winners. Krall Farms, Lebanon County, was the state’s top producer. Their winning yield was 91.33 bushels per acre.

The contest also recognizes winners in five Pennsylvania regions. The first-place winner in the Western Region was Telesz Farms, Lawrence County, with 77.10 bushels per acre.


Hunter walked attendees through new crop management technology such as herbicides, FeXapan and Engenia. He encouraged users to refer to the labels, as they are constantly being updated.

“The labels are created for a reason,” said Hunter, who serves northwestern Pennsylvania. “If we can’t do it (spread new herbicides) the way it is supposed to be done, don’t use it all.”

Weed management

Herbicide resistance and integrated weed management were the next topics of discussion.

There are 159 unique herbicide resistance weeds in the U.S., said Annie Klodd, PSU Extension associate specializing in weed management.

There are 159 unique herbicide resistance weeds in the U.S.

Integrated weed management includes using chemical, mechanical, cultural, biological and prevention methods.

A new IWM website, www.integratedweedmanagement.org, is updated by a team of weed scientists from 14 universities and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

In the U.S., 16 herbicide groups have weeds that are resistant to them. The herbicide groups with the highest number of resistant weeds in the US are:

Group 2 (ex: FirstRate, Classic): 45 resistant weed species

Group 5 (ex: Metribuzin): 26 weed species

Group 1 (ex: Clincher, Select Max): 15 weed species

Group 9 (ex: glyphosate/Roundup): 14 weed species

One weed can be counted multiple times. For example, if one Palmer amaranth plant is resistant to a specific herbicide, and another Palmer amaranth plant is resistant to two types of herbicides, Palmer amaranth would be counted as two unique weeds.

What can we do to stop resistance? Klodd urged farmers to use diverse tactics.

“We aren’t going to spray our way out of weed resistance,” Klodd said.

Integrated weed management includes using chemical, mechanical, cultural, biological and prevention methods in weed control.


“Once you spread nitrogen, mostly bad things can happen,” said Douglas Beegle, Ph.D., PSU professor of agronomy. “We want to wait and apply as close to crop up take as possible.”

Applying too soon can waste nitrogen, getting it started in the nitrogen cycle; and applying to late could be detrimental to yields, he said.

Corn takes up about 2 pounds of nitrogen a day at the beginning and end of the season, but demands 8-10 pounds midseason.

“Much like cash flow,” said Beegle. “You might make enough money to pay your bills in a year, but if they all come due in January it’s not going to work. Same as nitrogen, your field might have enough over a year, but does it have enough to keep up at the critical time?”


Beegle shared best practices around potassium, saying it may be a nutrient we ignore too often.

Much of today’s lack in potassium comes from new emission standards. The area used to see rain with 35 percent sulfur, now that regulations have cleaned up emission standards our local rain has more like 10 percent sulfur, he said.

Plants are luxury consumers of potassium, meaning if it is there they will keep taking it up. Additional potassium may not be a problem for the plant, but can be for the livestock, he said.

“Grass Tetany and milk fever are both caused from too much potassium,” Beegle said.

On the flip side, a potassium deficiency shows itself in leaves that look like burned edges and browning at the bottom of the plant.

“Pay attention and don’t deplete potassium,” he said. “It could take three to four years to get potassium own into 6 to 8 inches of soil once it is depleted.”

Farmers are feeling the pressure of tight profit margins and don’t want to tie up money. Such tips on nutrients can save time and money.

David Dixon, a dairy farmer, milking 80 head and raising corn and hay in West Middlesex said, “The federal milk margin protection program for dairy producers is nice, but it doesn’t account for increased prices in other areas, such as our electric bill; it has sky rocketed.”

He cuts corners where he can, he said, but at some point you cannot cut any more. The animals need fed and the equipment needs maintained.

Dixon has a 25-year-old daughter who also works on the farm. He said he is trying to discourage her from taking it on solo. “There just isn’t any money in it right now,” he said.


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Katy Mumaw is a graduate of Ohio State University where she studied agricultural communications and Oklahoma State University earning her master's in agricultural leadership. The former Farm and Dairy reporter enjoys family time and sharing the stories of agriculture.



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