Keep It Simple

March 26, 2011 01:55 AM
Keep It Simple

On their dairy farm near Coopers-ville, Mich., Marlin and Merle Langeland and their retired
father, Lester, follow two rules: Don’t purchase fertilizer you don’t need, and eliminate unnecessary field passes. Nutrient management sets the stage to achieve both goals.

"Our operation is not big enough to require a nutrient management plan," Marlin says. "But following one eliminates the need for phosphorus [P] and potassium [K] fertilizer. Besides, we want to be good stewards of our natural resources."

The Langelands apply manure only where soil tests show they need P and K. The manure also meets most of their nitrogen (N) requirements, so they can apply all the additional N those fields need as they plant corn.

Haul honey where it’s needed. Transporting manure to distant fields is practical because of two tanker trailers that Marlin designed and had custom-built by Phil Brown’s welding shop in Conklin, Mich. Compared to the 40' aluminum fuel tankers that are often used to transport manure, the Langelands’ 28' steel trailers are easier to maneuver and probably longer lasting.

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Tanker trailers that Langeland designed make it easy to haul manure to the field.

Each four-axle trailer can hold 11,000 gal., although Marlin only loads about 10,000 gal. to keep the weight manageable. The sides and roof are ¼" steel, and the floor is 5⁄16" steel. Two baffles inside each tank strengthen the walls. A 4" peak in the roof adds strength and prevents it from bowing downward.

The tanks fill from the top. An air valve on the side of the tank lets the operator close the fill door without climbing aboard the tank.

An auger running across the bottom of the tank agitates the solution to prevent sand, used for bedding, from accumulating in the bottom. A hydraulic motor on the rear transfers material to pumps or tractors in the field, through a 6" hose.

Air-ride suspension, controlled from the cab, takes the weight off the front axle when driving across low spots or turning into tight driveways. "It is simpler to maintain than leaf-spring suspension," Marlin says.

"The cost of the tankers comes back to us in fertilizer savings, by letting us transport manure where it is needed," he adds.

Spray as you plant. The Langelands’ keep-it-simple approach carries through to planting and weed control.

Applying 31 gal. of 28% N solution per acre, 2" beside the row, saves an application pass. It also eliminates the risk of losing N from heavy rain after a preplant application.

Pull-behind tanks—old anhydrous ammonia trailers modified to hold liquid—carry Marlin’s N supply. "It only takes 10 minutes to hook up to a trailer, and they save us from having to run trucks to the field," he says.

Marlin carries four 150-gal. nitrogen tanks on the planter. They provide a reserve supply and let him drop the trailer when planting small fields.

Marlin also applies herbicide—typically 2 qt. of Lumax and 1 qt. of atrazine per acre—as he plants. He figures a little extra fill time at planting is more efficient than spraying postemergence, when he needs to be making hay, hauling manure and sidedressing N on fields that don’t receive
manure. (The Langelands use a Michigan State University nutrient management computer program to help them calculate their sidedress rates.)

"We touch up fields after emergence, if we have weeds," Marlin says. "But, usually, the planting-time application is all the herbicide we need." Averaging 200 acres per 14- to 16-hour day with his 16-row planter, he completes corn planting in eight days.

Each person’s system needs to fit his own farm and temperament, Marlin adds. But avoiding unneeded nutrients and eliminating passes are good places to start.

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