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Drones: A new tool for field scouting at Landmark!


The period of time between planting and pollination is the most critical for crop success. During this time period growers have the opportunity to make changes to their cropping strategy based on plant conditions. Information gathered through field scouting is used to make these adjustments. To improve the information available to farmers, the agronomy team at Landmark has added a new tool to their scouting program. A new tablet-controlled drone is now available to help detect problems and prevent them before they occur.


Landmark added the drone, a small forward-propelled helicopter with a built-in camera, to their toolbox at the beginning of the 2013 growing season. The agronomy team flies the drone above fields and is able to capture 360 degree aerial views to quickly detect any disease or nutrient deficiency issues in the crop.
Dan Moehn, vice president of Landmark Agronomy, says the tool provides a new and efficient viewpoint to the team’s field scouting program.


“Whenever you see a field from a different perspective, you’re able to pick up new information,” he says. “If you’re standing at the end of a corn field, you have one perspective but, when you get in the air, you can see a much larger view of the field and can quickly spot areas that need attention.”


Agronomists traditionally scout fields by walking the length of the acreage and looking for problems – a process that may allow for areas to be missed or additional time spent. Moehn estimates that the drone provides about a 60 percent time savings and a more complete view of the field.


The drone is controlled with a tablet. The agronomist lifts the tablet or tilts it down to direct the drone until it reaches a height between 75 and 100 feet. The agronomist then stops the drone and spins it 360 degrees to secure a full aerial view. At a height of 100 feet, the drone can capture nearly 20 acres. The drone captures footage in both video and photograph format and sends it to the tablet controller.


“We look at that footage and evaluate the field, looking for any problem spots,” Moehn says. “If we see an area of crop that has signs of a disease or nutrient deficiency, we can then walk to that area of the field and take a closer look.



“We’re looking for early symptoms of disease pressure, nutrient deficiency or injury from insects,” he explains. “Typically, dark green plants are the healthiest. If the plant is showing signs of yellowness, it may be suffering from a nutrient or disease issue that needs further investigation.”


The Landmark agronomists rely on their education and experiences to make recommended changes in fertilizer, pesticides or other field supplementation. The team also utilizes Landmark Agronomy’s tissue sampling program for additional answers. When a plant is in question, a piece of the leaf is collected and sent into a lab for analysis. The lab technicians can determine possible nutrient deficiencies or disease risk.


“We can get the results back quickly enough to make a change and promote a good yield,” Moehn says. “Now through pollination is the most critical time for plant development; if we find a problem, we can still make an effort to change things. When it gets later in the season, it becomes much less likely that you’ll be able to fix a problem.”


Moehn encourages growers to scout their fields at least weekly and to have an agronomist scout the field bi-weekly through pollination and monthly through harvest.


“The more scouting we can do, the more probable it is that we’ll see problems before they become bigger than they need to be,” Moehn says. “Preventing problems in the field is especially beneficial in a market where every bushel counts.”
Dan Moehn is Landmark’s Senior Vice
President of Agronomy.  He can be
contacted at 608.819.3119 or

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The Facts on Forage

As summer is near, that means forage season is also in full swing! This season has already showed us many challenges, and your Landmark Agronomy and Animal Nutrition teams are here to help you with any issues that might arise. Here are some points to keep in mind for your forages:

  • Headline on Alfalfa– your best results will come on high productivity stands.  I would also recommend that growers tissue sample their alfalfa to see if additional micros such as Boron, Calcium, Sulfur, etc. are needed.  We have seen great results using particularly those three nutrients with alfalfa growers.  I also recommend adding a plant growth regulator (such as Ascend) to optimize regrowth of the crop.  These foliar products can all be mixed with an insecticide and Headline.

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  • Summer Seedings– it’s never too early (especially in a feed shortage year) to have a conversation about summer seeding alfalfa.  I would highly recommend Round-up Ready to producers.  This is a great technology to start and stay clean.  It is a very gentle chemical compared to other conventional herbicides, so you will not stunt and set back the stand.  This means fuller and healthier stands for your producer, in addition to more tonnage and the possibility of an extra cutting, in the right scenario!


  • Fungicides on Corn Silage/High Moisture Corn– there are two opportunities to apply fungicides on corn.  One is the stage we are either in now, or will be entering over the next few weeks throughout Landmark’s territory.  This stage is the vegetative stage 5-7 (V5-V7) and this application can easily be made while producers are in their fields spraying their planned herbicide passes.   Landmark has a great team of professional applicators to do spraying as well!  The second stage (the one I prefer, if aerial application can be done) is the tassel through brown silk stage (VT-R3).  This is done via aerial application of fungicide over the top of corn.  Landmark also partners with professional aerial applicators to be able to offer this service.


  • Feed Supply– there are still options to help producers get high quality forages, despite the drought of 2012 and the slow spring of 2012.  One such option would be planting sorghum sudan grass, which could be planted and quite possibly harvested up to 2 1/2 times this year.  There are even Brown Mid Rib options that are herbicide tolerant!  I would highly recommend working together with your Landmark agronomist and animal nutritionist to come up with the best plan for each particular scenario.

**Your Landmark team is here to help you effectively manage the crop you currently have planted to help reach the highest potential.  We have just the right team to do so by utilizing our tissue sampling and YieldEDGE programs!

Joe S6

Joe Slosarczyk is a Landmark Agronomist,industry leading expert and Certified Crop Advisor.
He shares his knowledge and expertise in this blog.
Joe can be contacted at 608.669.0896
Posted in Agronomy, Animal Nutrition, Blog

The Value in an Automated Calf Feeding System and Milk Replacer Program


Landmark Services Cooperative Board of Directors member John Doerfer has experimented with several calf management strategies over the years. He grew up feeding calves in outdoor hutches, spent several years raising calves in a facility with individual calf stalls and then utilized a custom calf grower to manage his heifer calves.


After trying several calf raising options, this Verona, Wis., dairy producer has found an automated calf feeding system to provide the greatest efficiency and productivity. John credits team cooperation and planning – much like that of the Landmark team – to the current success of his dairy calves.


Today, John manages the 700-cow, 4,200-acre operation with his brother, Gary, and his father, Richard, along with Scott Dahlk, their herdsman for the past 11 years. Over the years, the team has looked for the most efficient way to raise calves. They found that hand-feeding the large amount of calves was labor intensive and missed being able to maintain their own productivity through custom calf raising.


After much research, the Doerfers opted to build a new calf facility in the summer of 2012. During the process, the producers looked to industry experts – including the Landmark team – for advice on equipment selection, ventilation options and calf nutrition programs.


John Binversie of Landmark Animal Nutrition was a key contact during the process.


“We purchase all of our proteins for the herd and calf grains through Landmark, so we talked with John [Binversie] about the feeds we’d be feeding and how they’d work with the system we had in mind,” John Doerfer says. “With calves being born every day, our calves are a big investment, so we made sure to have the right feeding program in place.”


The feeding advice from Landmark was put to use as the Doerfers began building their 60-by-156-foot new calf facility complete with automated calf feeders, ventilation tubes and adjustable curtains for adequate temperature control. Calves were added to the facility in July with a smooth transition to the new system.


“The system is working better than we could imagine,” Doerfer says, citing good growth rates and reduced labor required.


Today, newborn calves are fed colostrum within the first few hours of life and supplemented with Calf Guard and Inforce 3. Calves are then placed in individual Calf-Tel calf hutches for their first three days of life with heat lamps placed above the hutch if needed.


At day three, calves are moved into the group feeding system in groups of 25. Calves remain in these groups through their growing stage to prevent pecking issues.


The biggest advantage to the new system, Doerfer says, was the addition of two DairyFeed automated calf feeders from GEA Farm Technologies. With the automated calf feeders, calves enter one of four calf feeding stations where they consume milk replacer. A computer reads each calf’s individual RFID eartag to determine the amount of milk replacer the calf is allotted.


The system then heats water to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, mixes and dispenses milk replacer based on the calf’s individual needs. The system is set so levels of milk replacer are increased automatically for each calf over time.


Calves enter the feeding station up to five times each day until their individual allotment has been consumed. At the maximum feeding level, each calf consumes 2.5 gallons (or 9 liters) of milk replacer per day. By day 44, milk replacer levels begin to drop so a smooth weaning transition can occur at day 54.


After each calf consumes its feeding, water is circulated through the system to rinse out milk replacer and then it is fed to the calf. Doerfer notes that this water has prevented calves from suckling in the group.


Calf consumption levels and the speed that calves consume their milk replacer are recorded through a computer system in an adjacent room. The Doerfers and their team of employees monitor milk replacer levels and trends to determine growth rates and calf performance.


“All the calves feed steadily throughout the day, so it’s pretty obvious when a calf isn’t feeling well,” John says. “If the computer shows a calf is off milk, we are able to look for ways to solve the problem and get the calf back on track.”


So far, he says that scours and health issues have been minimal with the new system.


When it comes to milk versus milk replacer, the farm first considered feeding pasteurized milk from treated cows.


“We realized quickly that we didn’t have enough treated milk to feed all of the calves,” Doerfer says. “We’re in the business to sell milk, so the quality milk that we have is marketed. We went with a Land O’Lakes Animal Milk Products milk replacer program (Cow’s Match ColdFront and Cow’s Match WarmFront based on season) and the calves have really done well on it.”


Other than computer maintenance and adding milk replacer powder to the system twice daily, Doerfer says the automated calf feeding system is fairly self-sufficient.


“The feeder self-cleans three times per day and we change the nipples twice a day to sanitize them. Feeding calves this way is more management than manual labor and that’s worked well for us,” he says.


Ampli-Calf starter feed is fed to the calves twice per day to ensure that feed is always available, fresh straw is added every other day and the pens are cleaned weekly, allowing calf managers to observe calves for health issues.


“When compared to hand-feeding, this system requires about one-half to one-third the labor,” Doerfer estimates. “We’re really happy with the system. We’ve put about 300 calves through it since July and they’ve grown great and transitioned well through weaning.”


“Our goal has always been to double the calf’s weight from birth to weaning – and it required a lot more management to reach that goal before,” he adds. “Today, we’re more than doubling birth weights before 54 days of age and we’re able to track growth rates. We’re really happy with the system.”

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Posted in Animal Nutrition, Blog