Guest post by Vivek Sharma, Irrigation Specialist, University of Wyoming Extension
Effective irrigation requires application of the right amount of water at the right time and right location. The use of soil moisture sensors can help producers with irrigation scheduling by providing information about when and how much water to apply.
Ergot is a fungal disease of small grains and grasses. It reduces yield and quality of grain, and causes ergotism when consumed by humans or livestock. The fungus Claviceps purpurea infects seed heads at flowering and replaces the grain with fungal sclerotia. It is these sclerotia that cause ergotism when consumed. While extremely rare today, ergotism in humans was common in the Middle Ages due to contaminated rye bread.
According to the USDA Federal Grain Inspection Service, grain must contain less than 0.05% ergot by weight. The Merk Veterinary Manual recommends that livestock rations contain less than 0.1% ergot. Here is an example of what this looks like.
Fortunately, ergot is very easy to see in standing or harvested grain and grasses.
Ergot has an interesting disease cycle. Sclerotia develop during the spring and summer in grains and grasses (1). The sclerotia then fall to the ground and overwinter on the surface of the soil (2). The following spring, the sclerotia germinate and shoot spores into the air (3). These spores land on the open flowers of grains or grasses and invade the embryo of the developing seed. A sweet "honey-dew" is produced that attracts insects who then spread spores to other plants (4), continuing the cycle.
Control of Ergot in Small Grains
There are no chemicals labeled for control of ergot so we must rely on cultural practices to reduce ergot in the fields and surrounding environment. Use ergot-free seed and rotate fields out of cereal production for at least 1 year. Grasses are an important host for ergot, and a source of secondary infection. Mowing and grazing grasses along field edges, ditch banks, and fence rows will reduce the amount of ergot that can cause infection.
Ergot sclerotia rarely survive for more than a year on the soil. While the sclerotia may survive in the soil for up to two years, they will not germinate if buried to a depth of at least 1 inch (source).
High temperatures destroy ergot sclerotia. While surface temperatures vary under field burning, the grass seed industry has had success using burning to reduce, but not eliminate ergot. Research has shown that destruction of 100% of the sclerotia requires 116 seconds at 200F , 48 seconds at 300F, and 15 seconds at 400F.
There is some evidence that low soil micronutrient levels (especially copper) increases the likelihood of ergot infection. Copper deficiency can cause prolonged flowering in small grains, which increased the window for ergot infection.
Weather greatly influences ergot infection. Wet weather and soil favors the germination of ergot on the soil in the spring. Cool, wet weather during flowing favors the initial infection and development of the initial floret and "honey-dew".
Ergot and Livestock
Livestock or poultry that consume even small amounts of contaminated grains or grasses can develop clinical symptoms of ergotism. Cattle are more susceptible than sheep. Symptoms can vary based on several factors, but often include the following:
Fall is a good time to think about soil management. You can collect soil samples, decide on management changes for the next growing season, and have the winter to do some reading and research.
When it comes to soil management, ask yourself three questions:
In answering these questions, think about both soil conditions and soil nutrients. For example, grasses are more tolerant of saline soil condition than alfalfa, but does not have the deep taproots to access nutrients and water in the subsoil like alfalfa.
What do I have?
A soil test can tell you several important things about your soil, including nutrient and organic matter status, pH, and salt content. Most labs will provide fertilizer recommendations based on crops, yield goals, irrigation, and previous manure applications. A few things to keep in mind:
Additional blog post on Soil Testing.
Just getting out and digging a hole is useful too! Pay attention to the color and smell of the soil, presence of earthworms, and rooting depth. This can reveal important information about soil carbon, compaction, and general soil health.
The Idaho Soil Health Card is a useful matrix for evaluating changes in your soil over time.
What does my crop need?
There are many good nutrient management resources available for forages. Here are a few to get you started:
And some good resources on forage management from University of Wyoming Extension:
What changes can I make to increase profitability?
When making changes to your production system, be it tillage, fertilizer, or cropping systems,
keep good records. Remember, if you don't measure it you can't manage it! Depending on your soils and what your crop needs, here are some changes to consider:
The Wyoming Ranch Tools website has some useful tools that can help you determine if the benefits of adding fertilizer are worth the additional costs, based on hay prices, input costs, and labor. Considering hiring a custom operator to do some of the work for you, or putting your tractor to work for someone else? Read my blog post on custom rates.
UW Extension has many good resources on both management transition and estate planning.
Passing It On: An Estate Planning Guide for Wyoming's Farmers and Ranchers contains information and worksheets that will help with creating a plan for transferring an agricultural operation to the next generation. It includes chapters on developing common goals, wills, gifting, estate tax, long-term care, and many other important topics. An Excel spreadsheet is also provided for creating a personal financial statement.
Estate Planning: Planning Ahead, Difficult Decisions is an 11-part series that addresses such topics as probate, death certificates, disinheritance, guardianship, and power of attorney. Print copies of this series are available at the Washakie County Extension office.
How do we transition the farm or business management skills from one generation to the next? This can be a very difficult process, but there are resources available to help. The UW Ag Legacy website has some good online training courses available:
Another resource you may be interested in comes from the folks at Agriculture Strategy. The book Farming with Family Aint Always Easy is available in print and as an audiobook. The author points out, "the dysfunctional manner in which families make and implement decisions together creates dysfunctional businesses...dysfunctional managers, crazy families and out of control business management."
For additional information or help with farm risk management decision making, contact John Hewlett, Farm and Ranch Management Extension Specialist for University of Wyoming.
I have a goat and milk her myself. Is it possible for my children to get Salmonellosis or a Strep infection from the raw milk?
The short answer is yes, it may be possible for your family to get sick from goat milk contaminated with Salmonella spp. and/or Streptococcus bacteria. However, to better understand the risk lets look at both of these a little closer. Ultimately, you will need to determine the level of risk you are comfortable with. It is also important to remember that there are other bacterial infections that can also be transmitted through raw goat milk. First, here are two good general resources from the Washington State University Small Farms Team and Extension.org
Salmonellosis is an infection caused by bacteria of the Salmonella species primarily spread through fecal-oral transmission. This results in the spread of infection through contaminated food, excretions from sick animals or people, and contaminated surface water.
There are documented cases of human salmonellosis caused by the consumption of milk contaminated with Salmonlla typhimurium or Salmonella dublin. However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand reports that Salmonella spp. infections are not transmitted to humans through the milk itself, but rather through environmental contamination (p. 14).
Strep throat and scarlet fever are caused by Group A Streptococcus, or Streptococcus pyogenes.
Mastitis (infection of the udder) in goats can be caused by Group B and Group C Streptococcus, among others. The University of Alabama and the University of Florida both provide good bulletins on the topic.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada and Dr. Christopher Olsen at the University Wisconsin Madison School of Veterinary Medicine there is no significant risk of transmission of Group B Streptococcus from livestock to humans. However, there have been documented cases of people developing Group C Streptococcus infections following the consumption of raw milk.
You might also consider sending a milk sample to a lab for analysis. Udder Health Systems has labs in Washington and Idaho and one of their specialists can provide guidance on what tests to choose and how to submit a sample.
There are a variety of resources available that can help you determine what to charge for custom farm services, including planting, chemical and fertilizer applications, and harvest. The most current University of Wyoming resource on the topic is a draft bulletin with custom rates for 2004-2006. There are many good bulletins available from University of Wyoming Extension on various topics in agricultural economics, including enterprise budgets, business structures, taxes, etc.
The USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service Wyoming Field Office collects information on grazing fees. The following data can be found in the 2018 Ag Statistics Bulletin for Wyoming:
Useful Tools and Resources:
The High Plains CropSite has a helpful article on developing fair pasture and cropland lease rates in Wyoming, and what to include in the agreement.
A team from UW Extension developed a tool for estimating the impacts of fuel prices on per-acre costs.
The Wyoming Ranch Tools website includes tools for calculating AUM values for leasing arrangements, stocking rates, partial budgeting, and net present value.
The RightRisk Education Team has compiled many great risk management tools and resources, including a Machinery Risk Calculator and Forage Risk Analyzer. This short article explains how to use the FRA tool to estimate forage lease values.
You may also want to check out these bulletins and resources from neighboring states: