Feature Contributors Archives for 2023-04

Too much of a good thing

This past month I was at one of the rural schools in our community doing a program on trees. In the end, we checked on a couple of trees in the yard. Students arrive at this school by bicycle or horse-drawn buggy. Consequently, this is a lot of horse manure and they were mulching the trees with ample amounts.In life, we learn that too much of a good thing is not necessarily good.

A great example is too much sugar. A little bit of candy or pop is great tasting. A little more and we are now overweight and our teeth are beginning to deteriorate. I once read about a person that exhumed centuries after their death and could identify them as nobility due to their rotten teeth. They were one of the few that could afford sugar.

Horse manure is a great source of organic matter and fertilizer that can be added to the soil. Horses are fiber consumers but their digestive systems do not allow them to be as efficient digesters as cattle, sheep, and goats. Rather than have a big rumen fermentation vat at the front of the digestive process like in cattle, they do their fiber utilization in another smaller structure called a cecum between the small and large intestines. That hay that passes through a cow is a lot less digested coming out of a horse. It has a lot more form when it hits the ground, hence the term road apples.

Because of all that fiber, there is a lot more decomposition to be done. Placed in any type of pile, the manure will further decompose and part of that process is heat production. That heat can be detrimental to plants it is allowed to touch. If the manure is placed in a pile and allowed to compost for 6 months, a lot of decomposition takes place and it becomes an excellent soil amendment.

The yard tree had an additional problem with the manure, it was touching the bark. That moisture directly against the bark will eventually cause the tree to rot. Bark tissues are different than roots and cannot handle as much moisture. The bark is dead, dry tissue that protects trees from a wide range of challenges such as dehydration, oxidation, and direct access to the living tissue beneath plant pests and pathogens.

Organic mulch may be the most important component in a healthy landscape but if not properly done, it can be detrimental. Some people pile mulch against a tree in a form we call volcano mulching. The damage is irreversible if not recognized and corrected early. It can start changes to a tree’s root system that can remain throughout life.The tree would like for you to spread the mulch out from a few inches to several yards from the trunk.

A tree can use no more than 4 inches of loose mulch. Tree roots need air to survive and too deep of mulch will stop air from getting to the roots. Also, the tree will send roots up into the airy mulch, then if we do not keep the moisture adequate, they will dry out. There is more of an art behind mulching than most people think.

Horse manure mulch fails several tests, but I do enjoy writing a column that compares it to sugar. I think some dentists might agree.

Spring Farm Challenges

The month of March was cold and wet.


From an agricultural perspective, the cold is fine as it has slowed the growth of fruit trees and other overwintering plants. Otherwise, they may have a tendency on a warm day to start their biological process toward blooming only to have that bloom killed in a late spring cold weather snap. Several years back, we had three 80-degree days in March and no fruit crop that year because of the late cold.


The wet part has its good and bad issues. We needed the moisture recharge after a dry fall, but our livestock producers would rather forego the muddy lots and they would also like to do some field applications of manure.


Manure has become a more valuable asset as fertilizer prices have increased over the past few years. Many farmers in our area purchase chicken manure to be spread on fields.It has become a hot commodity in some areas, there are even chicken manure auctions. Besides its organic and nutritive values, it also contains trace minerals and is considered organic fertilizer by certifying agencies. This not only includes the conventional farmer but the organic ones into the auction. One auction in Pennsylvania had 40 bidders this past year.


Input prices are now the main concern of farmers. Leading this list are fertilizer prices. The index Purdue Economist uses for inflation shows general economic inflation at 5.5%, while agriculture production costs increased at 12.5% this past year. The University of Illinois reported: Fertilizer costs for corn were $175 per acre using September 23, 2021 price and increased by $72 per acre to $247 per acre (a 41% increase) using September 22, 2022, prices. Soybean costs increased from $85 per acre to $110 per acre, an increase of $25 per acre. Prices have decreased over the past several months but still are sustainably higher than in the past. Around 21% of the cost of growing corn is the fertilizer charge.


Around 40% of production cost is in the machinery that is needed to produce a crop. With the Covid shutdowns of many manufacturing plants in 2020, coupled with the lack of steel and computer chips, used equipment soared in price. This market is still red hot. Manufacturers have ramped up production but are still years behind as demand far exceeds supply. Today’s higher interest rates are having little effect on demand with some farmers having cash and nowhere to invest. That means taxes are being paid on income that normally would have been reinvested in the same tax year.


The increase in interest rates is having some effect on the farm economy. As we come back to what economists call a more normal historical rate, those farmers needing an operating loan to put in a crop will feel those higher interest rates.


These interest rates are also negative for land value. However, there are so many other positive factors such as cash rent returns, buying land as an inflation hedge, and outside investors, diversification have been supporting increasing land values.

Farming is a risk and along with that risk we are in an uncertain environment. There are many outside worldly factors entering into agriculture that affect the cost and the prices of our grains and livestock. One of those is the Ukraine situation and in general, our relationships with other countries. On any given day our trading with another country could be disrupted by some international event.


On one side we may be badmouthing China while they are our second largest import market. Soybeans accounted for nearly one-half of U.S. agricultural exports to China. They also purchase corn, beef, chicken meat, tree nuts, and sorghum. Just under 20% of our agriculture exports go to China.


Let's just hope that, unlike the Russians, cooler heads prevail in international relations.

Got Your Scales On

The world is beginning to come alive. Each spring we have a front row seat to a rebirth of our landscape as it comes back into life.

All winter long the tree has packed up itself into a dormant shell to protect itself from insects, diseases, and the environment. As we start the spring growth process, the plant is now making itself more vulnerable to the world. Right now, buds of trees and shrubs are beginning to swell as hormones within the plant start the process.

The bud scale is a hard structure that has been protecting the leaf buds through the winter. They will be the first to fall and, in some cases, they can be large and easily seen. While other smaller one’s float to the ground and are less visible. With these protective coverings gone, the potential leaves become more susceptible to cold damage, insects, and diseases.

One of the issues I see in our area is a disease called Peach Leaf Curl. Later on, in the late spring, you can find leaves that have puckered with an assortment of colors including reds, yellows, and a light gray. This is a bacterial disease that infects the plant just as bud swelling starts. Fungicide applications must take place before plants break dormancy.

There are many insects that take advantage of trees that have just lost their bud scales. There are over 1500 species of galls on a variety of plants. That newly expanding leaf tissue is an invitation for gall makers. These are certain species of aphids, midges, mites, psyllids, or wasps. Galls result from an intricate interaction between the highly specialized gall maker and a specific part of the host plant. It results in a distortion that is distinctive to that insect. That benefits the life cycle of the bug. Galls form at the time of plant cell multiplication in growing tissue. Normal plant growth is abruptly changed and the unique, identifiable gall replaces the ordinary growth.

If you ever marvel at how a caterpillar turns into a moth then this is another awe-inspiring insect process. They inject a chemical that causes deformities at the right time and the plant tissues actually form a structure that protects a developing insect.

The oak apple gall is a large ball about 2 inches in diameter that looks like a green apple on an oak tree. If you cut one open there is a small single wasp larva at the center surrounded by stringy foam.

Why all this protection for a single larva? This insect has a predator wasp that will feed upon the larva with a long egg-laying ovipositor. The apple-like structure has to be big enough that the ovipositor will not reach the larva inside.It is amazing how the structure is formed, to begin with then add to this, its defense mechanism.

With spring here, the tree armor comes off and another issue will be potential cold damage. As the leaves start to emerge cold damage is a possibility. Should that occur, many trees will just send out new leaves, but flower buds that have reached advanced stages can be thinned. This is especially true on all fruit trees and berries. Reports from Purdue this spring have pointed already to a reduction of grape buds stemming from the December 2022 cold spell. Even with their scales intact, grapes are more susceptible to cold injury than other fruits.

It is similar to humans curling up under the blankets in bed. You may feel protected from life’s issues but someday you will have to get out and go meet the cold cruel world. There are a lot of challenges and I would like to say there is nothing wanting to sting and deform you to carry their egg. Unfortunately, we humans also have several parasites. That is a topic for another day.

Cognitive decline

Recent studies have revealed a strong link between hearing loss and cognitive decline.
This link has been found in both older and younger adults, suggesting that hearing loss
may be an important risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia.
One study found that older adults with hearing loss were more likely to have cognitive
decline, including a decline in memory and thinking skills. The study followed over 1,200
adults aged 60 and older for an average of 12 years and found that those with hearing
loss were more likely to have cognitive decline than those with normal hearing. The
study also found that the risk of cognitive decline increased with the severity of hearing
Another study found that older adults with hearing loss were more likely to develop
dementia. The study followed over 2,000 adults aged 70 and older for an average of 12
years and found that those with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia than
those with normal hearing. The risk of dementia increased with the severity of hearing
A recent study also found that hearing loss could be linked with cognitive decline in
younger adults. The study found that adults aged 18 to 35 with hearing loss were more
likely to have cognitive decline than those with normal hearing. This suggests that
hearing loss may be an early indicator of cognitive decline, even in younger adults.
“I have spoke to many younger adults, within the age similar to the study, who have
complained of trouble hearing in certain situations,” said Chuck Smith, owner of
Affordable Hearing. “The fact that there is now a study that has concluded that
untreated hearing loss is definitively linked to early cognitive decline is alarming.
Unfortunately, many people with hearing loss wait to seek treatment ‘until it gets bad’ by
that time, though, the damage is done when it comes to their cognition,” he noted.
“The age of the patients we see at our Rochester and Logansport offices are
significantly younger than when I started in the hearing healthcare industry over 23
years ago,” Smith added. “Folks see how their parents waited too long to address their
hearing needs and have learned from their mistakes and are more willing to invest in
their own hearing needs sooner.”
The exact mechanism by which hearing loss leads to cognitive decline is not yet fully
understood. However, it is believed that the brain has to work harder to process sounds
when there is hearing loss, which can lead to cognitive decline. The brain has to use
more resources to process.