If you have been to the store lately, I'm sure you noticed the Christmas stuff out already. So, I'm going to take my turn as well and give you some of my ideas, from a soil and crop specialist viewpoint, of what would be useful gifts to consider. Some are inexpensive and even free. Others cost more. All will have my personal bias, of course.
The free item, actually you pay for it with your tax dollars, is your county soil survey. These can be picked up at your local NRCS/SCS office. A few counties are out of print but copies of the pages relevant to your location can be obtained. This is a handy reference book showing soil types and uses, production estimates, historic weather data and engineering properties.
Another item that may be inexpensive or free, companies used to give them away at the fair, is a rain gauge. I recommend having one at your home and any additional properties you may have. As you know, precipitation is one of our limiting factors. Identifying how much rain fell may provide insight into why a particular crop is not doing well and for tracking production trends over the years.
If you scout your crops for pests, which you should, I recommend a magnifying lens and a good knife. A knife with a locking blade is needed for digging around in the soil, you could use a sharp shooter but that is hard to carry around in your pocket, and a sharp blade is needed for dissecting plants.
I'm sure you have noticed from previous articles that we, soil specialists, are always preaching about soil sampling. This article is no different. If you fertilize a crop or plan to plant a crop, you need a soil test. The easiest way to collect the sample is to use a soil probe. These come in a range of prices from several manufacturers in several supply catalogs. I personally like the JMC 19" and 36" nickel-plated found in the Gemplers catalog for $36.50 and $64.00, respectively. If you don't have a farm and ranch supply catalog, I suggest you find one or two. They are a source of many safety products, shop supplies and other hard to find industrial products for people who work in agriculture.
If you feed or grow hay you should also purchase a hay probe. Again, these are available from farm and ranch supply catalogs. Expect to spend about $150. This is well worth the cost. If you don't believe me, ask a forage or livestock specialist.
In addition to a rain gauge, you may want some other weather instruments. Some to consider are a thermometer and wind meter. These are great if you do any pesticide application or prescribed burning. They can be purchased for about $20 each. Or, you can get real fancy and buy a hand-held portable weather station for around $160. I have the Kestrel 3000, which has wind speed average and maximum, dew point, temperature, wind chill, heat index and relative humidity. They too are available in supply catalogs.
Do you have weeds you want to manage? The first step is to properly identify them. My favorite book for our service area is Weeds of Nebraska And The Great Plains published by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry. It is available for $25 from the publisher. This book contains color photos of mature plants and photos of identifying features. It also includes common and scientific names and descriptions of growth form, life span, origin, reproduction, plant parts, location, uses and values, poisoning, and history.
If you want to get something high-tech, try a Global Positioning Satellite unit or GPS. Not only are these useful for marking a favorite fishing hole, but it can also be used to mark points of interest in a field, like poor producing spots, dense stands of weeds, where a water line runs, etc. These come in a variety of styles and prices.
While you are out in the field using all of these items, you will want to keep your feet comfortable. An interesting new item is the Tack Classic Muck Boot from the Muck Boot Company. I have tried these and they feel like you are walking on clouds. I do not own a pair, but a co-worker does and confirms they feel wonderful. They are waterproof, lightweight, comfortable and keep your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Cost is about $100.
A final item to consider is a computer with internet access. There is a vast amount of information available that is just a click away, including our web site at www.noble.org.
Maybe I'll see you in line at the store.