Renewable Farming

Bob Streit: Study foliar feeding as one way to pare nutrient costs in 2016

We are now into the second month of the year. January, traditionally the coldest month of the year, is over with and most of us survived its cold blasts. The big Iowa Power Show was scheduled for last week, and as is normal for about 50% of the years we had a blizzard to prevent the crowds from traveling from all reaches of the state to attend the first day or day and a half. The second day drew a decent crowd after mid-morning and the Thursday crowd was very good, but every booth was being torn down by 3 pm, so for most attendees there just was not enough time to see everything they wanted or to visit with enough of the exhibitors to get their questions answered.

With the shortened schedule there was not enough time for the exhibitors to visit neighboring booths to see what was new and valuable. As always the machinery sections had lots of short line and attachment manufacturers. Anything that speeded up the more mundane tasks got peoples’ attention. Drones were plentiful and finally the people at the booths were suggesting where their maneuverability and high pixel cameras could act as another pair of eyes that could go places and see things that could not be spotted easily from the ground.

Wrestling Matches Anyone?

That statement is said part in jest and part in fact. Who is doing the wrestling these days? Basically growers as they wrestle with their documents and calculations as well as with their bankers as they work to compile the 2016 budget trying to show a profit in their cropping programs.

Unless a person has minimal land payments or a great set of landlords, projecting a profit is very tough. If fact when one brings up the topic of a sizeable July and August drought with accompanying lower yields, most Iowa growers with heavier ground say ‘bring it on’ as many of the heavy Iowa soils will outperform the crops grown on lighter ground in other sections of the country.

ISU extension projections for the cost of raising corn and beans in the 2016 crop year showed corn costing about $4 per bushel to raise in a corn-soybean rotation and about $.030 more for continuous corn. Those figures have not changed, thus leaving most crop farmers seeking answers and methods of juggling inputs to figure out how to trim costs without sacrificing yield. All winter I was waiting for some well-recognized person to give advice that was not focused primarily on land costs.

The big budget items are: Land rent, machinery, fertilizer, seed, weed control costs, fuel, insurance, etc… The machinery costs are mostly dependent or machinery payments and repairs, which were mostly set from previous years’ purchases or maintenance.

Fertilizer prices are set primarily months or years in advance on a global scale, because of a long supply chain. The answer here may center on reviewing recent soil tests to figure out which fields will have the nutrient reserve to not suffer yield loss if under-fertilized for this crop.


A person should then examine the chance of using a strong foliar program if the test levels form an adequate foundation.

Weed control costs are mounting again as residual programs are necessary in nearly all instances. We seldom hear any “advice providers” suggest that conventional corn varieties may make the most sense to plant. The proper course would be to decide if the traits are adding yield or just simplifying management.

In most cases I would sooner plant a conventional or lower traited hybrid with a full fertilizer program and an acceptable weed control program than doing the opposite.

The issue then might be which of the seed companies have any supply left of such varieties.

For weed control/management program, the most expensive programs continue to be the ones that don’t control the weeds. Thus nearly every grower is using more residuals as herbicide resistance has become a reality.

Lastly the issue of rent comes up, and typically the grower does not have much control over what the 2016 rent is going to be. What was being talked about at the Power Show was that they could well be many fields with owners still looking for operators yet by March 1 after the current or previous operator tried plugging the actual yields into the cash flow and had to make the hard decision along with their financier as to whether or not they should continue to farm the field in 2016.

Very few operators spend time evaluating the ROI individually on each field they farm, but now are either being asked to do so or are taking the step themselves. There are people questioning if placing most of the burden on reducing per acre costs primarily on the landowners rather than the other categories is fair, especially if all other prices held steady or increased. It sounds similar to growing up in a large family: The ones who get to the table first, get the most to eat.

Bob Streit

Foliar Fertilizer

In past issues I have written about using foliar fertilizers to supplement the nutrient supply already in the soil. If you follow any of the high-yielding corn and bean growers, they always have a strong foliar program. Just because certain segments of the cropping brain trust and industry has not kept pace does not mean it does not work.

The rules to follow and content of the fertilizers are different, but those rules have been established by venturesome growers and crop advisors and many of them have been written down in an easily understandable form. In corn, access to a high clearance sprayer or good aerial pilot is a requirement.

Where I found my cache of info was in an old document from the 60s that was in a Brazilian textbook, and based on a 10-page testimony in front of the U.S. Congress. I recently learned of a source held by the top rated ag school in the country, telling me the western fruit, nut and veggie growers have had as much access as the Brazilians have had to the information.    


Deciding which biologicals to use

One topic on display at the Power Show was that of the cropping biologicals. If one picks up any of the later cropping magazines they often contain one or several stories on different biological products meant to bolster plant health, fight disease or insects or make nutrients more available.

So in lieu of a standardized trial, how does a person sort thru the long list of products to pick the best one or best combination to use? That is a good question without a firm blanket answer. I would recommend asking for the background on each product, and ask if there is any documented series of plot or field results. Don’t place all the value on widespread testing, as a number of the very good companies are still small in comparison and don’t have the staff and budgets to do testing that a large multinational company might do.

Ask around and seek other people who have experience with the product. Find out who or what team developed it. What I see now is that more growers are ready to experiment with these. With growing acknowledgement that soil fertility has a strong biological component, it seems more logical to see what works in your fields.