Renewable Farming

Consultant Bob Streit: For 2016 crop plans, take a closer look at micronutrients

Just a few weeks ago quite a few people were worried about the prospects of not having winter. They tried to make us wonder what would be the significance of not having our normal winter. Based on the cold temps and snow that is falling early this week, those fears may have to be dismissed. It appears that a period of good, old fashioned cold weather is due to hit us in the next few months. Just be prepared.

Hopefully everyone was able to enjoy at least a few hours off to celebrate Christmas. Having the holiday fall on Thursday or Friday seems to create a situation where there are consecutive weekends where there are two sets of three or four day weekends where you end up having to think what day it actually is. If you are taking care of cattle, cows, hogs or poultry every day is the day where you get to take care of them. We went to Mass at the 10 AM on Friday and then hosted three days of family guests. Hopefully you are able to enjoy the same.  

Cropping Decisions

We are now in the three month period where the tough decisions about which inputs should be purchased, which ones to forego and which ones to manage differently than in past years. So far no one person or group has been able to clarify as to how to cut the $100 per acre out of each crop’s input program.

Back about five years ago we saw a period where the local cost of fertilizer stayed high even after grain prices dropped, basically because fertilizer supplies and prices are dictated way up the supply chain. To protect their normal customers they had locked in product to protect against big cost increases. That was a costly lesson for many people, but one where one could not say there was any good way to avoid a repeat of the same from happening.

An appropriate suggestion on fertilizer would be to do what is possible to boost efficiency of each fertilizer element and pay attention to micronutrients. I continue to look at soil test results where two things are apparent. One is that too many lab results are still missing critical information on items such as boron and zinc. The residual P and K levels are high enough to maximize corn and bean yields, but the levels of those two elements are too low to make it happen. The crop appearance and tissue tests throw up red flags early but not enough people recognize the problems.

As to seed purchases, Ohio State University gave their summary where they listed the yields of corn varieties based on whether they were untraited, possessed a below or above ground insect resistance trait, or were stacked. They listed the bushels produced per acre for each category, but abstained from giving the dollar comparisons between each. That seemed strange, but I guess it saves them from being accused of coming to a conclusion as to what leaves the farmer with the most money in their pocket. This information can be found on line at the Ohio State web site. It does not say if they had to spray any category of corn more often with a fungicide to keep the pathogens from attacking.  (Download PDF of the full report at this link.)

Plant Nutrition

I got several sets of comments about my mentioning the role of Selenium and Cobalt in plant growth and health. Those were appreciated as it showed me that people were paying attention to the article. One of the commenting growers mentioned that he had learned that much of north central Iowa’s soil were deficient in Se and as a result his DVM had advised him to give his livestock injections of the mineral right after they were born to boost their immune system and keep them alive and healthy.

The two minerals I may comment on this week are Zinc and Boron. Zinc is used in constructing cell walls that help the plant capture enough sunlight energy to split the CO2 molecule and combine it with H2O to form sugars. It is crucial in the formation of many of the enzymes as well as being used to construct a number of the amino acids in the plants’ genetic code. Besides being important in forming such enzymes, it also has a critical structural role in forming proteins. As to its importance in human health, zinc is needed to build roughly 10% of the proteins forming the human genetic code. The Midwest’s micronutrient expert who also helped author the text book on tissue testing tells me this: If the Zn soil test level is below 3 ppm, ear size will be reduced and yields will be lowered. In all my previous instruction following college I had been told that 1.0 ppm is sufficient.  

Boron is an element that is deficient in a very high percentage of the soil samples — as in about 90% of the time in Iowa and eastern Nebraska soils. Part of the reason for this is that it carries a negative charge, thus it’s not strongly attracted to any soil particle. Its plant availability tends to decline in dry soils, thus mass flow movement can be greatly reduced during dry periods during the summer. The absolute role of boron is still being sleuthed out, but it is often thought of as being vital in its role in kernel site formation in corn production. The Marschner “Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants” text lists its other roles in sugar transport, cell wall synthesis, formation of woody tissue, carbohydrate and RNA metabolism, cell respiration and formation of cell membranes. So after a fall where stalk strength was about the worst ever seen, wouldn’t it make sense to pay attention to a mineral that’s important in forming woody tissue? A rational person would have to pay attention to this connection.

I think any person who relies on producing healthy crops to remain profitable may have to make the decision to spend $60 on the Petra Marschner text, and read the first 270 pages to be much better prepared in designing their fertility program. Over the course of their farming career their fertilizer expenses will be one of their biggest dollar items. Thus knowing which elements are important and why can help them immeasurably.

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Seed Decisions

By now many seed reps have probably stopped by your farm to visit about seed choices. Making decisions is tougher than it used to be as there are more changes in a short time than there used to be. The old seedsman rules of trust multi-year, multiple site data is more difficult as the hybrid life cycle is much shorter and even new products get eliminated quicker.

Does that mean that all of the new varieties are improved? It should, but because varietal performance is always G by E, or genetics by environment and we seem to get wider climate swings, we seem to make decisions based on the last season because no one can tell us what next year’s weather is going to be.

Thus switching percentages among proven and new hybrids seems to be the best method. Many recent one- year wonders seem to have flashed out.

Here’s wishing you the best over the next few months of decision making.    

Bob Streit,  December 28, 2015       515-709-0143