Renewable Farming

Consultant Bob Streit reviews lessons from the 2018 growing season

As we review the season and study harvest data, we like to figure out what we learned — and what the takehome lessons are after the wackiest weather season of the last 20 or 30 years.

December 10, 2018  By Bob Streit — There are four major lessons that stand out:

First: Early planting of both corn and soybeans seemed to produce the better yields, even when soil temps seemed to be too cool.

Second: Air/water management was crucial, meaning that providing good drainage was important in having a fully functioning root zone and nutrient system. In 2018, the lighter soils and hilltops often yielded better than the heavier and normally more productive soil.

Third: Good nitrogen management pays. N stabilizers or smaller doses timed to match plant needs are critical to produce top corn yields. As more crop management steps are aligned with good soil health practices, growers will see this easier to accomplish.

Fourth: Viewing good plant health as a season-long management program, where sufficient mineral levels are maintained and residue/inoculum levels are managed rather than just applying a rescue fungicide is something to strive for. Most growers know that keeping the plants green thru late September maximizes grain fill and weight. After this year they are less likely to accept the usual bull crap excuses for corn or bean plants turning yellow or brown three to five weeks early. Those last bushels often represent the profit for growers. If we are trying to learn about soil health and the benefits from it, we have to think about the little critters that maintain that health. What are the effects of every crop protection product being applied? Are they chloride or fluoride based?    

Soil sampling yet this fall/winter

A lot of soil sampling that was supposed to be done this fall did not get completed. Is there a chance it will warm up enough in the next two weeks to get this done on fields that have not been sampled in the last four years? Be ready if in your locale this happens. Knowing what the mineral levels are in each of your fields and what areas are deficient can be worth big dollars.

Planter updates

It is often said that the most important piece of machinery on the farm is an accurate and updated planter.  That admonition is true as getting great stands increases yields. The issue then bccomes ‘Do I buy a new planter or look at rebuilding my used one if the frame is good and is it sized right for my operation?’ Those can be high dollar questions.

A few mid-sized growers I know went the retrofit route, adding hydraulic down pressure and high speed equipment. They found they could boost their ground speed enough to have their 12 or 16 row planter gain enough capacity to act like a bigger machine. Central fill can be a time saver, but in wetter springs the center load makes going thru wet areas more difficult. Identifying your needs for your operation is critical when planning changes to your planter.   

Review of two ag conferences

A year ago I attended and spoke at the BioNutrient Food Conf out in Massachusetts. The attendees were more the mid-size and larger veggie producers and buyers across the country. New ways to handle higher dollar crops and the soon-to-be-developed food scanners were common topics.

This past week several of us drove to Louisville for the Acres Conference. The themes were the newer biologicals coming to market, soil health and management, and producing for the end user markets. The well known self described ‘Lunatic Farmer’ Joel Salatin was there to present a keynote address. The only complaint I had was that his 90-minute talk was so accurate and entertaining it was not long enough.

We learned the details on the $370 food scanner that is being marketed and shipped out to producers and consumers by the end of December. They are patterned after the X-Ray defraction scanner from Bruker except they are using LEDs rather than X-Rays. The new meters currently measure minerals levels while people like to have a gauge for tastiness and flavor. Those properties are dependent somewhat on secondary compounds such as flavinoids, carotenes and terpenes. The task then is to collaboratively have the beta testers collect data to form the graphs and curves to create the taste scales.

This will give the growing class of educated food buyers a tool to use when they enter the supermarket or famers market. The Successful Farming magazine mid-Feb 2016 issue with the 30ish Kristin Porter pushing her cart down the store aisles looking for the highest nutrient dense food becomes more achievable in Kristin’s viewpoint. Will her food knowledge permit her to choose wisely and what foods, if any, should she do her best to avoid? That’s what food producers hope to learn.

As far as how pervasive such scanners will become, the equipment could be installed in smart phones for less than $7 within a few years. What other capabilities might they possess? Those most likely will include mycotoxin and pesticide residue capabilities, based on surveys done. Are production ag and input companies ready for this level of transparency?  

Another word on this year’s Acres conference: I had to change my opinion after I began attending them. It is the great collection of speakers and growers who are interested in soil health and growing healthy crops. Many of these involve smaller companies founded by top researchers who don’t have the huge marketing budgets to start getting their innovative products out to the farming public. Current plans call for it to be held in the Twin Cities next December.  

Bob can be reached at:  (515) 709-0143