Renewable Farming

July-August reveals your most significant “soil test” in the central Corn Belt

NOAA’s temperature forecast through early August favors above-average temperatures across Iowa and into the eastern Corn Belt. This point in the season imposes a major test of your soil tilth management over the past several years. If you’ve consistently enriched soil humus and biological life, your root zone and subsoil will have sponged up spring rains and conserved them for the massive moisture demands of corn as it fills kernels.

July 21, 2020 — As of today, Iowa farmers west of Interstate 35 are telling us, “We can’t buy a rain.” In our eastern half of Iowa, abundant earlier rains offered a reservoir of moisture — if a farm’s soil could sponge it up.

Also, there are a few in-season techniques you can use to relieve dry-weather stress.

Iowa crop consultant Bob Streit told his clients yesterday:

“Right now the Ames, IA area has received about 7 in. of precipitation during the growing season, while Waterloo has measured nearly 15 inches. There are chances for western Iowa to get a few showers this week, but so far this summer most of the fronts have dried out as they moved over eastern Nebraska. In my check of the U.S. Drought monitor 73% of the High Plains states are in the extremely dry to moderate drought category. This includes NE, KS, ND, SD and OK. The Midwest region, which includes IA, MN, MO, WI and IL has 34% of their territory in the abnormally dry to moderate drought category. The percentage of territories in coverage and severity of drought conditions increased dramatically in the past week. This is exactly while the corn has been pollinating and kernels are early in their formation stages.”

Donald L. Schriefer, a now-departed soil consultant and author of the book, From the Soil Up, always warned farmers at Renewable Farming seminars:  “Don’t get caught with your roots up.” He urged biologically beneficial ways to eliminate your soil density layer, build soil humus and encourage deep root penetration:

  1. Minimum tillage, vertical tillage or no-till.
  2. Robust recovery of crop-residue carbon using biological breakdown of stalk residue — rather than letting it oxidize.
  3. Diverse cover crops, which encourage soil microbe diversity including nightcrawlers and earthworms that perform deep tillage for free, penetrating hardpan.
  4. Add gypsum as needed, plus carbon such as chicken litter and manure (if these materials are free of glyphosate residue).
  5. Free of chem-paction — anhydrous ammonia, salt-based fertilizers, chemicals.

This management approach is a years-long campaign for richer soil life. Bob Streit points out:

“The common assumptions are that we cannot do anything about the temperatures and weather extremes. That was in the past. There are now several things that can be managed to help crops survive drought and heat. Improving soil health and increasing microbial life will improve rainfall infiltration, lower soil temps, and will allow soil biology to serve as a moisture reserve. The use of cover crops can play a large role in both. Keeping mineral levels high allows corn to tolerate drier conditions. Fertilization with silica can increase moisture use efficiency 33% by building a more intact vascular system.
“Two new items to add to the above list from the last two years would be a seed treatment or foliar application of BioEnsure (Protect + or Heat Shield) that allows plants to tolerate temps up to 160 F. There is also a new product called Respite Rx from BioDyne USA that, when applied as a foliar, will lower the canopy temps by 8 to 9 degrees for two to three weeks per application. Thermographic imaging done in NCGA winning contest fields showed the product slowed ethylene formation and told the plants to keep forming sugars. That product is still available and can be applied for about $3/A.” 

When you apply any nutrient such as Respite Rx (an 0-0-20 liquid potassium formulation), we encourage gaining maximum coverage, penetration and metabolism by including 5 ounces of WakeUP Summer in the spray solution.