Renewable Farming

“Old” scientific principles offer new ways to enhance yields and profits

One of the most diligent searchers for helpful innovations in crop production is consultant Bob Streit, who literally roams the globe for profitable answers. In one Bob’s weekly reports summarized below, he illustrates how little-appreciated ideas from early “Renewable Farming” advocates 30 and 40 years ago are bearing fruit now. He specifically names biological farming pioneer Dan Skow, DVM, but could also have mentioned Dan’s mentor, Dr. Carey Reams. 

November 7, 2018  By Bob Streit — Are farmers and the gain merchants seeing the record yields that all the USDA and outlook experts were predicting? To answer that requires lots of qualifications. The ground with more slope or better drainage/tile with great outlets had a big advantage. Soybean fields where the water sat for weeks or a month were penalized severely and often lost a sizable % of the acreage. 

Operators with higher yields were often those who managed nitrogen with effective stabilizers or had the use of high clearance application rigs to supplement nitrogen lost in heavy rains. A number of growers will be harvesting the most bushels per acre in spots that avoided the flooding. But most growers endured enough problems out of their control to make them classify the 2018 season as one they would just as soon forget. 

Parking a big self-propelled sprayer for thirty days due to wet conditions and watching the weeds grow makes a person wish for a partial drought to stay on schedule.

 As the national production figures get tallied, those figures must show there were portions of the Midwest and Mid-South where much of the growing season was extremely dry. With June and July being very warm, the crops were under extreme stress and final yields were often cut by one fourth to one half versus their five year averages. In other parts the opposite was true. In the northern third of the state, the southern three tiers of counties in Minnesota, parts of eastern S. Dakota, where the ground was flat, there were likely more fields that averaged in the 140s to 170s in corn and 45 to low 50s in beans. Those figures have not been publicized as much. Let’s hope 2019 is not filled with such extremes.

Fall tillage progress

 It was finally getting dry enough last week for the farmers who farm glacial soils to get their fall tillage started. With 13 straight nights of subfreezing predicted beginning Monday night with many in the high teens, it appears that the ground freeze-up may arrive before Thanksgiving. If that happens, the increase in second year corn acres predicted for 2019 is less likely to occur.

 The deep ripping normally done to break up the serious and deep compaction caused by heavy loads and saturated soil may not get done. Shattering this is best achieved when the ground is dry. With saturated soils the shanks would just smear the sidewalls. Similar challenges may exist for the strip till guys who will also be squeezed by the late harvest and early freeze up.


Late stalk quality issues

 The issue of poor stalk still exists as the wet conditions have continued to be conducive to stalk decay. The fungal species typically involved in causing stalk rot are at work and the Clavibacter bacteria are doing the same. While we notice the severity of the problem now, the causes of the problem reach back to the early V stages when the leaf streaking indicative of nutrient deficiencies was rampant. 

Moist conditions during the season and low Mn levels allowed the pathogens to invade the plants with little resistance. It will take an integrated approach to reduce the problems in each field. Soil sampling and analysis this fall and nutrient application next season will be important. 

Variety choice and recognition that continued planting of B14 genetics will take the biggest hit are both important. Their high level of disease susceptibility has been known for twenty to thirty years.

A newer bacterial disease that was diagnosed in eight Midwest states two years ago, while it was noticed earlier is Bacterial Leaf Streak or Stripe. The host area ranges from NE and CO on the west to MI and OH on the east. Because research projects and plot work with this pathogen are early and ongoing the impact on plant health and yields are uncertain. Any disease that reduces green leaf tissue by 25 to 30% can cut yield and make plants less able to fight other diseases. Tamra Jackson of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, is currently the point person trying to gather data on BLS and develop an action plan to manage it. They continue to hope that seed corn breeders can screen their genetic libraries and find form of genetic resistance.

 One very good biochemist that presented at our Aug 20 th meeting has put his research team to work and thinks they will have a product to test against BLS in the greenhouse before spring. This bacterium is different since it is gram negative and possesses no weak cell wall to act as a point of attack. 


Futuristic Fertilizer and Crop Protection Companies

In 2017 a top Ag scientist now retired from Purdue University and I traveled to visit a nutrient company (SprayTech) in southern Brazil. They are working hard to develop new nutrient mixes that hyper-stimulate plant growth and plant disease reactions called Systemic Induced Resistance. This was in addition to selling spray additives that replace the current oil additives, drift retardants, AMS and MSO that are included in most spray mixes.

Thrown into the toughest of conditions of trying to control waterhemp in Midwest soybean fields, they have been quite successful. In the arena of using a three-way mix of products, they have also proven to be able to control a number of fungal and bacterial disease problems. As resistance to the strobes, triazoles and carboximides continues to appear, such mixtures will be very valuable.

Last week I traveled to Burley, ID to attend a training school hosted by the Redox Chemical Company. The two founders were a very sharp agronomist/soil chemist and a biochemist who began their careers working with large vineyards on the west coast that had problems with grape quality, low yields, diseases and insects. 

A crop advisor who had been taught a few non-conventional theories by a scientist who had worked on the Manhattan project visited those vineyards and provoked enough interest in these two to prompt this advisor to give them lessons for a few years. 

They ended up taking theories and teachings of Dr. Dan Skow, founder of International Ag Labs in Minnesota, and have developed high energy fertilizers which they are using on high-dollar crops to increase yields, quality, taste, storage life and gross dollars.

They focus on reducing stress on the plants and minimizing oxidative stress in the fields — a concept I had never really thought much about. During the meeting there was a presentation by a younger agronomist covering oxidative stress in plants. It was one of the best, thought-provoking presentations I have seen in years. I told him to get it on tape and make it available on their website, for growers who want to keep climbing the yield ladder.

 That company is one of the few which produce and market sprayable silica or silicon products for use on crops. What I have discovered is that a majority of producers in South America and Asia apply that mineral to their grass and some broadleaf crops to increase stalk or stem strength, improve disease resistance, reduce insect pressure, minimize salt or heavy metal accumulation problems, improve mineral uptake and content, lengthen shelf life, and increase yields. 

For this info, check out Redox Chemical Company, Genesis Ag, or Montana Grow. We did conduct strip plots at Guthrie Center to test mixtures and rates of different products. We are still working with the data from those plots.

 After Burley I flew to Hawaii where I teamed with agronomic consultant Dr. Michael McNeill of Algona, IA to present several times on soil health issues and effects on human health. Our audience was a large Farmers Union conference. 

There were presenters from the U.S. mainland as well as across foreign countries. The focus of their effort is to become more food secure by boosting production as much as possible. They all have weather, fertility and contamination challenges that need to be addressed. It was an interesting assembly of people all involved in their own facets of food production.

 Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or