Renewable Farming

Spring rains reveal a huge benefit of enriched soil biology: Soil absorbs rain much faster

As of today, June 26, most cornfields in Pocahontas County, northwest Iowa, are only three to four feet high following persistent rains since mid-April. The field pictured below is an exception.

Almost all farmers in this region were forced to plant the last half of May, usually into soil that was too wet. And this week, many fields have widespread ponding following as much as 14 inches of rain in the past two weeks.

June 26, 2018 — Consulting agronomist Bob Wagner shot these cornfield photos this morning at Shimon Farms, Pocahontas County, Iowa.

Last fall, this farm began a biological enhancement program from Biodyne USA. The first product applied is called Environoc 501. Sprayed over cornstalks, this microbe mix converted more raw stalk carbon into humus. That stimulated soil organisms including earthworm populations, and made the soil more capable of sponging up rainfall — fast. 

This spring, the second biological treatment from Biodyne USA was Environoc 801, sprayed with 32% nitrogen and premerge herbicide.  

The third treatment was with a product called Balance Plus, applied with postmerge herbicide. Balance Plus is a blend of plant hormones plus micronutrients. 

Consulting agronomist Bob Wagner on June 26, in corn planted in late April.
This corn was totally healthy, Bob reports. 

This spring, Shimon Farms was able to plant corn in late April into mellow soil with good crumb structure. Now, two months after planting, corn is above Bob’s head and about to push tassels. Bob reported today that several other clients in the region are seeing similar advantages, based on microbial enhancements. Here’s the core of their biological program:

1. Fall residue digestion package: As soon as possible after corn harvest, spray stalks with Biodyne USA’s residue digestion blend, Environoc 501. 

2. Spring inoculation package: Apply Environoc 401 in-furrow, or spray a similar bacterial blend, Environoc 801, with 28% and other liquid nutrients early to help colonize emerging roots with beneficial bacteria which enhance nutrient absorption. That blend includes organisms which make iron more soluble — which is a serious problem in low-lying, high pH soils in this region. 

This is only the third season that these microbe mixes have been marketed across Iowa. Biodyne USA has allowed only a few distributors to work with outstanding growers who follow through, making careful evaluations of results. But the results have been so visible that farmers neighboring the innovators are asking suppliers if they can try the program. Only one cooperative, Gold Eagle Co-op based in Goldfield, IA, is handling the Biodyne line this season. One of their agronomists, Mike Williams, took the lead on studying this on his own farm.

Renewable Farming has also provided product to several innovators. We’re conducting some strip trials in cooperation with Biodyne USA and our nearby ACRES research farm near Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Biodyne products are also available from crop consultant Larry Eekhoff, owner of Agronomy Rx, Webster City, Iowa. This spring, Larry’s clients are also battling excessive rains.

Through the past several weeks we’ve published photos from across the Midwest — Indiana to Iowa — showing more vigorous roots and faster growth of corn and soybeans where in-furrow Environoc 401 was applied this spring. Often, that treatment followed a fall 2017 application of Environoc 501 for residue breakdown.

Also you may have seen our greenhouse tests of corn root growth with Environoc 401 in soil-filled, 2-inch diameter, 24-inch long rooting tubes which are clear plastic so it’s easy to photograph root growth. Clearly, greater root colonization by beneficial  bacteria and mycorrhizae have shown a 30% to 60% greater root mass, compared to controls.

But this spring’s highly stressful rainfall in the actual “lab” — field conditions — underscores the biggest advantage of a mellow soil. Rain soaks in faster. And there’s less total runoff, since subsoil can sponge up moisture in larger pore spaces. Earthworm burrows are abundant, they help.

Farmer and crop consultant Howard Vlieger of Maurice, Iowa reported the consequences of poor rain infiltration all around him in northwestern Iowa, near the town of Maurice. Here’s one of the photos he sent a few days ago, followed by excerpts from his description of the rains that made it happen.

Flooding near Maurice, northwest Iowa

“On Sunday June 17, 2018 at 10pm  it began raining. There was a steady but gentle rain all night with an accumulation of 1.4 inches of rain on our farm by Monday morning. On Wednesday morning June 20, it began raining again and by nightfall we received another 1.9 inches.

“Rain resumed Wednesday night and by Thursday morning we had received another 1.7 inches of rain. So this was a total of 5 inches of rain. Some areas to the north of us received as much as 7 inches. Enough to cause flooding?

“Not in fields with GOOD soil health. Regrettably MOST fields do NOT have good soil health and thus water infiltration is VERY poor.”

Howard included in his message a PDF file which you can download here, showing several more photos of flooding in his area. The damage to crops, and towns, is huge.

Here are three more photos sent today by Bob Wagner, showing the corn on Shimon Farms. You can see by the stalk uniformity that seed/soil contact was good. That also helps most kernels germinate and emerge at the same time.

Picket-fence consistency in stalks shows a promise of solid yields.
Note the good stalk health, all the way to the ground. 
The tassel is in the whorl, already…
about 60 days after planting
This official weather image shows that much of the Corn Belt received twice normal rainfall in May. And that persisted well into June.