Renewable Farming

This photo was taken Sept. 13, 2018: Green corn is adding a finishing 30 to 60 bushels

In the photo below, neighbors’ cornfields are brown with early die-down surrounding all sides of the still-green corn. Dying corn is unable to add kernel depth and test weight for that profitable final fill in September and October. The management difference: This northeast Iowa grower near Dows has focused for several years on restoring soil biological life and health, keeping his corn alive much longer.

December 28, 2018 — Over the past few years we’ve seen a few photos of late-season green corn amid surrounding dead corn, but hardly any as dramatic as this one. Larry Eekhoff, owner of the consulting firm Agronomy Rx of Webster City, IA, flew the drone which captured the first shot below on Sept. 13, 2018.

The main significance of this image is that it takes a multi-year, consistent effort to build biological life back into the soil with several technologies including:

— Years-long fertility and soil pH balancing.

— Aggressively capturing the carbon and NPK nutrients in stalk residue with early fall spraying of biological digesters. The field in this photo had Biodyne USA’s medley of fall-applied microbial organisms ahead of the 2018 season. This blend, formerly called Environoc 501, has just been given a new name: “Meltdown.”

— Additional spring “bio” enhancers, to accelerate uptake of nutrients applied in-furrow and beside the row.

Cornfields neighboring the green corn below were in various stages of dying, but almost all had lost all significant leaf chlorophyll and thus any ability to manufacture sugars and other nutrients to pack more yield into kernels. The green fields you can see are under biologically beneficial management.

Drone image taken Sept. 13, 2018. Green corn is on a farm with a biologically sound management plan.

This creeping corn die-down has been shifting earlier in most regions of the Corn Belt for the past nine or ten seasons. This season’s weather stress across Iowa imposed extra pressure. The region around this farm was ponded with 20 inches of rain during corn planting time. Then July and August turned very dry, followed with harvest-delaying rains from September through early November. Regional agronomists estimated that 85% of the corn was infested with stalk rot by harvest time. Standability was a major problem on many farms, as harvest storms swirled through weak stalks.

Update Dec. 30:  As of year-end, this region’s total 2018 rainfall was one of the highest on record for the state of Iowa. In the Iowa counties near where these photos were taken, two cities set new all-time rainfall records for the year. They were Mason City with 49.98 inches, exceeding the 47.75 inches of 2016, and our closest city, Waterloo with 53.99 inches — edging out the 53.07 inches of 1993, when we had lots of local flooding (including Dry Run Creek, which cuts through the center of our research farm).  The website Weather Underground sums up this year’s exceptional rainfall in the eastern half of the United States.

Larry Eekhoff pulled some sample stalks from his client’s green field, and others from nearby conventionally managed fields. The photo below shows a sample of the stalks from biological management versus traditional NPK-only. Larry’s overprinted captions tell the story: Healthier soils led to allowing another 37 days in the field for extended ear fill, without threat of collapsing stalks. Already in early September, conventionally fertilized corn was deteriorating rapidly.

In the photo below, note that Larry split the green “bio” stalk and the xylem/phloem system is still white, healthy and able to pump further nutrients into the kernels before black layer. This stalk shows the ideal we’ve always sought:  A green, healthy stalk and an ear with a white outer husk. The ear hasn’t tipped down yet. A living vascular system also means that moisture can migrate back out of the kernels into the stalk normally. A dead stalk can’t do that, and drying has be occur only from evaporation.

Renewable Farming team members attended a Dec. 13 field report day sponsored by Larry Eekhoff at Agronomy Rx headquarters in Webster City, IA, and learned something else. Biodyne USA rep Bob Wagner asked the approximately 35 farmers there, “If you have been using fall residue treatments and spring applications of Biodyne biologicals, raise your hand if you had significant stalk rot in corn this fall.”

None of the farmers raised their hands. Since we live in this northeast Iowa region and watched fields die and deteriorate, we know that a wide array of stalk rots were serious on many farms. This brief survey is further evidence that there’s a difference between just “fertilizer” and real, health-preserving fertility.

Other growers we know, including many of our Renewable Farming clients, reason that building soil humus with cover crops also enhances a wide array of beneficial bacteria, fungal life, earthworms and other creatures in the soil food web. Many of these tiny organisms help create a natural disease-fighting ecosystem, as well as reducing weed pressure. That’s a major emphasis among organic growers.