Renewable Farming

Early harvest has an upside: More opportunity for biological soil building

Oct. 28, 2016  By Bob Streit, crop consultant  
1. Harvest is continuing with more people expecting to finish up by this weekend. The long string of semi-dry weather has helped and much of the corn is down around 16-17%.
2. Even most wet and replanted beans have been harvested. The yields have generally been surprisingly good, especially given the fact that many of them were planted late in less than ideal conditions. The ruts created in many corn fields this fall could present a problem with SDS in 2017 SB fields. Deep tilling those fields with an in-line ripper could be very beneficial.
3. Consider getting nematode soil samples taken as their number should be at a peak now. Detecting a high number could prove beneficial with a switch to Peking backed beans for the SCN gene helping to control any burgeoning populations.
4. Corn on corn acres may benefit from either fall applied AMS or a mix of BioRelease and Denali Gold brew. The latter requires setting up a brew tank, which is not hard or expensive. It is the cheapest way to build your microbial life in the soil. We are seeing fields with good Haney soil test scores yielding around 240 to 250 Bu/A the last two years. 

Though the last week’s worth of dry weather has been a gift from the heavens, having only three to four hours of drying conditions on half the days have not been enough to permit the final fields and wet holes filled with unharvested soybean plants still standing in them. Meanwhile the corn harvest is proceeding rapidly as the grain has gotten drier and a portion can be put into the bin with only air on it to remove the last point or two of moisture.

A decade ago it was typical to begin corn harvest right when the baseball playoffs began and the last fields would often be standing until and sometimes after Thanksgiving. Harvest and fall work weeks ahead of the two decade old schedule is giving growers extra time to get any late fall outside work completed. What we maybe have to be cautious of is having lots of growers get consumed by doing recreational tillage which can pulverize the soil, creating wind and water erosion prone fields when late fall or early winter rains and strong winds occur. This earlier harvest could spur more growers to experiment with cover crops and help restore soil health. The long term benefits would include better moisture infiltration, better nutrient release for next season’s crops and overall higher yields.

 Three Types of Yields

While there is typically a bit of bragging about supposed high yields in everybody’s fields, there are different psychologies involved in analyzing the claims. A person can go to town and brag about their record yields, and those might be the peak yields showing up on the yield monitor, assuming they have one and it is calibrated accurately.

Then there are the factual yields where scale tickets are tabulated and only close associates, cousins or good friends are informed on how things actually turned out. Mother Nature, hail, wind, or drought can determine which operator or field gets blessed with a great growing season and which other ones get flooded or hailed out. Finally there are the yields operators achieve and tell to their banker when the yearly finances are tabulated and future plans are discussed.

Connected to factual yields and somewhat confounded by this year’s good to great corn yields and generally very good bean yields is the task of determining what yield goals to set for next season. If a person harvest bean yields 15 Bu/A above their highest yield ever, do they set a goal 5 Bu/A higher or 5 Bu/A above their 6 year average for each field? Remember that yield goals have to be followed by input purchasing that needs to be funded. Reality sets in. Most growers will continue to push to increase their whole field yield averages.

Pipeline Blues and Soil Restoration

Many of us have had the chance to watch the construction crews at work installing the big oil pipeline diagonally across Iowa. I stopped a few times to converse with some workers and observe the work that was going on, as I found it interesting. I worked construction helping to build the wooden 145-ft. tall grain elevators to pay for college, so could emphasize with their long hours.

There have been a number of articles about landowners and farmers operating the land who have voiced concerns about the layers of soil being misplaced and the threat of it not yielding like it should in the next 5 to 10 years. On Sunday night we happened to be eating pizza in Ames along with a bunch of soil scientist friends and one of them asked if there were any products and/or procedures that would help restore the ground around the pipeline to its former state. Two of us discussed this a few weeks ago and recalled research work that was done at the Soils Lab as well as in different parts of the west. That work centered on a fertilizer product called Perfect Blend. It was a fertilizer formulated using a patented thermal process from chicken litter that was processed and enhanced with calcium, nutrients and micronutrients.

When it was applied to the fields, farmers were able to see taller, healthier and more productive plants in years #1, #2 and even #3. The reason for this as shown by lab work was that the Perfect Blend caused a massive microbial flush in the soil resulting in fast organic matter formation and deposition. In one demo they filled a clear 4” diameter poly cylinder with fine silica sand, added the carbon based fertilizer and sat it outside. By the end of the growing season the top 8 to 10” of sand had been transformed into dark brown topsoil.

We got to see the cylinder when we visited the plant near Pasco, Washington. A grower in NW Iowa applied it to an underperforming field and saw good results in year 1 and even better results in year 2 because the carbon based fertilizer had rebuilt the depth and microbial health in the top layer of soil. In Tilth Lab work they found that a sweet spot application would be 1,000 lbs per acre. Using a fraction of the pipeline payments given to landowners, they should invest some dollars back to kick-start their fields into full production using the product this fall or next spring. Any interested parties could connect to our website and view the research articles on Perfect Blend.

There is material on hand in the state for many of those acres. (Call Marv on this when you have questions). Rather than having people sit around and gripe about suspected damage, after cashing the checks do something and try it. Doing penetrometer work with a computerized unit could detect the depth and degree of compaction to help determine if deep ripping with an in-line ripper would be helpful.

On a related note, there have been several magazine articles connecting soil compaction created during this fall’s corn harvest and the threat of SDS in those same fields next summer. This thought seems to be accurate. We believe that future work will also show that the level of O2 in the soil has a bearing on the level of Fusarium in the soil, with the lack of O2 directly helping the fungus or indirectly by harming the beneficial Pseudomonas bacteria. It is impossible to know if this winter’s freeze cycles will break up the deep compaction. It typically doesn’t. Thus it would be wise to use a penetrometer in rutted fields to determine the depth and severity of any compacted layer.

Soil Analysis Records

Over the next month there will be many fields sampled with the cores being sent in for analysis. When an experienced person sees some of the reports, they have to conclude that too many of the reports are returned with only a portion of the possible tests performed on them. At the worst there might be info only on pH, OM, P and K. Left out are base saturation levels, micronutrient levels, Mehlich P if needed, neutral ammonium acetate exchange levels. Without the latter it becomes difficult to create an action plan to correct deficiencies in each field. It is the growers’ job to know what tests to request. It can also be beneficial to choose a few fields and request a Haney biological score to gauge how alive the soil is and expected nutrient release.    

Guthrie Center

In the past weeks I have mentioned a friend’s farm in Guthrie County where they conduct fertility and plant nutritional research. During my summer and fall visits we verified that the corn plants stayed green and productive until the end of the first week in October.

It was finally time to combine the plots and strips as well as the production fields. Then to compare the results from each plot to the results from other treatments and then to the long term averages. If you went by the farm on Hwy 44, your first impression would be that it would be a great place to raise deer and possibly goats. Eons ago the glaciers never got this far south, thus there are no long stretches of slightly sloped ground on the farm. A river and several waterways run thru it. Multiple sand lenses or eroded soils forced it to be out of row crop production for years. When a part of the flat ground close to the highway was tiled, it was patterned so tile drainage from different sections could be tested separately for N leachates to verify if N stabilizers were effectively doing their job before entering the streams.

With the low lying, tree-surrounded fields the leaf disease pressure in the fields has been extremely high. Thus it was the perfect location to test for any plant health promoting product. The results on the BioEmpruv when used in conjunction with other products such as micros and Nitrogen stabilizers were great. The boost in plant health and final yields was very measureable and impressive. I will provide more info on the results in the next weeks and at winter meetings.  

Conferences to Plan For

At this time the conferences to be aware of in the next month are: The ISU Crops Conference is scheduled for late Nov and early Dec; the international Acres Conference in Omaha is scheduled to be held in Omaha at the same time; The Iowa Aquaculture Conference will be held in Ames in mid-November. This industry has the potential to become huge in the Midwest including this state. It will produce fresh seafood from farms by people that understand confinement livestock production into a hungry market.  

By Bob Streit  October 28, 2016  515-432-0907