Renewable Farming

Two major Renewable Farming conferences this week!

By Bob Streit, crop consultant

By the time farmers read this article in the Farm News column, the Big Soil Health Conference in Cedar Falls and the Power of Biology Conference will be history. And Christmas will only be sixteen days away. Based on the years of experience, the ability to think, to solve problems and then convey that knowledge, the attendees will be likely to think they are glad they went. If you were not able to attend because several outdoors type projects needed to be finished, you will likely ask if there will be any taped recordings made of the proceedings. I know that a videographer will be at the Webster City site to tape the event.
Besides those two conferences, the fall meeting of the Iowa Crop Conference was recently held in Ames. The purpose was to start gathering the results of field trials and add more knowledge to the years of experience they have already gathered. Three topics dealt with weed control, new ideas and traits for CRW control and finally planning for the 2023 cropping season. They all know that 2023 could be a year full of challenges and that being flexible and resourceful along with their growers could be important.
I had to duck out of the state to attend a meeting in Amarillo where about twenty people met to discuss topics centered around many similar topics: soil and tissue testing status and proposed updating several items, lots on new microbial product introductions and how might the testing labs incorporate them into the Haney reports, the latest on carbon credits as to new rules and whose ideas are most likely to be adopted, and how medium and large food firms are adapting to all of the above. This was held just in front of the Annual NW Texas Ag Expo. Most of the large crop protection firms were there. The main difference for me was that grassland and cotton management were more important subjects than I was used to.
The Texas Ag Show
We had the chance to visit producers and crops people from KS down thru TX and into New Mexico. A number of growers said that conditions have been so dry the last two years that what they never got enough moisture to sprout seeds.
It was interesting to visit with the many companies who were developing and selling biologicals. One from OK called Wind River Biologicals, located about 40 miles west of Ardmore, seemed to have several needed bugs, especially for livestock and potentially cow-calf men.
One evening we got to sit at a table with a water commission director who was in charge of monitoring the depth to water with the Ogallala Aquifer. Their once plentiful water supply is dropping as the conditions remain dry. They know their burgeoning population influx will expect more water, with many new arrivals expecting to duplicate their green lawns like they had where they moved from. At this point they have not tightened up the rules as much as they did in southwest KS, where they now find themselves without the 3,000 gpm wells like they had in the early 70s and now even the 600 gpm of the early 80s. The commissioner specifically mentioned that he knew the corn being fed in their feedlots was being produced by Iowa and Nebraska farmers.
The Carbon Markets
From being around a chemist from near Sioux Falls and one of the meeting attendees who farms in central MN and in AR, and having them relate how the environmentalists thru the lending institutions are doing their best to enact climate rules on agriculture, we all need to pay attention to their activities. The guys who either are doing their best to study the intricacies of the rules or have been gathered more survey data are the ones we need to root for. The chemist is doing his wizardry to make methane disappear while the guy from MN plans to out-data the corporations so he can make sure the actual farmer comes out ahead as to who gets paid the best. The discussion he led at the meeting was priceless. He was not just all talk. He had actually been in the boardrooms of nearly all of the biggest food, grain, tech and industrial companies.
Understanding Carbon
By now nearly all producers have heard or have had the Haney test run on soil samples taken from their fields. Rick Haney will be speaking at the Cedar Falls event and his wife will be speaking at the Webster City meeting. We first heard about the Haney test from the Perfect Blend group as John Marler had spent time with Rick and was able to understand what he was trying to do. The purpose was that the universities and the fertilizer industry had an antiquated understanding about how nutrients were made available to the plants and their roots. They had become very rigid in their thinking and really did not want to change their thinking or not capture most of the input dollars. Jump forward twenty to twenty-five years, and biologicals have become mainstream. In fact, when newcomers start winning yield contests, some of the first questions they are asked is what microbe or microbial mix made the difference and added the most bushels.
A number of people at the Amarillo meeting were involved in testing labs. They were still trying to get more of the labs to figure out what types of tests could be developed to better understand the below-ground environments and the interdependent microbial populations they contained. If 25% or 50% of the nitrogen needed to be fixed from the 76% or 78% of nitrogen making up our atmosphere, how else might we eventually be able to influence the microbial food (carbon or water extractable carbon) they need to feast on?
Evaluating N fixing Microbes
The topic of trying to have nitrogen fixing bacteria involved in crop growing is not a new item. Two of the major ones have been Azotobacters and Azospirilliums. Those have been in the USDA collection for decades and used by many crop and grazing operators, but now with the high prices for all forms of nitrogen, and new ones being introduced to the marketplace, more growers are paying attention and hoping they can maximize fixation by the microbes.
For over a decade there was a Florida company selling a mixture of those two species using the name Blooming Blossoms. They came with a price tag, so nothing was free. Besides having to apply them they needed to be fed, typically with a mixture of molasses and foliar fish. One of the promoters was thinking that growers of all sizes would be willing to make two or three extra trips. We told her that even making extra trips could prove difficult in a wet growing season. But for growers who were ahead of their time did see that by basing their timing and judgement on SPAD meter readings and the use of stabilizers they were able to regularly reduce their N use per bushel of grain to under .9 lbs. I have seen such an application made when the SPAD readings were 55, and headed lower, increased to 80 within a few days after making the application.

At our Webster City conference, we will have an agronomy researcher from MN who has been working and testing every company’s N fixing bacteria. Between him and the SD chemist they can tell you in which part of the plant the microbes inhabit, what growth stage they maximize N output, what temperature and rainfall patterns are best for optimum production, and then when do their output levels begin to decline. Therefore, if you are spending good money on a product new to you, getting the correct answers to your question or learning what question to ask are important.
One speaker at the Webster City event is a top-notch microbiologist who switched careers after her 40-year young husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. In our neighboring state to the west the incidence of this disease is quite high. Her story is bound to be profound to anyone else affected or knows of some who is. In the course of her adventure she also found microbes that we have been searching for over a decade.
Tar Spot
My granny Koenigs, when we stayed with her to help weed her sizable garden or to help milk their cows, would always try to scare us by telling us the boogey man hiding under the bed was going to grab us as soon as our foot hit the floor. Fast forward sixty years and Tar Spot is now the boogey man at many meetings. How to beat it is the question most corn growers ask. The immediate answer is always to apply fungicides two or possibly three times. Shouldn’t someone be asking what might be making the plants so susceptible, or what minerals are missing in the plants’ supply, that has weakened their immune systems so severely.
Three of us had leaves from a severely infected tar spot field analyzed with the latest testing equipment that told us a lot. That led to us using a combination of three products the past two growing seasons in a heavy tar spot area that worked like a charm. I was wanting more data points, so have been gathering samples from additional fields in different states to see if the similar deficiencies existed in both. Now if a broad-spectrum chelating pesticide had been applied, those minerals may be present but are no longer available to the plants’ metabolism. And I don’t have access to a synchrotron at my disposal.
I have been sorting and dividing dead plant tissue to send to two different labs. Low and behold, every plant with the incriminating brown spots also has the grayish stalk and first and second ear lesions which we know as the pathogen, which does not exist, which caused the early dying corn from 2010 thru about 2017.
Monday, December 5th is the last day to sign up for the ‘Power of Biology’ conference in Webster City. To register call Carol Streit at 515-231-6710 or email her at You may read more about the conference, agenda, and check out the exceptional speaker list and bios by going to