June check list
June is usually a good time to start checking your crops and soil tilth. If you are raising row crops you can be doing this while you cultivate. Take notice of your soil structure and ease of cultivation as you drive across your field. Is the soil lumpy, mellow, or easily crumbled? Watch the moisture condition of your soil. Does the soil compact easily after a rain or do rain drops easily penetrate the soil? Does the soil have a crust after rains and how thick is the crust? If there is thick crust like 1/2 - 1 inch thick, and a lot of white in the crust there is a strong possibility of a sodium build up. It's not uncommon to see sodium salt build up in no-till farming practices. Hanna instruments recently came out with a pocket sodium meter which is very handy to use for checking sodium. The digital read-out reads from 0-3.5. A reading above 2.8 is pretty good, and below 2.8 indicates a salt build up problem and management practices need to be changed.
Problem being addressed
A new client came to my office recently bringing two soil samples from two different fields. Each field consisted of 65 acres and has been in corn soybean rotation for ten plus years. The fields have been ridge-tilled since 1980.
Soil samples on these fields have been tested every year for over 20 years. The test results come back nearly the same each year with fertilizer recommendations also the same for each field. This had the owner a little concerned.
Every time the soils have been tested he has told the fertilizer people that field #1 always has 30-40 bushels less corn than field #2, yet both fields get the same fertilizer recommendations.
When he asked me to run a test I quizzed him about drainage conditions. He feels the fields are equal. The slope and soil types are identical. He also said this problem has existed for 30 years and no one has been able to tell him why.
I hope each of you have enjoyed the early spring weather we are having. I am writing this on March first and the weather is great. The old saying is March comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion. Maybe we will be lucky this year and the lion will be just a warm rain.
Arouse and Crescendo have been around for a number of years. I have used these products on my farm and have been very pleased with the results. We have had many test plots and have seen larger root systems and higher yield.
Imagine two farmers or ranchers from the same community meeting over breakfast at a local café. Over scrambled eggs and hash browns they compare notes on their farming operations. One is very efficient at harvesting solar energy and selling it at a profit. The other is not efficient at capturing solar energy and is slowly going broke. What is the difference? Both have access to the same amount of sunshine but with vastly different results.
After purchasing land or paying rent sunlight energy is free—no taxes, no patent infringement, and very dependable. And yet so many farmers and ranchers do not fully utilize this free gift. It is the job of the farmer to use biology, moisture, and geological resources to transform solar energy into a sellable product. This is how wealth is created. In other words the farmer sets up the environment that determines how much solar energy is captured.
Nitrogen is probably the most important plant nutrient used by commercial farming operations today. The cost of producing nitrogen to society and your farming operation is very high. It takes approximately 33,000 BTU's of natural gas to produce a ton of commercial nitrogen. The result is an incredible waste of natural resources that could be used to heat the homes of future generations.
It was reported by practical farmers from Iowa that many corn plots across the state yielded more corn with 30-40 pounds of added nitrogen than fields having 150 pounds. I wonder how often this has happened on your farm without you knowing it. This could be a savings of $7-18 per acre on many farms.
Sometimes, when beginning a certain endeavor, it is important to look at the final destination of what we are hoping to achieve before we set out on the journey. This high and lofty vantage point can help guide and energize us once we have taken the plunge and are in the midst of all the struggles and difficulties that lie in our path to the final destination. A classic book on this by the famous puritan author John Bunyan (1628-1688) is told as an allegorical story in Pilgrim’s Progress. In this story Christian decides that he must make the journey to the Celestial City. The journey he takes and the adventures he encounters while progressing toward the Celestial City make up the story told in the book. If I had to sum up the whole book in one statement it would be: Count the Cost—Then Pay the Price.
Gardening vs. Buying Commercial
This same principle carries over to gardening. Why garden anyway? Food is very much available and fairly cheap all around us. A lot of what we can buy is much more convenient to prepare than cooking from scratch with garden produce. Besides that, a garden is actually quite a bit of work. First you have to prepare the soil, then fertilize it, then plant it, then water and weed it. Lastly the produce must be harvested and preserved for future use. Why go though all the bother? Is it really worth the effort? These are questions and issues that each of us must answer on our own and according to our own circumstances.
I have done a lot of humus tests lately using the Lamotte Soil Humus Screening Test. The results have been very interesting and informative. At least 90% of the soils tested the past four years have shown a high humus reading based on the Lamotte method. The soils that didn't respond must have some problems that still need work. I wish that I had a 90% success rate on a lot of other things I have done in life.
The question now becomes, "What does this mean?" I believe this means the potential for better quality in the crops produced. Quality is often talked about, yet hard to define when speaking of grains, fruits and vegetables. To me, better quality means better shelf life of fruits and vegetables, higher oil content of grains, well defined flavor, rich color, high weight per volume and a high sugar content.
What are we learning from our lab?
In the past few months we have been doing a lot of research on the mixing of calcium and phosphorus. As most of you know, this is not an easy job, and if you have accidentally mixed them together it was an experience you won't forget. I remember four hours of my life with a shovel and hoe trying to remove cottage cheese-like material from a 1300 gal. tank.
Why is it important to mix these together? When we study what Dr. Ream's taught about foliar sprays, he always wanted some phosphorus or soft rock phosphate in the spray. This was a problem for him, because the soft rock was not easily sprayed or handled. Also, the soft rock was not easily absorbed by the leaves of the plant. The phosphoric acid was ideal for the absorption by plants, but didn't mix well with calcium.
It's time to be making preparations for fall fertilization programs, but before you begin it is a good idea to take a good look at your current crop.
Corn Production and Common Problems
This month we will focus on corn production and some of the common problems I have seen in my travels this summer.
It is never easy to assimilate all of the things you need to know to put a fertility program together for a successful crop. From what I have seen on my travels so far, many of you need to practice " see what you look at "--a famous quote of Dr. Reams. I am amazed at how so many farmers across this nation have lost their sensitivity to the things of nature. I think so many of you are so wrapped up with government programs, chemical selection and financial planning that you have lost your ability to really farm. The corn many of you raise is a long ways from what it should be even though you may have good yields. The kernels are shriveled, low in mineral content, and often mold easily.
Nitrogen is one of the most critical elements we need to manage very carefully in modern crop production. In Dr. Reams tapes on crop production he emphasizes the importance of nitrogen, and the roll of nitrogen in the formation of a cell.
Dr. Reams states that the base element of all biological cells start with nitrogen. If nitrogen is not available when a new cell is to be formed in a plant, the cell will not form and growth ceases. He also notes that nitrogen is the electromagnetic charged element that draws the other elements to it in order to start the formation of a new cell based on the genetic code in the DNA. Dr. Reams states that all cells, regardless of species or kind, require nitrogen for the budding of a new cell. This is why it is so important to maintain a constant, steady supply of nitrogen throughout the whole growing season.