Scientists determine why long term N-fertilization aids in biological activity of soils

Here it is winter, January 2019 in the Northern Hemisphere, soil microbes are either asleep or dormant in most soils below the 41 degree Fahrenheit point.  I want to scratch at your brains to consider some of the biological importance of aerobes and anaerobes; whether they are cyanobacteria, fungi, nitrogen consumers, phosphate or potassium decomposers, or sulfur digesting workers in high residue environments.

When high carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) grown crops [corn and small grains with ratios of 45:1 up to 80:1] are in long term crop rotations with conservation tillage practices, we in Agriculture see Total N fraction (TN) of the soil generally improve up with proper N fertilization.  All that is to say as you add forms of nitrogen into each years cropping system; both the fungal biomass and microbial biomass increase proportionately up.  Some may say with a resounding duh.  Well stay with me for a moment.  In long term studies some over-the-pond researchers concluded a 23 year study of small grain rotations, they studied to determine which enzymes and/or organic reagents derived from the microscopic  world tell you how Total Nitrogen  and  stable macroaggregates (those >2mm in size) can continue to climb in percent of the sand-silt-clay-SOM fraction.  All of these stable aggregates relate to improved soil health.

<<< Image of actinomycetes in a large colony

When this happens your soils are more healthy, less erosive to water and wind erosion and will have more sites to hold nutrients.   From that 23 year study the scientists found the fungal and fungi-like populations such as Actinobacteria made up of in the order of abundance in soils, the common genera of actinomycetes are: Streptomycetes (nearly 70%), Nocardia and Micromonospora with Actinomycetes, Actinoplanes, Micromonospora and Streptosporangium being 15%.  All of these one celled creatures are involved in the breakdown of cellulose, chitin, lignin, fats, lipids, and some proteins from the remaining crop residues and roots.  Some of who I just mentioned are anaerobic and do better in more moist No-Till environments compared to aerobic conditions where more tillage is involved.  These organic compounds [N-acetyl-β-D-glucosaminidase, β-glucosidase, Phosphatase and Sulfatase] are some of the major components released by fungal populations and Actinobacteria to breakdown the cellulosic materials and tough lignin materials.  All four of those compounds are released from higher populations of the fungi and Actinobacteria to aid in storage of N and stabilizing of carbon on the macroaggregates.

Wow that was a mouthful of large graduate school level microbiologic words that mean what?  These one celled microbes with flagella or whip-like tails  [Actinobacteria] facilitate movement in the soil solution and to move around on root surfaces. They are very good at breaking down complex cellulosic matter and making the N as an plant available component of those soil organic carbon materials, readily available to the existing crop/plant or subsequent plants.  However they are mostly anaerobic or facultative anaerobic based, [live in low oxygen soil environments] which is not a good season long environment for roots and root respiration.  These bacteria that act similar to fungi are important but some of them are pathogenic too.  They can cause root rots, be precursors to fungal pathogens, pink root issues, dampening off and a host of other things.  Soils that may be overly compacted, shallow water table, ponded, slow to very slow internal drainage in the first 24 inches, all can turn bad in a short period and create untold problems due to the wrong microbial families that take over.  However, Actinobacteria are important in the soil ecology to break down carbon based materials into valuable components for plant and soil life.

What does this have to do with Precision Tillage, Strip-Tillage and you?  For you that ever had to deal with wet soil conditions this spring, summer and fall – I wanted you to be aware of such conditions can exist and who is lurking under the corn leaves, stalks, and cobs.  Strip-Tillage may fit into your 2019 management program.  For you that have compaction due to harvest traffic that created ruts, smeared soils and holes where you took four hours to get the grain cart out of the field; soil conditions that squeezed oxygen out of the soil – issues I spoke of are happening and strip-tillage has a place.  Now this is not all bad ladies and gents.    Soils need to have a mix of all the aerobes, facultative anaerobes, anaerobes to enrich the spectrum of making nutrients available.  Too many of the anaerobic miniature critters and we can see way too many negatives.

I will go into some more of the good miniature creatures in a subsequent blog article.  Thanks for reading.

References I used and may serve your further reading:

Functional Predictions of Microbial Communities in Soil as Affected by Long-term Tillage Practices
Janani Hariharan, Aditi Sengupta, Parwinder Grewal, and Warren A. Dick*, Agricultural &
Environmental Letters, Research Letter published via ResearchGate on-line

Long-term effects of nitrogen fertilization on aggregation and localization of carbon, nitrogen and microbial activities in soil; YidongWang a,b, Zhong-LiangWang a,b,⁎, Qingzhong Zhang c, NingHud, ZhongfangLi d, Yilai Lou c,⁎⁎, Yong Li a,b, Dongmei Xue a,b, Yi Chene, ChunyanWue, Chris B. Zou a,f, Yakov Kuzyakov a,g; Science of the Total Environment Journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/scitotenv

Growth of saprotrophic fungi and bacteria in soil, Johannes Rousk1,2 & Erland Baath 1, Microbiology Ecology

Mike Petersen

Orthman Sponsored Field Research Gives Valuable Pointers

Recently some news came out of Ohio and the cooperative work that Orthman Manufacturing is directly involved with Ohio State University researchers.  The three foundational pillars that we at Orthman deem as vital to success with a Strip-Tillage Systems approach are being met with the on-going research efforts Dr. Fulton at Ohio State University and his assistants and staff have been doing.

I am including an article from the Ohio Country Journal published the last few days of December 2018, click on the link and scroll down below the picture of the awards picture to see what Mr. Trey Colley III shared at a conference with the OSU findings and ideas for Eastern Corn Belt growers.  Now many of you may not be in that part of the United States, the principles stay even for any of the rest of you and Trey’s words ring true.   https://www.ocj.com/2018/12/ohio-no-till-conference-highlights-equipment-innovation/

It is our hope that as growers move towards less tillage to help with the hypoxia issues of the Mighty Miss and the algal blooms of Lake Erie which are being found to be happening quite profoundly due to agricultural inputs along with other inputs.  Placing P&K in the soil and not on the soil surface is being found to be extremely effective to reduce phosphorus sediments moving and also nitrogen detachment into water courses.  We who strip-till across this nation are accomplishing best management practices to greatly reduce the runoff and soluble P from going into streams, rivers and lakes.

Take about 4 minutes to read what Trey Colley had to say.  It may be right what fits your management program where you live and farm.

Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist for Orthman

Winter officially arrived. What is the condition of your fields?

Mike Petersen here post our Christmas celebration to send you a bit deeper onto the Precision Tillage website to read an article I wrote about alleviation of soil compaction.  Maybe I was a little too much on the Christmas grasshopper cream pie yesterday but please take a look at the article “…from the soilsview…”  to offer you all some words to consider how your fields shape up for the spring season.

The compaction issue has driven me to look more and more into what limits production, crop health, soils health and water.  Many of you are well aware of what compaction does and I will not start that conversation here.  Please take a look the above mentioned article and read and consider my diagram I made some weeks back when we at Orthman were discussing the next iteration of the 1tRIPr tool.  Yes we are thinking through what is good with the 1tRIPr, what is it you growers consider makes the 1tRIPr standout or needs to be better at.

I have been at this endeavor of looking at Strip-Till since 1986 and back with Orthman now to more fully understand all the capabilities of this machine for you – the farmer.  I am going into my 9th year with Orthman Manufacturing, Inc and I do realize this tool can make you the grower of Ag commodities better at farming.  We know some believe “tilling” the soil in any fashion beyond the planter is overdoing it.  In today’s world of bigger machinery, harvesting on the go to get the harvest done before the Image:Exposing the soil profile on a 1tRIPr

weather closes in and delays everything or stops it all – we induce a compacted zone anywhere from 0.2cm to 1 inches thick in one pass.  This past harvest season many growers east of the Missouri River in the United States it turned wet and ohhh boy!

Why from the soilsview we see vertical disruption of compaction important.

The two images: Heavy residue and me digging to expose the compaction alleviation effects of the 1tRIPr were done in the fall before all field conditions went south. 

As a soil scientist and investigator of “the dirt”, I have studied, poked, prodded, dug shallow to down deep to really get the view of why we see vertical tillage with a shank tool do the job to disrupt and remediate soil compaction.  Let me help you get your head wrapped around what must happen to alleviate soil compaction in the upper 11 inches of the soils on your farms.

First, we drive over the soils in a horizontal fashion, whether tractor, trucks, heavily loaded grain carts, big combines, tractor and disk tools (even those VT machines) that can and do insert compaction unless it is bone dry.  Common occurrences for some of you, we bring out the disk or field finisher to dry out the soil – a smear, sliding action with a vibrating down pressure that breaks down soils to smaller units and squeezes the soil making a lateral thin zone of soil particles like pages of paper stacked on top of one another.  Heavy carts or truck such as during silage harvest, push big forces of pressure downward to where that energy is dissipated squeezing pores and oxygen out making the density of the soil at that depth (let’s say it is 9 inches below the soil surface), at that depth roots encounter resistance to moving downward or water slows to a near stop to move down.  Root growth for many of our row crops are impeded when they encounter 140 psi of resistance and greater.  Early in the life of a corn plant for instance, the seedling root  system does not have much strength, power to extend away from the seed. When it encounters dense soils at the 4 inch depth and that zone of resistance is 2 inches thick – wow that baby plant is in for a work out.  The plant has a finite amount of energy apportioned to its growth potential at the root tips to grow downward by the pull of gravity.  When stopped or slowed to a crawl, the plant cannot not adequately sustain its need for water and nutrients such as phosphorus, zinc, manganese and iron (all needed in the first 15-20 days after emergence). Immediately energy levels drop and the plant resorts to falling off its potential.

 
Big_shankwork_1tRIPr_4PTcom

Figure 1. This graphic depicts the action of the Orthman 1tRIPr implement. Soil compaction is pervasive in many, many fields in the U.S. and causes yield losses, retards downward water penetration, soil surface runoff issues. The “red bolts” that extend upward and out from the shank away from the tillzone crack the soils minimizing ‘potted soil effects’.

So a tool that works to fracture, shatter and have a up and out at near 45 degrees of zig-zag ripple effect (towards the soil surface) into adjoining area of soil space on either side of the shank. It does not explode the soil and cause it to heave and roll out soil material, that will not really help change compacted soils. Whoa, do not go to “I need to get a subsoiling ripper tool to tear, rip, snort, explode soils from stem to stern”, that is not what I am advocating. We want you to be controlled and do this in a specific zone for the new coming to be planted crop.  That is exactly what the Orthman tool is designed to do.

The 1tRIPr is set to go right under the bottom of the compacted layer(s) then pulled at 4 to 5.5mph to lift, fracture and ripple the zone in a tapered U shaped zone.  The open end of the U is right where a grower will follow with his/her planter.  We do not want to cause a sidewall smear alongside the shank or at the underneath side of the point.  We ask folks to check their soil moisture content at the depth the tool needs to be run.  Best moisture conditions are when you can just ball the soil in your hand, toss up 8-12 inches and catch it and it breaks, it is time to go to work.  That is 35-50% moisture depleted of field capacity.  When too wet the job you are wanting to accomplish will not be quite as effective.

 Third session with 18 growers associated with local Pioneer Seed Corn folks in East Central Nebraska

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mike here to give you a quick lowdown on what Orthman is doing to be “in the lead” to offer training, suggestions, time to learn in regards to Precision Tillage and placing fertilizers for the crop season of 2019.  During the week of December 11-13th, in three different locations in east Central Nebraska, we stood up and discussed and answered questions on numerous subjects regarding Strip-Till System Thinking. Those were; where is the premium place to put P&K? Why there? What other products are smart moves to put in the ground with the Strip-Till approach prior to planting?  Is it okay to place a good portion of the Nitrogen up front? Why not?  How about micros?  The ideas of later applied N, S, K late in the season and what those products can and do accomplish later in the season.  And so on…

We at Orthman Manufacturing are not satisfied with lets do “farming” like we did in the 80’s and 90’s, we are striving to be better for you and with you in this adventure of growing row crops.

I would hope you are thinking more about nutrient management more and more these days.  If these kinds of sessions that you and neighbors are asking about and would like something proactive beyond its all about N; give me a call or you regional sales managers for Orthman as noted on our CONTACT tab on this website.

Cooperative Research with Ohio State University

Take a look in the Articles section of this webpage to read a first report that we have obtained from Ohio State University under the direction of Dr. John Fulton.  It is the first of a multi-part series we at Orthman are pleased to bring to you for reading and updates of how Strip-Till functions in the Eastern Corn Belt.

by:  Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist, Orthman Manufacturing, Inc.

1st Report from Orthman Cooperative Ohio State University Strip-Till Research

First year of a Long Term Research Program with The Ohio State University
field work done by Trey Colley

Mike Petersen here, we at Orthman have joined hands and feet as well as a 1tRIPr strip-tillage implement to the Agricultural-Bioengineering Department at Ohio State University to investigate how strip-tillage can be effective in the corn-soybean rotation of the Eastern Corn Belt region.  Specifically Ohio, Eastern Indiana are the states being considered. The program is to gain solid data on the intensity (low to high) of soil compaction in No-Till situations as well as Strip-Tillage, these are two tillage systems that are being promoted for conservation, fuel reduction, improvements in Soil Health, economics, reducing labor, improvements in placement of nutrients and crop health.  Dr. John Fulton and his very capable research assistant Trey Colley III have released some good data through the publication “2017 eFields Report” that I want to share as we await on the 2018 results which I will be reporting as soon as we have it in our hands.

Within this tillage study at the Western Ag Research Station near South Charleston, Ohio; the field scientists strip tilled, gaged all against Direct Seeding (No-Till) with varying downforce at planting time.  Soybeans, a Pioneer variety was planted at 130K seeds per acre.  The planter used was a CNH 2150 16 row planter with Precision ‘DeltaForce’ downforce controls.  The measurements were taken early to see what would happen with emergence and then to yield.  Also the scientists studied running the shank strip-till tool at 4 inches and then at 8-9 inches to determine if yield would be impacted.  August and September 2017 remained drier than seasonal norms which influenced yield retreats.

Fig. 1   Depiction of the 2017 study with Soybeans to determine the effects of No-Till versus Strip-Tilled to 8 inches with fertility/nutrients surface applied in the Direct Seeding (shown on the left) and positive placement below the seed with the 1tRIPr tool (shown on the right).  Nutrient source (dry fertilizer) was broadcast in the No-Till and precision placed at 4.5 inches behind the 1tRIPr shank.  You are seeing rootzone as the seed would be placed.

Fig. 2  Depiction of the Strip-Tilled zone after the planter pass at the heaviest downforce applied versus the 100lbs of force.  The soil compression was minimal to the rootzone.  Image to your left.

 

 

 

 

 

The soils in this field of the study are Kokomo silty clay and Strawn-Crosby complex, about a 40-60% proportion of the field.  Mr. Colley was then tasked to look at what the differences may be with emergence in where No-Till as the control is compared to Strip-Till with the same varying downforce applied.  The following chart describes the results for emergence and then yield.

Table 1.  Data depicts that at the higher amount of downforce in these silty clay soils the emergence was down from the 88% with No-Till but then at harvest the yields were same.

Treatments Tillage System Applied Downforce (lbs) Emergence (%) Yield (bu/ac) 
Control No-Till 100 87.9 61
Optimal Strip-Till 100 82.1 59
Heavy Strip-Till 195 79.6 61
Light Strip-Till 50 76.9 61
   Note:  soil texture of topsoil is silty clay
planted on June 1st 2017

Remarks from Orthman:  As we see this after the facts are in, the No-Till system and the Strip-Till system are very similar in results.  The seed-to-soil contact was slightly different in the very beginning yet it is our observation that the rootzone allowed the root system to expand and obtain nutrients and water equal to if not slightly better during the dry period that western Ohio experienced from July 16 to October 1st.   During that 45 day period 3.05 inches fell in several small showers of 0.1 to 0.3”  with dry warm days in the low 80’s.

Drawing some Conclusions:

  • No statistically significant yield benefits to utilizing different downforce control systems on the planter, however the OSU scientists felt there was emergence differences.
  • The highest downforce level achieved di not over compact the soil
  • Optimal (100psi) downforce provided the best emergence of the strip-till treatment with equal yield as the No-Till
  • Strip-Till very effectively reduced the compaction in the soil which from the field observations and early plant stage root digs showed improved root proliferation of the soybean plants.

 

We will be offering further results from this study in a follow up report from Mr. Colley’s research efforts.  Do stay tuned!

A Final Report on Colorado State Univ. Cooperative Strip-Till Study

Image result for strip till with Colorado State University
Study at CSU ARDEC Farm and also at the Fruita, Colorado site used the Orthman 1tRIPr

Mike Petersen Making You Aware of a Published Report                               December 2018

Throughout a three year study in furrow irrigated crop study at the ARDEC Facility north of Fort Collins, Colorado that was determined by farmer input to see how Strip-Till worked in the furrow irrigation environment; we at Orthman played a role in what transpired.  The scientists at CSU published a report that many of you have not seen or read.  I was part of what Troy, Calvin, and Eric completed and I add kudos to the excellent study and then this Technical Release Bulletin.  Please as to your reading pleasure read what was accomplished and the economics.  You may even want to download and print it off.  Click on the link URL below:

http://www.conservationtillage.colostate.edu/TR15-10_Conservation-Tillage-Furrow-Irrigation_Web.pdf

From my standpoint email me or call and I can offer thoughts, comments of the 3 year study.  The men in the field determined that the Orthman 1tRIPr was a good tool to facilitate the top notch Strip-Till System approach.

Texas Agri-Life Offers a Look at Cover Crops

From Texas Agri-Life Announced in November 2018—Some ideas about Cover Crops

An overwhelming amount of news and buzz across the country has to do with Cover Crops and what they can do for Soil Health.  I get it where the moisture is adequate to bountiful.  Consider those folks in the more arid zones; regions of the country with less than 18 inches of moisture falls throughout the year and maybe only 7 of those during the actual growing season – they face a different dilemma.

The good folks in Kansas, Oklahoma, and now Texas where in the past years have grown >5M acres of cotton, are expressing an urge of caution and cognitive thinking about Cover Crops being the answer to the plight of farmers in regards to Soil Health.

May I point you to a recent article well expressed from Texas.  Published in Southwest Farm Press, Shelley Huguley offers some information that has points to consider.
Just press control-click on the link below…

https://www.southwestfarmpress.com/cover-crops/cover-cropping-may-not-be-everyone

Time Restores Many Things – Little Details of Why to Strip-Till

Digging to give you the best information regarding soils as I know how.

Welcome to Precision Tillage, again!  As the Orthman agronomist (me – Mike Petersen) it is good to be part of the Orthman team where we really do desire to help many, many growers become better at what they do with their two very important resources — soils and water to grow top producing crops.  It is not only my desire but all of us who at Orthman work with people directly working in Agriculture to be proactive with your farming operation. At Orthman we not only want to assist growers, but join with implement dealers/salesmen, seedsmen, fertilizer dealers or suppliers, educators fathom the depth of the Strip Till story and what great benefits are to be had.

This season for starters, we are seeing East-Central Nebraska soybean harvest essentially complete where with positive placed by an Orthman 1tRIPr and dry nutrients prior to planting back in April yields are tipping the scales at the 88-105bu/acre mark compared to no added nutrients of 69 bu/acre. A 19-35 bushel increase truly has some impact to the bottomline even with the price down so much.   We are hearing from our strip-till growers that corn is closing in on the final few rounds in many states, then some not with the recent wet via rain and snows.

This year from my travels with Orthman Manufacturing, strip-till as a system has caught the eye of politicians and leaders in the Great Lake States on a sound method to minimize soluble phosphorus getting into the rivers and streams that feed Lake Erie.  Growers have been identified in certain watersheds that they are contributors and they are under some scrutiny.  We at Orthman are working hand-in-hand with Ohio State University to study issues surrounding the phosphorus loading and how to be proactive and offer solutions that minimize soluble phosphorus runoff.  Stay tuned and we will bring you more information.  Believe me that applies in many other watersheds than just Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, New York and others.