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Some of the Latest Field Research on Soil Compaction – 10 Years No-Till to 11 Years Strip Till

It comes to you hot from the fields with growing corn at the V4 stage.  In East Central Nebraska my cohort Pat McNaught and I have been digging up in between corn rows and right in the row where the present crop is growing and taking soil resistance measurements to follow up with the 2019 project and learn even more of what is happening below ground.  This year we were able to get to a long term No-Till field and then same vintage of Strip-Till duration.

In the chart below you can observe in the soft row what the soil condition is like.  Pat and I dug this five days after the 4+ inch rain in late May.  The corn in both fields was V4 to V5 stage and not under any stress, the soil moisture condition was 75-80% of field capacity at 6 inches and 85% at 12 inches.  The lateral (side-to-side) soil resistance values in the soft row is significantly less in the Strip Till ground.  In the upper 5 inches of the soil profile the vertical soil resistance is less dense than the No-Till.  As we observed these two fields within 7 miles of one another, two very dedicated farmers to their systems and very good corn production 250-295 bushels per acre yields (irrigated), we observed the root systems, both were starting the second set of nodal roots. The big difference was the Strip Tilled corn was 23 inches deep and the No-Till was 16 inches.

We are not casting stones here, but you get to look at some differences in how a No-Till field stacks up to a long term Orthman 1tRIPr Strip-Till field.

We will be monitoring these fields as the season progresses.  As of this early part of June all systems are go to hit a top notch yield.

 

A thought regarding last years Prevent Plant acres

As we saw in the middle-few days of April, we saw a dump of snow from the Rockies eastward into Iowa dump 6 to 12 inches here and there of the Christmas Joy, many said Bah-Humbug, tho a reminder came to some of us who are weather watchers – another wet spring.  What does that conger up?  Oh we hope not, more Prevent Planting. Then nice days came the last two weeks for a good cross section of the Midwest –  time to get after the 2020 crop year.

It is being brought up here on Precision Tillage to offer some thoughts and comments what happened last year and what ideas may be important for you all that dealt with 2019’s Prevent Planting ground, especially in fertility management.  A question that comes up; I had lots of weed growth – how does that effect my fertility program for 2020?  Great question for our discussion. I am a student of soil testing but not just any ole go out with a bucket, 10 inch probe and poke a few holes 35 ft into the field and co-mingle the samples and send them off and call it good.  Consider what species of weeds were dominant.  Were these weeds in patches such as huge areas of pigweed or Palmer Amaranth?  Did Russian thistle mix or take over the sandier spots?  In the low lying areas, did Johnsongrass, Quackgrass, Crabgrass, Nutsedge, Yellow and Green foxtail become overwhelming?  I am asking because those weedy species all consumed a tidy amount of nutrition some are nitrogen consumers others the full spectrum of nutrients and not only in the upper 12 inches but deep (>24 inches).

Prevent Planting field in the Platte River Valley – Nebraska

 

There is also the issue of an enormous seed bank now in your field that will become very problematic on into the future which can offer challenges.  Another question; were you able to get into that field or fields and manage the weed growth before they went to seed?  I ask this because those fields will suffer from what is called the “Fallow Syndrome”.  No doubt before the weeds canopied the soil surface the surface baked hard and there was oxidation of organic matter, soil biological activity was reduced, mycorrhizal fungal spores did not germinate and do their job with corn or whatever crop we normally plant.  Some of those spores desiccated and others sat and will wait for a symbiotic host’s root to arrive.  All of this is part of the “Fallow Syndrome”.  Sure the soil may have seemed to have rested but, when weeds went wild and grew prolifically – a real detriment was against  you the grower.

A third issue with Prevent Planting and fallowing ground are losses of residual fertility due to certain percolation and losses out the bottom of the profile.  True phosphates do not move very far downward unless they are in the soluble form in soil solution which was the conditions you sustained with wet, wet soils.  Also sulfur components and maybe some micronutrients leached and reached a water course or water table and gone.  Deep soil testing can be a tool to determine how much is gone.

Why is the agronomist with a tillage implement manufacturer visiting this issue?  I assume by now many have done some form of tillage to deal with the impact of those pesky weeds, with a so called cleanup operations.  What to do?  Do not think you have solved the weed bank, changed the surface 4 to 6 inches, root balls from the big broadleaf weeds and un-oxygenated soil conditions?  Please I am not trying to say all is awry, but if soil conditions are amenable the strip till tool with precision placement of this year’s nutrition program can be very wise choice in preparation for the 2020 year.  Yes last year was unfortunately a stinker and a loss of income.  Using a smart and conservation minded system that can go through all the leftovers, minimize disturbance before you plant and broad-acre tillage only encourages more weed species.  So to minimize unnecessary soil compaction which wetter soils are prone to so often Strip tillage can work.  With the benefits also of less fuel consumption with strip till unless you have already disked the field twice and a surface leveling tool after already, strip till can be effective.  That potential weed seed bank does not need to fed again with high priced nutrients, strip till and placing a portion of your total program in the pathway of the crop you are planting has loads of potential you desire after a year of nothing.

We at Orthman empathize problems that occurred with last year’s flooding and wetness just obliterating the farming potential.  Today we would like to team up and help you see this Strip Till System one that hold potential and financial gains.

By:  Mike Petersen, Agronomist/Soil Scientist

What are some important features of Potassium and why we fertilize

What is it when you consider the third macronutrient that we talk about fertilizers from mineral sources that intrigues you? The element K (potassium) is the one I am discussing here today.  Yep for you chemistry buffs; Potassium is a chemical element with the symbol K (from Neo-Latin kalium) and atomic number 19. Potassium is a silvery-white metal that is soft enough to be cut with a knife with little force. Its molecular weight is 39.089 and has a positive valence of +1.  It is found in crystalline form of orthoclase, predominantly from granitic origin.  It also is a precipitate of certain salt mines from Australia and China.

Potassium mining in Western Australia, evaporative process for sulfate of potash salts, K2SO4   Designated as:  0-0-51-18.

So?  You ask what are some of K’s dominant functions in a plant whether C3 or C4 metabolism?

Potassium has many different roles in plants:

  • In Photosynthesis, potassium regulates the opening and closing of stomata, and therefore regulates CO2 uptake.
  • Potassium triggers activation of enzymes and is essential for production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is an important energy source for many chemical processes taking place in plant issues.
  • Potassium plays a major role in the regulation of water in plants (osmo-regulation). Both uptake of water through plant roots and its loss through the stomata are affected by potassium. This nutrient plays a huge role in how the stomata cells open and close throughout each day a plant lives.
  • Known to improve drought resistance.
  • Protein and starch synthesis in plants require potassium as well. Potassium is essential at almost every step of the protein synthesis. In starch synthesis, the enzyme responsible for the process is activated by potassium.
  • Potassium catalyzes chemical reactions by regulating > 60 enzymes associated with plant growth. Furthermore, the amount of K present in the cell determines how many enzyme-driven reactions can be activated at any one time.
  • K is necessary to maintain the function of phloem (the vascular tissue that transports sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves) and xylem (the vascular tissue that transports water and nutrients from roots to shoot and leaves) transport systems.

The roles of K in plant health is amazing:
K fertilizer is now known to significantly reduce the disease incidence of stem rot and aggregate sheath spot, and negative correlations were found between the percentage of K in leaf blades and disease severity in rice and wheat. K fertilizer is widely reported to decrease insect infestation and disease incidence in many host plants. A French scientist (Perrenoud, S. Potassium and Plant Health, 2nd ed; International Potash Institute: Bern, Switzerland, 1990; pp. 8–10.) reviewed 2449 references and found that the use of K significantly decreased the incidence of fungal diseases by 70%, bacteria by 69%, insects and mites by 63%, viruses by 41% and nematodes by 33%. Meanwhile, K increased the yield of plants infested with fungal diseases by 42%, bacteria by 57%, insects and mites by 36%, viruses by 78% and nematodes by 19%.  I quickly gather from that information that potassium is vital to crop health and should not be taken for granted that certain soil tests values may depict>300ppm K and all is going to be fine and dandy.

Considering Potassium in Plant Metabolism:

Courtesy of: International Journal of Molecular Science; Weng, et.al. 2013

Some scientists have stated and I am one of those, that K is the “Big Sister” to nitrogen in nearly all crops; nut trees, conifers, small grains, large grains ie: maize, peas, lentils, dry beans, garbanzos, sorghums, forages, root crops, vine crops which include tomatoes and so on and so on.  For those of you who had a big sister, what did she do with you when you were 1 to 4 or so? Drag you here to there, haul you around by the hand or hand to the back and softly push forward was the mode.  For those of you who did not appreciate that you know it was annoying or embarrassing.  With K in the plant cells, it smooths the way for N to move into metabolic pathways and get there quickly (a less scientific way of saying the of the protein transport pathways).  To the left is a flow diagram of what critical roles potassium plays in all grains.

In a future blog article I will bring out the major players in the microbial world of bacteria and fungi who is at work to make potassium available to the root.  For now, chew on this information, I realize there are texts and hundreds of scientific articles covering every side to K in plants and having rudimentary information for today will have to do.  Just getting a different perspective on this important nutrient source is the right start.  I know I learned a few great points of how I should look at potassium.

We will discuss some of the prime important times to fertilize with potassium.  The Fertilizer Institute of Canada retains a great deal of research and data on potassium, you may want to go and look at what they have.  Website: https://www.tfi.org/

Spring is around a cold corner – But be thinking about all the features of Strip Till

I know I am visiting with a select number of growers and others who are interested in things of Strip Till.  You growers that use strip-till for your pre-plant tillage/field preparation are considered by some as a niche group of farmers.  For one (me) who has been in the group that have found the Strip-Till method as one of the smartest ways to minimize tillage and place a portion of the seasons nutrient package, offer a malleable soil environment for the young root system to expand and get fed, lets move forward.  There are those who believe Direct Seeding is the epitome of “right” farming and Strip-Till is boorish

[This 16 row Orthman 1tRIPr with tool bar mounted tanks are placing nutrients behind the shank and planter directly attached. Courtesy: Orthman Mfg.]

and not politically correct for the environment and soil health.

That is somewhat inflammatory and not founded. Why can I say such?  After field researching the strip-till method since the late 80’s until today I can without reservation in most row crop farming on slopes of less than 7%, the Strip-Till method carried out with care stands right up near the very tippy top in yield potentials with very low erosion rates and preserving over 70% of the carbon in the soil profile.  A large segment of why this conservation practice really works is the tying in of placing nutrients in the till zone down below the seed.With most of the strip-till implements on the market, dry and liquid nutrients can be inserted into the tillage operation.    Growers that have combined dry products with liquid during their strip-till pass are putting products in two locations below the seed placement in a follow-up operation.  Placing phosphates, potassium and nitrogen and maybe some micronutrients brings efficiency, minimizing trips, locating nutrients in the root pathway for early to mid-season growth potentials not normally seen.  Why?  A plant root system does not seek out nutrition because they neither have eyes, tongues, noses to smell or hands to feel, the roots must come in direct contact of compounds to better feed the crop.  Scattering across the soil surface may be fast, easy and workable for the local Coop, yet those products that are not all mobile and subject to volatility, surface runoff, tie up with the organic materials, we have a problem.  Why not put all of those materials in the soil where the roots are growing downward naturally to be in line to intercept?   So both with a planter or drill and the strip-till unit a grower can make great advancements by placing nutrients to start the crop, take it into early season and on into mid-season well fed and making target goals on efficiency and production.  Field research that I have been part of previously and presently has shown liquid nutrients placed with the seed, off to the side and below has many bonus effects.  A couple-three or five of those are:
1.  A larger initial root system, 2.  many more lateral roots to absorb water and nutrients, 3.  ability to overcome the normal mid-May stall-out period, 4. due to placement, significant less sign of the phosphorus deficiency between emergence and third leaf stage, and 5.  biological activity ramps up significantly on and around the root system.  It is absolutely imperative to start a crop off with fewer obstacles to overcome to reach the yield a grower is looking forward to when he/she sticks the snouts of the combine header into the field this coming fall.

Putting together a Strip-Till System that incorporates fertility placed below the seed is well founded and has many benefits I have written about here and others I did not speak of.  Do not hesitate to call or write me or chat with our Territory Rep’s in regards to the placement of nutrients, products that will spark your crop to reaching your goals or anything else with this years crop.  Along with what we are trying to inform you about compaction and its detrimental effects until we show and depict how strip till will add to your understanding pof good soil management; nutrients, placement both with the Strip Till implement and your planter are major steps in becoming proficient and profitable.

Another set of Soil Scientists, Offer what this Soil Scientist has said for 35 years — Soil Compaction Decreases Growth, Carbon Assimilation & Productivity

In Hungary, an example of grower placing nutrients, strip-tilling for the 2018 crop Courtesy: KITE Z.Rt.

Please read this without the slowed jabbing response of the “yeah, yeah they all are alike with the mantra that Compaction of Soils cause problems”.  Nor does this mean go out as soon as the soils allow and tear, rip, plow, disk, chisel, burn diesel fuel until the fuel provider says I can’t get there today nor tomorrow.  Maybe that is a little melodramatic.  As you read this blog on the last day of December 2019 going into a new decade, consider what 1700+ opened soil pits in fields all across the United States and several foreign countries, hundreds of penetrometer readings and measuring root lengths and depths which for me take happily hours of up-close-and-personal work, all for the sake of helping farmers know their soil conditions and improve their farming practices.

So what is the big deal?  Both in my governmental career (34 years) and now in the private sector since 2006 working for Orthman Manufacturing, Inc, I have worked and still do to provide the farmer better understanding of the soils we attempt to grow food crops in and produce a yield of grain, root crops, vegetables, nuts, citrus, forage and fiber.  With the advent of bigger tractors, larger planters, sprayers, combines (harvesters), grain wagons, large disk-chisel tools and yes even larger vertical tillage implements with variable gang angles – farmers still compact soils.  In 2019 I admit folks it was a do or maybe not even grow anything.

Considering the soil compacted issue and what these four scientists wrote in a paper that I read during this end of the year set of days following Santa’s arrival and fly-by.  In Soil & Tillage Research, an Elsevier technical publication they publishedEffect of soil compaction on photosynthesis and carbon partitioning within a maize-soil system” 2003.  That compacted soils decrease stomatal opening in the leaves of corn which means a decrease in carbon assimilation to the fruiting body of the plant and to the leaves, stems and nodes.  Okay what did I say?  Sugars, cellulosic materials, lignin, other carbon materials that develop leaf tissues, stem size and length, number and size of kernels on the cob – all are reduced as well as root growth by 10 to 28% especially in the first 50 days of growth.  A good thing though — Soil rhizodeposition, an outpouring of carbon based materials are released to the area surrounding the roots to feed the microbial biomass by secretions and excretions.  The microbes get treats but the plant suffers!!

Birdseye view of an Orthman 1tRIPr doing it right
Courtesy: Wellacrest Farms

Many of you already know this.  How we treat the soil in pre-plant tillage to planting to harvest operations can and does have profound impact on the soil ladies and gentlemen.  Carrying out smarter tillage practices such as Strip-Till to prepare the seedbed can offer significant  reduction in what lateral tillage operations have done since the plow turned over the Prairies of the United States in the 1800’s.  We have better ways and methods than the moldboard plow folks.  The scientists further detailed that water relationships are directly in a negative fashion effectively reducing biomass production and potentially yield since they did not take this to grain harvest.  These folks said it with the review processes and the print of a professional journal.

It is my wish that when tilling to prepare a seedbed the method of Strip-Till greatly lessens the issue of soil compaction in what we call the Strip-Till Zone.  All this allows for more medium and larger pores to return to the upper portions of the soil profile because roots are not restricted from developing early on in the crops life, water intake can improve, nutrients can be strategically placed in the root pathway and the plant can grow, respire and assimilate carbon for a productive outcome.  I can go on.

What came from this paper was what I have said for all these years, “soil compaction unless we are building a pad for an oil well or highway or a large 10 story building is limiting plants from reaching their genetic potential and you the farmer making reasonable profits.”

Keep watching, reading and do not hesitate to contact us at Orthman Manufacturing how the Strip-Till System of farming today’s row crops is a best management practice that can put dollars into the bank.

 

What Orthman Manufacturing Sees for 2020 Compaction Studies

Sending you all who consider this website/webpage a spot to be informed about the Strip-Till World as it turns with Orthman Manufacturing and the World Leading 1tRIPr regarding plans for more studies in the field hopefully in four states what is happening in the spring with Soil Compaction.  We are looking at what are the levels of (severity) of compaction in Conventional tilled fields, No-Till fields and then Strip-Tilled fields – mainly corn.  This last year – 2019, we measured some expected and not-so-expected numbers in moist to nearly wet conditions that surprised the farmers and then we saw Mohawk root conditions which limited growth and nutrient uptake.

Then later in the year before harvest we heard that corn fell over due to a couple of nasty days of winds 60mph+ with blown over corn due to Mohawk root systems and weakened stalk health due to plant health from maybe fertility uptake.  All not good.

As we reported here back this early fall, the amount of force that a young plant before V4 stage in corn, only has a limited amount of energy and push power at the root tips – up to 60psi.  But our measurements with a penetrometer showed even in loamy sand soils some conditions of 160psi resistance in the soils at 7-8 inches in a strip-tilled field.  Corn growth was slowed until it had a bit more age then went on, but yield was impacted just the same.  Now when the corn reachs V8 stage it has up to 160psi of force at the root tip to extend, but with soil density reaching levels of 400psi – oh the plant is going to struggle.

The image to the left is quite dramatic due to sidewall compaction which we measured this last spring after planting with a newer method of lateral compaction testing.  The smear really can do a number on the root systems growth potential.

So folks, this fall we should have a more complete set of results to share with you after we measure fields again this coming spring.  It is not our intent to bash anyone, but to offer field testing numbers that we know about and what is happening with the Strip-Till world and using technology to advocate being the best you can be in raising corn whether it is naturally rainfed or irrigated.  So please stay tuned.

2019 Pioneer/Orthman Strip-Till results with Pioneer 9 Hybrids – Nebraska

From cold Colorado where the temperatures have dropped to near zero, snow from 3 to 12 inches in places which sure puts the ‘Ky-Bosch’ on getting harvest done, but back in Nebraska where the weather did not hit quite as quick the lads at North Forty Pioneer dealership, Polk, Nebraska shared with us their yield results which we aided and abetted their work with the Orthman 1tRIPr and some fertility placed in the tillzone.  Nick Hatfield informed us he was pleased with the results in a cool and wet year that hovered over that part of Nebraska.

The lads finished harvesting last week.  These were all 4 row plots on 30 inch rows.  What the guys are shooting for and we at Orthman have been advocating is to keep the inputs of Nitrogen as low as we can and not knock the plant health or yield.  A bit of scrutiny but the results speak highly of what Nick and Dennis accomplished.  Total with pre-plant, starter, sidedress operations and late season applications was 200.3 lbs of N.

With that we can count and calculate the amount to produce 230bpa up to 267bpa ranges from 0.87lbs/bushel to a low of 0.76lbs/bu.  Those of us involved with this plot and others continues to be raise top notch yields on the least amount of pounds of N per bushel.   Our question to you, is this a possibility on your farm as you raise rain-fed or irrigated corn?  Now this happened to be lightly irrigated corn near Polk, Nebraska.

The out-of-date thoughts of 1.1 to 1.5lbs N/bushel which has been the recommendations for a long time in a conventional tillage systems is not as efficient and ecologically minded as what we promote with the Orthman Strip-Till System approach.  We are working with growers in the Sandhills of Nebraska and Colorado that are tweaking their fertility programs and management to reside at 0.65-0.75lbs N/bushel corn yields.  Placing N and other nutrients right in the pathway of the dominant portion of the downward growing root system is absolutely the method to make this happen and to split apply in the growing season.  It is still important to meet the plant needs at the critical physiological times.  When growers learn and make this a program for their farms and fields, they grow some pretty fantastic crops.  Understand everyone that the skies have to be favorable before dry down.

We at Orthman are very pleased for Nick and Dennis who cooperate with us on several endeavors to promote wise stewardship and conservation practices in east central Nebraska. Congratulations guys!  More to come from other growers in the coming days.

Tillage by a tractor pulling some sort of an implement has its ramifications, good or detrimental.  Earthworms also in a manner till the soil, they are tunnelers seeking other critters (nematodes, amoeba, fungi, bacteria, and protozoa) as food sources along with exuded proteins, sugars and carbohydrates of all kinds left from plant roots.
I have been reading partially for recreation and also to bring you more “soils stuff” from written materials that I subscribe to or access via libraries [call me old fashion] or get via interviewed articles in Agricultural magazines.  So I read some incredibly interesting information from Dr. Paul Hepperly a scientist that has had a tenure at The Rodale Institute, Ohio State University regarding worms that live and work in our soils.

Interesting Facts:
1.  Worms love soybeans, high nutritive value
which aids in worms in reproduction and vigorous life
2.  Plowing is very hard on worm habitat – usually 50% less populations than conservation tillage systems.
3.  Worm castings aid in carbon sequestering and stabilizing carbon in soils – castings are up to 26% carbonaceous material.
4.  Worm castings are rich in calcium which is important to nutrient uptake from roots.
5.  In moderately acid to acid soils calcium is important to helping soil structure and aggregation
6.  Worm castings are rich in iron in an available form, chelated
7.  Earthworms lay cocoons which contain 1 to 5 eggs
8.  Each cocoon goes through a gestation period of 1-5 months depending upon worm species
9.  Baby worms hatch, are active immediately and become sexually mature within 3-12 months
10. Worms can produce 10 pounds of organic amendments in 1 season
11. Worms are active 2 times during a year; spring and then when soils cool back down after a warm summer – they prefer soils that are 48 to 63 degrees F.
12. Synthetic fertilizers can be detrimental to worms and toxic – especially ammonia
13. Nitrogen in the worm castings is in the nitrate form rather than ammonium
14. In acidic soils liming will aid worm populations, reproduction and worm activity
15. Manuring when possible greatly aids the population of earthworms, both the vertical and horizontal burrowing worms due to the enrichment of animal gut species of microbes passed out thru manure.
16. Worms recycle manure into the soil beyond the soil surface taking it deeper into the soil profile

 

 

While we were out this spring (May and June) getting data to study soil compaction in very moist soils, we did some worm counts per square foot.  Strip Tilled soils at least 5 years running we were counting 10 to 18 worms.  Direct Seeded fields (No-Till) we counted 12 to 20 worms per square foot.  In the Conventionally tilled soils, so many less, 1 to 9 worms.  We also found worm cocoons, the most we found in the strip tilled fields, 2 to 7 cocoons/sq.ft..  Now one has to be looking very closely when you dig to see the little cocoons.  See the picture below.
As you can see with the man’s fingers the cocoons are quite small, probably 3/16ths of an inch up to 1/4 inch.  They are usually laid in the upper 10 inches of the soil profile in a warm environment but not hot.  I have seen earthworm cocoons not fair well in soils that reach 110 to 140 degrees F.

A wonderful scientist from Quebec, Odette Menard affectionately called ‘The Earthworm Lady’ whom I have met and had long discussions personally has studied earthworms at night being sexually active on the soil surface in a variety of soil residue conditions and all the incredible tunneling they do.  She has said  “Soil health isn’t just about the chemical make-up,” says Ménard. “The challenge is to talk about the soil with respect to its physical and biological properties.” And that’s where earthworms become important. These creatures help to aerate the soil, build and maintain soil structure, increase hydrology, improve nitrogen efficiency and reduce pests and diseases. Ménard also says farmers often worry earthworm tunnels will increase the chance of nutrient leaching within their soils, but that’s not the case. In fact, since earthworms stay close to living plant roots – often within one inch – their tunnels support overall root development. “More holes in the soil means the soil is actually in better shape,” she says. “And the better the soil, the more root development, counterbalancing leaching.”

For all of us to realize that with Strip-Till we can aid worms in their effectiveness in our soils.  It has been studied in the last 3 years that cover crops in No-Till and Strip-Till systems even provide more gains to growers in all kinds of climatic environments.  A couple years back when we at Orthman had the Bill Orthman farm as a experimental station to study strip-till effects for the beneficial fact finding and support of the Orthman Strip-Till Method; I carried out earthworm counts with a couple of our interns.  We were 6 years into Strip Tilling at the time and we were counting 15 to 32 earthworms per square foot, calculate that out per square yard using the average of what we counted, that is 620 worms being busy.  That is 3,005,640 worms per acre folks if everything stayed equal.  That is one whale of a lot of worms.  We also measured that summer soil infiltration rates; strip-tilled soils with high numbers of earthworms in those clay loam soils was 2.95 inches/hour compared to the normal USDA-NRCS Soil Survey data at 0.6 inches/hr. for a clay loam soil.  The advantages of combining worm tunnels and strip-till which is much less disturbing than conventionally tilled soils with plows or disk-ripper implements and a field finisher of some sort.

Down and Dirty Back in the Pits – Again … And Lovin’ It!

So for many of you the year has been a doozy with wet then dry and then wet, then hail for some that makes record size in the state of Colorado as well as fields obliterated and tussle with insurance companies.  During the week of August 13 & 14th we went up north into central Michigan and participated in the AgroExpo.  It was a great opportunity for folks to come and see what is working, what is new, what happens with high quality fertility ideas which all promote better ways to be more soils and water resources conscious and even more efficient.  Two of us from Orthman Manufacturing did our part to commuicate with growers the highly effective method of strip till and pre-plant nutrient placement.

Root pit at AgroExpo, fertility exhibit of five 6 row plots

With today’s population that live in the Great Lakes region, the issue of water quality, algal blooms, toxin waters for man, avian life and fish – part of the root cause has been pointed to the world of Agriculture and application of phosphorus either commercial or animal manures.  This concern has magnified itself a great deal in the last 4 years.  Lake Erie and Lake Michigan, both are in the lime-light of the public eye.  We at Orthman are much aware and can offer a role to play by suggesting the incorporation of strip till into the way farmers apply nutrients and till the soil.  Placing both phosphorus [P] and potassium [K] in the soil to reduce both mobile silt & clay running off the surface with phosphorus bonded to the soil and organic matter and soluble phosphorus that moves in and through the soils.  We had the opportunity at the soil pit-talks and at the Information Center at AgroExpo to address such and the smart move to place P & K in the upper portions of the subsoil or subsurface.

As you noticed from the picture to the right, we had a pit about 4 ft deep to show differences in root proliferation where starters were applied and other 6 row plots where there was no starter and follow-up changes in N-P-K applied in 30 inch row Pioneer 9608 corn.  As a soil scientist, I am a big believer in what the soil tells us in nutrient and water management via the  health, vibrancy and size of the root system.  I have dug in way over a thousand soil sites to reveal the real story below ground.   I thoroughly enjoy getting down at the moles viewpoint to see the morphology of soils, what has gone on since man broke the land, erosion or sustaining of the soil and what are the soils potentials.  The above-ground portion of the plant may appear okay, but dig down to 4 feet and we have a chance to reveal the secrets.  If the soils have far too much tillage I can tell, if the soils are compacted – I can tell, if the soils were not right (like too wet) I can tell.  Roots will always reveal the good, the bad or the absolute ugly.

So at this neatly done root pit we looked at what differences were visible and measurable from no starter and with part of the starter applied before planting with the 1tRIPr (AgroLiquid owns their own 6row-30) and part of the starter on the planter.  Oh significant differences both below ground and then 3 plant characteristics above ground to tell the story why starters have a “front row, center seats” importance to the crop.  First the root system of the no starter, had 80% of all the roots in the upper 11 inches, 11-16 inches was 15% and down to 34 inches was 5% by volume.  In the split applied starter plots, 65% by volume of the roots were in the upper 11 inches, 11-22 inches was 25% and 22 to 36 inches was 10%.  Clean sand and gravel was below the 36 inch depth and roots stopped there.  As you stare a bit closer at the soil pit image, at 29 to 36 inches below the surface was a layer of darker colored clay loam which sat atop the sand and gravel and both held water and slowed the movement of water rushing through and on out the bottom.  Comparing some more plant data; the height to the flag leaf in the split starter plot – 5% taller than that without, the size of the ear leaf on the split applied starter package from AgroLiquids was 11.25% larger both in length and width compared to the plot without.  The node-to-node spacing on the split applied was extremely even from the ground to the ear placement on the stalk in the split applied plot compared tow without.  The distance from the ground surface to the ear placement was somewhat erratic in the no starter, ranged from 91 – 115 cm.  In the plot where the starter is applied in two applications and times, 92 to 95cm above ground.  Very even and I look at 21 plants in a zig-zag fashion down through the plots measuring.  Darn good way to keep bias out of the observations.  Lastly I pulled ears, stripped back the husk and counted rows and length of the kernel set; in the split applied 18 rows around X 42 in length at 35,000 plant population, in the no starter, 16 around X 39 in length.  That is a difference of 132 kernels more on the split applied.  I believe all should say there is some significant differences.  The total amount of nitrogen remained the same across all 5 plots, with sidedressed nitrogen via Y-drops at 70 gpa.  Having the products applied directly with the seed at planting and then at 4 inches down directly below the seed and where the root will run right into more, so the plant incrementally gets a chance to consume good groceries.  Just what the doc ordered.

With this soil above the clay loam layer at 30 inches or so being a loamy sand it is both a concern and a reality that N will move downward and slow and be absorbed onto the clay where the roots can and did feed.  With more roots filling the upper 22 inches and remainder into the clay in the split-applied approach, the corn is showing what it likes.  AgroLiquids utilizes their trademark Pro-Germinator, Sure-K and Micro500 package for starter in these comparisons.

Over the two days my co-worker Adam Souder and I spoke with folks from all over central Michigan, Ontario Canada area, northern Indiana, the thumb region of Michigan, some folks from Utah, Oregon, Minnesota.  Our story stayed the same, managing your fertility in increments during the growing season will meet the crop demands better and does not fertilize the soil per se, feed the plant when it’s higher demand periods are.  Yes that depends upon what the sky throws at you but as close to those critical periods. AND remember it is not just about nitrogen; sulfur, potassium as well as P with micro’s are very important.

We at Orthman Manufacturing want to thank the AgroLiquid staff and field guys for all their efforts and potentials.  The two days were what we hoped they would be.

Recent News – Factoids of Root Growth of Corn Dealing with Soil Compaction

After attending the National Strip Till Conference (NSTC) in Peoria, IL the week of August 1-2, 2019; I got to thinking that more information to you all seems imperative from what we saw as negative impacts with the wet spring.  Growers that tried to do some tillage then planting when it was wet would want some clues of what we and you are noticing across the countryside.  Using the spring coulter system with the 1tRIPr in near saturated soils did induce some shallow compaction this spring at about 3 to 4 inches down as did planters with more than 100-150 lbs of downforce.  One of my co-workers and I measured some of those ill effects in the Platte River Valley of Central Nebraska.  We also measured where sidewall compaction was induced with planters and created the “mohawk” root system, not a good deal for the plants.  Where am I going with this?  See the image on left.

Sidewall compaction due to wet soil conditions Courtesy Anderson’s

In sandy clay loams, silty clay loams and clay loams – in a wet spring like this one the conditions were ripe for compressing the soils both downward and off to the side or laterally.  In the first 3 to 4 weeks of the corn plants life the root system develops out from the seed placement and down at a 25 degree angle parallel of the soil surface.  Squished and pressed wet soils deform out at a 25 to 40 degree angle from the tires or tracks.  When a farmer is running on dual wheeled setups and too high of pressure in the tires this will more than likely cause “pinch compaction” at depths of 3 to 7 inches deep.  With the rotating of the tires and the pinch-squeeze the soil presses out any air and crushed pores, channels, any kind of a gap and tiny early roots just cannot get through or down; ending up with serious concerns for water/nutrient uptake and stand-ability later in the season.

We have seen quite a number of fields across the Corn Belt with those symptoms.  Before the corn got to tassel time it did not seem to be an issue, now if storms come thru with big winds, folks could be in for problems.  University Extension folks have told me that in Minnesota and Northern Iowa they may be looking at 25% reduction in yields with compromised root systems due to compaction.

Another key point that farmers visited with me about at NSTC in Peoria, IL; what kind of information is out in the soils world did I have about root pits, root growth, compaction did I have that was new.  I have been digging (what else does a soil scientist do?) into the research and finding more information that details the amount of force a corn root can exert at its root tip to penetrate either wet compacted soils or soils that are dense and drying out.  Researchers in Scotland back a few years (2011) back wrote after work evaluating early growth in corn that corn feels the negative effects of soil resistance/compaction from 0.8MPa and at ~2.0MPa root extension stops.  At 2.0MPa (megapascals) corn plants at V2-V5 will curl up their toes significantly.  This amount of soil resistance of 2.0MPa is equal to~280 pounds per square inch (psi).  When corn plants get further into the season V8-VT the amount of turgid pressure at the root tip increases to give ‘push’ at the root tips at a force of up to 2.85MPa or 408psi.  A co-worker of mine and I looked at the very moist to nearly saturated conditions this spring when corn was V2-V4 and measured soil resistance in the seed-zone [1-5 inches] in silty clay loam soils in conventional till to be >250psi.  You can guess what we found, yes sir – blunted off roots, trying to make right turns and kinked.  The first two nodal root sets were blunted or just did not come out on the side where the soil was so dense, but the soil was wet to soggy.  Plants were short, first leaves were purple tinged – strong evidence of compaction when we dug around.  Unfortunately in the long term No-Till fields we observed this also and then with follow up field visits the corn is spindly, shortened, fewer leaves and when shaking a plant it is wobbly and not well anchored in the ground.  I am suggesting to folks take a good look at their corn fields and dig up a few of these kinds of plants and see what your root system looks like.  Small root systems with an appearance of being one sided or like the picture above, compaction either by pinch or smearing is an issue.  Freeze-thaw is not going to remedy this over time folks, other measures will have to be considered.

Looking ahead into the next few weeks; come to Husker Harvest Days [September 10-12, 2019] near Grand Island, Nebraska and visit us at the Orthman Manufacturing stand/booth for we are going to be presenting great information about our spring findings of 8 different soil types in Strip-Till fields, Conventional till fields and No-Till fields as to what two forms of soil compaction is happening in wet soil conditions.  Our guys will be happy to explain what we saw, what values are trouble and what is not a problem.  You bet I will be there ready to visit with you all any of the three days.  This data is not being done by University folks which is unfortunate, so we at Orthman want to bring you finding straight from the field and talk about what are options for pre-plant tillage.  After the show we will be publishing the results here on Precision Tillage.com.