Mike Petersen

Improving Soil Health – More of what it can mean to You!

Without apologies I believe we can continue to discuss that what we promote with Strip-Tillage in United States row crop farming is helpful and sustainable.  There are those that may disagree, that is fine and cross their arms across their chests in a harumpf style and shake their heads no.  In today’s agriculture I would ask all to consider a few thoughts and have a open mind for 10 minutes.

I ask what do we carry out a tillage operation for?  Is it for getting rid of every ounce of left over residue from the previous crops because that is what daddy and granddaddy before him did?  Is it because it is unsightly?  Is it because I have to have all residue off the soil surface or I cannot irrigate?  Is because my soils set up like a rock if I don’t?  Reason for that with too much tillage.  I need to bury the weed seeds from the weed explosion I had last season?  My goodness I can repeat reasons and more reasons or should we say excuses for wanting to be out on the tractor.  It has been told to me by tens and twenty’s of growers at any one time they are not deemed to be farmin’ unless they are on a tractor – oh what a wrong perception of a farmer.  Those thoughts of why folks do broad acre tillage and many times in one season make little sense in row crop farming even on nearly flat fields.

Soil Health means you take care of the soil physical properties as well as the chemical and biological.  But some are focusing only on the bio side.  Hey I understand that the biological is very important and has implications of fertility, disease-wise, soil temperatures, water holding in the surface few inches and down into the sub-surface, organic matter improvements and more.  But being a scientist of the physical bent I would like to turn your eyes and head to consider for a bit to the physical side.  Now I am not choosing sides here folks.  All three major facets of the soil resource – chemical, biological and physical are valued highly and mean a great deal in the realm of Soil Health.  Can anyone of us truly impact pore space without first offering a less resistant soil matrix early in the life of a row crop (corn, sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers, dry edible beans, sugar cane, cotton) to offer to the plant a medium in the first 40 days of life?  Some will argue till their face turn somewhat blue.  With strip till we disrupt the soil condition with a movement of the soils that does not roll, tumble, and smash the soils which quickly degrades soil micro and macroaggregates into mush.  We are tilling soils to make a good quality seedbed, a strip that will allow roots to expand and grow downward with gravitational pull ( a true constant in the universe).  We disrupt lateral settling which layers silt and clay particles to form lenses up to 1 inch thick in the upper portions of the soil profile in one season, [much like what you can see in the image to the left.]  Too much hoof action across the soil surface when fall-winter grazing stalks can be the cause.  Applications of water via irrigation or big rain events (>2 inches) that settle out at the end of the wetting front time after time will do something similar, especially in silty textured soils.  This can happen in sandier textured soils also, have seen this in the Sandhills of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.  The effect will slow water movement dramatically and can affect early root development if not dealt with properly.  Now that does not mean get the subsoil toolbar out and go to ripping stuff up and burning gallons of diesel guys and gals.
Fig. 1.  Shallow tillage most likely resulting from multiple passes with disk.

In the image above with the hard pan, you can take note of the vertical cracks and soil structure which allows for downward flow of water and root growth.  The location of the hardpan slows water and root movement  almost exponentially.  Water will impact the surface soil above it in several manners; 1) when it supersaturates the soil above it to 125-140% of its water holding capacity the soil becomes like a gel.  More large rain drops act like miniature quakes and settle out silts right on top of the existing pan.  This adds a very thin layer (usually less than 1/16th of an inch thick) which are likes thin leaves stacked in alternate direction atop one another – making water movement downward very tortuous.  Bad news!  So what’s the big deal?  To inform you that this kind of a soil health issue is problematic for water movement, root development, root uptake of water and nutrients, soil living organisms to eat, breathe and populate.  Roots do not do well, plant development suffers – especially row crops.  If the soil textures are clayey (>35% clay) and these conditions persist a grower has problems.

So it takes a little bit of digging, seeking out what is going on in your fields, being

Overtilled soils exhibit crusting like this.

cautious when tillage operations are accomplished to avoid the start of a hardpan.  Another bit of evidence that tillage has been excessive is the crusting effects like in the image to the right.  This is a fine example of soils becoming jelly-like and then slowly water evaporates away leaving these soil conditions of the near surface.  Not a good thing at all.

Leaving last years residues on the ground surface can nearly eliminate this soil condition.  As we leave a portion of the field untouched with a Strip-Till rig we leave the old root channels in place to become stabilized, allow worms to move up-down and laterally, other insects to have their homes not destroyed, old roots to dissolve and leave organic compounds behind is all part of adding to the improvement of soil health.  We influence vertical water movement with the Strip Till action as well as lateral movement of water into the area where no tillage tool ran to fill that part of the soil reservoir which aids the crops potential and root uptake.

All of this is the kind of conversation I love to illustrate at soil pit demonstrations that we at Orthman like to get involved with.  We team up with our dealerships, partners in the Seed Business and even fertilizer partners to get into fields and present the case for better tillage practices as well as the issue of Soil Health.  Stay tuned for events that we are going to be part of here on Precision Tillage.com.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes and Dr. Biegler (both of Univ.Minn) tell of Strip-Till Benefits

I have worked with Jodi DeJong-Hughes for sometime now (>10years) and I respect her and she carries a lot of weight in the Minnesota Extension Service with her educational prowess and passion to promote Conservation Tillage.  Jodi believes it, speaks on the subject very well, advocates all the tenets of Strip-Till and will ask you face to face “why don’t you do it?”  Please read the article that is attached by a hyperlink right here on Precision Tillage.com regarding some information she shared here a couple years back. Yes it is very pertinent today folks.  I have spoken at her Winter Conservation Tillage Workshop several times now and we at Orthman Mfg call her a good friend in the business.  The conference I refer to is every winter in cold, cold Minnesota.  Enjoy by clicking on the link below.

http://www.mncorn.org/2016/10/13/farmers-foster-soil-health-to-fight-wind-erosion/

Jodi thoroughly likes to get down into the soil pit and describes what she sees and does it with flair.  Someone like the ole soils guy Mike Petersen who writes here and has been in over 1650 soil-root pits.  Two gophers for sure.

What Multiple Years (>17 yrs) of Continued Strip Till Activity Does

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Orthman 1tRIPr maintains residues and tills between the rows each year, moving 15 inches each year.

I have waited for some time to get this out to you all.  In loam textured soils (22% clay, 47% silt, 31% sand) where a continuous strip till program has been going for over 17 years as of 2019 with continuous corn for 14 of those years, please take a look at the diagram below of what the soil density is when moist in the late spring of 2018.  This grower in Eastern Colorado strip tills each spring prior to planting anywhere from 1 week to 5 weeks prior to placing seed in the ground.  We then checked with a constant reading penetrometer what the soil resistance was in 5 locations at depths of 0 to 12 inches across a 30 inch row system. 
This way we could see what were the remnant effects of 2017 tillage compared to 2018 strip till pass which was completed 2.5 weeks prior to planting in 2018.  The penetrometer measured soil resistance to a steady downward force of approximately 1 inch per second.  Not to kid you any either, when you push like that at 145lbs drippin’ wet and the resistance is 300 psi – hey that takes effort folks!  That methodology is the standard method, so giving a penetrometer a big shove does not represent what kind of force of resistance is truly looking the root square in the eye.

So in 2018 the strip till rig was pulled at 10 inches deep.  As you see in the above diagram right in the row where the corn is depicted to be growing at the V3-V4 stage at 12 inches the soil penetration resistance jumped to 265 pounds per square inch.  Then as you look to the right, where the probe is, last years effects are a little higher than where it is compared to site #1 off 30 inches to the left.

I do not have a comparison of what a soil penetration profile looks like where no strip tillage tool has run.  This diagram offers a below the surface look at what is occurring within a continuous strip tilled field.  When we used this tool the soil moisture was within 5-10% of the field capacity.

Takeaways:
1)  Soil density below 10 inches shows some sign of higher density that could limit to a degree root extension when the soils dry out
2)  In the upper 6 inches the density (by penetrometer) indicates the roots will extend out and down with little to no resistance – a good thing!
3)  Above 100 psi the early root system of corn may exhibit slowed growth, as the crop matures the roots have more “push power” and can extend root tip growth up to 400 psi.
4)  The maximum root depth as of this date in early June (6/10/18) was 19 inches deep – which is excellent.  The plants were at the V-4 stage.

We will be doing more of this kind of field effort, looking into more soil textures and soil conditions this year 2019 to describe more of what the Orthman Strip Tillage system is doing to provide not only an excellent seedbed but the Optimal Root Zone conditions.

 

Improving Soil Health – What Might it Mean to You!

Soil scientist investigating soil structure components in a native grass pasture.

by:  Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist

As I continue to read, investigate, learn and dig more into soil profiles across this nation I am all flushed with material I want today’s farmers to realize.  The interaction of bacterial, fungus, fungal hyphae, simple photosynthetic bacteria, algae, protozoa, and other microscopic creatures all are important to what your crops can benefit from.  The splatter and news some of you may read about cover crops, more living roots in the soil all have an umbrella approach to this subject of “soil health”.  To get our noses right into the subject – it is what happens biochemically in the soil along with the physical side of soil aggregates making a stable home for all of the microscopic creatures to live, respire and offer to the roots to absorb and thrive from.

As fungal biomass improves in the macroaggregates of the soil profile (I am speaking of the upper 10-14    inches), organic materials become broken down into smaller and smaller particles along with fats/lipids/oils/steroids and some proteins that are sticky to hold silt and clay particles together.  As the individual silt particles and clay particles bond together both by physical forces and electro-chemical bonds, with gravity playing it’s part — soil structural units form.  These structural units of micro-sized blocks and prisms then in time adhere together to form larger blocks, prisms and granules.  As they do our soils allow water to pass in a downward fashion vertically and as that all occurs so will the roots which will exude, slough both dead and living cells, leave smears of organic sugars, peptides, and proteins and strands of a mucous like substance from the root tips to makes soil structural units even stronger and larger.  In a nutshell – soil health and quality improves.

All of this takes some time.  I have observed in continuous strip tillage we can facilitate all of these details of soils regenerating after the change from full width tillage systems.  A caveat, removing from a corn field and baling up for animal bedding is not helping.  To accelerate the soil rebuilding having a mix of crop residues (some left-over residues that are higher in sugars such as sorghums), green living roots, legumes in rotation, where possible and or feasible – cover crops, all will aid in this rebuilding.  As we annually crop fields with too much tillage [full width tilling], multiple passes, removing of all crop matter such in silage harvesting; we set the soils back to something like a war-zone battlefield and unexploded ordinance remains.  A proverbial mess of the soil health.  Yes that is a fairly strong statement, I know.

We at Orthman Manufacturing so believe that conservation tillage by the strip till system works to put soils in a better condition to grow crops and enrich the soil health capacity.  As farmers urge their soils to produce more with precise placement of fertilizers, provide timely irrigation for those areas where irrigation is accomplished, maintaining residues on the soil surface as long as one can we are seeing soil resources produce many, many fold the grain, forage, lint or produce.  Along with this, soils can not only be sustainable, healthy, and very productive for years to come.

2019 Commodity Classic – Ever the wide open experience with the Best Growers

2019 Commodity Classic Serious discussions with Doug Peterson and Pat McNaught, both Territorial Reps.

The 2019 version of the Commodity Classic held in Orlando, Florida brought some very interesting topics of discussion to the Orthman Manufacturing booth this year.  A small group of farmers from North Carolina visited us and see that their soil conditions merit using the strip till system in their soils that can irreversibly harden.  Two farmers from Kentucky in the area  bordering the Karst region of the state and wanting to visit about their soils with ‘fragipans’ and how No-Till has been unsatisfactory.  Their conversation was much to do about water movement in the soil profile as well as root development being retarded from getting deep.  Some folks from Ontario, Canada stopped and visited regarding their strip-till successes and some of their challenges.  Several of the National Corn Grower contest winners stopped who placed either #1 or #2 in the Irrigated No-Till/Strip-Till category and asked for some further suggestions and advice.  That was very thought provoking and allowed us time to congratulate their success since three of them were 1tRIPr owners.  Some folks from the Wasatch Front area of Utah came by and asked about the 1tRIPr and their concerns of pulling so hard, once we found out what their soil conditions were like – oh now we can help.  Had some New York growers stop in and ask would strip till work in their environment.   Spoke with cotton and corn growers from Texas, Georgia, Alabama and 1 from Arkansas.  There were two men who stopped from Australia.  Many men and families stopped from Nebraska, the home of Orthman Manufacturing and were glad to see us in the booth and representing the best strip-till machine on the market, their words not ours but we fully agree with their assessment.  The couple of people I spoke with from central Michigan first were so happy to be where there were temperatures 85 degrees warmer than back up north.  Then we discussed strip-till in the state of Michigan, sugar beets, potatoes, corn and soybeans.  The Illinois growers that stopped by and visited had many questions regarding fertility, prices of fertilizer and fertility effectiveness with the Orthman 1tRIPr.

As you can see we had a smattering of people from all across the United States and then neighbors in Canada as well as Aussies.  One of the major seed corn companies presented in their booth a well thought out and descriptive analysis of root types in corn and how they right now are the only ones I know of that rate their corn hybrid selections on root types.  You all might be surprised who that company is – AgriGold.  Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont-Pioneer, LG; the rest of you growers are asking for the same.  My suggestion to you folks, keep after them to rate root structures as has AgriGold and find out how tillage interacts with better tillage systems and fertility placement.

The 2019 Commodity Classic was great this year.  Not only friends were met with, some acquaintances rekindled and new connections we made.  Stay tuned for Orthman is stepping out to lead the way in Precision Tillage, Precision fertilizer placement,  Root Zone management and as well soil resources management (water and erosion).  Keep in touch as we are not a “me too” company, we are leading.

by:  Michael Petersen, Lead Agronomist-Orthman Manufacturing, Inc.

Going further under the microscope of Macro-to-Microaggregates

I wrote on the 4th of February on this site some details of how Strip-Till is complimentary to developing more stable macroaggregates, those that are between 1.0mm up to 4.0mm in size and maybe larger.  Within that structural unit I displayed a closeup of an oat root with a cottony mass around the bright white root growing through a small soil ped.  Let us delve a bit closer to see some more.

Macro-Micro-Primary sized units of soil structure with key features highlighted.

All of this is to say, what we soil scientists are getting to know more about and I want to offer you what some of  those important facts are:

The image on the far-left depicts how roots and microscopically fine mycorrhizal hyphae along with roots interconnect the soil and help hold smaller particles of silt, sand and clay together to form granular, crumb or fine subangular blocky structural units. The image in the middle gives a close-up of the microaggregate, spores in close enough proximity to the root that they can spear the root with an appressori and inject its rNA into the root and begin the formation of its symbiotic relational organism (called an “arbuscle” – tree-like form) within the root interior cells to feed itself and feed the host root.  As this all occurs the hyphae can extend outward from the root up to 10cm in length.  This hyphae stores a thick glyco-protein within the hyphal tubular walls, when the fungal hyphae die or dessicate it is this extremely sticky glue-like substance glomalin that aids in tightly holding organic particles along with microbial debris to soil clay and silt particles.  This complex substance can last up to 21 years. Scientists have found from soil sampling at various depths, glomalin is in and along old root channels to the depth of 140cm (55 inches) [1].

In the diagram above, on the far right side, microbial sized debris is pointed out.  These materials are the sites where soil organic carbon (SOC) exists and stored to provide easily available nutrients and also hold up to 400 times its weight with water.  This SOC is very important to bacteria for their food source of carbon.  Earthworms that consume small mouthfuls of soil bacteria, nematodes, amoeba, all who hide in these crevasses and nourish the earthworm.  As the worm passes the material through its gut it too excretes stable microaggregates with mucous-like substances that can release to other bacteria foodstuffs.  These materials can stabilize soil structural units with specific chemical and electronic bonds.  With Strip-Tillage as a once-a-year minimal disturbance will aid mixing this some in the upper 6 to 11.5 inches and cause minimal disruption in the storing of soil carbon.  The glomalin substances can mix and stick more particles together along with a redistribution of the fungal spores to find more roots and restart the infection of more roots and continue the cycle.  Strip-Till does not turn or tumble soils such as a disc or moldboard plow will.  That kind of tumbling effect dries the soil out, exposes spores, soil carbon, mycorrhizae fragments to the atmosphere, dries them out and will cause rapid oxidation – losing the important substances that help the health and stability of soils.  Many times worms are exposed, their tunnels and home burrows are broke open and the cut or torn-in-two worm may die or try to burrow down and again and then die.  Yes strip-till disturbs the earthworms in the till-zone.

My studying of the till-zone after the strip-till implement pass (over the past 10 years) has shown me the strip-till pass is much less destructive and earthworms can recover in 7 to 14 days, still sense where their tunnels are and continue existing.  Due to our tilling of less than 33% of the total soil matrix across a 20 foot zone by 10 inches deep and not turning it over I believe we are aiding the building up of soil health.  Even “direct seeding” efforts can cause some set back of the fungal/bacterial interaction.

I will keep digging into what Strip-Tillage can do to aid soil health to remain strong, viable and accumulating soil carbon.  Stay tuned to us here at precisiontillage.com and we will provide a ‘below the boot on the ground look”.

 

 

References used:

  1. Glomalin: an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal soil protein.   Pradeep Kumar Singh, Meenakshi Singh, and Bhumi Nath Tripathi;   Found in: Protoplasma (2013) 250:663–669
  2. Mycorrhizal Symbiosis, S.E Smith and D.J. Read, Second Edition, Academic Press, 1997.
  3. Plant-Environment Interactions., R.E. Wilkinson, Second Edition, Marcel-Dekker AG, 2000.

Orthman/Ohio State University Offers an Approach to a New Tomorrow

Precision Seeding

The team of specialists at Ohio State University under Dr. John Fulton are studying the values of how a Strip-Till Systematic approach to alleviating compaction, providing an ideal seedbed and then setting up the tillage zone with precision placed nutrition works.  This last season [2018] at the Molly Caren Center which is just west of Columbus, OH some 10-12 miles just off I-70 and at the Clark County, Ohio research facility, Fulton and staff demonstrated and have published their results in their 2018 eFields Report (which is out electronically and in published forms).  We at Orthman are providing an 8row-30 inch 1tRIPr along with a Salford twin bin 10 ton steerable fertility cart, with flow control apparatus and technical expertise as they study placement [shallow/medium depth/deep and broadcast], and variable down-force rates on the planter in the strip-zone compared to other systems approach.  And I do say – the results show great promise for growers in the Eastern Corn Belt and westward to consider a system that can save money, labor, fuel, trips across the field, water, soil erosion concerns lessened, an emphasis on applying phosphorus products, fertilizers applied in more crop appropriate quantities, and potential yield improvements.

I do want to direct your eyes and fingers at the computer to check out www.agcrops.osu.edu/people to touch base with Ohio’s Extension folks another way is to reach out to Dr. Elizabeth Hawkins who is a major part of the eFields Program; hawkins.301@osu.edu.  One can download the report if so desired  by going to https://digitalag.osu.edu/efields/efields-reports. It may behoove folks who are in the eastern Indiana, Western Ohio to Michigan region to make it to one of the four upcoming public review meetings being held to go over the 2018 results/studies: February 13th 9:00 to Noon EST Clinton County Extension office, Wilmington, Ohio or February 20th, 9:00-Noon EST, at Robert Fulton Ag Center, Wauseon, OH; February 27th, 4:30-8:30pm EST at RG Drage Career Conference Center, 2800 Richville Dr. SW, Massillon, OH and last one – February 28th, 9:00-Noon EST at Upper Valley Career Center, Adult Applied Technology Center, Piqua, OH.  There is a host of great studies and data presented in the eFields report.  Let me tease you with some information I gleaned quickly as I have gone through the 195 page report.

eFields Strip-Till Fertilizer Placement Study
   study located at Molly Caren Ag Center, London, OH
Treatments: Harvest Grain Moisture % Yield    (bu/acre)
Broadcast-NoTill 17.3 214.0
Broadcast-ST 13.6 210.0
Shallow(0-3″) 16.9 218.0
Medium(3-6″) 17.0 216.0
Deep (6-9″) 17.0 216.0
   Rate of P2O5 was 150lb/ac in all plots
Amt of precip during season 24.1 in.

Changes may not seem all that huge but efficiency of the P products do show that there can be an advantage to placement.  There are other locations across the U.S. that depict the placement can and is greater than this year at OSU.  Watch for those results with your own eyes.

We at Orthman Mfg are very pleased to be working with Ohio State University’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering to bring this and other studies to you.  Check out the report and/or visit with the Extension offices that are having these meetings right here quick.

Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist-Orthman Manufacturing, Inc.

Aiding and Abetting Organic Carbon Storage with Strip-Till

Early February 2019

Frequently you are hearing and reading about Soil Health and Cover Cropping Systems are the big part of how farmers will improve sustainability, yield and crop production.  Now folks, the two of those titles are not synonymous – that is they are not equal to one another.  They are different yet the two can work together.  Where am I going?  Strip tillage has been found to aid in better macroaggregate development. As macroaggregates function within the soils it is been studied that is the environment where Nitrogen (N) has the greatest amount of turnover and availability to the plant root system (Long-term effects of nitrogen fertilization on aggregation and localization of carbon, nitrogen and microbial activities in soil; YidongWang et al., Science of the Total Environment 624 (2018) 1131–1139,  Elsevier Publications).

What did I just say? As with what we at Orthman Manufacturing like to promote – strip till, when farmers employ, we can aid the process of organic carbon substances accumulate and develop durable macroaggregates (those particles of soil >2mm in size).  These aggregates can withstand rainfall impact better with these organic compounds coating, lying on the surfaces of the macroaggregates.  Fungi interlacing on the aggregates and between other aggregates, glue-like polysaccharides, proteins, fatty acids that come from mycorrhizal growth, certain bacteria dying and releasing substrates that can aid adhering and bonding of soil particles together.  The roots grow along, around and through the macroaggregates accessing accessible nutrients in a readily available form to feed the growing plants.  Image result for mycorrhizal fungi examples

Image #1:  In this image one can see the webbing around an alive root. Looks like cotton in a fashion.  This is a web of mycorrhizae hyphae surrounding the root of an oat plant.

Both the root and the fungal hyphae leak substances similar to what we could call “organic glues” onto the face of the soil ped and macroaggregates. Loaded with carbonaceous materials there is also other ions attached such as N, P, K, S, Mn, Zn, Fe, B etc not held tightly by the electrical bonds within the carbon products – thusly available to the roots.  These glues not only release good nutrients but they hold soils together which can also hold onto water, allow it to pass through easier and allow soils be oxygenated.  All of that promotes healthy soils, hold and release water, maintain soils from any severe mechanical breakdown of soil structure and allow soils to be more healthy.

With strip till we are one time and done prior to planting.  Greatly minimizing soil turnover, sliding, slipping, crushing, tearing and exploding soils with the strip till approach; we allow the process of soil biology work. With conventional full-width tillage there can be 3 to 7 operations in the upper segment of the soil profile before a seed is placed or nutrients are placed before the proceeding crop grows.  Each harsh tillage operation or trip to crush the soil down to the smallest size deteriorates the soil aggregates.  Yes microaggregates are part of the soil medium, they can accumulate nutrients yet they are released very slowly.

Scientists in my profession, soil science, are understanding better with electron microscopes how larger soil aggregates are big-time contributors to the ‘health’ of the soil.  Much of the discussion of soil health

Image #2:  Tight web of fungal hyphae holding soil particles and spores. Dark specks are soil aggregates, yellowish round spheres are fungal spores. Transluscent left-to-right strand is a root. Courtesy: Cornell Univ., T.E. Pawlowska

has only to do with biological factors, those being how do we get more living roots to grow for longer periods of time in the 365 day season.  Yes this is important.  I wanted you to see the value of the soil physical realm and what these microscopic filaments do to enhance soil aggregates and their ability to remain stable.

With Strip-Till we gain larger, more robust root systems in the till zone which contributes to more prolific mycorrhizal growth and associations.  It all ties together for the improvement of your soils to produce and remain viable long into the future.

by:  Michael Petersen, Orthman Soil Scientist

 

 

 

Mike Petersen’s Considering of Pre-Plant Fertilizing

This gallery contains 2 photos.

 

Here it is waiting between storms of the 2019 Winter (January) in many parts of the country and some of you may have the itch to do something with the look out the window saying, “No way man”.  Would like to cover a few thoughts of what we at Orthman consider as wise steps in nutrient management with the Orthman 1tRIPr once the weather changes to springtime.

Thought #1
Many of the spring row crops we plant do not use much nitrogen in the first 40 days of growth after emergence so why do we think applying a slug of nitrogen either in the fall or the spring and expect it to be there come June and July?

Thought #2
Even with nitrogen inhibitors we can see fair amounts [10 to 35%] of N moving or lost when applied in the fall.  Does that come into your accounting page for N management in your area?

Applying liquid N-P-K package in early spring

Thought #3
Those of you who farm in the more arid western States, even with dry fertilizers being lower in initial outlay of cash do you really understand the loss potentials in nitrogen and sulfur when they are in your dry blends?

Now I am not trying to gig you in the ribs with this blog, but to give you some time to think on these three questions and then I will respond with our responses in a couple of days.  In the time between when you see this on Precision Tillage.com and a follow up blog with ideas/answers/comments on my part – write me with your thoughts.

mpetersen@orthman.com

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