Photo Blog

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.

From 118 years ago, Scientists at Univ.of Illinois are Giving Us Clues of Stay-Green Genetic Code

I just came across this exciting news for the “corn grower”, came via Corn and Soybean Digest, National Science Foundation (NSF) aided in the funding of this decade and longer study to doggedly keep at it to find out what was discovered to a degree those 118+ years ago.  Now unraveling the corn genome further and further these scientists wrote in Plant Biotechnology Journal April of this year what the NAC7 gene does.  Please click on the link below and read what Corteva, University of Illinois scientists, and NSF has accomplished.  This has big ramifications folks when we add small percentages of improvement in crop productivity with other management alternatives.  How to make more corn grow bigger crops takes every little move of the needle upwards to have a profitable higher yield than years before.

 

https://www.farmprogress.com/corn/identified-gene-could-mean-bigger-corn-yields?NL=SO-09&Issue=SO-09_20190713_SO-09_368&sfvc4enews=42&cl=article_1_b&utm_rid=CPG02000003629899&utm_campaign=40354&utm_medium=email&elq2=1219d3be10824de2b9945af9bd8fc7b6

When corn gets moisture stressed in August and September the DNA switches to shut down the corn plant maybe 5 to 14 days too soon in the Northern Hemisphere.  As breeding moves forward this could be a lifesaver for some of the growers reading this.

Add it to your strip till system in the future, we can rock the boat folks.

Please take this as good news from the field.  What so many of us have heard is the Agriculture world as we know it is devastated and it is all falling into a heap. Yikes!  That brings no encouragement to anyone that makes their livelihood from the soils.

We at Orthman Manufacturing are supporting a project with a bright group of students at the High Plains Community Vo-Ag chapter in Polk, Nebraska about 1 hour west of the capitol city Lincoln.  These young men and women led by Vo-Ag instructor and adviser Tom Hoffman are working on a field sized project of 11+ acres (4.5ha) to study the advantages/disadvantages of common starter products in irrigated corn in a strip-tilled environment following the 2018 crop of soybeans.  This field is offered by a local grower very close to the high school and town. Orthman is partnering to provide manpower, scientist and Strip-Till equipment; a local fertilizer supplier is partnering to provide some of the nutrients, especially the starter products as well as herbicides, fungicides if necessary, and the local Pioneer Seed distributor is supplying seed products.  These folks are greatly appreciated and engaged.

First few days in the corn plants life.  [Courtesy:  Purdue University]

The students are involved with the project to make field measurements and sample the soils and crops for nutrients to determine how to grow a crop with both sustainability and best yields possible.  Mr. Hoffman has the students out in the field collecting data with myself, Mike Petersen, Orthman Agronomist as well as Pat McNaught, Territory Rep for Orthman to learn strategies and management principles that will enrich their education and maybe career opportunities long into the future.

At the V3 to V4 stage of the corn crop the students measured seedling root growth, height, plant density (population) to get an initial set of data to identify the effects of starter fertilizers compared to control with no starters used at the time of planting.  With this data the students will learn hopefully three key points; 1) Does spending the dollars (per acre basis) on better quality and plant-ready nutrients pay, 2) Can we say that yields will increase with starter packages in the seed trench which are liquid products, and 3) Why are starters even necessary in a corn-soybean rotation?  More questions are out there but these were three the students identified last winter.

Agronomically speaking, any grower that uses starter fertilizers are setting up their corn crops yield and growth potential.  So many will limit their thinking to does it affect yield?  We always hope so, yet so many things remain in the hands of each day of heat, cold soil and air temperatures, rain, no rain or no irrigation added, sunlight, wind, hail, insects, weed pressures, diseases, herbicide damage from the farmer or neighbors, additional fertility, soil compaction and the list goes on.  Starting with the best chances where the initial root system actively “runs into” nutrient sources before the soil microorganisms ramp up in their performance with warming soil temperatures is in my minds eye a “no-brainer.”  Besides folks, we are not talking about a glut of N or P or Zn or whatever, we are speaking about very small doses of nutrients.  Quickly, dispersing an ole myth; roots do not seek out nutrients, nor does it smell them or see them in the soil, the root has to literally run into them early on to be able to absorb the collective products.  So a widespread scattering of nutrients on the soil surface and maybe tilling them in as we have done in the past, the crop root efficiency of absorbing products which you spent money on is less than 30%.  That is why we are such strong advocates of precision placement both below the seed and in the seed trench.  It is one of our three guiding Strip-Till principles at Orthman.  Those first few hours/days after radicle root eruption from the seed itself is crucial for the root to encounter food sources to create as seen in the image above so with N,P,K,S and micros of Zn,Cu,Fe,Mn etc readily available for the miniature switches in the DNA of the plant cells to come on for growth potential.  I have explained it this way frequently; like in the back of a church auditorium the lights need to come on in the front and along the side walls for people to see as they walk in and sit.  Out of 25 switches only 13 need to come on for that time of entering.   Akin to that scene, these switches are turned on for the early stages of growth and movement of those elements into the leaves and stalk as well as the root cells to be used later.  As the root absorbs these nutrients the plant will develop with a certain potential, accelerated or maybe not.  The gene pool is activated to an advanced degree and now is influenced by water, temperature, and sunlight.  The entire process of cellular reproduction of leaves, stems, flowers, roots and photosynthesis can have a great beginning or one of … so-so.

The FFA students then walked back into the plots to sample entire plants in the different treatment zones to cut down at the ground surface to obtain dry weights of plants to gain a perspective whether the starter plus micronutrients offered benefits.  This was done at V5-V6 stage as shown in picture below.  The corn crops terminal growth point is right at or just above the soil surface at this time.  We are awaiting those results after air drying for a time.

Plant stage where students sampled for dry matter weight differences.

We will be making those results along with the other data collected on this website in the near future.  The young folks (young men and women) of the High Plains Community FFA Chapter will be putting together a report and presentation for the parents later on.

When any of us hear that they are going to minimize or not use starters in a high yield expectation of $300+ bag of seed corn could well have shot a hole in the foot before a 130 day walk.  Yep, not a good thing!  We are expecting big things out of those highly touted corn hybrids, they have great potential but then not using any starter products lacks foresight.  Sure I realize budgetary restraint for 2019 is a big rock in the road.  Trying to go around a huge rock on a road with a vertical wall on one side and 675 foot drop-off on the other with only 3 feet of room to spare is scary.  But so is the view screen of your yield monitor come fall that is bouncing down around 170 bushels per acre when you expected 225 bpa.  Ugh!

With this and more the students of this progressive and by the way Nebraska FFA has entitled this school in Polk, Nebraska as the number one rated FFA chapter of all the schools in Nebraska.  It is a great honor and pleasure that we at Orthman get to work with Tom Hoffman and ‘his’ young people.  They are learning very valuable lessons and principles in agronomics, a little about plant genetics, and what steps their parents make in growing corn or soybeans in East-Central Nebraska.  Mr. Hoffman is pouring into these young folks  what it takes to become leaders, Ag business professionals, farmers, cattlemen and cattle-women, scientists, teachers/educators and even crusty ole soil scientists.

by:  Mike Petersen, Agronomist for Orthman Mfg, Inc.

 

Elite Up-and-Coming African Young Leaders Came to Visit

2018 Mandella-Washington Scholars

Everyone who has read stories and recent accounts of Nelson Mandella from South Africa and his journey/quest for Africa to awaken from their slumber and learn ways to feed, clothe and house their ever growing population would have seen and heard  promising words and hearts from these young men and women from 18 of the sub-Saharan region of the African Continent.  We, John McCoy, President and CEO of Orthman Manufacturing, Pat McNaught, Territory Manager and myself Mike Petersen the Agronomist for Orthman, we were privileged to be with these young folks for most of a day last week.  The day was filled with a great interactive session with the 2018 Top Vo-Ag School for the State of Nebraska in Polk, Nebraska and the students as well as the Vo-Ag advisor Tom Hoffman. Eyes were opened to a different and far-away world of Africa for these high school students of Polk.  Went to the field to show and explain the 11 acre corn study these students are involved with us at Orthman Manufacturing.  Explained how as a company, we at Orthman thoroughly invest time to educate, disseminate science to the farmer, aid farmers to seek out the reality of the technology of Strip-Till and its many benefits.  Questions that were asked were astute and well thought out and important.  The time with them was delightful, mind expanding, fulfilling and filled with promise that young African leaders will face the next 50 years with tenacity and toughness as well as with much growth potential as possible.

2019 Edition of the National Strip Till Conference

We at Orthman Manufacturing, Inc are getting ready for the 2019 edition of the NSTC in Peoria, IL – to hear the most up to data information, network with other like minded growers that utilize the Strip Tillage method of Conservation Tillage to raise row crops – COME!

 

Corn is finally taking off in the Western Corn Belt

Use of a Dickey-John cone penetrometer – Courtesy Pioneer Seed

We at Orthman have been out in the field collecting some very important data to verify with real numbers what the soil conditions are with Strip Till, especially in irrigated soils.  With the plentiful rains this spring which have been a Godsend for some and a deluge of too much for others across the Western into the Central and Eastern Corn Belt, the soils are exhibiting the issue of compaction and nitrogen either leached away from the upper root zone or way deep.

We are studying what soil resistance values are in the upper 15 inches to better express what we have seen for years as anecdotal information.  This time of the season is near perfect for running these tests.  As a soil scientist I have used soil penetrometers to identify where compaction exists and how thick those layers can be.  This season we are studying eight different soil textural types, three tillage methods; including No-Till or Direct Seeding, Conventional full width tillage and Strip-Till with the 1tRIPr (Orthman’s strip till implement).  With what we have collected so far the data is quite remarkable.  Our plans are to complete sampling and collection of data by the 21st of June.  So stay tuned but for sure visit our booth/stand at the 2019 Husker Harvest Days near Grand Island, Nebraska the second week of September.  We will be sharing it as a special program for visitors of the Orthman Manufacturing, Inc. stand.  The value of having this data should really tell growers some valuable clues on their tillage practices which influence, soil health, growth of crops and water management.

If I may, a suggestion is to check with your Territory Representative for Orthman by email, text or a phone call and chat with him about what we are discovering and what is this all about.  OR… communicate directly with me, Mike Petersen and I am glad to visit because this information has long term ramifications on your farm.  Even those of you that have used the No-Till method will be quite interested in what is happening below the surface.

Precision Planting on the Strip – Not Only in the States But As Well in Africa

As we spoke to dozens of farmers in South Africa during the week of May 14-17, 2019, they reiterated that in a drier climate than much of the Corn Belt of the States, planting directly in the center of the strip created by the Strip Till machine was of extreme importance.  Their experiences shared were quite dramatic on how the crop grew to yield but how well the root expansion and depth made all the difference of having a crop for profit.  I asked the question partly knowing the answers – why?  A percentage of the growers across the Atlantic do not have RTK guidance and when they plant with varied spacing due to using the tram line methodology and getting off either due to contours in the rolling country or lack of guidance the yields dropped on the order of 8 to 15%.

Strip till and planter in one pass

Strip tilling and placing nutrients at 7 inches (180mm) deep hits the sweet spot.

Let us figure quickly on the average of what kind of cost that would be: on a 2000 hectare corn farm for example, that is a loss of 74.1 tons not produced.  Today’s price is $153+ per ton USD $11,340.00 USD or total in Rand for South Africa of $160,990.00.  A significant loss for the South African growers of maize.  Causes; in the Orange Free State and parts of Transvaal the soils can have a water table down at depths of  1 to 1.25 meters and having the root extend down through the loamy sand soils to that depth can insure a decent crop. Capillary action will fluctuate up enough so the roots drink freely to a depth of 700 mm and the corn does quite well.  Irrigation is spotty from ground water unless the farmer has developed small reservoirs and catch rainfall for overhead center pivots.  So considering what the prices of a RTK guidance system are in this day and age, we spoke of how quick the return on investment could be.

What does all this have to do with an American farmer?  As a friendly reminder to all you ladies and gentlemen growers, we at Orthman want to bring attention to the methods we use in the States having great value.  Farmers that are growing let us say 4000 acres of just corn at today’s prices, guidance to keep “on the mark or in the zone” if you will, the practice and electronic equipment really pays season after season.  As we visited more with the South African farmer and the subject went to fertilizers and placement – all those factors can be multiplied for yield if not Strip tilling and placing nutrients.

Coming back home to the States to the Western Corn Belt the message is clear, precision farming has definitely made a difference and will continue to do so.  We at Orthman Manufacturing carry a message that being “on the mark” has great return both for plant health and for return on investment for you, all across this great nation where corn is grown.

Contact us, at your Orthman dealer, via this site by your Territory Managers, myself – Mike Petersen, we would love to visit, email or take your call.

From Nampo – Biggest Farm Show in Southern Hemisphere

Greetings from Nampo-2019
After a long flight we are here to work with the guys chatting with growers from all over South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana and even China. Maize, sunflower, soya, sugar cane, both forage and grain sorghum are the crops that center our conversations. The big topic that the growers are concerned with is diesel fuel savings when they realize the what the Orthman 1tRIPr system is able to provide. A grower told us today that his savings was 55% compared to his conventional 4 pass system had been. That kind of savings is huge. Then the man said “Wait, my fertilizer has dropped by 45% and the 55% is the minimum savings, other farms it is a savings in diesel consumption by 75%.”
I ask what kind of savings when diesel fuel prices are high for your farm? Fewer passes, less wear’n tear, maintenance all are important. Stories similar are all week here at the show.

Orthman brings savings in many facets of what you do out on the farm. Time, labor, overhead, and soil erosion all are savings of great value. Come visit your Orthman to find out how the premium advanced conservation system works for you.

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.