Newer Nitrogen Tools for We Strip-Tillers – Options to Consider!

For many of you, and for us at Orthman Research Farm near Lexington, Nebraska we are planning the pre-plant tillage operations of the spring 2013 to be underway very soon. Tillage via strip-till methods will be our way, but how about many of you as you consider the fertilization part of the puzzle? How will that be happening for you?
Just recently we attended a good set of meetings in Reno at the Western Fertility Conference to hear recent findings and interact with industry and research scientists about some gains in fertility management for row crops, small grains, and orchard/fruit crops. The issues of ground water contamination, overland flow issues getting into the major water course of the Mississippi River and major river systems of the West are challenging the way we growers must consider our operations. You all have heard about well waters reaching levels of nitrate in the water that surpass drinking standards not only for human infants but even livestock due to leaching and other contamination processes. Being good stewards now is very wise, but we are coming against issues of the past 65+ years of intensive farming with nitrogen sources.  After WWII and thoughts that “if a little is good than a whole bunch is that much more better.” Yeah bad grammar but it was an addage that numerous growers thought and employed. Now we pay for it and have to be that much more on top of our game.
The good folks I met, listened too and spoke with in Reno, NV are saying there are Nitrogen products on the market that will give better and sustained release to the crops root system over a longer period of time and resist the change from first introduction into the soil profile to convert to Nitrate and leach away before the roots have a chance to access to it in the soil solution. Products such as ESN™ being a granular urea coated with micro thin polymer, yes it is a dry product. This method of release can aid in slowed access to the urea-N product so it does not leach away, gobbled by the microbes or become mineralized so quickly that the plant root starves for N when called for by the growing above ground plant.
ESN™ is an Agrium product which responds to soil temperature and soil water content. Another product out on the market is Nutrisphere-N™ by SFP that works a bit differently than ESN™ but offers another management alternative for growers on how N releases into the soil environment. For the strip-till grower these products offer advanced ways to accomplish higher management of your N-fertility and feed the plant incrementally. Agrotain™ by Koch Industries, then there is Instinct™ by Dow are other products out there that all should be aware of so N management is not a willy-nilly part of how we furnish the corn, wheat, grain sorghum, dry edibles, cotton, peanuts, etc what is needed. As we learn more about these products from trials in each of our regions or even on a neighbors ground – we can better feed the crops we grow with the Nitrogen.
It was in the conference that we learned that especially with veggie crops N is in big demand for a short period and timing is everything. Consider maize/corn, we know it has three major calls if you will when N is in demand. Dump a hugeload prior to planting like 300 pounds per acre 30-90 days ahead of planting, do you really think it is going to sit still and not move deep or get fixed in the organic colloids or onto the clay complex or move off the surface if surface applied? Here is when these slowed release agents/products come into play to offer new solutions to our old loss problem. A little further study can really help you gain when and which product can work in your soils environment whether you have dry, wet, cold or what ever conditions.
In the strip-till system where the soils off to either side of where we strip-till 10 inches deep can be 2 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit colder, more moist if not wet and cause issues of root N-uptake and maybe even yield reductions early because the availability is just not there. You pour on N via anhydrous ammonia and expect because it is cooler that it will be there when the roots get to it, wow that could be an issue. It is a cheaper form of lots of N but is it the right one when any of it volitalizes or gets converted too soon? Cavities in the soil, shanked in and you may see it escaping, warmer than 50 degrees, dry soils – all issues and 20+% is poof, gone and that price differential just evaporated. Placing a charge of 250-300lbs/acre and then a couple-three inches of rain and the stuff will move even in clay loam soils 10-25 inches deeper than where you placed it. In some environments folks, the roots may never reach that and it is lost to never be had. Yes the same can happen to high rates of N via liquid products.

This day and age we are called to be better managers and come out of the shell the old way Daddy did it and move to spending time to educate how we can do better and wiser. Allocate time to have products be within reach of the roots when the demand for N is there will take new skills when we place it with the strip-till tool that we make called the 1tRIPr or another tool is very important. We, Mark and I at Orthman Farms are using some of the above products and getting positive responses that these products yield good results in grain and healthier crops. Check back with us or go to your agronomist or fertilizer dealer and learn about these products.

In California the watchers and monitoring agencies are clamping down on how fertility is managed, in Delaware and Maryland the environmental agencies by law demand fine-toothed control of N-P fertilization. In segments of the Central and Eastern Corn Belt states fall applications of N products are restricted and certain watersheds are being monitored and evaluated to stating growers may only apply 70lbs/acre (as an example) of N for a 200 bushel/acre corn crop. That is quite restrictive – yes? Other environments we can still be applying high amounts of N but to what cost? As a soil scientist and agronomist for Orthman Manufacturing I am going the route of top flight management with better products that will feed the plant incrementally. It has paid off and we encourage the same with the checking into the use of these good products that I named as a few of them to start with.
We will one day maybe feeding the corn we plant only half of what we have conventionally tilled into the soils and still yield 300 bushel/acre corn regularly. It has been done in the past three years in the Western Corn Belt under intensively managed irrigated corn. Instead of 300-350lbs N/acre researchers applied 140-150lbs/acre. Consider the dollars savings alone folks.

All of us who grow crops to reac a production goal know it takes fertilizers, either commercial or with use of manures.  We know our dollars stretch only so far and our water is stretching us to be better about how we grow crops.  We encourage you to place those nutrients in the soil precisely, with the understanding how much will the plant need and when.  Using the Strip-Tillage tools manufactured at Orthman is a great choice to put this all in motion.  Please contact any of us on the Sales, Marketing and/or Agronomy Team here at Orthman.

Strip-Tilling with Liquid Fertilizers for Early to Mid-Season Growth

Moisture Collection vs Moisture Lost

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by Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist

Fall Strip-Tilled into Barley Stubble

Storms are advancing from the Southwest into the Central Corn Belt with blizzard-like conditions at times but are we getting enough moisture to provide replenishment? Further west in Western NE, KS, SD and into Colorado and Wyoming, we have much less snowfall – oh my pitifully dry.
One of the wonderful details about maintaining all last year’s stalks, leaves, shucks in the field is trapping all these snowfall events. Over across the road where the neighbor fall tilled or used his “vertical” tillage or disk tool the residue was sized, chopped and free to blow from here to the Gulf. Also simply put, the taller stalks left in corn to cause movement of lateral snow to drop and stay on the ground compared to the flattened soil surfaces. Many times snow blowing around can accumulate in the standing stalks and give you another 3 to 8 inches of snow, which means harvesting water.
Even if a grower strip-tills in the fall the surface profile of the soil/field is left very rough and allows for catchment areas to have snow stop and store-up in the field. Why all this? Every inch of these snows is priceless. We know that very few of us want to plant into dry soils, irrigate up if irrigation is possible, or just hope for the next rain to be plentiful to start the planted crop.
For the conventional tillage farmer each spring tillage operation has the potential for loss of moisture, and that could be up to 0.75 inch per tillage operation. As dry as it has been that is 8-10 inches of snowfall loss in one pass. Wow, consider that and we have had so little snow since December 1, 2012, I worry about the condition of the soil profile moisture even for the Strip-Tillers. So what growers may want to consider in the Western Corn Belt is waiting until the very last week to strip-till and then follow close behind with the planter. The Orthman 1tRIPr was designed way back in the late, late ‘90’s to be a connected set up of strip-till and planter attached. This year, 2013 there is a great deal of merit to give that a long look.

Good News on the International Front – Strip-Tillage Makes Decent Gains!

Precision tillage in South Africa

South African grower strip-tilling and planting corn

After getting the summary of some of the yield data from South Africa for the trials we at Orthman participated in the Mpumalanga Province for 2012, our agronomic team organized a report for you to see that Strip-Till is doing well. The report is yes from the first seasons doing such comparisons with a more conventional tillage system and strip-till with the 1tRIPr. The folks over in the Highveld of Mpumalanga are enthusiastic and are sharing their results. As in so much of the Corn Belt of the States, South Africa felt the ugly effects of drought and consequently yields were down. Download a copy of the report here.

Some more information regarding Soil Organic Carbon – Strip-Till

Over the Christmas and New Year holidays our Lead Agronomist has been digging into research findings, reviewing our Orthman work and writing.  Take a look at the post that Mike wrote in the section of Agronomics 101 articles.  It is a couple of pages that depicts findings from what we have been doing, some from Europe and a bit from Down Under by Dr. Hulugalle.

We think this will give you more clues on the importance of not turning over those residues which farmers have called trash for far too long.  The benefits are far reaching for years to come.

Orthman 1tRIPr maintains residues