Agronomics101

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.

The AgroExpo in Central Michigan is Almost Here! Come and See!

Orthman Manufacturing, Inc is heading north to be part of the summer event of 2019 for folks of the Great Lakes Region.  We see the opportunity to be part of this to day event and opportunity to refresh ideas, hear new topics, get better understanding of agronomics, fertility needs and issues and what is happening with Agriculture.  We are pleased to partner with AgroLiquid to present some of the up-to-date information that Mike Petersen our Lead Agronomist is “digging into the soils” about and share under the big tent and at the exhibition plots at NCRS north and west of St. Johns, Michigan  August 13 and 14th.

Jump onto the internet, click the link to the right and look at the offerings for 2019 Expo — www.theagroexpo.com

Providing Second Installment of the Strip Till Fact Sheets

Mike Petersen here back from a long trip to South Africa, the largest Southern Hemisphere farm show that gave us four beautiful sunny days, few clouds and great crowds coming by to visit, learn, make future decisions and actually place orders for equipment that we at Orthman manufacture as well as the associated John Deere planters.  To us that is exciting and good news, you might say well that is what happens doesn’t it?  Not always, for the most part in the States folks come to chat, kick tires and see if there is some pretty new paint.  For many of the African nation farmers that come, they are on a mission to educate themselves or move forward and get the lads at a specific stand to place the order.

Today as you read this blog I am offering the next in a lineup of Fact Sheets that provide you more information from the soils perspective what I have studied so much of my career looking at soils – Pore Space.  What is the big deal about pores?  Does it matter about size of pores and how many there could be in the upper soil horizons versus down lower in the soil profile?  Oh the answer is – Yes!  Oxygen movement up and down, carbon dioxide exchange, nitrogen in its gaseous forms, retention of water, release of water to the roots, how the microbiological lifeforms exist or not – oh the list goes on.  I offer this fact sheet to discuss some of the physical ramifications of pores.  Please see the attached article. Click on the link below….

Orthman PT.com PoreSpace2019

When does Strip Till Makes a Difference – At planting time A quick Video…

Spring time in the Western Corn Belt.  Strips completed by the Orthman 1tRIPr just two weeks prior.  Watch the planter.  Smooth as glass so depth control is as close to perfect as you want.  This is part of what we at Orthman want your planting process and days to be like after your Strip Till pass.  An Ideal Seedbed!
Click on the link below, it is about 30 seconds long, then click on where it downloads to your screen and then start the video.

2019 Planting in STill

2019 Planting Season Is Upon Us

Here in the Northern Latitudes of the terrestrial body we find ourselves living on comes this time when North American farmers get all wound up, nervous, antsy and focused.  The present day mentality is to plant everything in 10 days once the tractor pulls the planter loaded

out of the yard and enters his first field.  We know in many parts of the country the soil is only 49 degrees F. at 3 inches.  At these what I call cold soil temperatures the helpful soil microbes are pretty much shivering and asleep.  Those bacteria are absolutely essential to work on the organic products and the added nutrients in the seed trench, over the top or off to the side of the placed seed.  We have seen with strip till a grower that follows that same tilled area with his planter (GPS guided) the soils are usually warmer by 1 to 7 degrees F., softer for the planter ride and then consistent seed depth and spacing.  Having soils that are 49 versus Strip Tilled fields the zone is 55 or better.   Planting in warmer conditions provides a condition for even germination with nearly every seed placed in the row, offering the seedling root a chance to grow longer and deeper to feed the baby plant and start every mornings photosynthesis cycle as the sun touches the green plant that erupts through the soil.  BUT the calendar says it is April 20-something and we gotta go.  I could give you the chemical breakdown of fertilizers and how the biochemical processes works better and induces switches in the DNA of every corn plant or soybean plant to give consistent growth, but those of you driven by the calendar – it makes no difference to you.  For those of you that want to be sound conservationists and top notch growers to maximize your potentials – I applaud you for considering how the initial soil health and physical condition of the soil is taken into account.  For you men and women will succeed and be the innovators and growers to enlighten your children and grandchildren to carry the banner of farming long into the days ahead.

We at Orthman urge a more scientific approach to this years planting plan.  Hopefully the strip till tool is part of your program along with wise pre-plant fertility.  As a soil scientist and one who loves to look below the soil surface with a view like a worm would see if it had eyes (fortunately I have two of them) and observing physical processes, evidence of biological activities and knowing that the interaction of microbes, roots, worms and other invertebrates I know allowing the soils to warm naturally and not getting ahead of all that is very wise.

One of the most interesting ideas that has come of the Soil Health movement here in the United States and Canada is slowing down to observe and pay heed to the life that goes on in the first 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) of your soil profiles.  Working with the soils abilities to actively provide nutrients and sustainability for plant growth has never been a dumb idea, but being in a hurry can set you back more than you know.  Contact an Orthman representative or me and we’d love to visit about the approach that works with the soil biological system – that being Strip Tillage.

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.

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.

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