More Nitrogen News – Can We Feed Our Crops Better?

In my continual search and self education for all of our customers and potential customers which are the rest of you, I read in one of my texts; “2006, Physiology of Crop Production.” by N.K. Fageria, who has been a scientist studying rice and maize production more evidence to support more than one form of Nitrogen during the season .  He writes about the energy required to convert NO3 to the more usable form in the maize plant as, ammonium (NH4+).  His data states that the amount of energy in ATP/mol is four times higher for the plant to assimilate NO3 than NH4+, that can be a setback in crop production potential.  Then in another text of mine, according to Tisdale et al. (1993, Soil Fertility and Fertilizers), the rate of NO3- uptake is usually high and is favored by low-pH conditions. NH4+ uptake proceeds best at neutral pH values and is depressed by increasing acidity.  That is pH levels of 5.5-6 and under.  Fageria reports that maize and small grains do best in N  uptake efficiency when the nitrogen sources are mixed between nitrate and ammonium throughout the season.  NH4+ is the N source of choice early in the life of a maize plant.

Feeding the corn plant to produce the most grain as possible takes multiple forms of N.

Now all of this absorption and uptake depends upon the amount of carbon in the soil rhizosphere.  If soils are low in available C such as soils in the Sandhills of Kansas, Nebraska, E. Colorado, the efficiency of N uptake and utilization to create grain will depend upon how the grower takes care of the crop aftermath, tills, where possible and available adding a living plants that root down well to supply an addition of carbohydrates, proteins, nucleic acids and lipids in left over tissues.  We also know that nitrate is more available to the maize plant in better aerated soils.  We also know the factor of nitrate is readily available in soil solution and the plants can access it via the roots as well as the number of soil bacteria that work on nitrate are numerous.  But the genetics of upland plants prefer nitrate for a major portion of the plants lifespan so we have thought that we should us nitrate as the source of N to improve yields.  Something of a conundrum.

So where do we go with all of this?  Early on as I have written before in this blog and many other scientists have written in journals and blogs, NH4+ is preferred in the first 25-30 days after emergence (DAE), then NO3 up until 75-85DAE after that time frame it seems that urea and NH4+ has much value.  You as a grower ask what makes all the difference Mike?  I buy nitrogen in the form of NO3 and call it good, all what you are saying is fooling around to me. My response – I want to inform you that depending upon your growing which crop of grassy-types or broadleaf crop; certain forms of N are more efficiently absorbed, taken into the root and uploaded in the xylem tissues and moved up towards the sink, the ear or florets or pod.  Considering which N source fits the plants physiology is important for you to know how to be as effective as you can be feeding the crop for the optimal yield you can gain.  Not everyone can push 600 bu/ac corn, your climatic factors are never perfect or maybe conducive to such.  I am concerned tho if we add more and more nitrates as the N source of choice we can cause harm to the soil and water ecosystems, cause groundwater pollution for drinking supplies which in turn cause infant blue baby syndrome and eutrophication of rivers, streams and lakes.  To repeat myself then, mixing our N sources can change the plants growth and efficiency, feed it properly and we accentuate yield of biomass and grains.

I will keep digging folks, asking questions of other scientist I rely upon, reading and getting material for you to gain a further understanding that we can grow some amazing crops.  This is one thing I have is some time right now with so many venues and events are shut down for me and many others while we work to remain healthy folks.  Stay in touch and come back to  As noted on the Home page; you can call me or send an email.  Cell number is 1.970.302.1442 or email –

Importance of Nutrient Timing for Row Crops – Especially in a Strip-Till System

For the number of decades (4 and some months) I have worked and dug in fields across the globe, I have observed growers apply commercial or natural fertilizers too early or for convenience-sake for the grower but not the target crop they are growing.  There was old ideas that put it in the soil and it will be there for the plant later on.  Too often we see the application of products laid out on the surface during the winter months and losses are substantial.  Other losses come from leaching the mobile products like nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S).  Losses from volatilization out into the atmosphere can and does occur.   The real need for those mobile nutrients may be 75 to 100+ days later.  In parts of the United States for instance, that far in advance there can be 50 to 75% loss – out the field from rain runoff, snowmelt and into a stream or river.  When applied either by deep tillage, banding or Strip-till too early N and S can leach out of the upper reach of the sol profile and move deeper than what the early root system can intercept, losses do occur.  If we just count the cost in nutrients as well as the dislodged soil particles and organic matter – oh my the dollars are flying away.  Some of those numbers can go over $100/acre.  Enough of the gloom and doom words.

All of the images below are tools for growers to aid them in adding micro’s and Nitrogen near the seed for better use and setting of the stage for early vigorous growth and plant health.

Yetter attachments for 2×2 placement
Courtesy Yetter Mfg.

Bandit 2×2 placement – Courtesy 360 Yield Center

Conceal 2×2 placing nutrients         Courtesy Precision Planting

May I start with the crop we grow extremely well in North America – maize or corn.  Corn has what I have studied seven critical physiological periods in its life span that are nutrient demanding.  With today’s blog I will cover up to the 45th day after emergence and in a subsequent blog finish the corn seasons demands/critical periods for nutrient usage/uptake.  Some folks say that the corn plant is like a hungry teenager, from 13 to 20 years of age for a boy as an example.  My gosh there are not many of his waking moments he is not wanting sustenance.  The bottomless pit Mom may say.  I know when I was a teenager my metabolism ran full steam all of my waking moments even there were some midnight ‘fridge’ raids.  And I am still not a man of weight on my frame.  My studies of soybeans depict four critical times the plant has high nutritional demands as does dry edible beans.  Sorghum for grain or forage – five times.  Cotton which is a perennial plant that we attempt to fool into being an annual crop is a little harder to say but I see – five times.  My experience with peanuts (groundnuts) is so limited I cannot say.  Other crops that are grown in rows; safflower, sunflowers, canola, lentils, potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes, sugar beets, sugarcane and even hemp; all these crops do have specific critical periods of requiring nutrients.  Not all nutrients are being demanded equally across their life span.  Let us look specifically at corn; within the first minutes to hours after the seed imbibes water and the emerging plantlet erupts from the seed shell and the root radicle extends out and downward it will take in P, K, Zn, Fe, Mn a touch of N as ammonium.  Now a portion of this is pulled from the endosperm (starches and proteins) of the seed to send the plant upwards to pierce the soil surface and the seedling root to grow.  When the infantile seedling root does access nutrients right away in the seed trench it will not have to exhaust the supply of food source in the seed.  That being said the first critical period is very early.  The next period is 10-12 days after emergence, mainly uptake is P, Zn, Mn, and Fe.  The amounts are low but critical to starting the developing leaf systems.  Then, at 20-25 days after emergence the corn plant undergoes a change in how it absorbs N.  Nitrogen has been consumed in the ammonium form from root eruption till now.  Now the plant can absorb N as proteins directly, Nitrate, ammonium to a lesser degree.  At 40-45 days after emergence, the corn plant is developing the ear size in circumference, rows of kernels.  P, K, N, Ca, Mg, Zn and small, small amounts of other micro’s are called up.

The Orthman 1tRIPr point and shank system can deliver products in 2 locations – this can be liquid and dry or liquid in 2 spots, very versatile for pre-plant fertilization

By the time the plant is genetically requiring nutrients as of the critical times, yes we need products to be in the root rhizospere, that immediate area where the roots are growing and active ready and absorbing.  Where can those nutrients come from?  A certain portion comes from the soil complex and the soil organic matter that can be from 20 to 50% of the total needs depending upon the exchange capacity, amount of organic matter and what is in the soluble fraction then the rest usually is what we tend to add via commercial or natural manures.  There are a number of schools of thoughts that offer [from University testing and USDA-Agricultural Research Service] what are the plant nutrient needs.  You have trust or faith in a reliable source, do keep tract of their recommendations.  It is also a wise approach to do your own testing to  have a baseline as to what, how much of N,P,K,S and so on your soils, fields and crop selections require.  Climate has a great deal to dictate how your 2020 crop will respond, what I know and have observed filling up the tank weeks ahead of the crop even being planted will lead to losses of the mobile ions.  Spreading on wet, frozen ground due to the convenience of having the local big fertilizer company apply – not so good folks.  Having a better concept of when a crop requires N for instance is so extremely valuable for the plant, your soils and water resources can lose big time, the environment, down river neighbors in their water quality issues. Do not get me wrong our neighbors in the cities have a responsibility too, maybe even more than we in Agriculture.  I am suggesting let us be wise to feed our crops for the first 45 days, not all 125 days.

In the coming weeks we will go into the days after the first 45 to describe those critical physiological time markers that can drive nutrient application.  I am watching that spring is right around the corner this week and the bit is chafing some and the calendar calls, but folks the crop cannot go into the soil until the soils dry enough and the temperatures warm.  The days will come, I know.

What’s all the Hubbaloo with Cover Crops as a Magic Elixer?

Early March 2020, we returned from a high powered, well attended Commodity Classic held in San Antonio, we returned with tired voices from talking and interacting with so many good folks at the Trade Show.  In fact we were informed that the crowd was a record number, made for many conversations going on with two to three sets of growers per Orthman representative and others wanting to ask questions.  Good position to be in.

There were some Win-win sessions going on each morning of the Trade Show and audiences crowded around tables and chairs to hear speakers that spoke to issues marketing, Soil Health, High Yields and Cover Crops.  The latter subject just mentioned was very prevalent with the exhibitors, Soil Microbial mixes were also a topic from many of the exhibitors and then Cover Crop seed sales and mixes they sell.

As a soil scientist I shake my head at the lather that has been rubbed up into suds regarding cover crops, their inevitable roots living longer if planting properly.  In that mantra that is spoken of over and over  (living green matter year around) there seems to be a lack of sense about what

Soil Scientist for Orthman Manufacturing, Mike Petersen [guy in the dark green shirt] explains physical characteristics of Soil Health to Idaho growers.

is happening in the active biological realm of the soil profiles on a growers farms.  There is also a itty-smidgen of material that comes out about the physical characteristics of soil.  I sat in on a breakout session that was to be on Soil Characteristics sponsored by Winfield Ag and the three men on the panel may have talked about characteristics of soils 3 minutes and allowed the Cover Crop person sway the topic to cover crops – not soil characteristics.  As a soil scientist for over 44 years now and would have liked to hear that the audience would get “the rest of the story” promoted.  Remember Paul Harvey on his daily radio broadcast about noon every day when he said with his dramatic pauses, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Folks living roots, exuding and secreting have a  great effect on the biology and chemistry and yes even the physical.  But with my emphasis for growers is to understand physical characteristics play a very serious part in the orchestra of soil health.  I know No-Tillers bray and proclaim pretty loud that they have the answer for Soil Health, the vertical tillers say they too are strong advocates of Soil Health. Be cautious folks what you read, hear – do investigate the major three components equally when you look into Soil Heath and the selling of the emphasis of Cover Crops being the “Next Best Thing”  I think that was sung by a Country –Western singer.  Weigh the facts with Cover Crops, there are places here in the U.S. and across the planet where Cover Crops may just not have all the bi Wow effects.

I will in the near future, write blogs to go more into each of the three parts to Soil Health.  We here at Orthman Manufacturing want you to have a greater awareness and knowledge level to weigh the cover crops additions to benefit your crop rotations and soil resources where and when they can fit.

How to Look at Nitrogen More Carefully

A pound of nitrogen is not a pound of nitrogen in how a crop responds to what we apply throughout the season whether pre-plant all the way to post pollination.  One particular form of N will give a different response completely different than another form, ammonia vs nitrate nitrogen.  I have been reading up on nitrogen consumption by the  way organic growers like to apply and then the commercial applications of urea or ammonium nitrate as 32 percent.  Plant physiologists are describing that there is the most premium way and what is the least effective methodology as to what portion of photosynthetic energy is used to convert the N source.

Well all of this peaked my interest to dive in deeper.  The best of all worlds for the plant is for the plant root system to absorb amino acids and proteins directly from what the soil microbial population leave as they interact and then die on the surface of the root or directly adjacent to the root epidermis.  Not only the nitrogen but the metabolites in the microbial one-celled bodies furnish antibiotics to help the root fight off disease and maybe even insect predators.

Two important bacteria in soils that aid in N becoming available to plant roots  Courtesy Quora

As I continued in my quest; I read what John Kempf wrote in one of his latest blogs some amazing information; “Increasing Nitrogen Use Efficiency” February 8, 2020.  For me an eye-opening experience for which I am grateful of.  His studies and findings have come to a hierarchy of what form(s) N is absorbed best, second, third and so on. I thought after all these years I had a fair handle on nitrogen sources.  So in the previpous paragraph I described the premium pathway for N to be absorbed and utilized.  Think for a minute on what would be the next best?  Do not just throw something out there right away, give it some thought.  Please do not think this is a dollar for dollar issue or organic versus commercial products discussion.  Far too often growers drive on the wrong country road to say I need pounds of N, just get me the cheapest method or least costing material and I will go further down the yield path. Uffda!  Please that is not what this is about.  A troubling thought there, being cheap with the major nutrient has limited so many folks over the last 65 years of agriculture.  Many scientists have described the 4-R’s of nutrient management, starting with the Right Product…. man oh man if we just would use the right products I have a wild dream of what might happen to American crop production.  Several research papers I read (>36) and studied within the last 6 years have time in and time out stated that urea forms of N, especially controlled release urea (CRU) products are very efficiently absorbed by crops with adequate soil moisture during the last 50 days of the crops life before senescence.  This is in agreement with what John Kempf suggested in his blog.

Microbiology up close – swarm of Bacillis subtillis

Is it so that the least efficient form of N for crops is nitrate?  I said hmmmmmm!  For years and years throughout my agronomic career NO3-N has been touted as the form of nitrogen that a corn plant does best on.  So why is that not so?  Kempf states, plants use a significant amount of the photosynthetic energy to convert nitrate to amino acids and proteins.  For the conversion in the plant root it appears there is more energy required to convert NO3 into the root cells because of transport pumps and needed water.  But then I ask, is not maize (corn) preferential to nitrate as the form of N?  Maybe this can help; Marschner in “Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants” (1995) wrote that the higher carbon demand for ammonium uptake in roots, compared with nitrate-fed plants is associated with higher oxygen consumption in roots. Accordingly, plant growth, particularly root growth, is poor in ammonium-fed plants when both root zone temperature and ammonium concentration are high. Ammonium is taken up better in cooler soil temperatures.  The suitability of ammonium for achieving high growth rates and yield therefore depends on root zone temperature plus other factors which determine carbohydrate supply to the roots (e.g. light intensity). Nitrate is a storage form in plants with no necessity to be assimilated in the roots, although it has to be reduced before assimilation which is an energy demanding process.

Let us keep going… Marschner offers that it takes right at 3X more water to convert nitrate to amino acids as compared to ammonium conversion to amino acids. Interesting?  Because hundreds of millions of bacteria can live on the root surfaces existing off of the secretions and excretions to eat carbon and use N to convert the rich carbon sources in the soil organic matter and the exudates.  In turn the microbes die and release amino acids, peptides and proteins directly to the roots – their life cycle does very quickly in the manner of minutes to hours.  It is becoming better known that microbial forms of N are not leachable therefore more available even when water is in low quantity in the soil.

I will keep seeking this subject for you to be informed.  So as of now applying nitrogen is more readily availabe in liquid 32-0-0, liquid 28-0-0 or liquid urea 21-0-0.  In lower organic matter level soils it is very wise to add stimulants for the microbiology to rapidly consume and aid the conversion process along.

An Ontario Canada Discussion, Strip Till and Placing Fertilizer – Is it Shanks or Coulters ?

Grower using a 1tRIPr and combination of liquid and dry products

Snow returned to Northern Colorado, a reminder that the groundhog that Bill Murray stole in the SuperBowl commercial with an orange Jeep went to play in the snow irregardless of sunshine or overcast and was having fun, for me it was scooping snow and blowing snow – all of it is not my idea of fun.  But riding a fat tire bicycle with a little buddy groundhog might be a riot.

The conversation regarding coulter strip till rigs versus shank rigs has risen again as to which may offer a better approach to placing nutrients in the soil for furnishing a young row crop to thrive and obtain successful yields.  An article in Farmtario, a journal from Ontario, Canada explored some facets of both sides of the strip till nutrient management program. If you have not read it; I suggest you can just zip over to look at the link:  As a soil scientist I would like to add to what was written in what we do and see with the shank machine from Orthman Manufacturing, our 1tRIPr.

Always part of the reasoning and purpose of the shank unit we employ with the 1tRIPr is to prepare a seedbed, take care of possible soil compaction in the upper 12 inches, place nutrients and offer an optimal seedbed and rootzone for a newly planted row crop.  As a grower does such and wants to strategically place a portion of his/her nutrient program in the roots pathway our shank and with following wavy coulters first mix soil material and then pinch/press soil into the shank slot so we should not have a massive deposit of products plopped at 6 to 9 inches.  Our wavy coulter system which is right immediately behind the shanks on either side of the shank, these coulters are cambered and cast to do just that pinch and close effect.  [See the image to the lower left]  As they turn at the operating ground speed the wavy coulters are mixing the soil in a wave pattern if you will between the two of the them since they ride parallel to one another.  This action distributes dry, anhydrous or liquid products quite well.  I know we have followed behind both Montag and Salford dry fertilizer carts that are blowing dry products right behind the shank and individuals have applied from 40 pounds per acre of dry granular material up to 600 pounds.  The mix effect we have seen distributes dry for instance in a softball sized zone to large grapefruit sized area in the strip.  One can actually count the individual particles and they are not in a concentrated band like some have come to believe.  I say it pays to dig a lot and look so you can make sure.  When applying anhydrous product, the expansion of the gas and liquid turns out to be about a zone the size of a softball also.  With liquid the zone of where the liquid material gets distributed is somewhat dependent upon soil moisture conditions when strip tilled.  But know this folks it is not a hot zone about the size of a tennis ball right where the roots will get a burn.  Sure if the soil conditions are too moist to being wet – trouble can occur.  We at Orthman will be quick to tell you – wait until conditions allow some drying so the  banding of products do not create a hazard.

Red circle aids in telling the 1tRIPr’s proper distribution of pre-plant nutrients; dry and liquid in this case. Notice the wavy coulters position behind the shank to mix the soil.

Strip Till farming in Ontario, CA – applying dry products alone

We have evaluated what our tool provides growers in sandy soils to those with clay contents of near 65% and applying of N-P-K products, we believe a shank and coulter system is the best combination.  With that in mind, applying your years worth of nutrients pre-plant is clearly not the wisest choice in a season long nutrient management program.  So rates of 350 to 700lbs/acre of products is a move for what some thinks is efficient; in reality it is a case for potential losses of 50% or more or, expensive and as questioned – root burn waiting to happen.  Clearly folks from an agronomic point of view – do not do that.  Nobody feeds their pre-teen son or daughter a weeks worth of food in one sitting at the table and tell them survive until you turn 16.  Now that maybe a drastic case, but think about this – roots grow downward and out from the placement of the seed.  The root system continues to feed the above ground portion of the plant, as the roots grow and are pulled downward with gravity.  Yet soils with high CEC’s (>20-24meq/L) or those with substantial amounts of calcium carbonate can grasp onto positively charged ions in the soil solution and either not release them or allow N and S to leach deeper than the biologically active root zone and be out of reach.  With Nitrogen being such a mobile nutrient, it can essentially fly south (deep) and the root system not run into the N material, leaving you with little to none.  Now the fertilizer supplier did okay, you – well not so good.  In better rainfall zones of North America and conditions of a wet spring like 2019 turned out to be, losses to leaching, denitrification were awful.

So where am I going with this line of thought?  Folks the tillage method of Strip Till whether shank of only coulters is very smart.  Applying the seasons worth of N-P-K up front is not efficient, it is not cost-wise, most likely it is environmentally not the best option either.  The row crops we plant do not consume all their nutrients within the first 40 days of growth after seeding, when in reality certain nutrients do not get taken up and used in the plants photosynthetic span until 80-90 days into growth and some after pollination.  In that meantime the mobile nutrients could be off towards the Mississippi Delta.  It is really an education/understanding for you to gain, to “feed the plant, not the soil”.  We feed our kiddos for nearly 20 years do we not?  I suppose that is different for some, they keep showing up asking for Mom’s cooking.  Please I take this seriously to offer you all to look to a full term system methodology of feeding your corn, soybeans, dry edibles, vegetable crops and small grains.  Strip Tillage starts it off with precision placement, we believe the shank machine like the 1tRIPr does it extremely well.

In future articles I will discuss with you more thoughts on the crop life cycle has demands of specific nutrients which we can supply via the root system, yes foliarly and yes sprayed on the ground near the strip till zone and moisture will help in getting it to the roots.  The world of what goes on in the soil ladies and gentlemen is complex but a puzzle we are figuring out.  Stay tuned.

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

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

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

and not politically correct for the environment and soil health.

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

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

The Drumbeat of Understanding the Issues of Soil Compaction – Ideas on Minimizing Compaction

From the late 60’s early 70’s , the Mama’s and Papa’s as well as Sonny and Cher sang the song about “The Beat Goes On”.  Yes I date myself rather quickly but these musicians wrote the lyrics about music going through our heads from time to time.  Here I bring  an issue that is always worth commenting about, especially us who work in the realm of Tillage.  You as a grower or consultant who deal with compaction in nearly every season may have a reasonable understanding how this limiting set of layers happen in the soil where you plant seeds. But allow me to add some firewood to the winters fireplace or stove.

I was reading more information from some field research that was accomplished recently at Ohio State University and some in-depth conversations from Ian McDonald, scientist from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.  Too often in the field we inadvertently run the same tire air pressure that we do ‘roading’ our tractors or combines into the field and think nothing of it.  Pulling a grain cart (>1000bu capacity) on a road generally requires higher air pressure.  But going in a field this is very unwise for the negative impacts to soil in the upper 20 inches (50cm), especially when above 80% of field capacity moisture content.

“What matters in soil compaction is the mass of the total load, the pressure that is applied, how that load is distributed over the soil and where the soil moisture level is,” McDonald said. “The greater the soil moisture level (higher percentage of field capacity)( FC), the greater the potential for compaction to occur.”  This scientist is saying the same things I have as well as others before me; tire pressure makes such a difference in whether or not you are inserting compaction and limiting your crops potential, water and nutrient movement and cash flow.

There is so much more we can do to limit compaction from being the limiting factor that haunts so many growing row crops around the world.  New efforts of research from Ohio State University show that weights of 10 ton axle load showed nominal yield loss in soil conditions drier than 60% of FC.  But under conditions like we saw so much in the spring months of 2019, losses are 10% and more. Increase the axle load to 20 tons, oh here it comes.  Losses jumped to 20% to 25% when compacted in a much wetter state.  What can we, you do?

Tire companies have devised the IF and VF tires for the tractor and combine.  The tire companies out there who supply tractor tires and rims have the Increased Flexion [IF] and Very High Flexion [VF] tires to support the loads and pulling needs of your tractors.  So load up a new 370hp tractor with sidetanks of 400 gallons each side of the frame, 38970 lbs without tanks/frame/fluid.  480R50 tractor tires, no weights.  Add the fluid of 800 gallons at 11.2lbs/gallon – 8960lbs, the tank system is another 800-1000 lbs.  Now we are up to 48,900+ lbs or 24.45tons.  Add a planter, seed, whether it is three point or drawbar, we are adding weight onto the tractor to pull it.  The tractor tires and rims are designed to handle these loads, distribute the weight  and travel across the soil.  But during that it puts a heavy load on the soil especially with 15 to 25 psi in the tires.  In a little bit I offer a website to read up on IF & VF tires/rims.

From No-Till Farmer – Heavy One-Pass planting operation. Could he be inserting compaction?

Why all the hullabaloo of this compaction issue?  “I rip and chisel my soil every year” will be many growers statement.  Ladies and gentlemen, it is always the last pass before you plant and then… it is what you do while you are planting.  Large frame tractors, 24, 32, 36, 48 row planters with all those wheels and tires, products on the tractor, on the planter, in a commodity cart or all the above whether it is dry or liquid – the load/footprint on the ground that makes the difference.  Are we in there too early when the soils are still near field capacity at 6 inches and deeper?  I realize very vividly that sometimes the choices are get in the field and make it happen like 2019.  Hey I am not passing judgement, it is the condition before me that I can wait 24 to 48 hours?  Then if I am in a geography that wet soils are a norm then tire selection or track tractors if at all feasible should considered how tillage and planting is done.

Along that line of thinking employing IF or VF tires and rims may be real options.  The technology of those tires and rims or tracks either straight or “Quad-trac” type tracks will surely reduce downforce on the soil, spread out the weight and reduce the loading vertically that can compress soils to squeeze soil pores, smear soil particles together, and break down vertical structure units.

A great discussion of IF/VF tires is on this site; .  Some valuable information that made me think hard.

Every Extension Service bulletin written about ‘Soil Compaction‘ that has been written across the States and in other countries, soil compaction is effected by air pressure, weight per axle, speed and yes, soil moisture.  I know I have been a co-author for one of those bulletins in my home state of Colorado.

What does this have to do with 2020 and what you are planning on in three months to four?  Have you considered what is the capacity of your large framed tractor for weight when you plant?  Are you having to apply downforce more each year to make sure the seed is getting two inches deep?  Up to 400 pounds?  Did you purchase a different or new planter recently and went 24 or 36 rows wide this year to cover ground faster to meet the self imposed 10 day rule?  You maybe setting yourself up for compaction to become the tyrant of your farm.

Take it from me folks, I have been studying compaction issues since the very early 1980’s all across our great nation, I have dug soil pits in every known soil texture that I know of as a soil scientist, I have been in No-Till, Strip Till, Ridge Till and full width multiple tillage pass conditions – compaction can be and is a serious limiting factor to production. We know here at Orthman Manufacturing that we can deal with/mitigate compaction prior to the planting operation and help the farmer set things in motion for when he/she plants the 2020 crop.  The Orthman 1tRIPr and placing some of the nutrition that you believe is necessary to raise your crop is part of the solution to keeping compaction from becoming the 800 pound unhappy gorilla in the shed where the planter is stored.

Back to the song I mentioned in the first line of this blog, I will beat the drum of dealing with compaction, knowing how to identify and offer you quantifying information of what compaction will do.  Why?  So you as growers of our nations foodstuffs become informed, know of options to deal with the 800 lb gorilla. The gorilla doesn’t go away because you wish it to.

Credit and Appreciation goes to  Ohio AgNet – Ohio’s Country Journal for the information from Dr. McDonald in Ontario.

Hopefully History Aids Our Farming Today – Strip Till Can Be Part of a New Year For You

Winter has not given up it’s grip and for many fields across the entire Corn Belt – soils are frozen.  Today a bit of basic soil science to illuminate you why as we live with our tillage practices, be they Direct Seeding (called No-Till), Strip Till, ridge till, Chisel, Disking, moldboard plowing, and roto-till.  From the least amount of soil disturbance to the absolute maximum.  Oh there ain’t anybody roto-tilling!  Better think again.

So why did tillage start in the first place?  Well those men and women that took a stick, shoulder scalp bone from a cow or buffalo to till soils didn’t stick around long enough to give us any clues as to why.  One answer was provided – competition.  Another the seeds planting or dropped on the ground may germinate but live for a short time because run out of moisture to perpetuate growth.  Another, birds came along and stole the seeds away – again competition.  As men moved from their homelands of the middle east/Mediterranean, far east, all across Europe and into the New World – The Americas, farming for cereals, beans was taken along and propagated.

Digging to give you the best information regarding soils as I know how.

Here we sit in our easy chairs or at a desk or table reading with snow, ice, wind outside to solidify our consciousness that staying inside is the best course.  I bring up this subject to help in your understanding that strip tillage has loads of good aspects except to the purist of Direct Seeding, that’s fine.  Strip till emerged from the concept we can do minimal amount of in-the-ground vertical tillage, not rolling the soil over in a 8-10 inch band to maximize tillage to disrupt human caused and natural causes of compaction.  Then to stir that soil only within a modified U fashion of the soil so the followup row crop planter can place seed, evenly, smoothly and with little to no crop aftermath getting in the way of the seed-to-soil contact just made.  The soil area warms up nicely, porosity can improve to allow water soak downward and into the soil profile, oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange happens, soil density has been lessened which in so many, many cases is important and the newly planted crop starts a life cycle which farmers live for.  Allowing for O2 and CO2 exchange as well as some other gasses is vital for the young crop.

Let me put it this way maybe even more clearly, what you do to give a crop its best start for the first 45 days of a crops life cycle is so important it is a make-or-breaking deal.  Some say a crop will catch-up to its neighbors if it is a tad slow out of the ground, physiologically folks I do not believe that to be true for an second.  So many of the physiological characteristics are set in the first 45 days of growth.  If you wait 5 years before you feed a infant to 5 year old meat based protein and other foods of high nutritional value and leave him/her in a basement room, look what can happen.  Modern medicine has around the world we live on shown us that is detrimental to a child.  So why would we want to do this, yes mistreatment to a starting corn, soybean, sunflower, cotton, or peanut crop?  Maybe I am a mite melodramatic here.  I am tho a proponent of smart soil management, still being a steward of the soil and water resources (34 years in SCS/NRCS brought that to my attention) so we minimize losses due to erosion, managing residues, tilling less of the surface, giving the soil resource a chance to remain healthy with adjunct practices such as adding of certain amendments and/or biostimulants when needed, growing companion crops when and where possible, using cover crops with a common sense approach, and having a real rotation of crops.

In 2020 may all of you consider the ramifications of the strip tillage concept, that there are doggone few if any better tips to start your 2020 season off on the better path.  Talk to a 1tRIPr owner in your neck of the woods.  See what he or she says that can get your mind to thinking.  Check with an Orthman Territorial Rep, their contact information is on this website, see what he has to say also.  Call me, write me, text, send smoke signals if you like – Strip Till can be for you and an opportunity to improve your husbandry of the soil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some Hidden Details About Adding Manure with Strip-Till

I wrote in an article earlier this month [December 2019] about microbial functions of soils by keeping living roots active as long as possible and what that implies to soil health.  Good stuff.  As of late I delved into more reading of scientific journal articles dealing with additions of animal manure and how that affects microbial life, both microbes/bacteria and fungi.  Let me then bring that to you in terms and words that are I pray are understandable.  My wise now long passed grandfather who had an eighth grade education would tell me, “use of them there eighty dollar words Mike misses the mark.”  Yes sir they can.  So I will do my best to keep those $80 words to the minimum.

In the article I read, in NATURE by some scientists in the Netherlands and one from Brazil; Leite et al, “Organic nitrogen rearranges both structure and activity of the soilborne microbial seedbank” [2017] – they offered that adding manure and adding residues changes in microbial life, population and activity, as well as fungi, microbial predators (amoeba) as well  as the resilience of individual species of bacteria which can result in increases or decreases in availability of soil nutrients for plant use.  Some may say well that is obvious, or the proverbial Duh!  Let me go some further.

Soil biological functions begin when the emerging plant is first out of the ground.

The scientists involved in this study determined biologic communities via 16S and 18S rRNA gene sequencing analyses which is quite complex but establishes who is who according to their genetic code and who is who living in the soil.  They were looking at this at windows in time 32, 69 and 132 days after incorporation of the residues or manure or commercial nitrogen sources.  It was important in their research what the carbon to nitrogen ratio (C:N) of the organic material they added.  That C/N ratio can lead to N mineralization, when that value is 25/1 or less.  Above 25/1 organic N becomes immobilized or tends to become tied up.  It was the intent of these scientists to offer when perturbation [physical disturbance] of the soils occurs to  incorporate either the manure or the residues then microbial resilience and resistance to change could be evaluated.

As they added manure the activity of microbes clustered themselves separately compared to the higher C/N ratio wheat straw (84:1), or addition of lucerne (alfalfa), or corn residues (50:1) which favored the fungal growth.  The changes in the microbial community (those who are living and thriving multiplied in number) they observed by counting bacteria on plates, they included Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria.   It is known that Actinobacteria have a high metabolism when organic manure additions occur.  There are easily known 20 to 21 families of Actinobacteria with one of the most well known – Streptomyces.  Actinobacteria make up a significant portion of the bacteria who activate and work on both manures and organic residues and that Nitrospira being nitrite-oxidizing bacteria, they work in harmony with Actinobacteria together on high C/N ratio organic additions – straw and corn residues.

In another paper I read, in Frontiers in Microbiology, Sept. 2017, Das et al., these scientists incorporate composted cattle manure and composted swine manure to observe the overall activities of microbes as they grew rice and what happened to the population and dominant species of bacteria.  Moreover enzyme activity jumped to aid in the breakdown of the organic C and organic N with the addition of the composted cattle manure.  The addition of cattle manure enriched the species several fold with bacteria from the cow’s gut and stimulating those bacteria in low population already in the soil, such as Azospirillum, several Clostridium species, Magnetospirillum, Pseudomonas and Bacillus.  All of these bacterial species play key roles in complex carbon compounds and growth promotion of the plants that are planted after manure application.

Fall application of injecting manure via a strip till operation

The authors of the paper in NATURE made it clear that in short term (32 to 132 days) after addition of organic amendments the quality  of the organics in regards to quality (higher C/N ratio) affected the fungal community more than the bacterial.  That positive effect is due to the fungal hyphae being able to translocate nutrients such as N, P, S and Zn from the soil back to its host – the plant root.  Bacteria that live on the roots and on the Soil Organic Carbon materials (SOC) do the heavy lifting so to speak when it comes to manures added and they noted in the short term, may reduce plant nitrogen uptake.  Now when we introduce strip tillage to mix a portion of the manure, aid in warming the soil in the till zone, relieving soil density — we provide an environment to accelerate both bacterial and fungal life.  Consider fungal hyphae trying to grow in compacted soils where density reaches 250 to 500 lbs/square inch, just is not going to happen well at all.

Offer of a bit of summation; scientists assure us that adding organic residues with high carbon to nitrogen ratios (>40/1) mycorrhizae play a significant role in helping in the breakdown of the material to become soil organic carbon thusly release locked up N, P, K, S, Zn and other nutrients to the plant and bacteria.  Bacteria gain when manures are applied whether in liquid or more solid forms because of the lower C/N ratios in manure and manure adds to the species richness of the upper 4 to 12 inches of the soil profile.  The type of tillage with Strip-Till aids in warming soils in the immediate rootzone, activating more bacteria to utilize the organics but not burying, smothering and crushing the bacteria with more invasive tillage of the plow, disk, chisel and disk-chisel systems.  The incorporation is maybe a bit slower than a plow but the organics continue to release carbon sources for the biological activity to sustain life and nutrients to the planted crops.  As we at Orthman Manufacturing stress, placement of nutrients in the right place for the growing crop to have direct access is one of the keys to a Strip-Till System succeeding and you the grower improving yields and soil health and quality.

For Soil Health reasons, for aiding the soils to be rich and diverse with bacterial species to provide nutrition and root uptake – adding manure when possible is a good approach to soil management.  The old timers knew this, now soil scientists are quantifying the value and intelligence of what manure can mean to Better Soil Management practices today.