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CROP WATCH

Keep up on soil health

March 30, 2018
By BOB STREIT - Columnist , Farm News

The calendar has moved past the middle of March and the official start of spring arrives this week. That doesn't rule out the chance of getting any more snow, but the chance of it keeping the ground white for any length of time has decreased dramatically.

We can now reflect on how we would rate this past winter season. To me it was on the milder side of normal, except for about three bitterly two week periods where one did not want to spend too many hours outside of in the wind. If you happen to ever talk to anyone who had to spend two years manning a military weather station in Antarctica and could barely venture outside due to minus 50 air temps much of the time, our condition would not compare. An agronomy friend named Buford, who some of you know, has told us stories about his time at the pole.

This is a great time to be a college basketball fan. It was not a great time to be a fan of any of the major college teams this season as all three teams had off seasons. We were too busy to spend much time watching, but the games played by the team from UMBC were great to watch in that for a team that seemed to come out of nowhere and were undersized, being able to give the No.1 team in the country a whipping was fun to watch. It has also been years since a 5 foot 7 inch point guard kept the other teams busy trying to stay away from him.

Also what we great to read about were the GPA and graduation rate of their players. In one article the facts given that off all the universities with teams in the tournament they had the highest percent going into PhD programs or medical professions. Here in Ames we had the delight of seeing a high percentage if not all of the seniors in recent seasons get their degrees with a few even earning their MS degrees. I guess people still value an education as well as practical experience plus ambition in the Midwest.

On a sad note

A long time and well known weather forecaster and climatologist from Illinois, meteorologist Larry Acker, passed away a few weeks ago. For years he was a regular at cropping meetings across the Midwest where he discussed cycles, how they were tracked over centuries on Earth, that there were over one hundred that had been sleuthed out and how they influenced our weather all during the growing season both here and around the world. He often noted how we have seen droughts, floods, disease and insect attacks on a cyclic basis and if were keen enough to either listen to him or figure them out ourselves we could better prepare for the best or worst. He was definitely one of the keepers of ancient knowledge.

I have not heard yet what caused his passing, but he related to a small group of us of how after he graduated from the U of Illinois with his MS in chemistry and got drafted, some Army genius decided he should be able to mix together: 2,4-D; 2,4,5-T; and orange dye to make Agent Orange that was aerially applied to the jungles in Vietnam.

He said by the end of the day he was drenched in the liquid. By the time I got to know him he was begin treated by the VA for several types of cancer. Or was until he got a letter from Obama's medical organization that he could not be covered any longer for his pre-existing conditions. Knowing Larry in this next phase of his life he will be haunting their offices for years to come.

Our meeting repercussions

Over the course of three weeks there have been a few meetings worth attending and learning at. About two weeks ago there was a S.P.A.M. meeting up in Inwood. No, it had nothing to do with Hormel or Hormel's most famous product. It had to do with mineral nutrition and health management. The name was an acronym for Soil, Plants, Animals, and Man.

As we gain knowledge about how many factors affect health in those four categories, we gain an appreciation of how valuable adequate and balance mineral nutrition is to maintaining good health in those four categories. Not keeping the supply adequate or imbalanced is when we see problems occur.

The conference began with many of the early attendees being able to look at soil samples under high powered microscopes looking at the little critters and organisms that live and do battle as they seek to garner as much food as possible or became dinner to critters higher up the food chain.

One well known comedian and well published mineral expert by the last name of Olree spoke during two evening sessions about the importance and function of different minerals for the organism in the four different categories, and how an excess or deficiency could lead to major health problems, plus how there were many back and forth interactions, with a few of those only having been sleuthed out in recent years.

In the case of plant micronutrients a circular graph that involves about a dozen and a half of them with arrows going back and forth between them can be looked up for studying and is known as the Mulder Graph. It helps to point out that too much or too little of many of the minerals has consequences that we have to avoid. Being able to understand it and manage those levels proactively is what a crops or livestock person has to do.

The Show Me the Money conference

Last week I mentioned that a group of us held an educational meeting in Ames last Monday. We continue to get calls telling us that it was one of the best and informational meetings they have been to in years. We had almost too many good and definitely not boring people to present on different topic. They all had good field experience and weren't 'all hat and no horse'.

We began by focusing on soil health and how learning the rules and being able to measure the progress made versus steps implemented made sense. The reason for this being first is that over the last five or so years and definitely since I was in college is that soil fertility used to be chemical equation. Now after years of good work by both farmers and researchers the common knowledge is that it is more of a biological equation.

So with this change and the fact that more print media describe the evolution in thought, more farmers are trying to figure out what they can do to bump up yields or increase plant health by not spending more money or pouring on more nitrogen, but by taking a more balance approach and working more with nature. Once you go down the path in thinking you can see how pioneers in thinking like Jill Clapperton, Bob Kremer or Christine Jones from Australia are teaching stuff that is important to every farming operation.

I will cover more of the meeting topics next week. In the meanwhile good luck in getting the equipment ready for the work that is now only a few weeks away.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or www.CentralIowaAg.com.

 
 

 

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