More than 100 farmers sought the latest facts on biological farming March 12

Here's a quick overview of the farmer meeting in Ames March 12, organized by Central Iowa Agronomy and Supply. We will have further detail as quick as we can extract data from notes and videos recorded during the all-day session.

March 16, 2018 — We've condensed consultant Bob Streit's comments below. And we'll have more detailed information extracted from our notes. Renewable Farming also recorded videos of the entire session for Bob, who plans to refine the raw footage into useful segments.  Here are Bob's comments. Please refer to the program we published earlier to connect his observations with the specific speakers.

Farmers filled the conference room

By Bob Streit

Our March 12 farmer meeting in Ames with five other companies supplying crop inputs had over one hundred guests. They came loaded with many good questions. 

Speakers included a soil health consultant, a micronutrient specialist who formulates and sells micros, a second nutrient supply company that tailors more to the specialty crop audience, two biological companies that have from 5 to 20 years’ experience, a spray company that is introducing mineral-based disease minimizing products, and a USDA researcher.

We crammed almost too many topics into one 6.5 hour day, but the typical farmer comment was that it was one of the best information-filled meetings, with some of the top speakers, they have listened to in a long time.

The speakers were well grounded and realized how growers could have a tough time in sorting through the pile of information being generated every year. I am always quick to say that with every new thing we learn, we realize how much we don’t know — and that it is humbling.

Research Findings

The Verdesian research team was present and they shared information on how the corn from the high-yield research fields and plots turned out. Most fields were corn on corn no-till. The quest by their folks was how to manage stalks from 300 Bu/A corn using no tillage to have the stalks melted away by the 2018 planting time so as to not have a seed to soil contact problems or to face so much tough residue that decent residue management becomes a problem. On those acres they had sprayed BioDyne 501 with a stalk chopper mounted tank and spray boom. The pictures shown showed heavy residue that had mostly rotted away enough that no problems were expected.

The yields on the semi-flat ground where erosion was not a problem were generally in a 310 to 370 Bu/A region. P and K soil test levels remain at the low end of the medium range, with the P in-furrow applied stabilized with Avail.

Micronutrients were applied again with an in-furrow mix that was stabilized with another polymer to prevent leaching of materials such as Bo and Moly. That mix included materials such as Zn, Co, Mn and Mg.

This year they had included a Calcium Silicate product applied foliarly near the V6 – V8 growth stage. Three reps were sprayed and the average yield boost was just over thirty bushels per acre. It was an area that was being closely watched during the season and it was looking good. The conclusion after harvest was that additional testing to see what it continue to produce for yield gains, adding stalk strength to different hybrids, did for nutrient uptake and boosting stress tolerance needed to be monitored and tested regularly.

Years ago when I was working as an agronomist with a seed company, there were several seasons where green snap of certain varieties from many seed corn companies was a major problem. A young corn breeder at one research station theorized how to test different genetic families for their susceptibility for this problem. He started by finding two old hot water heaters, pulled off the outside jackets and insulation, leaving only the long, narrow cylindrical tanks. He then torched out the ends, cut them length wise, and had them mounted on a hydraulic boom on an old high clearance sprayer. He then drove through his research plots early in the morning when the plants were full of moisture in the two weeks before tasselling when the stalks were most brittle.

He saw a big difference between varieties, and ended up theorizing that those with lower silica levels lacked the stalk strength to withstand snapping in the wind. Would the product mentioned above help avoid the problem? What do you think? What have they seen in other grass crops? The world wide collection of such stem or stalk strengthening research projects are interesting to read. In recent years, there has been a worldwide silicon research conference every three years. With new findings available, those conclusions should give a good clue. 

Micronutrients       

Dr Dave Sasseville presented information about different micros, their role in supporting plant growth and plant health, and the yield benefits where applications of each were made.

Dave does things right, and if he ends up producing trial results where no yield gain results, he typically has pulled soil and tissue tests to help pre-emptively explain why that mineral did or did not increase yields. In that manner he is better able to advise past or potential customers when they are smarter to apply or not apply each product.

He was not surprised when I mentioned to him that when I visited with the fellow that signs the tissue test results from farmer clients about the rate at with each of the major micros were deemed VL or Deficient, that very few other agronomists or academics had asked the same question. He held the view that every farmer would benefit from knowing the role and each of each of the so called micro-nutrients. [Dave and four co-authors literally wrote the book on required micronutrient levels shown in tissue tests. It's the Plant Analysis Handbook III.]

Soil Health and Biology

A young soil health consultant also spoke for 46 minutes on what he was learning and had learned in the past year by working directly with Dr Rich Haney on a few collaborative projects. This fellow and another soil health composting business man have been working to document the Haney score increase they had seen after varying rates of poultry, hog or cattle manure had been applied for one or two years. The benefits of the project could then be used to give guidance to growers as to how fast they could raise their scores along with the approximate cost.     

A number of people educating people about cover crops admit they have a tough time justifying the use of cover crops in many parts of Iowa. There are challenges to doing so without livestock in the equation, as corn harvest often comes after the soil temps drop below 50 F. But if a person realizes that with higher Haney scores can come significantly higher grain yields, then developing a workable program may seem worth it.

Two reps from the BioDyne Midwest Company listed ideas and field results they saw in 2017. The high levels of moisture stress seen in the southwestern three-fourths of Iowa during June 1 thru August 12 revealed that treated fields contained plants that were much healthier and showed less moisture stress than non-treated fields.      

The Humate Discussion

We had a scientist from the National Lab for the Soil and Environment in Ames tell of his results from his 4-plus years of working with the carbon based humates. This topic and these products had often been viewed in negative terms, as there has been great variance in the quality of the different products and sales techniques in marketing them. Now after years of carefully testing a few of the products, scientists have found that there were statistically relevant benefits from using some of them. 

So in spite of not using them to magnify the benefits of being paired with a micronutrient or a hormonal product for the optimal return, they still easily paid for themselves a high percentage of the time.

So in conclusion we were heartened by fact that we filled a good sized room to overflowing. The people that attended stayed around to ask their own questions. It looks like something that needs to be repeated again sometime in summer or early fall.