If you think your soil loss is tolerable because the revised universal soil loss equation (RUSLE) says so, you might want to think again. “We are learning that we must have perennial cover in places where water moves, even with no-till,” says Rick Cruse, agronomy professor, Iowa State University (ISU).
The case for no-till keeps on building. Tillage is increasingly viewed as destructive to soil structure and detrimental to root colonizing arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus (AMF), an important player in supplying plants with phosphorous. AMF is also credited with production of glomalin, the “glue” that holds soil aggregates together.
"Planning cropping strategies to build carbon is the next step," says Doug Hanson, who farms with his father and uncle in northeastern Illinois. "Improving carbon is a big part of the biological side of no-till and now cover crops. As a producer, carbon hasn't been something I've focused on, but we need to start asking more questions about it."
Soil health tests are popping up around every corner, and farmer use is growing. Each has its adherents, and many offer a wealth of information to a degree unimaginable only a few years ago. As a soil scientist and landowner, Ward Labs President Ray Ward believes a diverse microbial community is an important measurement of soil health.
What is your data worth? Indiana farmer and software engineer Aaron Ault notes that data exchanged in commercial agriculture can be compared to Google or Amazon—and as data sharing increases, the cost of services will decrease. "If they couldn't use our data, those services would be way out of line,” he says.
There is no single recipe to determine the right cover crop mix for a particular field, much less an entire farm. You need to know each field, set goals and set a budget that makes sense. Are the primary concerns to retain and build nutrient levels for the coming crop, managing moisture, compaction or simply building soil health? Is grazing a potential income source? Which cover crops match the post-harvest-to-freeze interval in your area? Do you want to deal with pre-plant burn-down or do you prefer letting winterkill do the job?
There is no single recipe to determine the right cover crop mix for a particular field, much less an entire farm. You need to know each field, set goals and set a budget that makes sense. Are the primary concerns to retain and build nutrient levels for the coming crop, managing moisture, compaction or simply building soil health?
Are your crops getting the micronutrients they need when they need them? A recent Purdue University study suggests that it may be past time to pay more attention to micronutrient availability – if you plan to manage the high-yield details.
Long past are the days of tossing in a little crop oil or surfactant in a spray mix. Selecting the right adjuvant is increasingly important today. However, complex herbicide mixes to fight resistant weeds make proper adjuvant selection a critical part of a successful crop protection program.
Simply adding micronutrients to your corn and soybean fertilizer program is not the answer, even with a good fertility base, says Matt Harbur, resource agronomist, Trupointe Co-op, Piqua, Ohio. And part of a complete program is picking genetics that respond to excellent fertility.
For decades, applying lime to soils to adjust pH has been accepted practice. While a low pH can reduce corn or soybean yields by 40% or more, there’s a surprising shortage of recent research about how lime is tested and graded and what impact it actually has on soil pH and crop yield. These were among the issues raised at a recent conference of lime-industry representatives and USDA-ARS and Iowa State University (ISU) soil researchers. The answers could impact input costs and yields as well as nutrient-management effectiveness.
Identifying the optimum nitrogen rate lies in the conversion of ammonium and nitrates from organic matter through mineralization, rainfall and from applied inorganic fertilizer. Managing the process to get the greatest economic value from the investment at the lowest risk of loss and environmental degradation depends on soils, organic matter, rainfall distribution, temperature range, tillage and cropping management systems.
With expanding herbicide and corn-rootworm trait resistance, why let fungicide resistance get a seat at the table? Fungicide resistance in corn has yet to be identified. Checking resistance at the gate makes good agronomic and economic sense.