Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Long Drive

No, the title does not refer to golf. But the blog has not been updated for a few days as I was on another Liquid mission. This time I left home early Monday morning and headed West for Baltic, SD, home of Hefty Seed Company. As you may know, we are working with them as they are dealers for Liquid fertilizer, and we are advertizers on Brian and Darren's fine TV show "Ag Ph.D". They have been kind enough to mention how Liquid fertilizers have worked on their farm, and especially on Darren's so-called "Blank Slate" field. This is so named because it has really been abused over the years until Darren purchased it last winter. He covers it in his blog. But the soil fertility is rated Very Low in all nutrient catagories, as well as organic matter. It does have some firm clay with a CEC of 15. We have worked on some different fertility programs to see what it takes to produce yield and improve the soil. With the low soil test levels, a planter program of 10.5 gallons per acre was the standard (5 gal of Pro-Germinator, 5 gal of Sure-K and 2 qt of Micro 500). We recommend not to apply rates higher than this in-furrow to prevent seed injury. At side-dress, (whenver it stops raining) treatments of this same 10.5 gal/A will be added plus another treatment of double this, or 21 gal/A, will be applied. This will be compared to no additional fertilizer at sidedress. So this gives a range of treatments. However, Hefty Seed Agronomist Rob Fritz wanted to see how high you could go in-furrow, and applied additional treatments of 15 and 20 gal/A of this same half and half blend. Earlier stand counts found that there was no real reduction in stand at the higher rates, although there was some leafing out underground and reduced vigor to push through crust. So I was anxious to see this and made the drive. It has been very rainy so far this spring in South Dakota. They said that if it is not raining at the moment, then it is in the forecast. Sure enough, as I approached on Tuesday, it started to rain. But it did let up which enabled us to walk through the field and dig up some plants, again due to hard work and clean living. In the picture below, Liquid Area Manager Chad Schlecter (in orange) converses with Hefty Seed agronomists Rob Fritz and Matt Falck.
We were impressed with how good the field looked, in spite of the "Blank Slate" of nutrients in the soil. All of the corn had good color and vigor. I dug up some plants from the different rates, which are in the picture below. Now this is just a sample of one plant per rate, but from similar positions in the field. From left to right we see corn that received 10.5, 15 and 20 gallons per acre. It does appear that the lower rate enabled a little better root system, but the higher rates still look very good. However, this is not an endorsement of higher rates, so our recommendation stands. This is a test. But the Liquid did not hurt the corn.
So it will be interesting to follow this through the summer to harvest. Normally there would be moisture stress later in the summer, so the effects on roots may be a factor. Additonally, we will see if more fertility added as a side-dress has an effect. This is planned for a several year test, so there is a ways to go. The next picture is looking down a pretty good slope. The plan was to apply fertilizer through spring strip till. But it was decided that the ground was too hard, and so it was leveled with a field cultivator and planted. Even so, there was enough soybean residue left on the surface that I think will help hold soil on the slopes during the excess rain. So the field really looks go so far. Again, stay tuned, and follow more on Darren's blog.

So after that, we looked at some other fields and then Chad and I visited a field of a second year customer in Northern Nebraska, not too far from where we were. It was interesting for the steep sloped fields that they farm. But more on that in a future post. I got up early Wednesday morning and made the very long drive back to Michigan to be back at the NCRS today.
I would like to close by mentioning that Tuesday was my 18th Anniversary with Liquid fertilizers. What a long time, but it has flown by. We were so small then compared to now, although we are still small in the fertilizer industry. But we are sure being noticed by growers and competition because of the unique formulations of high-performance plant nutrition. I remember shortly after I started thinking that I would just do this until something better came along. Well, I am still here and I really don't think anything better will ever come along. I am very fortunate to work for such a great outfit and family (Bancrofts and Cooks), as the above story illustrates. So we will see what the next 18 years bring.