Monday, March 14, 2016

A Midwest Experience (Literally)

So the blog hasn't been on vacation again, but has been very busy travelling.  And that means new action-filled blogs just waiting to be told.  Like this one of a trip to Omaha a few weeks ago to a soils conference put on by my favorite lab: Midwest Labs.  The agronomy staff, a couple SAM's, myself and Nick attended.  It was well attended as you can see here.  They had a number of speakers addressing such topics as potassium chemistry in the soil, different soil effects on yield, soil sampling, in season variability, soil test interpretation and recommendations.  They also had a speaker on GMO crops and the public.  Did you know that by having fewer in-season herbicide and pesticide applications in these crops has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equal to removing 10 million cars from the road.  PER YEAR!  Ag is going green for sure.  And there was a speaker addressing the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategies for the Mississippi River.  We could sure make his job easy if everyone switched to AgroLiquid.  But then what would the poor guy do? 
 Most of the talks were in break-out sessions.  I thought this picture was interesting, about the effect of low pH on plant roots.  Seeing is believing.
The conference included a visit to Midwest Labs itself.  The blog featured a story on November 12, 2010 about an AgroLiquid visit.  (Good grief, was that over five years ago?  Time passes too darn fast.)  I will say that we got a better tour then, but this was still good.  Here is where the samples that you take are ground up after spending time in the dryer.  A bar code is attached to the tray that identifies the soil through its journey of nutrient analysis.
Here is where the trays of soil are further sub-sampled for the multitude of nutrient extractions.  I sure don't know how they keep them all straight.  I can't remember where I set my cell phone half the time...and these samples are way more important.  During the busy season in the fall and spring they can run analysis on 20,000 samples a day.  (Can you spot any of the AgroLiquid-ites below?)
Here is the device for measuring phosphorus content in the Bray test.  It is a colorimetric test meaning that the extracted P reacts with a reagent resulting in a blue color.  The blueness is measured to determine soil P content.
Most nutrient contents, after extracted from the soil itself, are measured with this ICAP machine. That stands for Inductively Coupled Argon Plasma.  OK, I've told you but I still don't exactly know what it means.  But you can see that term on the soil test.  It is mainly for Sulfur and micronutrients.  And secondary too I think.  But anyway, see that light inside?  That is the flame that the solution is shot through giving energy peaks for each element that are somehow measured and interpreted.  And don't think you can re-heat your coffee there.  That flame is the temperature of the sun, around 10,000 degrees F.  Well I guess it is relatively cool compared to the inside of the sun which is 27 Million degrees F, give or take a few degrees.  (OK I looked that up.)  But I wonder how they keep that thing from melting?  I'll ask on my next visit.
Out back in the alley we saw a row of bins that collect the soil after it is all done being analyzed. Being finely ground, it is used by the Omaha landfill to cover the surface of the buried garbage.  They said it packs like cement.  So the soil from your farm is helping keep Omaha fly free.  We also learned that Midwest does more than soil analysis.  They are also a leading lab in testing for food safety.  So if that sandwich you took out with you while soil sampling looks a little iffy, send it in as an extra sample to find out
So the convention center where the conference was held was across the street from the local Cabela's store.  So of course a visit was necessary.  I like their gigantic aquariums.  Here is some kind of vicious fish swimming over a log.  But look inside the log at the mouth of that giant catfish.  There is nothing for scale, I should have thrown a quarter in for reference.  But it is huge.  I can't believe those guys that go noodling for catfish in rivers by sticking their arms in logs and "catching" the catfish inside as it bites your arm.  I'm sure some sort of liquid courage is a prerequisite.
So the whole thing was very informative and I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend.  And to share it here in The Land of Liquid.