Friday, June 30, 2017

Everyone Likes Onions!

So onions aren't exactly like blueberries where you pop one into your mouth and eat it straight.  But onions help make food into good food.  So back to my trip to the PNW last week...on the trip out you could see lots of center pivot irrigation fields, especially here along the Columbia River.  And as you have heard or experienced yourself, not everyone knows what these are.  The guy next to me asked what those round things were.  Rather than be a wise guy and say they're huge putting greens on a 90 hole golf course, I explained that they are for watering fields for food production.  And they still look cool.
So I'm not sure if this is a map of the same place as in the above picture, but Eric and I were given a map to go find an onion field that has a fertilizer test in it.  Now that was a challenge.  This is a very large corporate type farm.  Well it's not exactly a corporation as we know it, but rather a substantial religious operation.  And very well run it is.  
So why water?  Well the picture below shows ground without water and a field of potatoes with water.  No irrigation, no food.
We finally found the correct pivot, and then located the stakes that divided the fertilizer treatments.  I am standing in the division of two treatments.  On the left is the normal application of 20 gal/A of 10-34-0 and 10 gal/A of Pro-Germinator on the right. To me the Pro-Germinator is bigger and thicker. Another treatment in the test is Pro-Germinator + C-Tech.  It looked good as well.  The plots are very big. However there is an unknown in this test.  The fertilizers were broadcast and incorporated prior to planting, which is different than the preferred band application.  But this farm is so large,  that's the way they say it has to be done.  So we will see come harvest.
This is over on the other side of the pivot.  I was surprised at how much of a change in elevation there was.  It's hard to tell in this picture, but I am way up higher than the top of the pivot towers down below.
This is a nice looking field of potatoes.  Not AgroLiquid.  But today onions...tomorrow potatoes.
Several miles away was another series of center pivot fields with this same large farm business. Again we are looking at pre-plant incorporated applications of 10-34-0 on the left and Pro-Germinator on the right.  As before, I am seeing better growth on the right with Pro-Germinator.  This population of onions seems lighter than the other field, and thinner yet on the left.  I moved over ten beds on each side from the center and took stand counts at five equal distances into the plots.  There were 20.5% more plants on the Pro-Germinator side.  But something was odd here.
This is a center pivot field, you can see the pivot in the above picture.  But they are using buried drip tape here for the water source.  That certainly enables increased water efficiency, but really only if the tape can water the whole width of the planted rows.  The picture shows that the outside rows are dry. They are probably getting some water underground, but not uniform for all rows. It was like this everywhere.  This is probably why the stand is thinner here than the other place.
While on this farm we noticed a variety of crops again.  And look at the thick trees at the back of this corn field.
Well this isn't an Oregon forest, but a crop of hybrid poplar trees.  There are some 50,000 acres of these in the PNW.  They are made to grow fast, up to 110 feet in 12 years at which time they are harvested.  Uses are lumber, wood building pieces, chips for pulp to make paper, among others.  It also provides plenty of wildlife habitat.
But how do they grow in this sandy desert?  There is drop tape at the base of the trees.
So that was interesting to see such crop diversity.  There is so much food and consumer products produced here in the Columbia basin where plentiful water enables so much.