Fall is a good time to carefully watch your crop mature, study your moisture reserves, crop health, shape, size, thickness of stalks and leaves. One of the important points is watching the way a crop dries down. Corn and soybeans should have the ears and pods dry before the stalk and leaves dry down. If the stalk and leaves dry down first the grain cannot dry out properly. You end up with grain that doesn't keep. Sometimes the plant and grain doesn't dry at all. This is generally due to excessive nitrogen and not enough calcium, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium.
Lack of available phosphate to plants
One of the biggest problems I see in crop production today is lack of available phosphate to plants. Phosphate is the key to unlock the path to true crop quality. Dr. Reams taught that all plant food should go into the plant in colloidal phosphate form in order to have nutritious strong healthy plants. This means we need phosphate that becomes available to the plant worked upon by the soil micro-biological system. It's true that a lot of elements can enter the plant and cell in non-phosphate form, but you end up with plants that are subject to insect damage and disease .
Nitrogen and potassium can easily enter a plant in nonphosphate form but it takes a lot of water. The plants that do his are weak and shrink significantly at harvest time. Modern day corn productions is a classic example. Corn shrinks so much that each kernel has a deep dent in it instead of a nice rounded crown. Often kernels are v-shaped instead of being nearly square. These are all signs of a severe nutrient deficiency which affects both animals and man who consume the grain. I was recently reviewing some notes of Dr. Reams, and he made a statement that really hit home to me. He made the statement that phosphate in acid form is excreted by the kidneys and compound colloidal phosphates are not. This has a major impact on the economic of livestock production. Today we are adding much more acid phosphate to rations to maintain production than just a few years ago. If we were growing crops with higher levels of compound colloidal phosphate, the need for high levels of acid phosphate in rations would not be needed. Phosphate is the most expensive nutrient to add to a ration on a cost per pound basis. The excretion of phosphate through the kidneys put a lot of stress on animals. The result is a shorter productive life of the animal and a increased cost to management.
Consequences down the road
So how do we change their program and increase compound colloidal phosphate in plants? This is not easy to do in our present state of ag economics. The necessary management practices with your soil to make this change are not always compatible with year to year financial success. In other words, there is a long phase of several years before the management changes produce a sound financial return. Most American farmers are so stressed out financially that nearly all decisions are made under crisis management techniques with little thought to the consequences two, five and ten years down the road. I find this very disturbing because sooner or later the consequence of our actions will come back to haunt us. A friend recently sent me a article from the "London Financial News" entitled, "Worse than Chernobyl". In Soviet central Asia an ecological catastrophe is crippling and killing unaccounted thousands of people. The cause of the catastrophe is cotton. For years huge amounts of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and defoliants have been poured on cotton fields. The chemicals have seeped into the water supply, poisoning tens of thousands. At the same time great quantities of water have been siphoned from the regions to main reverse for irrigation. The result is the disappearing of the Aral Sea. The level of the Aral has fallen by 15 meters and it's shrunk about half in the past 30 years. Each meter is 39.37 inches. This means the: Aral Sea has dropped 590 inches in the past 30 years or nearly 50 feet. Fishing villages once on the shore are now between 20 and 50 miles inland. The salinity of the water has risen from 10 to 23 per cent in some parts to 44 per cent. Thirteen hundred pounds of fertilizer containing 70-80 pounds of chemicals is applied to each hectare each year. (Hectare is 2.47 acres.) Eight or nine times a year a dust storm swirls overhead dropping 5 million tons of salt, sand and dust on central Asia.
The sky is covered by a salty curtain, the sun becomes crimson and disappears in the salt dust. In that province, not one tree grows on the land. The livestock are perishing. The people are also getting sick and dying. It's estimated 83 percent of the children have serious illnesses. In the Karekalpak region bordering the Aral Sea, two-thirds of the people suffer from hepatitis, typhoid or throat cancer. Many children born near the cotton fields are deformed or have serious liver complaints. In the past 18 months people of all ages are having increased problems with infections, hepatitis, jaundice and gastro intestinal diseases. People are becoming so weak from disease that they despair and commit suicide. The mono-cropping system alone with the necessary chemicals has left the region devoid of meat, fruits and vegetables. Drinking water is in short supply and the region must import food to meet basic human needs. The author made a comment that these conditions and scenes described are similar to biblical terms. I don't like the use of scare tactics to motivate people to change their ways, but the above scenes are happening in our world of 1989 not 100 B.C. When I drive through central Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska I see a similar thing happening at a slower pace but never the less it's happening. Iowa just recently passed a law to restrict the use of Atrazine nearly 20 years after the fact. ! wonder how many more years it will take before we realize the current chemicals we are using is just as damaging as Atrazine. Starved of water the Aral Sea is disappearing. On the mud flats left behind lie millions of tons of salt and chemicals which, picked up by the wind, float in deadly just-clouds to destroy crops and poison the land for hundreds of miles around.
I see areas of our country with dust storms but I have never really thought about chemicals dropping on us from dust storms until I read this article. The saddest thing of all is that there is simple and practical solutions to all these problems. The simplicity is the biggest problem. It's like accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior and having eternal life. It's so simple and yet for millions nearly impossible. Eternal life is a free gift from Jesus and all you have to do is accept the gift. The ag solution in many ways is similar. Over 80 per cent of the nutrients needed to grow a crop are given to us free in most areas of the United States. First ' many areas need to replenish the basic carbons in their soil so that moisture retention will increase. This can be done with composted manures, leaves and gross clippings from our major cities. There is currently enough carbonacious waste in our country to cover ever crop acre in the U.S.A. with 1 ton of compost for starters. If this isn't enough lets consider humates, sugars, calcium and soft rock phosphates alone with crop rotations and more use of cover crops. I don't think it's necessary to destroy our economic system with a mono-crop production bought on us by government policy. I think it's time for everyone to quit chasing the almighty dollar. Greed and money drive many down a path that desensitizes us of feelings for our fellow man. The result is our inevitable destruction.
Setting an example
One of the most encouraging things I have run into lately is a recent conversation with Steve Pavick from California. He is a large organic table grape grower who less than three years ago could not get major grocery chains to buy his grapes on quality. He now has contracts for all his grapes grown without herbicides and insecticides. The best news was his county will soon have enough compost produced to cover most crop acres in his area. This has all happened in 2-3 years. Major growers less than 2 years ago laughed at compost and reduced chemicals. They are now getting on the band wagon. This started by one man taking a stand in his area and setting an example. First, he set the example and then showed others. I have done a similar thing on my own farm along with my brother. I am seeing this happening all across the United States despite the fact that the Chemical press says it won't work. Del Ackerland in Nebraska has been making it work for 15 years without any herbicides or insecticides and he's not broke. If you decide to change and are not sure check around and find some help.
Transition soil programs
I know that currently there is not a lot of people who have the expertise to help, but I know a few. I run a soil test lab and specialize in transition soil programs. It's not easy to switch from heavy chemical and insecticide use to none and I don't think you should stop all at once unless you have a deep pocket book and genuine commitment.
Crop rotations, grasses, and cover crops are nice ways to start but are not presently comparable with government policy. Many of you are set up to farm the government and this is not always the best policy for the land. I currently start slow with those of you that are in that position until enough cash is generated so we can take the next step. I currently have quite a few that are starting into phase two. Phase two includes the use of soft rock-phosphate, heavier use of organics, limes, less use of N.P.K. and herbicides. The most important problem in phase two is getting enough soluble phosiphate available to impact crop quality. This is currently more important for the livestock farmer than it is for the crop farmer. In order to improve phosphate levels in most soils a combination of lime, soft rock phosphate and organics that encourage increased microbial numbers are necessary. If you are currently on a strict N.P.K. and chemical program I would suggest that you wait 2-3 years before you go whole hog on these products.
First, it's important to gradually detoxify the soil so that micro-organisms can establish in greater numbers. The first step is to get off high levels of Anhydrous Ammonia and Potassium Chloride. Both these products impact nitrogen producing organisms in the soil. The result of their use is similar to drug abuse. Both are highly water soluble and move in the soil medium with the water. They are each readily available to plants once in water solution and cause plants to take on more water than needed. Thus, weakening the plant. This makes the plant very susceptible to insect damage and wind damage. The uptake of the nitrogen and potassium is often much more rapid than the phosphate. Phosphate is a very immobile element in the soil. It needs to be in soluble complexes so that it doesn't tie up with soluble calcium and form tri-calcium phosphate which is highly water insoluble. This is why in a dry year commercial nitrogen and potassium are used much more readily than phosphate. The release of phosphate needs soil conditions that meet all the needs of bacteria and fungi. These are air, water and food. In soils where compaction exists on a chemical program the phosphate soluble needs of a crop are never meant to get high quality produce. The use of Anhydrous Ammonia releases a lot of soluble calcium in soils resulting in a tie-up of acid phosphate, and making it impossible to get the soluble phosphate in soils greater than the potassium. As long as the potassium is greater than the phosphate, weeds are going to difficult to control. In the transition phase it becomes important to spoon feed phosphate to start the quality improvement phase. Unfortunately, this is not always feasible so you work on soil aeration, water and food for the bacteria. Crop residue worked into the top 1-2 inches along with a little nitrogen and sugar really help start this process.
I recently took over 120 acres of row crop ground that has been farmed quite heavily with chemicals and basically is biologically dead. I applied the following program this fall to start a rejuvenation program:
Corn and Bean Ground- Fall application
- 150 Ibs. 11-52-0 MAP
- 25 Ibs. 0-0-50 Potassium Sulfate
- 25 Ibs. 20.5-0-0-26 Ammonium Sulfate
Sprayed each acre with:
- 3 gal. Liquid Calcium Nitrate
- 3 Ibs. Sugar
- 2 qt. Z-Hume
- 6 ozs. Agri-SL
- 17 gal. Water
After applications were made each corn acre had the stalks chopped and disced, and the bean ground disced. I will pull new soil samples in the spring and decide where I go next. I didn't allow the land to be plowed because the soil was very dry. I also didn't want crop residue buried deep down. I will let you know next fail how things turned out. I hope to see many of you at my winter seminars.
D.L. Skow D.V.M.