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7 Aug 20Premium Content

As the calendar turned to July and the heat turned on most people look to the pool to cool off from the summer heat, but Kelly and I looked to his tissue samples to see what his high yield corn is needing to handle the heat. One of those key items we are studying in the mid-July heat is where his Nitrogen is at for his contest corn. The agricultural industry talks about Nitrogen quite frequently and is always a concern for farmers if they have too much or not enough. A great way to measure that is tissue sampling from V6 to R3 corn to see how much the plant is up taking through the growing season. 

Kelly and I put our plan together last October for this year’s corn crop before the NH3 was going to be applied. We planned on 2-3 applications of Nitrogen to get what we wanted applied for his yield goal on his irrigated contest corn. A NH3 application in the fall, NH3 application in the spring and one 32% UAN pass with the planter in a 2x2 application to fulfill all our Nitrogen needs. Once the applications were in place and the crop was planted, we were anxious to start seeing what the tissue samples would give us for feedback on our plan.  We planned to tissue sample every week from V2 corn until Black Layer to see what trends we could learn about in this project. So, we were anxious to see what the tissue samples would tell us.

We were excited to see the first couple tissue samples come back high around 5% and I was used to seeing normal yield corn fields around 3% early on and maybe a few around 4%. We felt we were ahead of the game and now was the hope we could maintain those higher levels as we are trying to feed 50,000 corn plants. As the next few weeks progressed the numbers slowly ticked down toward 4% and we were hoping to keep our Nitrogen percentage at or above 4 in the samples.

As the calendar flipped over to July our Nitrogen number slipped below 4% and now, we were below our goal in a key time for Nitrogen uptake in the corn plant.  Kelly and I had discussion on how to move that number above 4% again. Kelly asked me if needed to purchase some 32% Nitrogen to put through drip but showed concern as he hasn’t seen a positive ROI in previous years in making that application.  I told him I didn’t think we needed to add more Nitrogen because we put out there what we needed already.  We needed to figure how to help the soil make the Nitrogen more available.  As I brainstormed different options, I began to think of the Nitrogen cycle and the importance of microbial activity to converting Nitrogen into available form for the corn plants.  The light bulb went off for me, what if we could add more biological activity into the soil to help energize the Nitrogen cycle.  Kelly had extra biological product in the shop, and we mixed up a batch to run through the drip irrigation.

What was going through my mind was the amount rainfall we had received at Kelly’s farm and the daily irrigation he was doing could be depleting the oxygen levels in the soil for the microbes.  Soil microbes are key at converting ammonium in the soil into nitrates.  That conversion is important because plants take up their Nitrogen in nitrate form.  Thus, if we are starving the microbes of oxygen due to excess water then we aren’t getting the critical Nitrogen conversion we need to chase the high yields. 

The question becomes, how do we energize the biological activity in the soil to start that engine again?  Could we pray for it to stop raining?  Nobody in their right mind asks for that we are in the middle of abnormally dry year.  Could we stop irrigating to help bring the oxygen levels back?  Yes, we could but we really didn’t want to do that because we wanted to keep fertigating Kelly’s Plant Food through the system for critical nutrition needs. That’s when I thought of using a biological product through the drip.  We would introduce new biology into the soil to help activate the Nitrogen cycle. It was the best option for Kelly in how he wanted to manage his high yield field.

The following week I pulled the tissue samples for the field and sent them into the lab anxiously waiting the results. Once we got the results, we were excited to see what happened to the Nitrogen in the plant. The previous’ weeks results showed a Nitrogen percentage of 3.60 and after our application of the biological product the Nitrogen percentage went to 4.18%. We were astonished to see that we moved the Nitrogen percentage over a 0.5%. 

Soil health and biology are going to be the future in production agriculture for those wanting to increase their yields. This is just one example of how biologicals can provide solutions for growers trying to be more efficient in their operation. I firmly believe each grower showed be using biologicals on their farms and there are a lot of good products on the market to do so. I would recommend any grower to talk to their local agronomist, consultant or google search to find products to start implementing and trying on your operation.

Mike Evans is an agronomist who works for NutrienAg Solutions based in Glidden, Iowa.  He has worked with Kelly Garrett Land and Cattle for 3 years.