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By Staff | Feb 20, 2015

Another week and no more snow, which is good. What is not so pleasant are temps in the minus 10 up to 15 above.

That is bone-chilling cold if the wind is blowing or one has to spend lots of hours outside. We have not yet been to any place warm and like many others, can’t wait to get to a warmer climate.

A bunch of farmer friends and their wives spent a week in Jamaica where their 84 degree with sun was pleasant. We are wishing and hoping for the same at this time.

Mr. Groundhog had his day two weeks ago and supposedly saw his shadow, foretelling of another six weeks of winter.

If temps get up to normal, which would be in the high 30s every day it would be much more pleasant.

The climate

I had the chance to head up to an ag conference in Albert Lea, Minnesota last week to listen to Larry Acker. Whenever I can quiz a premier climatologist and person who belongs to a long-term cycle person with a good track record, I will jump at the chance.

Acker belongs to the group who takes note of volcanic activity, as in how many volcanoes are erupting, how much and how high stuff is contained in the resulting clouds, are they centered in a pattern along known tectonic plates or in an isolated location, plus other particulars about each one that might make them different.

He totally dispels all notion of global warming or climate change, because the climate has always changed and it always will. When asked what celestial bodies create the gravitational pull that makes the semi-molten core erupt into a volcano he thinks it has to be the alignment of the sun, Jupiter and Saturn.

Acker, Elizabeth Browning and my NASA physicist buddy all have data that suggests we are actually a few years into a long-term cold cycle fueled by a quieting sun.

Grabbing your woollies would sound logical, but a question by famers in the crowd was how to respond to shorter and cooler growing seasons.

Do we move to shorter season hybrids or look more closely at smaller grain crops? Just as they say, there are no atheists in foxholes, there are likely fewer believers in global warming out on the east coast, especially in Boston this month.

Fertilizer plans

In tougher times or when the input costs don’t match economic realities, we sit here and wonder why one category of inputs is priced too high.

With the seemingly accurate accounts of 87 percent of the cash flows not working and with Rabo Bank stating that 40 percent of growers still don’t have financing, most growers are in a quandary of what to do about their fertilizer plans for 2015.

As far as reasons why this is, the case what makes the most sense is that most agencies are still predicting a record total of row crop acres. Plus there are more acres worldwide that need to be fertilized.

The thing that needs to be remembered is the place to start is having current, accurate and complete soil analyses for different fields that can be studied and used to determine which fields are most and least likely to respond to additional fertilizer being applied prior to the start of the season.

With many of the input costs locked in, not applying needed elements like zinc or boron may lower yields and drop the yields enough to remove the profit return on all other inputs.

Those soil test results are simply a starting roadmap where you can establish where you are at, then proceed by deciding where you are going to do and at what speed.

Soil quality

The issue of soil quality and soil health is gaining greater visibility among farmers as well as medical professionals and concerned parents.

Why this might be happening may be partially credited to a person named Rich Haney. He is a USDA-ARS soil scientists in Temple, Texas who was a feedlot cowboy before getting his college degrees.

He developed a theory that plants-needed nutrients only became plant available after they had become part of a microbial body.

Then after that generation of microbes died on their 19 or so day cycle, the nutrients contained in their bodies became plant food as their carcasses rotted.

He subsequently developed the Haney or Solvita test that gauged the biological activity level in a soil sample. This test is now available at both Ward Labs in Kearney, Nebraska and Midwest Labs in Omaha.

This is now changing things and the thinking of farmers who have already requested such analyses on samples sent in.

A few crop advisors who have correlated test results to the fertilizers they were having to apply, with their results for nutrients and Solvita testing, are categorizing up-trending yields or if they are declining.

It does change how we evaluate both our fertility recs and each material we have been recommending. In the latter category some advisors have actually been questioning the effects of our commonly used products.

Any good manager who intends to survive now and flourish in the future will be looking to raise their Haney test results on its 1 to 50 scale.

Any program that can raise the score, while reducing costs, is what they will be seeking.

The same testing will also place more focus on crop rotations and on mixed species cover cropping. Work done by soil scientists who are making use of the new DNA or electrophoresis gel work will help to provide the guidance for famers willing to listen.

This season, more farmers realize their nitrogen management plans will be under increased scrutiny to minimize loss from leaching or denitrification.

Typically, this is no problem as long as the weatherman cooperates.

In California this is already the case for growers who have regulators watching for any water running off their fields and knowing that any and all outflows are being tested for any nutrients including phosphorus and nitrogen.

No one wants Big Brother watching over us so we have to work as a group to add sane and doable solutions to the toolbox.

The use of stabilizers of all sorts and more in-season N applications closer to the time of plant uptake are likely to become more common.

Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143.

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