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By Staff | Nov 6, 2015

It seems like early fall over much of the Midwest this week, where 70-degree temps rather than days with skiffs of snow falling are much preferred.

Being able to work outside in shirt sleeves is great, though one has to keep a sweatshirt handy once the sun begins to drop.

And, for the first time I can remember, many people are beginning to wonder if they should cut the grass one more time.

The same goes for the many deciduous trees that should have lost their leaves long ago, with many of them still holding more of them still green and providing their shade.

At the Streit ranch it was the weekend to dig the potatoes and pick the later apples, which were either peeled and put into the freezer for crisps and pies or canned into applesauce, just waiting to be consumed during any of the upcoming seasons.

We noticed the neighboring beef herd with the summer calf crop is also enjoying the still green pastures where the grass is still tender.

Cover crops

The 2015 fall harvest season is mostly completed in the western half of the state and progressing slowly in the eastern half.

Later planting and having time consumed by livestock chores takes a good bite out of each for farmers in that area.

There have been many acres of corn stubble chiseled under already, turning the ground partially black.

The fields planted to cover crops have turned green from the rye or mixtures planted in each.

In contrast to previous years the rains came in time to facilitate good germination and most have taken off and seem to be growing taller each day.

The plan on what to do in 2016 with their cover crops will be determined by their operation and to whether or not they have livestock. Those with cattle could take the foliage as silage or bales.

Those without cattle get to decide how to terminate the crop. The farmers who have used the rye or turnips or other mixes in previous years have generally seen an improvement in soil texture and moisture infiltration rates.

In the just-published Progressive Farming magazine they had a big series on changing climate which they proceeded to use logic to claim it was real.

Thus they said the proof was in the fact that there were more 1.25-inch rainfall events, which was the amount where the water no longer soaked into the soil.

Does that mean that North Dakota’s Gabe Brown, who is the defacto leader in using cover crops, has been living with a different climate, since his soils can and has absorbed an 8-inch rain with no erosion or runoff?

In 2016 there are likely to be growers faced with the decision of what crop to plant that might lose the least money.

Bankers may force that choice, as we know that no good ground in the Midwest has ever sat idle unless it was due to flooding.

This is where a cover crop could be left to mature with hay penciling out as good as a row crop due to lower input costs, depending on cash rent terms.

Most farmers who have been raising cover crops and have studied their effects on soil biology and nutrient scavenging would like to find a spray mixture that does not involve any or much hard chemistry.

So far those that appear promising are based around either phophorus- or sulfur-fertilizer mixed with a good surfactant and perhaps a small dose of Kixor.

I did hear of a new soft product that could come in from another source that may be greenhouse-tested this winter. The other possibility for termination would be to use a roller and plant soybeans into that mat of rye.

People who used that method liked what they saw, but recognize planting dates and variety of rye help to determine when they do the rolling successfully.

What I saw with it last year is that slugs, snails and millipedes can then become economically important crop pests.

Some insects always find a niche that fits them.

Now that the corn growers group has hired people to investigate the issue of soil health they need to use the Haney Solvita test to determine how much if any effect the different termination products or methods have on soil biology.

Residue management

Most years the worry is about what to do with the woody corn stalks left in the fields. This year, fewer of those stalks remain solid so should disappear quickly as much of the bacterial or fungal decomposition has already occurred.

Where this may offer an opportunity to spray a biology mixture on the residue, both to decompose it and to increase nutrient availability next season lowering the need for applied fertilizer.

I have seen this happen once. There are increase oxygen levels in the soil that increase microbial populations and functions.

Some of those mixtures can be brewed up in an on-farm tank where the largest expense is the air pump and the food/mineral mix to grow. The bugs must be purchased.

They are easy to set up and plumb once you see it.

Nevada’s plant

This week marked the grand opening of DuPont cellulosic ethanol plant that was build for about $225 million just east of Ames on old U.S. Highway 30.

The feed source has been and will be crop residue collected within about 20 miles of the plant.

When the decision was made to build, the thought was that eventually perennial crops such as switch grass and miscanthus would make more sense as feedstuff since they are perennials costing less to grow, while minimizing or eliminating erosion.

Different mixtures have been experimented with at the BioResearch Farm west of the ISU campus along with different means of extracting any oil or byproducts.

One question is – the original goal was for hydrogen to fuel a percentage of the nation’s vehicles.

Hydrogen must be compressed to a high PSI to be stored and those tanks would have an explosive nature.

Thus ethanol became the easily handled, non-explosive material that could serve as the hydrogen source. So will the original thought about hydrogen vehicles be resurrected using new technology that has been developed?

And are we supposed to have vehicles that could get extremely high mileage? Or is that not in the cards?

Now is the time to do field tests to determine if any owned- or long-term rented ground has a compaction problem which must be remediated with an inline deep ripping or cover crop program.

The best way to drought-proof a crop is still to develop a deep root system and to increase moisture infiltration.

Last week was also the first time most fertilizer suppliers allowed ammonia applicators to operate as the soil temp dropped below 50 degrees.

With the warm temps this week that soil reading likely was raised. How that might affect things is that each big fertilizer supplier is aware of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit and realizes every supplier is under increased scrutiny to manage nitrogen as good as possible.

That means the use of stabilizers should increase as well as more applications being made closer to the time of crop uptake.

Newer, or soil-friendly stabilizers will now find a home.

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

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