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By Staff | Nov 24, 2017

We are in the early stage of what seems to be a cold winter. December through late February is typically the period that seems to have the coldest weather and the most snow. So unless you love ice fishing and snowmobiling those two factors are enough to not nominate winter as your favorite your favorite season. Actually having freezing temperatures help to eliminate many insect pests and help to break up shallow soil compaction. The same long winter period along with 30 inches of rain per year are mostly responsible for us having black high organic matter levels in our soils. Without the cold months the organic matter would be broken down via microbial activity in short fashion, just as it is south of I-70 and in more southern states. This organic matter serves as home to the many beneficial microbes crucial to plant growth and function as well as acting as a sponge for nutrients and water needed by the plants that we grow and cultivate.

Educational opportunities

Every year and every season is always a big learning experience. The hope is that over several of them you or your crop advisor gains enough experience and gut instinct that they can help you avoid costly mistakes while jumping on new opportunities that might come your way.

Thus it is good to be alert to new educational opportunities that might be coming to a location that is within driving distance. One that is worth being alert to it going to be held in late Nov in Ames. It is the big Ag IPM Conference that typically is a sellout eve when additional space was allocated to handle the crowd. They are still taking reservations.

A work trip someplace different

So I will try to warm your day telling you about what we have seen and experienced on a work trip to a southern work jaunt. This trip began to ferment last February when a friend and biophysics water researcher had me visit with his friend from Ecuador who was becoming involved with several growing operations in different parts of the country. Until then I had only heard any details about the Oregon-sized nation from a friend near Humboldt who visited the eastern territory where the Amazon river began. In this Pennsylvania natives business dealings it was time to get a person down there who understood growing crops, minerals uptake, different diseases and how to manage the crops so they could remain healthy with less dependence on hard chemistry. Improving soil health was going to be important. The top people in this ag industry realized they were seeing too much nutrient run-off from their operations, were spending too much money on insecticides and fungicides, and were recognizing they would have to scramble to meet their recent dealer and customer demands.

The second part of the three segment trip was to help plan for, pull soil and tissue sample while providing cropping advice on a new specialty farm down in Ecuador. With the first invite I had to pull the map out to get the exact location down and see both what countries it bordered and how far off the equator our travels would take us.

By looking at the globe it appeared to be from about 2 degrees north to 3 degrees south of the equator. Meaning temps at sea level would be very warm. We would be flying into the capital of Quito, which because of its 9500 feet elevation, has November high temps in the mid 60s up to the low 70s. Lows were to be in the low 50s. In other words it sounded a lot like a late April or early May day. What was nice about the trip was that Quito was a five hour trip from Atlanta, so no overnight on a plane, so a whole next day was not lost recovering.

The terrain was amazing. I would compare much that we saw was like a wet Utah would be with some dramatic landscapes with the Andean mountains in much of the country, yet with many flatter areas where cattle grazed of they raised crops. Due to variations in elevation and proximity to the ocean humidity the country has 14 different climates. Thus anything raised in Chile or California is a possibility to them. Two of the largest industries where they rank in the top 2 or 3 in the world are farmed shrimp and cut flowers/rose production. Within the last category are 500 medium to large rose growers where some producers have up to 400 acres of production, all within greenhouses so they can control all the factors.

They ship the flowers all over the world and rely on top quality to retain their markets.

The second industry I was exposed to was that of cocao production, which is the culture of trees that produce the large orange pods that hold the brownish beans that are harvested dried, fermented, shelled and then ground into chocolate powder for use in baking, candies and other consumer products worldwide. Because the demand is unlikely to decline in our lifetimes and the market is demanding more production, especially in locations closer than Indonesia or Madagascar they are expecting to plant more acres of the crop.

All of that traveling got us into places with really strange names just wishing we could listen to WHO or KWMT, hear English being spoken or watching/listening to an ISU game. meet and get to visit with lots of new friends and discuss ideas.

The final leg of the trip was a visit to a place I have wanted to visit since I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Since 600 west of the west coast city of Guayquil lays the Galapagos the jumping on a flight there is very easy that is what we did. It took less than 2 hours to get there on an Airbus 320. We landed at the Baltra, the WW2 old U.S. Air Force base, and traveled by bus, then ferry, followed by another bus into Puerto Ayora, on the island of Santa Cruz. The island is the most settled of the 4 inhabited islands with 18,000 people. We toured and took in the giant tortoise captive breeding station and two ranches that ran cattle and hundreds of the beast weighing between 400 and 900 pounds. Near there were a pair of fantastic old volcano craters and the lava tunnels one could walk through. On the next day we took a 2 hour boat ride across the Pacific to visit the island of Isabella where we saw the large colonies of seals, sea lions, large ocean going iguanas, sharks and the famous blue footed booby birds. When sighting and scouting for those critters where the landscape was rough lava that was often covered with lichen. This film is a combination of a fungus and an algae and it the only thing that eats rock to start the soil building process.

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