Here we sit on the first few days of December, about a week after Thanksgiving, and we have often been able to do outdoors work in long sleeve shirts with a late Indian Summer. Now in a time when we often get bombarded with wild predictions about global warming with those predictions from groups trying to sound official. Instead we are looking at three storms moving in from the Pacific ready to deliver snow to our region and it is not winter yet. Will we have to endure another year without a spring?
In the hopes of delaying winter the local university hosted a football contest this past Saturday. It was raining, it was snowing, and there was a strong cold wind coming out of the Northwest. While we normally think of football players as being big and tough, they are human and had to feel the cold. If they have to play in those conditions, shouldn’t the athletic officials and refs also have to give up wearing jackets and rain gear?
I was outside much of the day and it was not great weather wise. I was telling my wife that when we were kids in grade school up in northern Iowa we played tackle tag at recess in the spring and fall for two straight years, not caring if it was raining, snowing, or the ground was frozen. I had to explain to her what tackle tag was. They finally made us quit after a few concussions among classmates.
The hot news on the twitter network Saturday evening was the sit-down dinner between U.S. and Chinese trade officials attending the G20 summit in Argentina. We have waited with baited breath to hear that progress is being made in de-escalating the trade war and accompanying tariffs on U.S. bean exports to China. Any event or action that shuts down the grain trade of one of our larger crops to the regular destination affecting farmer profitability is an important topic. It was announced the dinner meeting took place and they had some good discussions on several topics including ramping down the announced Jan 1st imposition of increased rates of those penalties. A lot of things will be discussed during the next few weeks and we hope gets the U.S. raised soy crop moving in the direction of China. Let’s hope that continued progress is made.
Weather and global warming
I don’t doubt that the CO2 level in the atmosphere is increasing each year. A number of wise crops people admit to that fact but differ on what they fell the cause of that rise is.
They believe the main source of this rise is likely the loss in carbon based organic matter from the fields. Two decades ago it was very common to see soil test results include organic matter levels in the high 4s or low 5s. Now most are showing organic matter levels about in the high 2s to mid-3s. There are several thoughts on what has caused the decline.
Tilling the soil exposes more of the soil profile to oxygen and different microbes consume the carbon as a food source. A large cause would have to be the steady high rate of nitrogen being applied. The normal amounts applied to reach desirable yield goals of the 2018 era narrow the C:N ratio and the microbes utilize the increasing rates of nitrogen to further degrade the organic matter carbon.
I asked a soil scientist from the western cornbelt who started one of the largest soil testing lab what his opinion was as to the effect of a certain form of nitrogen on the microbial communities in the soil. He said he conducted a trial where the weighed the microbes in a sample of soil before and after an application of this fertilizer and he measured a 48 percent decrease by weight of microbes. Another factor involves a number of pesticides that contain minerals or compounds deleterious to microbial life. This can be a contentious topic, especially if one or more of those companies selling one of those compounds happen to be helping sponsor the event. That is usually when the speakers tend to lose their spines.
We had our annual fall Crop Consulting meeting last week to hear about and get educated on different company’s newer insecticide and fungicides. The question I should have asked but didn’t think of at the time to ask the presenters which of their new products are not based on Halide chemistry, which is a hot and reactive group that includes chloride and flouride. When I asked the biochemist from MIT about the effects of chloride or fluoride on plants, humans and soil microbes she said it would eventually kill them when the concentration or dose got high enough.
In one case one company had a product that became a very popular herbicide. They applied for a label to also sell it as a medicine. In that application they listed all the species that it killed. Included in that list were most of the beneficial microbes that helped for healthy soil and made up much of the human micro-biome.
Bob Streit is an independent crop consultant and columnist for Farm News. He can be reached at (515) 709-0143 or www.CentralIowaAg.com.
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