Except for the forecasted potential for snow and cold weather mid-week it appears that spring and spring like conditions are with us. Currently the rainstorm expected to hit here sits as a wide band of heavy rain in the Pacific Northwest heading in our direction. A lot can happen in the next few days, as it could intensify as it moves across the country. It may be one last chance to use the snowplows again.
I had the chance to tour the Omaha and west area last week. First of all many of the roads going west and north are still blockaded or gone after the flooding. In many locations the deep water was gone, but it was easy to spot the debris caught on the fences and trees five to ten feet off the ground. In many cases the asphalt or concrete roads were washed away or buckled due to the rocked foundation to the road being washed away.
As to why the big problems occurred out in Nebraska there are a few hydrological facts to account for: They had a record snowpack after the heavy snows and cold weather during February and March with little of it melting before March 12th; the ground was frozen solid down to several feet; a layer of ice was under the snow, so any rain quickly ran off; the two to four inches of rain fell during the two day period melting much of the snow, so the water moved downhill; a one inch acre of rain totals 27,154 gallons of water, a 6-inch layer totals 162,924 gallons; a 6 inch layer across a section tallies 10,427,136 gallons, and an area of Nebraska, southwest Iowa and southeast South Dakota covering 240 miles north to south and 200 miles east to west equaled over 79 billion gallons of water that had to flow downstream. It’s too bad T-Boone Pickens didn’t have the ability to send some of that waster to the cities he is piping water to in Texas.
Flood damage mitigation
Just as after other bad storms the first plan of action in the four state area is to try to assess and repair the damage from the flooding. Many of the same Midwest crop growers and ranchers had to do the same thing after the flooding in 1993, 2008, 2011 and other years. In UNL recommendations the instructions to farmers included:
1. Cleaning up the debris which included everything from posts, logs, propane tanks, vehicles, and buildings with some of them including asbestos. Tillage to incorporate debris may be enough. In cases deep plowing will be recommended.
2. Repairing erosion damage and getting the sand off the ground. Some of the fields had huge gullies cut through them or contained sand dunes of later several feet high or thick. It may take a long drying time and crawlers to push the same back into the river.
3. Manage the soils after the flooding and compaction caused by standing water. Following the PIK year and various floods the best prevention of fallow syndrome ended up being the planting of a deep rooted cover crop that created a safe haven for microbes necessary to increase nutrient availability. We called it fallow syndrome and it was first thought of as a chemically based problem. That was before our knowledge of soil biology had grown as it has to the point we are at today. This last point applies to much of Iowa where the ground was super saturated for most of the summer. The level of biological activity on those water logged soils where the water sat for days is going to be very low. They are likely to benefit from new inoculation this spring when planted either to corn, beans, or other legume.
Several of us Iowegians had the chance to listen to an environmental engineer by the name of Steven Apfelbaum last week. The name of his talk was food security in a changing environmental landscape. I was worried it was going to be all tree hugger in nature and not address practical solutions. Instead Mr. Apple Tree, as his name means in Deutsche, a farmer himself from Brodhead, Wisconsin, gave a good rundown on what our current practices and products that are common in ag production today have done to soil biology and organic matter content. I will give you the rundown.
When a person begins to read through his or her soil test reports two of the numbers we look at first are OM (organic matter) and CEC (cation-exchange capacity). They provide information as to the size of the sponge in the soil meant to hold water and retain nutrients. The lower the numbers the less resilient the crops growing in that soil will be to drought and dry weather nutrient unavailability.
The lower OM and CEC lowers the CSR, yield potential and value of the ground. Off the record he mentioned one herbicide and one fertilizer most damaging to the OM or formation of it. He and Dr Haney are much alike in their thinking. He did mention the frequency of today’s 100 year and 500 year floods becoming more common. This is fully reflective of the soil not being as porous, where water soaks in it once did, or holding as much so it moves down to the tile line more quickly.
In his final conclusions he gave his advice on long term soil remediation, cropping practices, tillage rules, and animal grazing. And being from Wisconsin he was quick to say that methane from dairy cows was from their belching and not flatulence.
Steve’s full time job is as an environmental engineer. In that role he does aerial surveying and planning for cities and companies where he designs and landscape parks and water catch areas above a town that protects them from major flood damage.
He also focuses on reclaiming old open mining sites to convert them to aesthetically improved natural areas/parks after the minerals have petered out. It would be good to get him into the state and cities where flooding has become an annual event. In one big 2018 project he took his aerial surveying equipment down to Mineras Gereis, Brazil for six weeks to survey and design the new national park.
Maximizing fertilizer costs
In another tight budget year the budget emphasis for many growers is maximum return for dollars spent on fertilizer. The best answers seem to be good and accurate soil testing and interpretation of those results, placed fertilizer by using in-furrow or twin 2 by 2, foliar applications using food grade quality products and understanding the foliar application parameters, and building the soil biology to increase the availability of those purchased inputs.
Then be sure to track micronutrient levels, as the levels tend to run low on many of them if regular manure applications have not been used. Remember that in order of those most deficient the order is: Moly Bo Mn Zn S. The lowest stave theory still applies.
A high percent of corn growers will be more dependent on in-season application of nitrogen fertilizer. This could include post-emerge 82 percent, 46 percent, 32 percent and possibly late season foliar applied products typically meant to improve late season plant health and preventing top of the plant cannibalization.
An insect question mark?
Does anyone have a definitive map as to 2018 soybean gall midge infestation and severity, as well as the predicted one for 2019? Hearing about bean growers who had significant injury from the ghostly, small insects make a person scratch their heads because we have not had to deal with such a critter much in the past. Due to our prevailing winds bugs tend to migrate east.
Bean growers who has infested fields in 2018 or had neighbors who did may want to investigate a product called SPE (Special plant enhancer) BB 2.5 which has been used on fields with more difficult to control insects. The results have been good in the organic world for over a decade and it should work here. It needs to be applied to, on top of, or with the seed for best results.
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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