Dan's Blog on Conservation:

Learn fromyour feet 10/6/17

The heat inlate September took the early corn to black layer i.e. it stopped growing and taking up nutrients. At this point we take stalk samples for those who are enrolled in INField Advantage – the Indiana State Dept. of Ag’s program to measure nitrogen usage. The intention is to give farmers data they can use to determine efficient nitrogen application rates. Any left over N is either lost to the atmosphere or flows with water into tile lines ultimately ending up in the Gulf of Mexico feeding the water plants which contribute to hypoxia.

Of the 35 fields in the program, we sampled 20 this week. We walked more than ten miles through standing corn, masked and carrying equipment.  I won’t lie to ya…my dogs is tired! (I’m thankful for the rain and the weekend so this old man canrest up.)

Samples are then sent to a lab for analysis.  The data will be presented to farmers later this winter.

Your feet can tell you a lot about soil management. The toughest fields to walk through are the tilled sandy/gravelly fields. Tillage destroys soil structure. The holes which allow air and water into a soil are gone. You’d think it would be hard, but no, the top is fluffy at least till you sink to the compaction layer. That’s what makes it tough to walk through. Every step counts for about two.

The easiest fields to walk through are the fields with cover crops growing under no-tilled corn. The soil organisms fed by root exudates from cover crops have recreated the soil’s natural structure and the aerially seeded cover crop provides floatation. The soil is firm and full of night crawler middens. The lower corn leaves are jagged on the ends where the worms have dragged them into holes for lunch.



Sow Milkweed  9/5/17

Our latitude and further north is the home of the third and maybe the fourth generation of monarch butterflies. These are the adults which fly back to overwinter in Mexico each year. Our area supplies the monarch with its egg laying and larva feeding plant and nectar for energy plants.

Every monarch begins is life on a milkweed. There are four milkweeds indigenous to Fulton Co. The most prevalent is the Common milkweed Asclepias syriaca. If you pay attention you’ll see these pod bearers on roadsides and ditch banks. Where you won’t see them is in crop land.

Most cash crops are herbicide tolerant and milkweed is not. Milkweed is rhizomatous meaning it snakes along underground then sends a stalk up a few feet from the seed-started main stem. The stems you see within 25 ft may all be the same plant. The rhizomes allow it survive tillage. For the same reason, glyphosate is a death to it.

I’m not asking you to change your cash cropping. I am asking you to realize the impact of glyphosate tolerant cash crops and establish milkweed in the odd uncropped areas of your farm to provide habitat for the Monarch and other important pollinators.

Even though the soybean is self-pollinating, yields will improve when insects enhance pollination.

Here in a couple weeks milkweed pods will crack open. Pull them off the stalks and disperse the winged seed into those odd areas. Then next summer when you see the Monarch busily fluttering from flower to flower you’ll know you done good.


Dry StretchResilience 8/18/17

Annualrainfall hasn’t changed, but according to ARS data, for over one hundred years,since 1895 precipitation comes earlier and harder during the growing season.

Crops getmade with August rain. If you haven’t yet, you need to plan on giving your cropthe moisture it needs during a dry August by improving soil organic matter.Every pound of soil organic matter absorbs 18 – 20 lb of water. Water weighsabout 8 lb per gallon. Do the math.

Every onepercent increase in soil organic matter makes 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of wateravailable to a growing crop. This is about equivalent to a one inch rain.Wouldn’t we like to have a one inch rain right about now?

We’velearned from local and statewide data that organic matter can be increased onepercent easily within 10 years and maybe as little as five. Call me. Let mehelp you get started on your August rain.


Arrange Cover Crops 7/20/17

Harvest is crazy enough. Now’s the timeto get your cover crops arranged.

We can help select your cover crop basedon current crop, next year’s crop, planting method and timing. We can provideyou with phone numbers for sources.


Ask Lois Mann about the SWCD ten dollarincentive. 574-223-3220 ext 3


Tillage Trends 6/16/17

On Tuesday we finished the spring tillage transect. We travel a set route. At every half mile we record crop, tillage, residue and cover crop. The spreadsheet we use then translates our data into percentages. We can then compare years to determine trends.

Two trends stands out. There has been an increase in tillage used to plant soybeans. Soybeans planted without tillage descended from 2011 at 42% to 27% in 2017. 

This appears to me to correlate with the increase in use of vertical tillage implements. That operation is typically followed in the spring with a “finisher” the mashercrasherbasherslasher tool which does an efficient job of destroying soil structure and leaves very little residue on top to intercept the hammering raindrop. The ephemeral gullies we saw during the transect show the aftermath of those decisions. 

It’s time to bust a myth. Corn stalks are decomposed by microbial activity. If the bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes macro arthropods and worms are in low numbers or non-existent, corn stalks will decompose very slowly regardless of the chunk size. If your soil is healthy and full of those organisms and you feed those organisms sugars exuded from the roots of cover crops, you’ll be fighting to keep residue!

The second noteworthy trend is the increase in cover crop usage from 1% of cropland in 2011 to 9% in 2017. Your neighbors thank you.

Multiple farmers around the county are now growing their own cereal rye for their cover crop needs. That’s another good trend!

Call Lois Mann for info on the Fulton County SWCD Cover Crop Cost Share Program at 574-223-3220 ext 3.



Fulton County SWCD  (574) 223-3220 ext. 3