Ag 101 Week 13

You Can’t Out Fertilizer Poor Management


Here’s the backstory of how I came to this conclusion-

There was a farmer named Farmer Jim from Indiana. It was early spring; he sent me his soil tests. He was growing corn on about 40 acres and was certified organic. I asked him a few questions to get a better feel for his operation. The next day I put together recommendations and sent them to him. Sometimes that’s it. I never hear from a farmer again.

Months past and before I knew it, we were in late fall. November to be exact. The phone rings, and it is Farmer Jim from Indiana. We exchange greetings, and he states I killed his corn. Okay maybe he didn’t say it quite like that, but I could tell he was obviously upset. He was extremely disappointed in the yields he got and felt it was because of the fertilizer I recommended.

I took a deep breath and started asking questions. That’s what any good agronomist does.

I wanted to know where he got the seed, what variety, had he ever planted it before, did he know of anyone else that planted it having problems, weather conditions, planting conditions, equipment issues, etc. I even asked what fertilizer he used.

Yes folks, just because I tell people to use or do something doesn’t mean they do.

 As the conversation continued, he mentioned he had decided to use seed he left over from the previous year. Not a bad idea if you're trying to save money. But here’s the issue, it didn’t yield well the first year either. The variety he planted wasn’t the best suited for his region nor was it a higher quality seed to begin with. As much as I don’t want to put it back on the farmer, no amount of fertilizer would have benefited the corn. Ultimately, he made a management decision to use that seed. The management decision was made without getting more information such as a germination test either. 

Fertilizer can’t make something grow that doesn’t want to nor can it raise plants from the dead.

Trust me; my family has deemed my garden “The Morgue.” I use a management strategy focused on killing things so I can learn how to keep them alive. Largely impart so I can help growers not kill their stuff. My family is glad I haven’t employed this strategy with anything else. 

So, for a grower that needs to have better yields than I do-

Management starts before your season does. It begins with the very first decision you have to make about what you are growing for that year before you start growing it. 

Here's a list of several resources that growers I work with have found helpful:

Crop Rotations on an Organic Farm: A Planning Manual edited by Mohler & Johnson 

Organic No-Till Farming by Jeff Moyer

Organic Farming Manual by Ann Larkin Hansen

Penn State Organic Crop Production Guide

Sustainable Market Farming by Pam Dawling

The Greenhouse and Hoophouse Grower's Handbook by Andrew Mefferd

Have more questions as to where to get started or where to go from here – send me a note