Ag 101 Week 43

Phosphorus

I had to have some help with this weeks’ post.  Here’s the backstory-

Since July I have had health challenges. It started with pain in my right leg and has now started in my left arm and hand. I have never liked typing; now it has just become physically painful.

I was going to ask my husband for help with typing, but he reluctantly had to go to Texas for work. So, I called a friend to see if they could help me and we ended up going to the emergency room instead. While waiting to see the doctor, she pulled out a notebook to start taking notes and being the amazing English teacher that she is, began with a Venn diagram.

I was called back before we could finish.

To make a very long story short after several visits to the doctor’s office the past few months, and a trip to the emergency room this past weekend I now have an appointment to see a specialist later this week and will hopefully have more answers, and a plan has to how to move forward.

I have had no desire to even think about this weeks’ topic let alone write about it.

However, I’ve committed to offering something every week.

I got the bright idea to finish the Venn Diagram add a few more notes and call it a day.

Not my original intention, but who doesn’t love a good Venn diagram about phosphorus!

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My only regret- Not having my friend finish it. Her handwriting is so much better than mine.

Ag 101 Week 42

Nitrogen

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Last week I said I was going to start and break down what goes into a bag of fertilizer. If you recall, I likened each component to a piston in an engine. Put the right pistons together, and you get a locomotive engine, put others together, and you get a Yugo.

You buy a bag of blended fertilizer, and you are getting a mix of nutrients that supply a plant with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium - NPK. In some cases, you can get some magnesium, calcium, sulfur, and trace minerals. I’m sure most of you know that already.

So, I want to go over a few questions I get; then we’ll take a look of some more commonly used components within the organic or softer chemistry area of fertilizers.

Why are the numbers, otherwise known as NPK values, so much lower in organic fertilizers than conventional?

The numbers representing NPK are a ratio of the percentage of available nutrients. The amount of the nutrient that is soluble and readily available for the plant to use. The more solvent, the higher the number and the more significant amount that the plant can uptake sooner. In the case of organic fertilizers, you have to also consider variabilities due to the fact components are naturally sourced materials, i.e., mined from clay deposits or animal by-products. Nature is not always consistent. One of the best benefits of organic fertilizers is a more extended nutrient supply over the growing season given the fact they are comprised of soluble and insoluble forms of nutrients. Given adequate moisture, biological actively, and crop type a natural fertilizer can take you through from planting to harvest. Once again, I stress it is crop specific and dependent on other management decisions. I will often suggest a split application if at all possible or fertilizing with a liquid to get through a season depending on all the variables.

Keep in mind from week 5 when fertilizing you are feeding the plant and the soil. Some are hungrier than others and at a different rate.  

 https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/1/21/ag-101-week-5

What is the difference between soluble and insoluble nutrients?

A soluble form of a nutrient is readily available to the plant for immediate uptake. Insoluble nutrients are held in the soil longer and need to be converted to plant available forms by the bacteria and fungi present in the soil. Other factors determining the rate at which they become soluble are soil moisture, temperature, and pH.

 What does it take to ensure a fertility program is effective?

1.      pH management -You want to manage pH to accomplish two things

First be in a range for optimal nutrient uptake based on soil type and crop variety while staying slightly acidic to help make nutrients available through mineralization and biological activity.

2.      Irrigation management

A fertility program is only as effective as your irrigation.

3.      Good amendment & fertilizer practices

Fertilizing is strategic and should be applied at the right rate, time, location using the right source. I discussed that in weeks 6 & 10

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/2/5/ag-101-week-6

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/2/25/ag-101-week-10

You could say I’m finally getting around to talking about the fourth – the source.

Let’s talk about nitrogen-

Nitrogen is used for several functions in the plant including the production of proteins that lead to tissue development

It also plays a role in chlorophyll production.

It is critical in leading to the vegetative growth in a plant but can become problematic when over applied for several reasons.

Such as-

Environmental issues

Increased insect pressure

A plants’ inability to retain blooms, such as in tomatoes

Balancing a plant’s need for nitrogen at the time it is required by the plant is a matter of timing it’s application. Even though it is abundant in the air we breathe, unlike phosphorus and potassium, it is not found in sufficient levels in the soil because it is not present in the parent material giving soil its properties.

By themselves, plants cannot use atmospheric nitrogen. It has to be converted by nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the form of NO3¯ or applied in a plant available form at the right time.

Due to the fact, the form most available to plants has a negative charge, it is not held in the soil and is more sustainable to leaching. If you recall, the cation exchange capacity is a soil’s ability to hold onto positively charged ions.

Nitrogen management is centered around optimizing nitrogen fixation by the soil biology and minimizing loss by using good management practices such as timing and location of fertilizers and manures.

With some conventional forms of nitrogen such as ones that are ammonium based, except ammonium sulfate, they have an acidifying effect on soil. Meaning they lower the pH. This can be an issue with over applying it and repeated long-term use. It is often not seen immediately but as somewhat of a cumulative effect based on cropping history, moisture, temperate, etc.

Over the past several years I have not seen that to be as much of an issue with organic sources. However, I have not found much research or data on the subject either. It should be noted that everything you put into the soil at some point in time effects it, whether immediate or long term.

Let’s talk about some common organic nitrogen components used in fertilizers.

First, I’m going to start with a three that are conventional component equivalents. Meaning they are still a naturally derived source, that can be used in an organic system but is more soluble and available to the plant quicker rather than later making them somewhat similar to that of conventional chemistries.

Blood Meal

It typically has an analysis of 10-13%N

It has been shown to have deer and rabbit repellant properties when used as a top dress. However, it may attract other animals such as raccoons and dogs.

Blood meal is primarily hemoglobin, which is a protein, and iron. In my experience, I have found the concentration of iron not to be an issue, just something to be mindful of

It can be cost prohibited to use it as a single source of nitrogen. However, when added to a blend It is a rapid release source making it a significant component when used with other mid and slower release forms

Chicken Manure

Of all the manures it is, in general, the one highest in nitrogen typically ranging from 2-8%

Keep in mind the analysis of manures of any type can be extremely variable based on source and solid to liquid ratios

It is available in several forms from liquid to pellets and relatively inexpensive depending on what part of the country you are in

It is also a good addition if lime and phosphorus are needed

Sodium Nitrate (Chilean Nitrate)

It is water soluble at a guaranteed 15% total N availability, with 2% potash, and 1% sulfur. The new formulation has allowed for ease of shipping because it is no longer considered a hazardous material.

The fact it is readily solubilized in water makes this the best choice for a starter fertilizer, especially for corn. It gives corn the boost it needs to get out of the ground even if planted into soils that might be cooler than what is generally required to get the best germination rate.

It can be an expensive insurance policy if not used accordingly and applied with good seed to fertilizer placement at the right rate. This is when cleaning, calibrating, and using the right equipment are essential as well.

I highly recommend using it in a blend as opposed to a straight source of nitrogen for several reasons. First, it can be expensive. Second, it is available almost immediately to the plant, making it the first to be used during the growing season, leaving the plant with nothing in reserve for the next several weeks that nitrogen is vital to develop enough vegetation for the plant to efficiently and adequately be able to perform photosynthesis. Remember it is a balance between vegetative growth and reproductive growth.

Next, the following have medium to slow release rates of nitrogen. They are relatively insoluble.

Fish/crab/shrimp meal

Typical analysis ranges from 5-30%N

Typically, fish ranges from 5-9%N depending on whether it is a meal, powder or liquid

Crap and Shrimp range from 10-30%N with 11-18%Ca depending on the shell to meat ratio

Crab makes an excellent addition to a fertilizer blend for the extra calcium, and the addition on an enzyme called chitin that has been shown to help control nematodes in the soil

Peanut meal

A typical analysis is 8-9%N

Can be cost prohibitive and not allowed due to allergen restrictions

Bone meal

A typical analysis is 3-4%N

It is also a good source of phosphorus and calcium

Feather meal

Typical analysis 11-15%N

Apply early in the season to take advantage of slower release rate providing nitrogen over the course of the growing season

 Soybean meal

A typical analysis is 6-7%N

A good source for full season nitrogen supply

Soybean meal has been shown to burn new seedlings and reduce germination rates potentially. Care should be exercised when timing the application

 Manures

For years now, agricultural manures have gotten a lot of press. After taking the PA Nutrient Management courses, I concluded – shit’s complicated. Gone are the days you cleaned the barn and piled it out of the way so you could spread it when you had more time. Raw manure is the most nutrient dense. The longer it composts it losses its nutrient value. Over applying it, can lead to not only environmental issues also pest and disease challenges.

However, there is one manure that is gaining popularity with tobacco and cannabis growers, and its bat guano. It is cost prohibitive to use on a large scale, but I feel it is important enough to mention as a potential source of not only nitrogen but phosphorus as well, while being low in salts.

A typical analysis is 5-12% depending on the source

It is fast acting and soluble in water making it a great addition to a liquid program for cannabis especially vegetative and flowering stages

I have several growers using it in sub-irrigation systems for starting organic tobacco. They like the fact its water soluble and doesn’t seem to burn the way other fertilizers have a tendency to do if not managed correctly.

 There are several other sources I could mention that are used for nitrogen such as corn gluten, alfalfa meal, legumes, and cottonseed meal.

We’ll cover those and more during the time remaining in the 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series.

Ag 101 Week 41

It’s Not Just Fairy Dust & Go-Go Juice – It’s Chemistry

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Five years ago, when I told my Dad, I was going to work for an organic fertilizer company there was a long pause of silence.  After some more discussion he concluded that it must not be that big of a company so why not get back into the workforce with a small local business. Little did we know what I had gotten in to.

It was culture shock in more ways than one.

If you recall, I’m the girl that still thinks Kenny & Dolly are platonic and…

I didn’t come from the world of ‘organic/all-natural’ fertilizers. I came from a long line of tried and true conventional farming chemistries and practices that my family still uses today. Chemistries that are not even an option for or for that matter are even somewhat shunned by over 50% of the growers I currently work with. I almost titled this week’s post, “I Go Both Ways.” Because I work with all types of farmers/growers; large, small, conventional, certified organic, everything in between, and the list keeps growing.

Here’s why-

Agronomy is a universal language spoken between the soil and the crop. Fertilizers and amendments are chemistries, whether they are naturally or synthetically derived, that are used to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the soil and plants communication. Whether it is a by-product of industry, created in a lab, dug up from a mine somewhere from around the world, hauled out of the ocean, or an extract from a plant it is chemistry. All need to be used responsibly to ensure the future of farming, our food supply, and the environment.

As I started learning and getting more and more familiar with the world of organics I brought my dad to meetings so he too could learn and hear about the fascinating ways which they use all the amazing resources our world has to offer.

After one meeting, while we were having coffee, he said, “I guess I was wrong Monica. The way you explained things made me realize it’s not just fairy dust and go-go juice. You have a mighty big task ahead of you to get both sides to realize that and the farmers that use them to do so as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

Don’t be fooled; I still get the funny comments like, “Do you make them spin in three circles before sprinkling the fairy dust, or do they sprinkle then spin?” Or, “Why does go-go juice attract so many cats?” Better yet, “What’s Monica bringing to the family reunion? Fish and kelp, haha!” However, my dad has come a long way from the once staunch naysayer to one of my biggest supporters, and for that, I am very grateful.

Ask my neighbor; I also make several recommendations with conventional chemistries I don’t even mention in some circles. While we are working in our gardens, she graciously listens as I tell her about the fine line I walk between both worlds.

Considering I have ‘a mighty big task ahead of me’ and we are at a point in the growing season that farmers should be soil testing to make amending and fertilizing decisions, over the next several posts we’re going to talk about what makes up a bag of fairy dust otherwise known as organic fertilizer.

If you recall I’ve talked about how fertilizer blends are not always one size fits all. I do find myself recommending more amending and management options before fertilizers to most farmers. However, the more you understand what each component can do, the more informed decision you can make.

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/3/3/fertilizers-and-pajamas

Just as I stated in Week 11 comparing fertilizer blends to pajamas, there are fillers added to them for specific reasons ranging from making up the volume to helping the product flow through manufacturing and spreading equipment. Those ‘fillers’ come with consequences both good and bad depending on whether you are aware of them and can plan in others areas of your fertility management. However, using a blend can extend a fertility plan and reduce the number of applications if careful consideration is made when choosing which one you use

Look at a bag of fertilizer as an engine, and each component in that blend has a piston, understanding the specific function of each piston is key to buying the right fertilizer and more importantly using it the best way. That knowledge along with a soil test and knowing the type of soil you’re working with is what gives you the necessary pieces of the puzzle in putting together a sustainable fertility plan.

Not quite the look I was going for, but thank you Google Images for the help

Not quite the look I was going for, but thank you Google Images for the help

The link below is a free e-book titled Understanding Amendments & Fertilizers I put together over a year ago. I’m in the process of updating it and offering this one to you as an intro to organic and all-natural amendments & fertilizers for signing up to receive news and updates.

Over the next several weeks we’ll cover nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace mineral components that make-up what goes into a bag of fertilizer, and you’ll see it’s not just fairy dust and go-go juice.

Ag 101 Week 40

No Assembly Required

I posted this graphic on Instagram this week. At the time, I had planned on writing a lengthy explanation as to what I meant and at the last minute deleted. I wanted to see what kind of response I would get.

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One person asked if I was against soil building techniques. The following was my reply

“Not against good management practices at all. They are part of what it takes to be good stewards of the soil. But, soil comes pre-assembled. It’s like a set of shelves that are ready and waiting for you to start stacking books on. Or better yet, to start using and storing nutrients in for the microbes and plants that rely on it. All you need to do is take time to understand the specs the shelves came with, or what I refer to as the inherent characteristics your soil came with. We amend, which is a temporary change to the physical and chemical characteristics and we fertilize which is strategic and is intended to feed the biology in the soil and the plant, depending on the type of inputs you use. Neither build, they complement what’s already there.”

Another person explained, “permaculture allows for amendment added in 1-foot layers starting from a depth of 6 feet below grade. That’s building soil…The amendments are specific and by their nature create a mycillium layer right at the frost line. “

To this, I responded

“If I understand correctly, you still have the parent material left. For lack of better terms, that is what ‘builds soil’ and dictates its characteristics. I have long wanted to understand permaculture better and have not taken the time to do more research on it. If you have any good resources I would love to read more about it.”

If indeed taking away the top six feet is what permaculture prescribes, it seems pretty destructive to me. Here again, I don’t know that much about it.

Three things I want to point out-

1.     Soil doesn’t know and or understand any of this. It comes the way it is and has had stuff growing in it way before we got here. We need to either work with or against it. It is selfish and doesn’t follow trends.

2.     If people understood the difference between amending and fertilizing that alone would save them money and have a more significant impact on helping the environment than some of the other things we do.

3.     Long-term soil fertility, the kind that keeps soil healthy and you and the next generation farming and eating is a balance between the actual make of the soil specifically the clay fraction, organic matter management, and the physical management of it as well.

The notion that we build soil has been around for a while now. You see it phrased that way on social media, industry gurus say it all the time, everyone who’s anyone has used the term at some point in time. It sounds powerful and gives us a sense we are in control. It is what good marketing is made of. It’s even on one of my favorite books, Building Soil for Better Crops by Magdoff & Van Es. If you’re in the industry, you want to jump on the bandwagon and ride the wave of being known as the one who builds the best soil ever! Right?

Here’s the challenge I have with the statement, “build soil”-

We can’t build soil. It comes no assembly required. You don’t open a box like you do from Ikea and put the pieces together.

It comes pre-assembled with both physical and chemical characteristics that we can’t change. They are dictated by its parent material. We have nothing to do with it. The soil is what it is, and we have to except that.

I talk about those in weeks 8 & 9

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/2/11/ag-101-week-8

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/2/15/ag-101-week-9

However, there is one thing we can do. We can amend it. But, there’s another kick in the pants. No matter what amending you do, no matter what type of amendments you use it is only temporary. It doesn’t last forever. Soils main objective is to go back to what it originally was no matter what we try to do with it. You always have to be tinkering with it to keep it the way you want it.

I hate to say it, but there is no Ronco Set It & Forget It when it comes to soil. It is a constant work in progress.

I have said that organic matter gets all the attention and clay is often overlooked while being misunderstood for what it brings to the table in soil management.

If I were to put it into somewhat crude and simple terms

Organic matter

is the girl you want to date. She’s fun, easy to get along with, doesn’t require much attention and is relatively inexpensive. It is the most biologically active fraction of the soil. It does have a negative charge due to humus. However, it is referred to as being loose because it doesn’t have the structure that clay does. Humus, all though being somewhat stable breakdowns faster than clay and needs to be replenished to keep nutrient holding capacity and availability in check.

Clay

is the women you want to marry. However, she requires more strategy. She won’t go for just dinner and a movie. She might need something more expensive to keep her happy. However, if managed properly and the timing and application are well thought out and strategic, it will be well worth the effort and expense.

When you have a balance of both organic matter and clay you get married and live happily ever after. I realize my analogy is probably offensive to some, but it illustrates my point.

All of this leads back to knowing your soil type, getting a soil test and balancing the biological, the chemical, and the physical.

Ag 101 Week 39

pH

Why is pH so important?

The following is a conversation that started from a post I published called Amending Vs. Fertilizing from Week 5 on an agricultural social network called Agfuse. To see the post in its entirety, go to www.agfuse.com and sign up for a free account.

https://agfuse.com/article/amending-vs-fertilizing

Pat Rogers, the founder of Agfuse responded with-

“I am continually baffled by long time farmers in my area who still don't see the value in getting your pH right. To me, it's the foundation of farming. An optimal pH leads to more efficient nutrient use which in turn helps us grow better crops (on less fertilizer no less). A good fertility plan that isn't used in combination with a good ph/amendment plan is pretty useless if you ask me.”

I replied-

“If you think of the soil as a digester similar to a gut, managing pH to be slightly acidic keeps it operating effectively to assimilate nutrients that are already present or being added in the form of manures and fertilizers. I often explain it as if you are taking advantage of what is inherently present and using what might be added as efficiently as possible. A healthy gut or soil, one being slightly acidic where as good bacteria and fungi flourish does that. pH is the linchpin to creating that environment conducive for healthy flora to thrive. 
Often, I think we don't understand all the ways pH is useful or even what drives it. It can also be a hard concept to grasp. I liken it to an abacus. You're using calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium, etc. balancing pH -hydrogen, to encourage a healthy system. And as you mentioned, grow a better crop with less or no fertilizer.”

It influences what nutrients will be available to the plant by having an effect on the mineralization of rock minerals and encouraging balanced soil biology for more efficient use of those minerals. 6.0-6.5 is the ideal range for most crops. However, a pH range of 6.8-7.2 can be tolerated by some as well.

The following is a chart showing at what pH nutrients are available

Google Image

Google Image

An obvious example and one I deal with on a regular basis are blueberries.

They are a great example of two things

1.     Pre-planning based on soil type and chemical characteristics is imperative

2.     pH is the linchpin of any long-term fertility plan

I think I said it best in an email to a client when giving iron sulfate recommendations for an established blueberry patch having some issues

“Iron can be indicative of the type of soil you have. Some soils are naturally higher or lower in iron or have varying amount due to previous uses. The challenge with blueberries is they can't use the iron that is present because it is bound in the soil due to the pH being so high. You have to give it to them in a form that is readily available until you adjust the pre-existing pH. Then you should be able to stop amending with the iron sulfate, and they will be content with what is available to them. This is why pre-planning is probably the most critical when it comes to blueberries.” 

I’m going to go one step further and clarify that pH is something that needs to be consistently monitored because the soil always wants to go back to its inherent traits. For example, I want blond hair, but I’m a brunette. If I want to keep my hair blonde, every four to six weeks I have to dye the part that has grown out, because inherently it grew out brunette. Just as you want to grow blueberries, every 1-3 years you need to have a soil test done and need to be using the necessary amendments to ensure the pH will be within a range conducive for growing them.

To adjust pH, some common amendments are

High calcium lime

Dolomitic lime (high magnesium lime)

Aragonite

Elemental sulfur

Fall is a great time to soil test. It is also a great time to amend soil to have the time necessary to prepare for the next crop.

 For a free printable pre-planting application chart for adjusting pH

Sign up for The Accidental Agronomist Newsletter

Ag 101 Week 38

A Podcast and Garlic

This week the post for the 52 weeks of Agronomy is going to be a link to a podcast I’m recording tonight for The Vegetable Gardening Show with Mike Podlesny.

http://www.averagepersongardening.com/about/about.php

You can check it out at that link, Facebook, and YouTube


Since it won’t be available until Sunday the 23rd I though I would give you a bonus all about garlic.

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It’s getting to be that time of year when you are going to be thinking about planting and I have the Cadillac of fertility recommendations for it. Old school rule of thumb says plant garlic around Columbus Day.

Typically, garlic is a scavenger when it comes to nutrients in the soil and will do well under a variety of growing conditions. But if you want to grow the best of the best I came across this all-purpose mix and cover crop rotation that is touted by the premier garlic growers in the northeast.

Cadillac Mix

25 pounds of Blood Meal

25 pounds of Bone Meal

25 pounds Raw Aragonite

12.5 pounds of Greensand

12.5 pounds of Kelp

 

Three Year Cover Crop Rotation

1st Mustard

2nd Buckwheat (Summer)

3rd Rye (Winter)

As always, I recommend a soil test before any amending or fertility plan can accurately be determined. But for a general fertilizer option why not use the Cadillac of all mixes!?

Ag 101 Week 37

Agronomy-It's Not Just Vague Lingo For Big Ass Profit Driven Farmers

 

I came across an article in The Modern Farmer from September 4th called “The Modern Farmer Glossary of Farm Jargon.” In it, they explain terms associated with modern day farming and one of them happen to be “Agronomy.” The author defines it as “the science of agriculture, specifically as it relates to industrial-scale farming and profit maximization.”

You can read the rest of the article here

https://modernfarmer.com/2018/09/the-modern-farmer-glossary-of-farm-jargon/

At that time I didn’t think much about it.

That is until I was getting this weeks’ post ready. For several weeks now I have wanted to go back and reiterate my role as an agronomist. I wrote a short intro and linked to the following post from before I started the 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2017/3/26/whats-an-agronomist-anyway

Done! I went on with the rest of my day.

Then I remembered reading the article.

I reread it and thought to myself, “Whoever came up with that definition of agronomy did not go to college with me. Every professor I had explained agronomy as the science of crop and soil management.” The agricultural science phrase used in the article seems a bit vague and at no point in time did any of my professors say it was for industrial-scale farming and profit maximization. Was it implied you wanted maximum profit, sure? But we focused on the crops yield, soil health, and the strategies to achieve them.

Yes. I understand it is modern day language for modern day people. Yes. I realize I could be splitting hairs. No, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with big ass profit driven farmers. I'm related to some, and they are some of my favorite relatives. I'm a firm believer it will take all types of agriculture and farmers to feed us. There's a lot of us, and we all get hungry. 

But, hear me out.

I started to think about the word jargon and what it implies. Jargon is defined as-

Special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

Not buying that the word agronomy is mere jargon, I thought about how a technical term is defined. Technical terminology is-

The body of terms used with a particular technical application in a subject of study, theory, profession, etc.

That sounds more like the agronomy I know. It is a term used to explain the science of crop and soil management. 

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I know all too well that people have no idea what agronomy is or what an agronomist does, both in and outside of the industry. Tell someone you are an agronomist. I dare you. You will experience what I deal with every day. This is why I am referred to as The Dirt Lady that gives soil sermons! Can I get an AMEN!

And this is why I started the 52 Weeks of agronomy series in the first place. An entire generation, maybe more at this point who need it the most, is out there thinking agronomy is vague lingo that only applies to big ass profit driven farmers. That it has nothing to do with them. It is merely jargon. 

My definition of agronomy is-

the science of soil management and crop production no matter what size or type of farm

And as an agronomist it is-

my job to take the best science has to offer a farmer and make it practical for their situation so they can implement it to be successful

As for the notion, it is only applicable to industrial-scale farms; maybe this is why small-scale growers don’t know of and aren't implementing basic sound agronomic principles that would make them a more successful farmer? 

Maybe no one ever thought to teach or explain it to other types of farmers?  

I touch on this in week 9

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/2/15/ag-101-week-9

Since getting back into the Ag industry, I have long felt that the true meaning of what agronomy is and what an agronomist does is often overshadowed by marketing trends and mistaken for other Ag related occupations. 

And for some reason, that I have yet to totally figure out, the very people who need to understand agronomy seem to be dismissive and almost offended by what it has to offer them. 

Agronomy and the practical application of it's principles can make or break a growers success. Sure, anyone can get stuff to grow, but using your resources efficiently and effectively is what sets growers apart and helps them stay in business.  

If you have a garden, make a million dollars off an acre growing salad mix, milk two cows or thousands, have a pet chicken, raise any kind of livestock, grow crops in a hoop house high tunnel whatever you want to call it, grow blueberries in a container on your porch, have a 15 member CSA, or farm 10,000 acres agronomy is part of what you do. If it involves soil, plants, and the people growing them it involves agronomy.

To this accidental agronomist soil sermon giving dirt lady

Agronomy is–

Using soil and crop management principles based on science that can be practically applied by any scale or type of grower to be a prosperous sustainable steward of the land,

                                                                             not just vague lingo for big ass profit driven farmers. 

 

Ag 101 Week 36

An Offer too Good too Pass Up

Now is the time to take soil samples.

I know you’re still harvesting, going to market, and trying to stay ahead of the weather.

Think about this...

“If you don’t have next spring figured out this fall, your summer won't be as productive.”

To be ready for spring, you have to plan now, and one of the most critical parts to planning is soil testing.

Why is soil testing the most critical?

You can’t amend your fields or fertilize your crops without getting a soil test showing you the current chemistry of the soil.

Fall is the great time to apply amendments and to pre-purchase fertilizers. 

If you recall we talked about the topic of amending vs. fertilizing in week 5

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/1/21/ag-101-week-5

I also speak at length regarding the information needed from a soil test in week 24

https://www.theaccidentalagronomist.com/news/2018/6/11/ag-101-week-24

Here’s an offer to good to pass up from the folks at Fertrell

Head over to their Facebook page and download the submission form. Terms, conditions, and instructions have to be followed to have discounts applied. 

https://www.facebook.com/231821895616/posts/10156332311760617/

All though I have no affiliation with Fertrell, this offer is a great way to get a reputable soil test done 50% off.

Find out more at

https://www.fertrell.com/

Direct any questions about the offer to:

info@fertrell.com

or call 800-347-1566

You can also show them some love on Instagram at 

https://www.instagram.com/thefertrellcompany/

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* The Accidental Agronomist is not affiliated, associated, authorized, endorsed by, or in any way officially connected with The Fertrell Co., or any of its subsidiaries or its affiliates. Their official website can be found at www.fertrell.com. 

 

Ag 101 Week 35

They Have Agronomists In Canada Too

This week we’re going to hear from Luc Bernard, all the way from Canada. Luc is the second of the up and coming agronomists featured in Week 35 of the Ag 101 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series.

I meant him on Instagram as well as Jordyn from last week. I posted on social media the following graphic

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Luc replied with “My soil prof always told us soil is sexy!”

Not that I disagree with Luc and his professor. However, I find far too often people focus on the ‘sexy’ part of the soil and not the actual management of it. I’ve said often that soil health is the overall concept, but soil fertility is where the real magic happens. That is where you take a soil beyond being sexy and make it profitable.

Since Luc was one of the first to comment on the post, I reached out to him to get his take on soil health vs. soil fertility.

Here’s what he had to say-

When Monica asked me earlier this week for my thoughts on soil fertility vs. soil health, I was not sure where to start. However, during my never-ending commutes between fields, it all came together.

First off, my name is Luc Bernard, and I work for 4R agronomy in the Southwestern region of Manitoba, Canada’s slough as I like to think of it. Much of the waterways in the Canadian prairies feed our watersheds, which includes around 110,000 lakes (yes, you read that right).

Our focus is on crop planning, fertility planning, and in-season scouting. Our clients grow wheat, barley, oats, rye, alfalfa, canola, soybeans, corn, dry beans, peas, and quinoa. I am also a partner in the family farm, where we use a cell grazing system to run 180 cow/calf pairs and grasser calves.

Alas, we can talk about soil fertility and soil health. Here when I see that statement, it can be complementary, but also exclusive. Fertile soils can be healthy, healthy soils can be fertile (duh), but healthy soils can be infertile, and all of the above can be unhealthy.

I’ll be real quick about soil fertility, five steps:

1. test your soils

2. Plan your fertility specifically for the next crop 

3. Fertilize appropriately 

4. Don’t guess too much (it’s too expensive)

5. Profit!

Now let’s move on to soil health. In a parsimonious way, healthy soil is one that can grow a profitable crop. Plain and simple. When we see plain black dirt all growing season, there's a problem.

Like, I mean, even weeds should be able to grow there! Here are a few unhealthy symptoms that we deal with in our soils.

Compaction is an unhealthy characteristic that we often stumble upon on broadacre agriculture, as heavy machinery often passes over the same areas over and over again. Tillage can only go so far to break up the compacted soil, and that creates a hard pan below the tillage layer. This prevents roots from penetrating into moisture on dry years and prevents water from infiltrating on a wet year. This limits our yield potential and essentially wastes every input you apply to those acres. Potential solutions involve deep tilling the hardpan or planting tillage radishes to break the hardpan and increase porosity. Some producers have also adopted CTF (or controlled traffic farming), where you strictly stay within the same wheel tracks. I mean, everything stays in the same track. Seeder, sprayer, combine, grain cart, everything. In fine soils, this can pay dividends.

Salinity is another issue we deal with in our soils. Often farmers wrongly perceive this as a soil problem when it’s a water problem. We get lots of water here during wet years, and it usually drains poorly in localized areas, this water often carries salts, and it leeches and settles into those areas. Most crops tend to be sensitive to high salt levels; this tends to stunt them or prevent them from establishing altogether. This often allows salt tolerant (and quite herbicide-tough) weeds like kochia to establish and become a problem. Solutions to this include tile draining those areas to let the water to move without settling in and evaporating. In dry years, the salt levels only become higher as there isn't any moisture to “water it down.” Some crops like canola or barley can handle some salinity. We often seed problem areas into saline tolerant forages so we can slowly harvest the salts in the form of hay.

The cheapest way to deal with salinity - put it in hay

The cheapest way to deal with salinity - put it in hay

Wind and water erosion, as well as herbicide residues, are other symptoms of unhealthy soil. These can also be caused or exacerbated by the amount of moisture a field receives (or does not receive). Keeping tillage to only when necessary, same as herbicide applications help mitigate this. Robust crop rotation helps as well.

 

Ag 101 Week 34

Meet the Next Generation of Agronomists

 

I’m taking the next couple weeks off from writing.

1.      I’m not 20 anymore and pulled my hamstring acting like I was. Does it affect my writing? No. Was I hoping it might make my writing better? Yes. What it does mean is that sitting at my desk any more than I have to has become painful and I need to face the fact that if I don’t take care of it now, it will only get worse. I’m referring to my hamstring. The writing, that’s a constant work in progress.

2.      I have taken on more clients and need time to focus on that aspect of my business as well. Writing can sometimes get in the way.

3.      I have always felt there is a bigger picture of what I’m doing and one of the ways I know how to achieve that is to include other people’s perspectives and ideas.

4.      Last but not least, our daughter starts high school this year. In two weeks, I have to be more prepared for ninth grade than she does. I’m the teacher.  I haven’t even gone up to the attic to find all the books I need let alone gotten a schedule ready for her. I need a couple of weeks to get things in order so I can be useful in that part of my life as well.

I’m handing the next two weeks in the 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series over to two very capable much younger than me up and coming agronomist. Both wrote about two different aspects of agronomy, and I’ve enjoyed reading what they each had to say.

This week we’ll hear from Jordyn Bush.

She’s a junior majoring in agronomy at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Her career goals are to help humanity through agriculture and preserve our environment in the process. She spends most of her free time riding and showing her two horses, Ty and Monkey, traveling, and enjoying the outdoors through activities like hiking and kayaking. 

I meant Jordyn on Instagram. She had been featured in a publication Inver Hills News. When I read the article, I immediately related to her and asked if she would want to write a piece for the Ag 101 52 Weeks of Agronomy. I’m glad she said yes.

You can read that article here

https://news.inverhills.edu/blog/jordy-bush-agronomist-of-the-future/

 

You can follow along with her adventures at Instagram here

https://www.instagram.com/dieselxdarlin/?hl=en

Here is the piece she wrote for Week 34 of The Ag 101 52 Weeks of Agronomy Series

Finding an Internship That Doesn’t Exist

By Jordyn Bush

               Finding the pot of gold at the end of the collegiate rainbow is tough… especially when you get there and the pot is empty or full of coins you just might not want. What do you do when you get there? After spending thousands of dollars in tuition (or acquiring loans to do so), should you have to settle? Absolutely not.

               Interns have a stereotype: get the coffee, do the dirty work, come early, stay late, work for free! It seems that each industry has its own standards for interns. The agricultural industry tends to pay interns since we are valuable workers and tend to have enough experience to actually be an asset pretty quickly.

               I got into the ag industry after thinking my biology degree would lead me to a medical career. I got into medicine because I loved science and problem solving, and I really love helping people. What lead me away from medicine was my love of the outdoors. Was the pay I would be getting worth being miserable and stuck inside all day? It wasn’t for me. Growing up alongside horses gave me an appreciation for agriculture, and it seemed to fit my requirements for a career.

               I transferred from community college to University of Wisconsin at River Falls. It’s a small school, just outside the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The focus on campus is everything agriculture, and they’re serious about it. Serious as in “Sorry I’m late to class, prof. I was stuck behind the manure spreader.”

               Wisconsin is a corn and beans state with dairy farms for miles. I appreciate cash crops, but they’re not what I love. I love horses, but I enjoy having them as my hobby and I didn’t want to work directly with them for my career. My advisor in the CAFES (College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences) was a forages expert with an extension appointment. I was required to take CROP263: Forage Crop Production. I really enjoyed the class and through a turn of events ended up on our Forages Quiz Bowl team, and competing at the National SASES (Students of Agronomy, Soils, and Environmental Sciences) Meeting with a research project I did on corn silage-and I won.

               I never thought I’d go from a track to medical school to spending hours swooning over grass species in the greenhouse-but here I am. As my first semester of my junior year was starting, everyone was under pressure to find internships for the summer. We have an internship board in our Ag Sci building, as well as an online resource. There was a plethora of internships with big companies for cash crops, research, etc. But again, this is my education. This career is mine for the rest of my life. Would I learn a lot in one of those internships? Sure. Would I work hard? Absolutely. Would it give me the skills I’m looking for? I can’t say for sure.

               Internships are a two-way street. Sure, I’m going to work and be another employee for a company. But I’m also interning to benefit myself. I’m more than willing to do the “dirty work”. I will work 14-hour days, Saturdays, rainy days… whatever it takes. But I will not be treated poorly. As a woman in agriculture, I know that there are some people in the industry who would rather not work with women and I have encountered this firsthand. I decided that if I felt disrespected in an interview, I would not proceed with the process.

               Hours and hours, I would spend scrolling through internship postings. I applied for everything. There were internships I didn’t even want that I would write a cover letter for at 2am, just because I was desperate to get something. I finally got my first interview. This opportunity was with a big ag company-and I mean big. The internship I applied for was not the one I ended up interviewing for, I think due to lack of communication on their end. I was crushed when I didn’t get that internship. In retrospect, I would have been miserable.

               After weeks of not hearing back for all the internships I applied for, I started thinking outside the box. I’ve applied for every feasible internship out there. What about the ones that aren’t out there? So, I went to Google. “Agronomy Internships near me” turned up thousands of results-many of which I’d already applied for. I tried getting more specific: “forage internships near me” …. Nothing. This is when the lightbulb flickered on. “Agricultural Companies near me”. New results! Score.

               I scrolled through hundreds of companies. Each one that didn’t have an internship got a lovely email from me with a resume and cover letter. I sent out at least 100 emails each with a customized cover letter. Pro tip: don’t use a vague cover letter. It’s easy to have your template and edit it to each one. Most companies didn’t even respond. Some guided me through HR to apply. I did. I never heard back.

               There was one particular company that responded. They were a small, family company in the town where my boyfriend is stationed (about 5 hours away). Not only were they an agriculture company, they were a forage company! Which is exactly what I loved. They said that they’d never had an intern before, but had kicked around the idea of doing so. They couldn’t guarantee anything but were willing to do a phone interview.

               Let me tell you… I don’t think I slept the night before. I was so excited.

               A few days later I had my phone interview. It went great, but knowing that there was really no position I was applying for meant it might go nowhere-but now I was on their radar. They discussed among themselves and decided they wanted to meet me, so I went and sat down with the company next time I was in town. I loved the place-they presented themselves extremely well, with one of the cleanest businesses I’ve ever seen. Everyone was kind and seemed to love their job – what a dream place to work!

               We had a get-to-know-you meeting which went smoothly. A couple weeks later I got an email-they decided to do an internship! But I wasn’t a shoe-in. They wanted to open the internship application for others. I was still optimistic, and kept reinstating my interest. I interviewed for a few other “backup” options in the interim, just in case.

               Those couple weeks dragged on. I got two other internship offers that I really didn’t want. But then the day finally came-I got an email in my inbox while walking through the hallway at school. I was so excited to open it I could barely see straight. All I could read was the important stuff, “we’d like to offer you the internship.” I was ready to shout it from the rooftops! And the best part was I created this opportunity for myself. No one handed it to me. No one dangled it out there waiting for it to be snatched up. I sought out this opportunity and made it happen

               Not only am I teaming up with a company that can teach me more about what I love, I can be here as an asset as someone with new viewpoints and freshly out of school. I get to learn about the industry and use the knowledge I’ve gained (and paid for!) to help their existing customers.

               My takeaway from this experience goes back to a lesson a very special person once taught me, “If you don’t ask, you’re always at no.”

               Look for the grey areas in life. Be different. Write 100 cover letters. Find what you love. Passion will trump logic EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

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