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Extending the Life of Applied Nutrients with a Better Biological Habitat

With a self-described “living laboratory,” Streator, Ill., no-tiller and strip-tiller Larry Tombaugh experiments with biological combinations to help stimulate soil health and add bushels each year.


Pictured Above: TEAING OFF. Strip-tiller Larry Tombaugh invested in vermicompost tea, a biological stimulant which simmers in a 500 gallon hot tub with 16 bubblers in it for 18-24 hours. When it comes out of the batch and he strains it, it has about 92% aerobic bacteria and microbes, and 8% anaerobes

I ACTUALLY TRIED no-till when I came home from the University of Illinois in 1973. I rented an Allis Chalmers “no-till planter” from the conservation department and it gave my neighbors a good laugh because we were way ahead of the curve. 

When I took over the farm in 1994, we went to strip-till, which we still practice, but we don’t apply any dry fertilizer or anhydrous. We run a 12-row Redball strip-till unit in the fall for tillage, but we’re applying fertilizer with our 12-row John Deere 7200 planter, sidedress bar and Hagie sprayer for a foliar feeding. 

With our CSP plan, we don’t put any phosphorus (P) on top of our ground. It has to be incorporated and cover crops are a main part of that system, too. I don’t really like bulk spreading fertilizer with all of its salt, the unevenness, and not getting the nutrients in the root zone. 

The whole idea is getting it right there, so I use a dry soluble, low-salt fertilizer in-furrow with a full complement of humates and biologicals applied in furrow through the insecticide boxes on the planter. I apply 18 gallons per acre of 28% UAN, 1…

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