“I looked at no-till as an opportunity to farm as close to nature as you can and still be farming.”
— Grant Troop, Soil Health Specialist, Oxford, Pa.
In this episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers & Innovators podcast, brought to you by Crop Vitality and Thio-Sul, editor Frank Lessiter sits down with Grant Troop, a no-tiller and a long-time soil health specialist and consultant in Oxford, Pa. Troop talks about how he first got hooked on no-till and how he convinced traditional tillage farmers to switch to no-till as a consultant.
Troop describes what he thinks are the ideal healthy soil conditions and what percentage of mineral soil, organic matter, pore space and water make up the best-case scenario for no-till production.
If you are interested in more no-till history, you’ll find great stories like these and many more in the newly released 448-page second edition of From Maverick to Mainstream: A History of No-Till Farming that includes 32 more pages than the first edition. Order your copy here.
No-Till Influencers & Innovators podcast series is brought to you by Crop Vitality and Thio-Sul, the original thiosulfate liquid fertilizer.
Keep your nitrogen where it is most effective, in the soil, and available for plant uptake with liquid thiosulfate fertilizers by Crop Vitality. Recent studies have shown, Thio-Sul and KTS inhibit nitrogen losses to the atmosphere and waterways while providing essential nutrients including sulfur so your crops have what they need when they need it most. Visit Crop Vitality dot com for a deeper dive into nitrification inhibition and the benefits of all Crop Vitality's fertilizers.
Full TranscriptMackane Vogel:
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Influencers & Innovators podcast, by Crop Vitality and Thio-Sul, the original thiosulfate liquid fertilizer. I'm Mackane Vogel, assistant editor of No-Till Farmer. For this episode, editor Frank Lessiter sits down with Grant Troop, a no-tiller, and a longtime soil health specialist, and consultant in Oxford, Pennsylvania. Troop talks about how he first got hooked on no-till, and how he convinced traditional tillage farmers to switch to no-till, as a consultant.Frank Lessiter:
Give me a little history. You grow up in area where you're farming now? What part of Pennsylvania is it in?Grant Troop:
Yeah. It's the southeast part of Pennsylvania, Lancaster County, which is always considered a garden spot of the world.Frank Lessiter:
And still is pretty good productive land with good rainfall, good soil. That makes a lot of things happen in a positive way.Frank Lessiter:
Yeah. Right. So you live where you grew up?Grant Troop:
I do. I pretty close. I'm next county east, but I would say that's pretty much the same area. Yes.Frank Lessiter:
You've been a farmer, and now you're a consultant. Tell me a little about your background in both of those.Grant Troop:
Well, started farming while I was actually still in college. That goes back quite a few years, was a family farm. It became available, so I started farming then. Farmed there until, let me think, '99. Was actually out of farming for two years, and then had an opportunity to farm some land in Maryland, and started farming south, into Maryland, instead of in Lancaster County, and been farming there ever since. Still farming.
Then the consulting business, back in the '70s I worked for the Soil Conservation Service. It would've been then NRCS now. That got me set up, thinking about managing soil. Of course, from a government perspective, it's all about holding the resource, not so much about crop production. I wanted to see how I could blend the two together, because I always felt if you manage the soil and water it right, you were going to have the best opportunity to have high yield, and also conserve and hold the soil resource for future generations.
My thrust in became that, and went into industry after a stint with the Soil Conservation Service, conservation district position. With farming, started a consulting business specializing in no-till was sort of becoming the no-till go-to guy in the area, particularly among the plain sect, the Amish. They were getting curious about whether or not they could farm that way and developed a clientele, and a business, and a speaking circuit, here in the East, and just sort of led from one thing to another.
Did a short time as a no-till specialist with Penn State, under a grant written program. Worked in six counties as a no-till specialist, mainly focused on transitioning farmers from tillage operations to no-till. We looked at some of the things that made the transition successful and rapid, versus the long-time held opinion that if you go to no-till, you're going to have yield drag, and it's going to be slow in the conversion.Frank Lessiter:
We tried to look at, "Well, what are the reasons for that? Why? What's different about the system?" So we come up with a list of things that, if you did, you didn't have that drag on yield, you didn't have that slow transition period. You took care of the problems.Frank Lessiter:
Right as you went into it. Over the years, that has further developed. You constantly find things, "Well, okay, now if we'd done this from the beginning, we could have gotten the no-till quicker." Again, there's more things you could do.Frank Lessiter:
How'd you get hooked on no-till?Grant Troop:
Well, time efficiency. I had an uncle that I worked with, that was a veterinarian, and he had a limited time scheduled for farming because he was a vet. I was in school, and had various off-farm jobs while I was farming. Again, it was time, it was soil conservation. In my youth, I was a pretty big wildlife enthusiast. I thought, "Well, worked soil is not very conducive to having wildlife around." That stuck in my craw. I hated seeing muddy water, hated seeing soil erosion, ditches, gollies, rills, were the bane of my existence. I looked at no-till as an opportunity to farm as close to nature as you can still be farming.Frank Lessiter:
If you had a prospective farmer come to you today, and you were talking to him, and you were trying to convert him to no-till, and he was concerned about the yield drag, what would you tell him? You mentioned earlier some practices would get you past the yield drag. What would they be?Grant Troop:
Yes. Well, historically, way we looked at it, there's a couple of things. First off, one is the pH of the soil. You need to correct pH. Of course, going into no-till, if you just stop tillage, and you have a really low pH, or for that matter, a really high pH, you can't really rapidly address that without doing some mixing. The thought was always, "Well, let's do that mixing, and then go to no-till the next year."Frank Lessiter:
There's some practicality to that. But I found, for the most part, most farmers that are converting, they don't really have soil pHs that are that far out that you can't just stop tillage, and put your liming material on the top, and get where you want to go. If they are, they haven't been doing a very good job of farming to begin with, and no-till isn't going to help them properly if they don't even have their pH anywhere close.
But that was one thing. Another was nutrient availability. When you do tillage, you fluff, you oxidize the soil, you make what I call artificial floor space. In that fluffing and oxidizing of the soil, you oxidize nutrients, and move them more to a plant available form. If you're doing spring tillage, and you make a lot of nutrients available quickly, that plant and early growth is going to respond pretty favorably to that.
Well then you switch all of a sudden to no-till, and you have less oxygen entered into the system. In fact, what we found over the first couple years of no-till is the soil actually becomes more dense. So you've gone from that artificially fluff, artificial pore space that you had with tillage, the soil begins to settle, and become more dense, and that dense soil holds on to water and nutrients more tightly than that fluff soil.
So one of the things we did was, "Okay, let's make sure we have available plant nutrients going on with the planter. We'd want it two by two fertilizer, maybe some goods in the furrow with the seed. The thoughts used to be there in the furrow, put a pretty good shot of fertilizer. But over the years, we've come to learn that that shot of fertilizer in furrow is actually negatively affecting that seed. As you process that, initially, we were thinking, and this is what most people I think were thinking, "Well, let's get some of the nutrients we need in the furrow."Frank Lessiter:
Well, we're doing it with fertilizer, and fertilizer by definition is salt.Frank Lessiter:
So if we put salt in the trench, and then the seed soaks that in, we get seed injury. And though you might not notice it, looking at the crop emerging, looking down the row, working with high yield growers. And over the past eight, 10 years, 12 years, I've worked with a lot of real high yield growers, and we all agree now that it doesn't take very much fertilizer in the trench, until you get a yield drag, that you don't go to these astronomical yield levels.
We're concentrating on, now, some other things in the trench, maybe just a pinch of fertilizer, and then getting a lot more fertilizer added in that two to three inches away from the row. But having some plant available, nutrient available to the plant, early, that it was expecting to get from warmed, loosened, aerated soil with tillage, was a big thing that made a big difference. Then holding onto water tighter, with the soil becoming more dense, that made it that much more important to have that soil covered with some kind of residue or cover crop.
That mulch provided more moisture, available in the soil, for the plant, which was having a harder time drawing it because the dense soil holds one tighter to water than the loose soil. So water, you could go into no-till in the first couple of years. If you don't have a lot of residue on the surface, you're actually more prone to drought damage than you are with till ground, because the soil's becoming more dense, and by having a mulch cover on top. We did studies back in the '70s and early '80s on that, where if we didn't have a cover crop, and the guy wanted to go over to no-till, we'd make a box stall manure application, or a straw manure, get a good cover on there, versus almost bare ground. Differences with that mulch on the surface were astronomical.Frank Lessiter:
That becomes a little less important after you get soil structure re-initialized, going into year three, four, and five. You start to get some structure in that soil, and you get natural pore space, it's associated with soil structure. Then all those relationships start to open up, and the thing opens up. But again, like I said, if you don't put available nutrients, and put a mulch cover on the soil to start with, those are two big things that can give you a big drag.Frank Lessiter:
With no-tillers, you wrote a comment on the dust storm in Illinois, which I picked up on. Pretty much, you're talking about soils. So no-tillers, 50%, 1,000, 50% pore space would be ideal?Grant Troop:
Yes, yes. That's the ideal soil to grow a crop in, 50% solids and 50% pore space. If you looked at that all in 100% ratio, you'd want 45% mineral soil, about 5% organic matter, 25% of the pore space should be air, and 25% should have water in variety of growing conditions. What I was trying to get at, in that article, or that response in that no-till discussion with the cloud of dust, we talk about, and where I started here today, was with the soil pH in transitioning to no-till.Frank Lessiter:
But we never stop to think, "Okay, we're adjusting that pH with aglime, and there are all kinds of aglime out there. There's high magnesium lime, there's high calcium lime, there's other lining materials that you can get on the market. And all we think about is, "What's the pH on the pH meter?"
That can be so misleading. It really sets us up in the wrong direction in no-till, just to have a correct pH. It's all about how we get at the correct pH. In other words, a calcium is going to be a soil loosener. It's a bridge chemical, it helps the soil develop pore space. Magnesium is a flattener of the soil. I learned this back in soil engineering, in college. If you wanted to make a hard road bed, put magnesium on the soil, as you're making a foundation, and you'll have a hard dense bed for that roadway. And.
It works that same way in a field. If you get too much magnesium, that soil is going to collapse. It becomes dense, it's going to have poor infiltration, it's going to have poor water movement through the soil. We might have perfect pH on the pH meter, but that soil is set up to fail. There's another beginning point going to no-till. Do you have your cations and the cations, I'm meaning basically magnesium, calcium, and potash? Are they in the right ratios, and the right amounts, to set that soil up, so it's as easy as possible for that soil structure to re-initialize? Because if they're way out of whack, it's very difficult for good soil structure to get initialized, especially in soil that's been tilled for years.Frank Lessiter:
What would be the normal, in conventional guy, what would be his solids versus pore space? Near 50/50, or a long ways from that?Grant Troop:
Well, the conventional tillers is going to do his tillage, and he's probably going to be a little higher on pore space right after tillage. Then as that soil begins to settle during the growing season, he's going to be trying to hit that 50/50.Frank Lessiter:
Then until winter, with the collapse of soil, it's probably going to drop a little bit below that, and perhaps get some soil sealing from rainfall, sealing the top. There's all kinds of things that can happen there. But they don't happen as much if that calcium, magnesium, potash setup is perfect. That soil will stay a little bit more open and take water. In no-till, it's just critical.Frank Lessiter:
It's just critical.Frank Lessiter:
You mentioned, in this comment you made to us, cation balance. Can you talk about that a little?Grant Troop:
Well, we look at the cation balance in the soil as a way to have a prolific crop. You want plenty of calcium. Again, when you talk about plenty of calcium, it gets confusing because there's so many soil labs, use slightly different soil tests, methods, and extractions. You have to know what the numbers mean with that particular lab. But once you know that, you can round off your magnesium to a certain level, your calcium to a certain level, your potash to a certain level. Then you start looking at the micronutrients, most of which are cations, your zinc, your iron, your copper, your manganese. You want certain levels of those to be most productive, have most productive capability of the soil. It's interesting, to me, many of our fungicides, historical fungicides, they were based on three elements; either zinc, manganese, or copper.
I can't help but think if we'd have done a better job of having sufficient levels of zinc, manganese, and copper in our soils, we wouldn't have needed those zinc, copper, and those fungicides. As I look at soil tests across the country, again and again, they're too low for the modern type yields we're trying to get. If they're not low, the ratios with other highly correlated yield nutrients is way off. We look at calcium to boron, we like to have that 1,000:1. When you look at the parts per million, zinc to phosphorus, like a 10:1.
I started to question some of those numbers years ago, "When did these come out? Who come up with these ratios? Do they work?" And there's been some interesting studies here that the Heftys, in South Dakota, have done an awful lot of work on the ratios. "Hey, do these ratios actually make yield?" They have found that most of them really hold true. They say they can correlate yield very tightly with phosphorus to zinc, phosphorus to copper, your calcium to boron, big-time link to yield.
Those are some things we look at. We want a certain baseline, and once we hit that baseline... We have here in the East, of course, a lot of livestock farms with really, really high levels of phosphorus. It's hard to hit that ratio with zinc because the phosphorus is so high. We've learned to get the zinc to a certain level. Then because the ratio's off so much, we make sure that the fields that are like that, they get a supplement in the popup in two by two of zinc to help balance that ratio, at least in a micro environment close to that row of plant.Frank Lessiter:
We do that kind of thing with all the nutrients. If we have an imbalance, that's where we try to boost what we're doing with row fertilizer, to make that growth environment for that year. It's going to be more difficult to get the whole soil balanced. You have to be careful with micronutrients, because crops going to take 50, 60, 70 units of phosphorus out of the soil a year, and less than a pound of the micronutrients, and most of the micronutrients.
If all of a sudden you lose livestock, and I've seen this happen on a number of farms, you can crop the phosphorus down real fast, but the micronutrients leaves so fast that it's not long until the phosphorus is down, and then your micronutrients way high out of balance.Frank Lessiter:
We have a certain level we look at for micronutrients and then stop. Then if we're still out of balance, then we do it on a row by row basis.Frank Lessiter:
Right. How are you advising your farmers to soil test? Or are you doing it for them? We get all kinds of people say we're only taking soil samples in the first couple of inches, and other people are going deeper. What do you recommend?Grant Troop:
Well, I like to see both. In other words, I think a fair amount of nutrient, now, maybe not phosphorous and some of the really low mobility nutrients make it to the full historical plow depth, but a lot of the nutrients make it to the full plow depth. So I want to know what's in them. But if you send a soil test in, and you tell the soil test lab, this is a four-inch sample, the recommendations will come back based on the fact that it's a four-inch sample, not an eight-inch sample or a seven-inch sample.Frank Lessiter:
I have had instances where guys did their own soil test, and they get the results back, and they pulled a four-inch sample. Of course, the lab test comes back, shows us enormous amount of nutrient in the soil. Well, what they really only picked up was that rich four inches of no-till soil without averaging in the next three or four inches. They look like they really got rich soil when what's down below that top four inches might not be so good.Frank Lessiter:
We look at both. I like to see a seven-inch soil sample every other time you sample, at least, and a four-inch sample just to look for stratification. But I think, with our cover crops in the east, and our rainfall, 40-42 inches of rain, I think we probably have a little less stratification than what you do in the Midwest and the upper Midwest. I know Doug Beagle, our Penn State soil specialist, who's now retired, used to say they could track phosphorus moving down about a half inch a year.
Well, it's slow, but it does go. It's not like it's all going to stay on the top inch forever. Then with cover crops rooting down, you got to feed the roots, some nutrients got to get down to feed those roots as they grow. With a good earthworm population, they're constantly pulling things down in their burrows, and pulling nutrients lower and lower. If you got the right environment, I think you can get around stratification fairly successfully. If you got a good mulch cover on your no-till field, you maintain moisture to the surface better, and your roots are going to stay rooted closer to the surface much better, and you're going to pull those nutrients out of that area.Mackane Vogel:
We'll come back to the episode in a moment, but first I'd like to thank our sponsor Crop Vitality and Thio-Sul for supporting today's podcast. It's as important as ever to ensure you're getting the most out of your fertilizer. Recent studies from Auburn University and Crop Vitality show when paired with a UAN solution, thiosulfate fertilizers slow down the process that causes you to lose your nitrogen into the atmosphere and groundwater.
Visit cropvitality.com to explore the studies on nitrification inhibition. Check out the ebook Nitrogen and the Thiosulfate Factor, and learn more about Crop Vitality's thiosulfate fertilizers. That's cropvitality.com. Now let's get back to the conversation.Frank Lessiter:
I saw the other day that Penn State came out with new corn nitrate side dressing rates based on no-till. What do you know about that?Grant Troop:
I have not had a chance to really dig into that. I have not.Frank Lessiter:
Well, I saw news release from Charlie White, which was talking about how it made some differences in no-till. Okay, I won't pin you down since you haven't looked at it.Grant Troop:
Yeah, yeah. Well, I do know we work a lot with Waypoint Analytical to do our soil tests. They do a good job on using the Mehlich 3 testing system. Mehlich 3 will pull out the nutrients that are available to time of the test, and then it's a strong enough extraction that it'll pull out the nutrients that would be expected to become available over the growing season. So you have a good feel the pool of nutrients you have for that crop for that year.Frank Lessiter:
They're also very good at giving you a number of expected nitrogen release from that soil. And of course that's based on the CE sand, particularly based on the organic matter content. They're real good at helping you get a handle on, "Okay, here's my nitrogen program, what do I need to go with the roughly 100 units of nitrogen that that's no-till soil should release on the growing season?"
For years, so many guys have ignored that number, and I'll go on the farm and look at their corn, and I'll say, "Well, you don't have any firing. This might be late August, you don't have any firing here clear to the ground." I said, "You got more than enough nitrogen." Then we'll cut stalks, or do a silage harvest. During a silage harvest, they'll cut some stalks off to send in for a nitrate test.Frank Lessiter:
They'll have some astronomical levels of nitrogen in those stalks, nitrate. And I'll say, "Are you doing anything to adjust?" I said, "You're doing your calculations, you got manure, you got some fertilizer, putting some stuff on with the planter." I said, "We got to start accounting for what is native in that soil now, that's releasing 100 to 120 units."
You can cut that out of the program somewhere along the line, because it's obvious your corn plant has a lot more nitrogen based on that stalk nitrate test at the end of the season. The leaves stand green, pretty near down to the last leaf to the ground. There's no firing at all.Frank Lessiter:
I'd like to see a couple of leaves at the bottom that are getting shaded, and running out of nitrogen to fire, to make sure you're not overloading the system with nitrogen, which can contribute to some loss into the environment.Frank Lessiter:
Let me ask you a question on something you mentioned earlier, and make sure I got it right here. Are you saying a no-tiller soil test may be every two years, that maybe one year he should do a four-inch sample, and the next year do a seven-inch?Grant Troop:
Yeah. Yeah, I'd like to see that.Frank Lessiter:
That gives you some good ideas of what you got going on.Frank Lessiter:
Right. Good. So you're working with a lot of Amish no-tillers. I've always maintained, gosh, if you talk about time saving and efficiency, it really pays off for the Amish people, with fewer trips across the field. You must be dealing with some Amish people that most of them would be pulling their planters with horses, right?Grant Troop:
Oh yes, yes.Frank Lessiter:
That's a challenge. Now, you think about that, and you think, "Well, how do they do that?" Well, when you think of the modern corn planter, everything's rolling. You're cutting into the soil a couple of inches, not many of them put fertilizer down in the ground more than a couple inches, and some just dribble on top. So really, you're only cutting the rolling disc into the ground a couple of inches.Frank Lessiter:
The depth gauge wheels roll, the no-till coulter if you're using that roll, the row cleaners, the closing wheels, everything rolls. It's not really as hard to do with a team of horses, as pulling something with a shoe on that gives you a lot of resistance.Frank Lessiter:
Right. Typical setup for an Amish, how many rows on his planter? How many horses?Grant Troop:
Usually four rows would be average.Frank Lessiter:
Yeah, four to six horses. If they're only going to plant a couple acres that day, they'll go out with four. If they're going to plant more acres up, they'll team up six and go at it.Frank Lessiter:
Let's talk about cover crops. What's happening in your area? You've been at it a long time of cover crops. Tell me what's going on.Grant Troop:
Cover cropping is all over the place, and that's because ag in our area is becoming much more diversified.Frank Lessiter:
25-30 years ago, there were not near the vegetable type farms. A lot of the Amish farms now maybe have a dairy, or some kind of a livestock operation. They also have vegetable production, or berry production. They have a diverse number of things going on, and that offers you the opportunity to put out much more complex mixtures of cover crops. Especially when you have vegetables that are getting done late summer, early fall, and you have time to establish some of these more, what would you call them? Exotic. They're not really exotic anymore, but cover crops that you can't get to start late in the season.Frank Lessiter:
There is a lot more of that, and there are a lot more businesses, taking care of that business, teaching their growers what to plant, when to plant, and trying to show them what kind of a benefit that brings to soil health. It's much different than it was years ago. We still have a lot of farmers, though, that are in cash grain, that harvest is just too late to start much other than rye or wheat. So there's a lot of rye put out, wheat where they're going for a wheat crop, if they get it in early enough, unless a few guys put it. If they get too late, they'll put in wheat, and if it looks like it's a good stand, and they have a good winter for it, they'll take it to grain. If they don't, it's just a cover crop going in the next year.Frank Lessiter:
Sure. That gives them some options.Grant Troop:
I looked up something we had written from you some years ago, or a few beers back, and you talked about cereal rye, how you were reducing the seeding rates. Can you talk about that a little?Grant Troop:
Yeah, one of the concerns, particularly on early no-tillers, is a concern about, "What am I going to do with all this forage I have on top of the ground?"Frank Lessiter:
One of the ways to deal with that is to have less plants per acre. It's going to give you less forage cover, and make it easier to plant through. I have mixed feelings about that. I really do, to this date. Part of it is a balance between cost of seed, and then having an adequate amount of cover. If I have steeply sloped land, or a long slope, then I'll probably keep the rate up pretty high. But if I have pretty flat ground, that I don't really have to worry much about it washing, and it's got a good calcium and magnesium ratio, that I know the water's going to go in the ground not be running off so much, there I'm a little more likely to go to a two-thirds or three-quarter rate versus two full bushels of cereal rye.
But I'm over the place on recommending that, because if you're terminating that rye cover early... We have guys that will terminate when it's basically just leaves, hasn't even started to bolt yet. If you do that 'til mid-June, in the East, most of that cover crop has disappeared, because it was just lush green leaves. So you don't really have anything to mulch the field and hold the moisture throughout the summer, which is not a good thing at all.
But if you let the cover crop grow up and to terminate it at tabletop height, just as the heads are starting to emerge, and those stems have gotten somewhat lignified, there maybe you can go a little lower seeding rate because you got a whole lot more biomass grown. That's going to last more through the summer. That's always been our goal with our growers, is to not terminate the cover crop until the cover crop is about the stage you would cut it for forage, for feed for livestock, because it makes the best quality feed, and the highest tonnage for the livestock when it gets to be that size.
That's really the same thing you're looking to do, feeding that soil life, is to have the maximum amount of biomass. But you want a highly digestible form for the soil microbes, because if you let stuff get too lignified, it's going to be too much of a nitrogen drain on that soil, and that's where you can get some yield reduction by requiring nitrogen from the soil to break that highly lignified cover crop down.
We try to strike a balance of, "Hey, when would the dairyman cut that for the best quality forage to feed his cow?" That's the point we want to terminate it, and that's going to give you enough of lignified straw to fall over on the soil, hold the moisture, without being so lignified that it's going to tie up extra nutrient and cause a deficit on nitrogen.Frank Lessiter:
How are your clients terminating their cover crops?Grant Troop:
The majority terminated with a glyphosate product.Frank Lessiter:
That would be most common. There are a few that roll, but I would say the rollers are pretty much limited to folks that are growing a crop, that they don't want the fruit to get on the ground. They're growing pumpkins to have a rolled, more mature rye. Tomato growers are sometimes rolling cover crops, so that tomatoes are setting up on top of some mulch instead of down against the soil, so some of those specialty things. Then we have some growers that, not many, but a few that like to plant green.Frank Lessiter:
But I don't think that is real popular. There's some guys that do it, like doing it, but it has not caught one with the majority of the farmers.Frank Lessiter:
Why is that? Why hasn't it caught on? Does it scare people?Grant Troop:
Yeah, I think it does. When I would want to plan into, like a zero rye when it's green, and I've done it already. I wouldn't want the rye to be planted particularly thick, and I wouldn't want it to be overly staged. In other words, I wouldn't want it to be older or taller than I'm looking for it to be, because of the nitrogen penalty.Frank Lessiter:
And because you can't control the weather, usually when rye in this area is tabletop height, just as the hedger being seen in the boot, you're talking mid-April to the 20th of April, and the weather is extremely variable. The ability to hit the right date to plant in that environment, and get any number of acres done without the soil being too wet, you just add a whole lot of challenges that if you get the wrong weather, you can really be behind your eight-ball. Terminating with glyphosate, once you do that, you got your environment set up for planting, and nothing can go too wrong for quite a while.Frank Lessiter:
We've done a couple articles in recent years, with Pennsylvania farmers who are cash crop guys, corn and soybeans, and they have this exactly what you were talking about. It gets too late to put in a cover crop, but some of them were going to short season corn. Is that getting popular? Is there too much of a yield loss on 90-day, 95-day corn, or not?Grant Troop:
In the southern half of the state, there is too much of a yield loss. Up north they might be dropping down a few days.Frank Lessiter:
I think what's become perhaps more popular is guys are using things in furrow that stimulate really rapid, early growth, and you can get your corn several leaf stages ahead of where it normally would be, which, for the season, puts you quite a few degree days ahead of where you would be for harvest.Frank Lessiter:
That moves the harvest date up, which moves up the ability to plant that cover crop. That's been real popular.Frank Lessiter:
So what are you putting in-Grant Troop:
But as far as going-Frank Lessiter:
Go ahead. Go ahead.Grant Troop:
Yeah, as far as going to shorter seasoned corn, if anything, with some of these technologies that are available, with plant growth regulators, and carbons, and things, a lot of guys are actually looking at going with a couple day longer seasoned corn, because they can get it ahead of where it would be without those PGRs, and other additives, get it ahead of a couple leaf stages ahead, so they can grow a little longer season corn, get a little bit more yield.Frank Lessiter:
Yeah. You're talking about putting in the furrow some plant growth regulators. Are you looking at biologicals?Grant Troop:
Yes, yes. Yeah, we use carbons. It's interesting, some people talk labile carbon, in other words, pretty fresh stuff, sugars and carbohydrates. There are other groups that will talk more about the humics and the humates. What we found is it's really important to have both. The labile carbon is going to address, in other words, the fresh carbon's going to address nitrogen, phosphorus, boron, sulfur, those kind of things, cycle them, make them more available.
Then the aged carbon, of the humates and the humics, are much better at increasing availability of things like potash, and copper, and zinc, and manganese. Some of the things that you just need to get them available in the soil so the plant can take them up. Having a balance between those two, we've seen, been very good at increasing crop yield. Then plant growth regulators can be anything from plant extracts, to actually isolated plant growth regulators, where you know the exact thing that's in the jug, versus sea plant extracts, or seaweed extracts, where you have a whole host of plant growth regulators that are naturally in that kelp or sea plant, whatever it is you're extracting it from.
But they're very effective at getting that plant to grow fast. Always like to quote Dr. Heiniger, from North Carolina. He says in all his years of research, and he's done high yield corn research for many years, he says, "Without exception, the fastest growing crop is the highest yielding crop."Frank Lessiter:
That's been my whole thrust in no-till is you always ended up, years and years ago, because you didn't do the right things with a slow growing crop, that's part of that yield drag. If you can do the things to make it the fastest growing crop, you have a real good chance to be a really high yielding crop.Frank Lessiter:
Well, with all these biologicals, how does a farmer decide what he can use, or what he should use?Grant Troop:
Well, I think there are certain classifications of products that work. The labile carbons, the humates, the humics, they're always going to help that plant take up nutrients. The sea plant extracts, it's rare that you don't see an uptick in fast growth with those things. Anything from sea plant extracts, they don't really name the plant growth regulators, but the sea plant extracts, of course we know have them in, to actual named plant growth regulators like gibberellic acid, or GABA, or any of those kind of things that are on the market, they usually work well at getting that plan ahead of where it would normally be.
In other words, instead of depending just on moisture, the fertility, and the heat of the growing season, now we have things to put in there to improve nutrient availability and the PGRs to simulate fast growth, that you can get some of these things to happen without all the heat that you were expecting, or all the moisture you're expecting, and get your crop in that fast growth stage which yields to high yield.Frank Lessiter:
I'm going to switch gears on you a little. A few years back, you wrote a comment for us on slug defense, and then keeping insecticides, and keeping them off the residue and in the crop roll. Can you elaborate on that for me?Grant Troop:
Yes, yes. The latest research we've done on that, slugs continue to be spotty, but widespread. This year, they're not much of a problem because it's been so dry in the East. I'm not getting any reports of problems.Frank Lessiter:
But the last several years, we've had considerable problems. And one of the things, and this is confirmed with research from Penn State, that certain of the insecticides that are on the seed will kill the insects that forage on slugs. If you have those seed treatments in place, the crop comes up, and the slugs feed on the crop, and then the predator insect comes along and eats Mr. Slug. It gets a toxic dose, and if the insecticide initially hasn't killed the insect, the dose from eating the slug does. So it limits the control of the slug.
The thinking is, "Well, maybe we need to back off from these seed applieds, and use more in-furrow type stuff that maybe doesn't go systemic, or go to a chemical control." One of the things we had used quite successfully was a dribble fertilizer over top of the row. Slugs cannot stand any salt at all. The fertilizer is salt. If you take a material that you need for the crop, like ammonium sulfate, or urate, or potash, or mixtures of those two, and dribble them over the row at reasonable rates, you make a salty environment that that slug does not want to crawl into.
That's been very effective. Less effective where you don't do any row cleaning, because you got all that residue that is going to protect them. They get under and have a place to go. But if you sweep the residue out of the row, and then put that salt layer on top, that fertilizer layer, you can be pretty effective at keeping them from doing what we call significant damage to the crop.Frank Lessiter:
Yeah. Well it's interesting what you said about seed treatments, because the chemical companies have been promoting more and more seed treatments. You get the seed treatments that come out of the seed, and then they're telling farmers they ought to treat the seed again.Grant Troop:
Yeah, that's right. I think they're going to be coming out with some materials that maybe meet us partway in controlling insects without chemistry, and that won't hurt the slug, and yet kills the predator insect. I think there's maybe some chemistry coming that's going to help with that.Frank Lessiter:
Yeah. This has been great. Have you got any thoughts that I haven't asked you about, that we ought to wrap this up with?Grant Troop:
No, just the big thing that we've been seeing the past couple years is this calcium to magnesium ratio on our soils, and how much that helps in the water going into the soil, percolating down through the soil. I think, Frank, even more important, is the fact when that soil is set up with the right structure physio, chemically, it allows moisture to come back up, the capillary work its way up. If you don't have the right pore space in that soil, capillary action is extremely inhibited.Frank Lessiter:
As far as drought-proofing the soil, it's just tremendous. We're working on a dairy farm, here locally, that got themselves into a real bad situation without really knowing how it was going to happen. They called me in and said, "We got this problem. Our soil's..." They've been no-tillers for probably 35 years. All of a sudden, their soils have become really hard, almost unworkable, crop yields are dropping down, a lot of tip fill not happening on the ears of corn. Corn not looking as thrifty as it should, and they grow a lot of silage corn. Have rye for forage after the corn crop.
I said, "Well, let me see your soil test." They had magnesium in the 30% base saturation category. I said, "How did this get like this?" Because that's not native to the soils in our local area. Here, what they had done, they have a huge free-stall barns, and they were bedding them with sand. They got tired of bedding with sand, hauling sand all the time. So they got rough cut limestone.Frank Lessiter:
Just happened that the dolomitic rough cut limestone was cheaper than the high calcium. They never gave it a thought that this would end up going through the free-stall barn, out the flush system, into the lagoon, irrigated on the fields, and caused this real high magnesium situation. Their soils, because that high magnesium, have gone from loose, crumbly to really hard, platy, rough soil. It just so confirmed to me how important those ratios are.
When you see the extremes, you can see what it does. The average farmer doesn't notice it, because he doesn't get to the extreme situation. But if he can get his soil to the ideal, he only helps himself get the proper structure in the soil. The water goes in, goes down, and more importantly, when it gets dry, it capillaries back up. I think it's just critical, the successful note [inaudible 00:44:24].Frank Lessiter:
You get initialization of soil structures so much more rapidly. We struggle to do it with being in no-till, having cover crops, and all these things we try to do to get that soil structure, and we make it so difficult in some environments, physio chemistry happen.Mackane Vogel:
That's it for this episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers & Innovators podcast. Thanks to Grant Troop and Frank Lessiter for that great conversation. And thanks to our sponsor, Crop Vitality and Thio-Sul, for helping to make this podcast possible. A transcript of this episode, and our archive of previous podcast episodes, are both available at no-tillfarmer.com. For our entire staff, here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Mackane Vogel. Thanks for listening. Keep on no-tilling, and have a great day.