“I did everything right, and I still developed glyphosate resistance. I'm also resistant to ALS, and except in my early days, I haven't used ALS inhibitors on the farm. One of the sections is resistant to a PPO inhibitor, which I've never used. And yet here it is. It's a cautionary tale.”
— Jim Stute, Independent Research Agronomist & No-Tiller, East Troy, Wis.
Join No-Till Farmer on a road trip across southern Wisconsin in this week’s episode of the podcast, brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.
Michaela Paukner, managing editor at No-Till Farmer, and Jim Stute, a no-tiller and independent research agronomist, traveled from Stute’s East Troy, Wis., farm to a meeting in the southwestern part of Wisconsin near the border with Illinois. Ride along as they talk about herbicide-resistant weeds, Stute’s Wisconsin operation and research trials, the history of phosphorus use in agriculture, and more.
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No-Till Farmer podcast series is brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.
Welcome to a better SOURCE of fertilizer. SOURCE from Sound Agriculture unlocks more of the nutrients already in your fields, so you can add less fertilizer while getting the yield you’re counting on. By activating soil microbes, SOURCE provides more of the existing nitrogen and phosphorus to your crops. It’s such a solid backup plan, you’ll probably find yourself wondering why SOURCE wasn’t the plan all along. Learn more at www.sound.ag.
Full TranscriptMichaela Paukner:
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by SOURCE by Sound Agriculture. I'm Michaela Paukner, managing editor at No-Till Farmer. In today's episode of the podcast, I'm taking on a road trip with Jim Stute, a no-tiller independent research agronomist and No-till Farmer Advisory board member.
In April, I picked up Jim from his East Troy Wisconsin farm, which is in the southeast part of the state, and we made our way west to a meeting in Sinsinawa, a Wisconsin town nearly on the border with Illinois and not far from Iowa either.
This episode is a recording of our conversation in the car. Here's Jim to start us out.Jim Stute:
This is definitely the wild part of Rock County talking about the east-west divide. A lot of that has to do with the prairie. So on the east side is the rock prairie, and so it's a lot of grain farming, not that there's not a lot of grain farming here, but the terrain rolls more. It was made for dairy farming, so there's more livestock, more traditional type livestock and dairy farms on this side, and a few really big ones out on the prairie.Michaela Paukner:
So typically the dairies, are they just, their goal with the farming side of it is producing feed for their cattle?Jim Stute:
Yes, that's it. And of course there's exceptions. There's no such thing as a role, but in general they're producing feed, but a lot of them are also in the grain production.
And I'm not paid to say this, but a highly recommended book, and I finished it two nights ago, is The Devil's Element by Dan Egan. So he wrote Life and Death of the Great Lakes, and so The Devil's Elements about phosphorus, and it was just published. He finished writing last August and it just got released. In fact, I think I got it from Amazon pre-release so I think my order sat until it was released and I got it right away, and I could not put it down.Michaela Paukner:
What does he talk about?Jim Stute:
It's about phosphorus and it does a really good job of talking about the history of phosphorus, both the environmental problems, but also our use in agriculture. And then some of it, he starts out right away talking about it being a weapon of warfare. So the use in incendiary bombs and how we firebomb Northern Germany with not only magnesium bombs, they were the little ones, but then somebody figured out about phosphorus in it and make the bombs really effective. And so that's how he burned down Hamburg and Dresden and other cities.
So then he talks about the evolution of phosphorus and realizing that it's an essential plant element and how Great Britain, England in particular, dealing with their depleted soils, were looking for phosphorus source. And they totally cleaned up all the human remains at the battlegrounds at Waterloo just to get the phosphorus.
And then they figured out-Michaela Paukner:
From the remains?Jim Stute:
From the remains, they took skeletons and they were robbing graves in England. They pretty much cleaned the countryside of human remains. And then they got into the reserves from guano and just centuries of stuff.
But anyway, so we got to switch gears here and talk about glyphosate resistance. So this farm here is the first documented case of glyphosate resistance in giant ragweed in the state of Wisconsin. And so this is an example of doing everything wrong. So the glyphosate, the Roundup already came out in soybeans and then corn followed.
And so this guy, so he is a hobby farmer or a part-time farmer, and he has a crop consultant and his crop consultant would write the plans and they're like, "We got to steward the trade, so don't use it on corn. And if you do, it's a defensive trade, so just use it in case you have a failure of your other weed control." And this guy didn't follow the recommendations, so he was using it on corn and on soybeans, and he was in conventional tillage system and pretty soon having trouble controlling giant rag. And it was just like his consultant told him.
The consultant called me as the county educator, and we came out and we looked at it and the plants looked suspicious. He had just applied glyphosate and they were alive and healthy. So I dug a bunch of them up and I took them up to campus.
So this is how the process works. So they nursed them back to health from transplant shock, and then they put on different rates of glyphosate and the ones that make it through, they collect seed from them, and then the next year they grow them out and then they go through the same thing with the dosing. And the definition of resistant is full rate of PowerMAX, so that's 32 ounces, four or four and a half pound acid equivalent. And so that's how you determine you got it. Sure enough they've got it.
So then the next step was they didn't have an extension wheat specialist at the time, and there's somebody that's working on glyphosate resistance in the state of Wisconsin, but he doesn't have an extension appointment. So he was just acting at that time. So then we came out and he and I sampled all around the farm perimeter. We sampled seeds and they shipped them off to the Ohio State University who's the regional co-operator in this multi-state north central region project, looking at gene flow, trying to figure out the mechanisms of how is this resistance being conferred other than just developing resistance at a local spot. And I haven't heard anything about that.
But then the next step was we randomly sampled populations around Rock County. So I went out with a technician and we went to what I thought would be potential hotspots and we gathered up the seed and that was fun. So we're in a state pickup truck with a cap on it and it's got state plates. And we were out on the north central part of the county and kind of in a wild area, and we're all doing that. Some hillbilly pulls up and is like, "Hey, you guys letting pheasants go?" We're like, "No, we're collecting seeds."
So then we get to the fringe of the rock prairie on Highway 8, which is a very busy road that goes into Janesville, and it hadn't been improved at the time. So it was kind of like this one. This one's built as state highway spec. It wasn't even up to this, not this wide and it drops right off into the ditches. And we found a place where we could park, and I had called the farmer and asked him if we could stop and pick the seeds. He was like, "Yeah," because it's in a fence row and I drove by every day commuting, so I knew it was there.
So we get out, we were picking the seeds and we're coming back to the truck and this guy stops right in the middle of the road blocks traffic, and he is like, "What are you guys doing?" We're like, "Well, we're sampling giant ragweed seed." And again, mind you, we've got state license plates, state vehicle. The guy's like, "Does Governor Walker know you're doing this?" And we're like, "No, this is a federally funded thing. So Governor Walker doesn't need to concern himself, but this is how we're spending tax money."Michaela Paukner:
That's hilarious.Jim Stute:
So at home where I did everything right, I used it in beans because it works so well in no-till beans and the alternatives are not so environmentally friendly. There's some stuff you can put on early, like the pre-emergence that I use. But then if you lose the battle and you got to go back, you're using Cobra and Blazer and Ultra Blazer, which are carcinogens, and they don't do soybean health any good because they crisp the plant up, but they're labeled for food grade beans. Go figure that.
So anyway, I developed my problem. I got suspicious and I had even in the field where my patch is, I had done extensions two-pass challenge where the idea was that it was a randomized replicated trial and they gave you the herbicide, the pre-emergent herbicide. So you compare that against total post emergence glyphosate program. So I cooperated in that and the idea behind that was you're going to see no cost difference. You're going to see no weed control difference except for you'll have fewer weeds that you're spraying with the glyphosate and there'll be no yield difference. And sure enough, that's what my data showed and that's what the whole thing did.
But the whole idea was to get farmers used the idea of getting away from relying on glyphosate post emergence.
And so anyway, back to my story. So I used 2,4-D in my burned down to control existing ragweed and I still developed the problem. And so that's a cautionary tale. I did everything right. I developed it. I don't know where it came from. I'm also resistant to ALS and I haven't used, except my early days, I haven't really used ALS inhibitors on the farm. And it's also resistant.
One of the sessions is resistant to PPO inhibitor, which I've never used. And yet here it is. So it's a cautionary tale. You do everything right, you can develop it, you do everything wrong, you develop it faster. So now we have to have to live with it. So that's where all the idea behind my rye work fits in.Michaela Paukner:
So what is your theory about why you developed it?Jim Stute:
I think this goes back to gene flow. So it could have come in with the neighbors. So all of our problem child, so the mayor's tail, which everyone has, the waterhemp, which just showed up on my farm. It came in with a combine in harvest 2018. So here it is in 2019 and I spend every free evening in July out roguing my fields because I've heard what a nightmare it is.
And then giant rag on my farm, and I'm sure there's other ones that are out there. So they come in late, they emerge late. Giant rag though, you get a warm spell in March, it starts germinating, but that goes into June, see a real wide emergence window. And same thing with waterhemp.
The mayor's tail has two distinct life cycles. Mostly it's a winter annual, so it'll germinate the year before, but it can also behave as a summer annual. So if conditions are right for it, you'll get a germinating later so it can become a problem later on. So that's part of it.
They're all prolific seed producers and they're all crossers. So if pollen blows in, you can suddenly from a resistant population, suddenly you've got resistance.
So I haven't seen it on my neighbor's field, so I don't know. And I live in, I don't know if you noticed this, but I'm in the no-till Shangri-La or Nirvana, everyone no-tills. So I would've think it would've showed up in my neighbors and they don't have it. So I don't know.
I wonder if part of it is from my sustainable agriculture past where, sustainable agriculture back in the day 30 years ago, you use reduced rates, you try to cut inputs as much as possible. But I never really went extreme with the low rates. I was always on the low end of the label. So I don't think that, so I don't know, I scratched my head. I did everything.
So I don't know if we understand, we know how glycine intolerance and crop plants works. We know that really well. We don't know, at least I don't know how the weeds have evolved to be tolerant or resistant. And it could relate to metabolic resistance where they just produce this enzyme which breaks down these compounds that shouldn't be there before they can get to the site of action, the target site. Or it could be something totally different. They could have a duplicate set of the gene that the tolerant crops have. That I don't know, I'm sure weed scientists know or have an idea.Michaela Paukner:
So are the actual weed plant, is it hardier than any of the crops that are grown or it just is affected by different things?Jim Stute:
Well, as far as hardiness, those three, they are big robust plants that can deal with a lot and they can deal with dry conditions really well. So dealing with the pesticide itself, I don't know how that works. I suspect that it's a case of metabolic resistance. So it's not necessarily genetic. There's a genetic component to metabolic resistance, so I digress. But I finished my career, at least my season last year with Rock River Lab doing Dennis Miller's farm. I have driven by here a thousand times thinking of Dennis Miller, the comedian.Michaela Paukner:
Who does not live on this farm.Jim Stute:
No, it's a big farm. He had alpacas or lamas or something in that pasture right there. To get to all that high ground, I had to come to his farm down here. It was just a cluster F and the ground was frozen. So I started on the low ground back there at the home farm waiting for it to thaw out there.
And the funniest thing happened, I was parked right here. And the other thing, this area here, you cannot get cell phone reception and there is no wi-fi, so I couldn't get the satellite maps. So I'm going on these cartoonish maps, just outline, the field outline, and it was just ridiculous.
And so I parked down there and I'm at my last field and I broke a probe in the frozen ground and I had mechanical problems. And young Matt, my colleague, shows up on his four wheeler and I'm out way out in the back 40 there. And I was like, "Matt, this is a great way to do it. Let's leapfrog and be done." So that's how I finished.Michaela Paukner:
What were you testing for on that farm?Jim Stute:
I was routine fertility. So Rock River Lab contracts with Elsevier and FS and Pearl City Elevator. We're getting into Pearl City's territory here and Conserve, that's my account. So anyway, I kind of like sampling here, but I'd rather be down in DeKalb County with the windmills and the big farms. I could do a 200 acre field and that's like half my day.Michaela Paukner:
Compared to what in a flat area?Jim Stute:
Yeah, it's big flat fields roll, but here you do all these little fields and you can stop just to do a 20 acre field. It's like it's not worth getting out of a truck for. And I finished up the season doing a lot of stuff for Pearl City and Rock County, northeast and north central Rock County and it was not fun.Michaela Paukner:
The drive is pretty at least.Jim Stute:
Yeah, this is beautiful. Yeah, it was fun being in different territory.Michaela Paukner:
So when you were sampling around the perimeter, how many plants would you take samples from?Jim Stute:
A lot. So I would say it was at least 25 plants as I recall. So the sampling was, so do the 25 at the creek crossing here and up at the headland and up at the woody patch. And that's the way it was. So it was pretty intense and we didn't have four wheelers, so we drove out as far as we could. And so we were walking the rest of the way.Michaela Paukner:
So do the seeds from all 25 plants get put in the same thing? Or do you have to keep them all separate?Jim Stute:
We kept them in, so we have a big bag and then lunch bags. So you put all the seeds in there and seal them up and then they'd all go into, so we kept a plant separate from its neighbors in the patch. So then they all got sealed up and then they went into the grocery bag and then that got sealed up and then we go to another patch. So we were handling a lot of material, bulky, it wasn't big, but Dave's Subaru was just packed full of bags at the end of the day.Michaela Paukner:
I hope you don't have ragweed allergies.Jim Stute:
I do actually. But it was beyond pollen season.Michaela Paukner:
Okay. So it wasn't bad.Jim Stute:
Yeah, that's interesting. I'm developing more and more allergies as time goes on.Michaela Paukner:
I saw an article about that not that long ago, about how allergies are getting worse as a product of climate change.Jim Stute:
And that makes perfect sense because we're more humid. So a lot more mold spore in the air. That's the funkle ones are like the alternate area. When they're doing the fall report, they're talking ragweed, golden rod, alternate area. We had David Brat do our winter workshop, so he's in southern Ohio and he said, "We may have climate change, we may not, call what you will, but it is getting wacky," and this is what I'm doing to deal with the weather variability. And that's the bottom line. That's what we're managing for. And my data that I showed at the summit, it shows it quite clearly when I'm facing.Michaela Paukner:
Here, it's been almost 80 degrees, if not 80 degrees this whole past week. But then next week we're supposed to get snow. So what would happen if you were to plant? What if you planted something this week and then we got snow next week?Jim Stute:
That's a really good question. And I wonder, I saw a guy planting yesterday outside of East Troy. So in my opinion, it's too early. We're pretty close. I think we get through this cold snap. The planters will be rolling like crazy.
I did a career day for Argyle High School in 2015, then my dad wrote me into that. They live in Argyle. Anyway, April 19th. And all the planters were rolling and it seemed to me because we had this potential cold spell coming up, but it was in the window, so the ground was fit. And right now, that's the university's recommendation. If the grounds fit and you're in the window go, even though the optimum corn planting date, optimum soybean planting date for southeast Wisconsin or southern Wisconsin is now May 1st. And it doesn't differentiate between the two of them. So what happens? It's risky.
I don't know what happens in soybeans. So soybeans are more tolerant to the cold than despite everything I learned in college. And you plant beans after corn, but the research data says no, you plant when the grounds fit. So I don't know what happens to them.
With corn, there's this phenomenon called inhibitional chilling. And so when the corn plant is just taking up water, so that's the imbibing step in germination. If it's chilled at that time, it messes up the unfolding of all the embryonic membranes and it can cause deformities. And really what the problem is, the plant will unfurl underground. So it's got this structure that it uses to emerge through the soil, and that structure falls apart and it unfurls before it's totally emerged. And so result of that is reduction in stand. You don't get the stand you want.Michaela Paukner:
So corn, it sounds like you're at more of a risk than you would be for soybeans if you were to plant early and then it would get cold again?Jim Stute:
Yes. Soybeans, I don't know. So soybeans have a totally different form of emergence. So corn emergence is epigeal, so the growing point is below ground. So in soybeans it's hypogeal. So the growing point is above ground, but there's a point in there where that's the hook stage. So the growing point is in where the kotiledon are.
And so the hook is actually below the growing point, but it emerges first and then it pulls the growing point up above ground. So that's how the growing point is above ground. So the point is the growing point is exposed to the environment much sooner than in a corn plant.
And I also think, this is my suspicion, I don't know if it's true or not, but because the soybean plant, the embryo has a much higher oil and protein content, I think it, osmotically, is much more tolerant of frost. Again, that's what I think, I don't know, but truly it makes sense and I make that observation.
So being the gray beard, I have been through several freezes and the soybean tissue post emergence freezes and the soybean tissue always does much better. If you get a hard frost that kills it outright. But if you get a light frost, it always seems to do better than corn. Corn, you get the tissue damage. But because the growing points below ground, as long as the newly emergent tissue can make it through the deformed tissue, you're okay.Michaela Paukner:
So at what stage is the plant for both corn and soybean hardy enough to tolerate a hard frost?Jim Stute:
It's not. So here's the example from Memorial Day two years ago, both corn and soybeans got frozen out and that was a pretty severe frost, if not freeze. And I would say freeze because at Tom Birlingham's farm, he's on the side hill. He had ice in his bird bath. And why the side hill is so important was, the crops made it that were in the fields on his side hills, but the stuff that was down in the marsh didn't make it. So when cold air drains down-Michaela Paukner:
Oh, I see.Jim Stute:
Cold air drainage, so it goes to the low point. And so I had a trial in the marsh and that totally froze out. And what was interesting there, and this still baffles me to this day, the stuff that froze out didn't have a cover crop in it. So it was the control treatments in my trials. But the stuff that was in the standing cover, especially the plant green treatment did really well.
But in other areas, the stuff that was in the cover crop froze out. And the stuff that was in tilled ground, and this one makes total sense, the tilled ground stuff was okay because, or the stuff that didn't have a cover crop, it was terminated early because there was more bare soil there. So in Racine County, a lot of guys lost the crops that they lost in the freeze was under cover crops. And I don't know why, it should be the other way around because they should protect it like it did in Palmyra. And the reason is you've got green tissue and so they're transpiring until the sun goes down. So should be higher relative humidity and with a higher relative humidity, it should hold the heat but it didn't work that way. And I'm still baffled by it.Michaela Paukner:
What was the terrain like where it was planted?Jim Stute:
That's a very astute question. Mostly on the flatter ground is where it was the problem. On rolling ground, the cold air drained away. This is new to me since I've been this way.Michaela Paukner:
All the barns and whatnot.Jim Stute:
Yeah, that's like a new operation.Michaela Paukner:
Did your farm have livestock at any point?Jim Stute:
Yeah, there was an active dairy farm. The cows got sold. I was like one maybe, I don't remember. So the story is my grandpa didn't want to be a farmer and he grew up on basically a subsistence dairy farm, which is now Stute Springs, which is in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine on Highway Z. The homestead has become Stute Spring and Homestead, which is just a unit of it, so it's a historical site.
So there was not money for him to go to college. So he decided, "No, I'm not going to be a subsistence farmer then." So they sold that farm and moved to the home farm now. And German Catholics, my grandpa was very suspicious of anything that saved labor. So they built a new silo. It doesn't have a silo unloader, they redid the barn. It doesn't have a barn cleaner. My dad, three siblings, all sisters. So he was the only hard physical labor person. The sisters fed the calves and did those kinds of chores. But he cleaned the barn. He pitched down a ton of silage in the morning, went to school, pitched down a ton of silage. He wanted nothing to do with it. So that's why now, he's a lawyer.
So then as soon as the last daughter got through college, the cows went. And so my grandpa, he didn't want to be a dairy farmer to begin with. He should have been a crop farmer. And that's what he did up until retirement.Michaela Paukner:
So why did he go the route of dairy?Jim Stute:
That's the way it was. But it was more a traditional diversified farm. So they had pigs, they had everything. And so that's what they had on the farm. And so that's what they came here with. But it was focused on dairy, but everyone called pigs "hogs", the mortgage lifter. And that was definitely the case on my farm. So it had been a family farm and my great-grandparents had owned it. And so they had hogs. And this was World War II. So they moved to the farm in '43. But I got to find out the date. We got an 80-year celebration coming up here.
Anyway, so the price controls were in place when they moved to the farm. And my grandpa timed the lifting of the price ceiling and he made a fortune. He took that money and he bought out the farm from his grandpa and then told him to get lost. "You're not the boss me anymore." And great grandpa apparently went in the shed and bawled because he was from the patriarchal model of farming. And "my son just kicked me off the farm".Michaela Paukner:
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Now let's get back to the conversation.
Jim and I made a pit stop at this point in our travels and turned off the mics. We had been talking about Sean Conley, Wisconsin State Soybeans specialist, and the third member of the traveling extension roadshow, Jim is going to tell us about next.Jim Stute:
I went on the road with he and Dr. Eesger for the Wisconsin Winter Weed workshops. So that was a traveling extension roadshow. That was so much fun.Michaela Paukner:
Was it around the state?Jim Stute:
Yeah. We alternated. So we did at different locations, but we'd only do three locations per year because the stuff that they did, mine was all just talk, but they did an actual lab where they had green plants, the logistics to get stuff like up to Kiwanis.Michaela Paukner:
Oh, sure.Jim Stute:
It was hard. It was hard. But anyway, I think we had a pretty good impact. It was pretty popular and they were a lot of fun on the road and they called me "the old man".Michaela Paukner:
This might be a dumb question, but how far north in the state are people farming?Jim Stute:
That is not a dumb question. The gray beard says, "There's no such thing as a dumb question." So it's a different kind of farming. They go right up to Lake Superior.Michaela Paukner:
Oh, really?Jim Stute:
Yeah. So it tends to, as you get further north, you will not see as much corn, you will not see as much soybeans. But that being said, last summer, coming home from vacations, so we're driving from the Twin Ports to Rhinelander. So we're going across by Ashland and there was a spot where you could see a cornfield and Lake Superior, which stunned me.Michaela Paukner:
But typically it's not that far. So all of a sudden it becomes, you'll see dairy farms up there, but more beef production and it's mostly grass type production. It's kind of misleading. So if you go up to Blue Superior on 53, corn quits a lot sooner than if you go up north other ways. And I don't know why that is. That's their big joke. And my daughter and I come down on 53. It's like, "Dad, there's a corn field, you can get back to work." "No, it's fun while it lasted, sweety."
But there's this area in Bayfield County, Herbster is the little town that comes to mind. So Cornucopia is up there, Herbster's up there. Cornucopia has got the Cornucopia Institute, which shut down. But basically that was some guy fighting corporate ag from the shores of Lake Superior. But there's a lot of fruit production because they got the lake effect.
And we toured. So I was on the citizen advisory committee for the UW Center for Integrated Ag System. There's some are meeting, they always hold on a farm somewhere around the state. And the last one that I went to was at Herbster, right on the shores of Lake Superior. That was a really interesting farm. She had cattle and chickens and that kind of thing, but vegetable production. But also it was full season, it was fully integrated. So she had fruit production too. And so her shares, you got a variety of stuff. So it was a CSC.
A lot of smaller farms, a lot of more specialty stuff, but more higher value, small acreage stuff.
But then you see some confinement, dairy farms.Michaela Paukner:
Is that like a CAFO?Jim Stute:
Yeah. Okay. Not quite to the point of being super regulated, but enough to be a potential concern is being a point source for nutrients.Michaela Paukner:
If they're the only ones that are applying on the land and the whatever mile radius, there's still a point source.Michaela Paukner:
Is that a drill?Jim Stute:
Yep. Great Plains drill. I just finished putting together a press wheel on a brand new, like new, Great Plains drill for the institute. I put them on this morning. That was an adventure.
Well, so they own the drill. I bought it when I was there for a research drill and they rent it out. So I use it on my farm, both on the farm and then research plots. But they've got a habit of renting out or just lending out, because they probably don't get paid for it to beginning farmers, which is laudable. But beginning farmers are really hard on equipment. And so I went to Kenosha County last fall and it came back and one of the press wheel tires was missing. This got like 300 hours or 300 acres on it, so it's like new. And so it had to have had a trauma. The rubber gets rotten and then they'll fall off and then you replace them all. So it must have had some kind of trauma.
But the other thing, which was a trauma to me, was the rate selector for the seeding rate was broken. And I didn't realize it until I was well into planting rye on everything on my farm last year. All my plots were done and I calibrated it and it didn't seem right to me. While this individual had disassembled the locking mechanism, because it was broken and put it back together and he put it back together backwards.Michaela Paukner:
Oh, no.Jim Stute:
So I didn't clamp at all. The reason I learned it, so I'm using bulk seed, I got 6,000 pounds of seed, and so it's in a seed tender. And so I opened up the field and you can't really tell how many acres you've got when you're doing that because you're doing the headlands and everything and not really rolling and making distance.
And it seemed to me like it ran out of seed too quickly. And so I'm seeding away and I'm watching the gauge go down. I'm like, "Geez, I'm running out of seed again." And I looked at the selector and I was like all the way up to double rate of what I should have been seeding. And I looked at it and I was like, "Yeah, this thing's f'd up." So I got an ice grip, farmer style, got an ice grip, locked it into place and finished up. But the problem is I ended up with 12 to 15 acres that didn't get planted, and I ran out a seed. And this is right in my giant ragweed patch where I'm relying on late termination to suppress the weeds. So I'm doubly miffed about that.Michaela Paukner:
So what did you end up doing?Jim Stute:
Nothing. It was December 5th when I ended. And so I would had to go take the seed tender to Brian Gunderson, so that's 20 miles to get more seed. But he's finishing up and he's trying to seed his thousands of acres. So for mine, well, I could go get some retail for 30 cents a pound. And the ground had froze. And so I waited until the ground thought out enough, I could punch through it. And I'm like, there's just too many wild cards here. And then I ate lunch with Tony at the [inaudible 00:37:54] conference and he's like, "Yeah, I got a hundred acres left, but no hurry. We'll get her out, we'll get her done." So I didn't do it.Michaela Paukner:
So is there no time that's too late to plant the seed of rye?Jim Stute:
Well, that's kind of why I was interested in doing it. So I've heard several people say, and this is worth a trial, and I may try to get funding to do this. If the month has an R and it's not too late.Michaela Paukner:
Every month? May, not May. April?Jim Stute:
So you get up to March. So April could be too late I think. So really what you need is it's got to germinate and emerge and then it has to be exposed to a cold spell to vertilize so that it'll send up, so it knows it needs to initiate reproductive growth. So it'll send up the stock, otherwise it stays low growing.
And this is actually something that people have examined. So you plant it into spring with your beans and it'll grow up, it'll keep the weeds down. This is more an organic type situation. And then it's waiting, it stalls out. It's waiting for freezing temperatures to vertilize so it can start reproductive growth. And so when it's stalled out, that's right when all the mold spores, the rust spores blow in on the southernly breezes, it just rusts away, but it's held back the weeds and then the soybeans take off.
So when there was actually a study when I was at the university graduate student where they looked at it and they worked out the agronomy. You've got to have, was it 150 pounds, I think, to make it effective as a weed-control option.
So here's something else we need to stop talking about pounds per acre and talk about seeding density. So seats per acre because of the variability in the seeding rates that are out there. So I'm going to convert all my work. So right now we're still going on pounds per acre, but we're going to be switching to seed per square foot.Michaela Paukner:
So then how will you calculate how many seeds per square foot you need?Jim Stute:
So in the seed lot, so everyone's using bulk seed, the homegrown industry of, "hey, let's sell cover crop seed too." So people like Brian Gunderson are growing their own, they're having a professionally cleaned, they're sending a sample to Wisconsin Crop Improvement for a germ test, and then you get a seeds per pound. So then you just make the simple calculation. And it makes sense because we used to, a while ago, we plant two bushel a week, but now everyone's growing 1.4 million seeds. Vial of seed is the seeding density and that's the kind of intensity that's going into that kind of grain production. We need that kind of intensity and cover crop production.
And so this idea is not unique to me and just saying I need to do it professionally. And I think we all need to be doing that because I look at the range, you can go from 10,000 seeds per pound to 18 if they're really tiny kernels. That's a huge difference, if germination is the same, if you're planting on pollen basis.Michaela Paukner:
And so that range is coming from, is it having different species of cover crops in the mix or is it because different, they produce different seed sizes?Jim Stute:
Specific to rye, it's the growing conditions and what that translates into as far as seed size, the forage legumes, there is a difference in seed size, but it's nowhere near as great as in rye. So you get really good conditions, you get really big plum kernels and you get really bad conditions like we've had a couple of years lately, you get shriveled up little kernels. Brian's Gunderson Grain Farm, Brian seed, was really plump this year. It was just beautiful seed. He was really proud of it too, rightfully so.Michaela Paukner:
Does he sell it?Jim Stute:
Yeah, he does. And there's also a cottage industry, grain cleaners, mobile grain cleaners. So you get on the schedule and they come to your farm and they will clean it from your whatever bulk seed you've got. And they put it right into seed handling equipment. There's always one that can't stay within the confines.Michaela Paukner:
The cows?Jim Stute:
Or a sheep. When I was married and we had sheep, we would go around and around. We always had the one that would get out of the fences or the one that would get through the ElectroNet. When we rotationally grazing, I'm like, "That one's got to go. But it's got such good genetics, but it's such a bad actor."Michaela Paukner:
Yeah. Do you think you'll bring livestock back to your farm?Jim Stute:
Never. AJ Weiss, my casual laborer, he's a livestock person. He's like, "Jim, you got all that pasture. You got the hay and equipment, you need livestock." "AJ, no." My livestock is in my soil.Michaela Paukner:
Yeah, the underground type.Jim Stute:
Yes. And I baby them. I digress. And this is on tape, so I'm going to get you to commit to confess that you're a believer. So there was a bigfoot sighting in Patton.Michaela Paukner:
There was?Jim Stute:
Yeah. And so the lore is that this is the area we on limestone here, and there's a lot of caves and this is where they did the lead mining back in the day. So the lore was that the wild man lived in the caves or an abandoned mine.Michaela Paukner:
When was this bigfoot sighted?Jim Stute:
Sixties or seventies? When everyone was seeing them.Michaela Paukner:
So back to Dan Egan's books. So still the history of the British finding these deposits. So they use up the bones, they find the bird droppings in South America because the coastal birds. Where this phenomenon happens, there's no rainfall to dissolve it, so it just accumulated over the millennia. So they figured that out and they exploited the natives to mine that. And then the rock phosphate, they figured that out and some chemists figured out that if you treated it with the acid, it became plan-available phosphate. So then we started mining it.
And so the problem, and we're going to circle back to this, the problem is there are deposits, but a lot of them are played out. And so our deposits in Florida, and depending on who you listen to, it could last 300 years. It could be a hundred years, end of the century.
The really big deposits in territory the Morocco annexed, annexed is being kind, in the seventies. So that's under the control of the king of Morocco. So that leads to the big problem in the future.
So anyway, it talks about that in the history of fertilizer and how it's allowed population growth. It's not nitrogen like everyone thinks it is. It's phosphorus.Michaela Paukner:
But industrial fixation on nitrogen, certainly, the two go hand in hand. The phosphorus actually started before the nitrogen question did. So when it gets into the environmental issues now that we're over fertilizing with phosphorus. And so it's not only over fertilization, but also that somebody figured out that phosphates make your clothes really clean. So there was this craze, and this is before my time. It happened, but I was too young to know about it. So phosphates in detergent and other cleaners and it worked great.
But the problem was that the phosphate, and it was Tide detergent, they were marketing the fact that we have these suds that last forever in our detergents and they hooked the housewives. I don't mean that to be sexist that all of them I talk. But so on the fifties we had our traditional gender roles and the soap opera was all, soap operas were funded by Tide and other companies. And they sold the housewives on this fact, you had to have a lot of bubbles. And so the bubbles and the way the bubbles work, and chemically the way it works is the phosphates are really a pre-treatment water softening agent for the soap to work. And then it became detergent.
So they figured out, the chemist figured out that it's the pre-treatment takes care of water hardness and makes the soap work better. But then the detergent became the cleaner also.
So anyway, we ended up with bubbles that would not go away. And so it went through the sewer treatment plants and it was still foamy. So we had these huge foam masses on Lake Erie in particular. That's the example.Michaela Paukner:
That's so weird.Jim Stute:
But in all our surface water, and it was showing up in the streams and anywhere water discharge, treatment or not, it also showed the weakness in our wastewater treatment capacity. And the fact of rural America, we're not treating our wastewater.
People have gray water systems. I got a gray water system that ties into my septic, but on wash days that water made it all the way out to the pipe where it opens up. I'm on tape, I shouldn't be saying this. Wait, I'm grandfathered in. I'm okay.
So then big detergent said, "No, we can't be responsible for the algal blooms and the bubble flows on our surface waters. It has to be something else." And there was a budding young ecologist who got hired by Canada, one of their agencies, the equivalent of the EPA, and up in the Canadian shield, they established a research station for him to experiment and there's just like all these tiny little lakes out there so he could pick a lake and trash it.
And so he did a series of experiments, but his most famous one was where he divided a lake in two. And what they were claiming, the detergent service, was claiming was that it was nitrogen. You needed nitrogen to drive the system and it was also carbon. And so they're up there and all they've got for the carbon source is the daily, for the algal blooms, it was the daily photosynthesis. And so he split a lake in two with a barrier and he traded one side with phosphorus and the other side got nitrogen and carbon. And the bloom.
And then I think he split it again. And phosphorus was, maybe he phosphorus enriched it or not. I forget exactly. You'll have to read it. But anyway, the response was immediate. And so he set up a lab there and he had like 50 chemists and biologists working for him to document all this. And so he had all this data, it just put people to sleep. But he went up in a helicopter and he took a picture of it and it's like night and day and right to the line of the division. And that's what sold it. And big phosphate detergent said, "Yeah, you got us."
So that phased out phosphate in detergent, laundry detergent. And then ultimately it led to the ban in phosphorus fertilizer.
And so what Dan Egan argues, and he talks about that agriculture link and then what he argues is that, the farm lobby put a huge loophole in the Clean Water Act. And this is the point source versus the non-point. So the point source, like the sewage treatment plants and other industrial discharges, that's a point source. And they are regulated. So they are the ones that are being cracked down on it.
So what he's arguing is we need to crack down on the CAFOs, we need to crack down on agriculture in general, and we need to get away from the blame game but say, "This is a finite source." And the experts in the industry are saying the pinch point is our mine sources of phosphorus and the political upheaval that it's going to create when we run out of mine sources of phosphorus. It's incredible. We need to learn to recycle so that we can close the cycle again. That's the whole thing.Michaela Paukner:
Yeah. How do you recycle phosphate?Jim Stute:
So it comes out of the wastewater treatment plant. So they need a way to capture it and then we land spread it. So right now the affluent, which still has phosphorus in it, goes downstream. And right now they cannot meet EPA standards. So they're paying farmers with water quality trades to reduce their phosphorus loss from their farm. So it's paid to pollute, is basically what it's, so we need a way to take it out.
The phosphorus that's in the sludge, we can land apply that and we need to find a palatable way to do it because there's pushback from land application, some of it has to relates to pathogens. And so there's people that are looking like incineration, but the minerals that are in, it concentrates the minerals, get rid of the carbon, which isn't really a good thing, but then it becomes something you can pelletize and ship long distances because it becomes a transportation issue. And then the objection from the locals doing it.
So a person that's in this book is Phil Brock. So Phil is a professor of soil science. He's a soil fertility specialist at UW Madison. And he had a student from my alma mater, Madison West High School, who was working in his lab is just an hourly, and he put two and two together and he's like, "Hey, we could precipitate out this phosphorus and ammonium as struvite. We could capture that, and that's a product that we could then manufacture into fertilizer. And it solves two problems. It's a pre-treatment so they don't have to deal with the post-treatment at the sewage treatment plant. And the other problem that the treatment plants have, is they have all this grading to take stuff out, to coarse filter the sludge as it's coming in, and struvite interacts with the iron that's in this metal grading and it plugs their filter. So that's their problem. And so it's a win-win."
So Phil, thanks to the student, figured out all the chemistry and he got a patent. And right now they are piloting it with the city of Belvedere, Illinois. So anyway, that would be huge because ammonium, phosphorus, and it depends on if they're covalently bound, I would think because they're both, I don't know how the process works. If they're in phosphate and ammonium, it would be an ionic bond. So you could use it as a fertilizer source. So ultimately we're going to end up recycling.
And so part of the problem is, so we're raising crops to feed livestock, and so then we lose that in the waste stream. So we got the manure problem to deal with, but that part of it is the human waste. So we got to find a way to recycle that in a way that makes everybody happy.
And it's interesting because I took Phil's class when I was in graduate school, so was the graduate level, saw fertility class, and it was his first semester teaching it, and we had to get little seminars then. So I talked about sustainability and ultimately argued that sustainability is going to look like regional recycling.Michaela Paukner:
So one of the other editors and I were just talking about yesterday about how all of the flooding that's happening in Florida right now, where are the people who are working on how do we get the access of water to the drought areas, different parts of one state can have drought versus too much moisture, and how do we somehow make it more even?Jim Stute:
Yeah, that's a really good question. I don't think that'll ever happen. So case in point, yield last year in the Palmyra area, my area in Racine, was limited by moisture. Dodge County, Tony, Charlie Hammer, Dean Weichman down to Jefferson. And Jefferson and Palmyra are not that far away. They had a normal year.
Tony always gets rain. We've been dealing with drought or extreme dry the last three summers. The problem is water is so expensive to transport, but part of the reason for the Great Lakes Compact was to take control of the Great Lakes so that the interests in the desert don't divert our water.
For the people that were coming in here to suck up the water, to take to other regions. So the idea was they bring in a boat and they'd bottle right on the boat like a ocean freighter. I think the solution to them, instead of them looking to the Great Lakes for water, they can't do it now, is using desalinization plants and using solar energy. And I'm thinking of Southern California. So I use solar energy to provide the energy to distill the water and that could solve their water problem. And for people like in Phoenix.
Well back in the day I had to get permission from the dean to leave the state.Michaela Paukner:
Did you?Jim Stute:
So Governor Walker doesn't have to know what the dean does.Speaker 3:
Turn left, then the destination is on your right. Arrived.Michaela Paukner:
It's quite the steep parking lot.
Thanks to Jim Stute for accompanying me on this road trip and sharing his knowledge with us. Go to no-tillfarmer.com/podcast for links to The Devil's Element, the book about the history of phosphorus, and Jim's 2023 National no-tillage conference presentation in which he shared the results of his trials using cereal rye to suppress glyphosate resistant weeds on his farm.
At that link, you'll also find a full transcript of this episode there too.
Many thanks to Sound Agriculture for helping to make this No-Till Podcast series possible. From all of us here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Michaela Paukner. Thanks for listening.