“What we’re doing is reinoculating the soil. We’ve killed off a lot of the soil organisms with tillage, heavy chemical use, single cropping and by leaving it fallow. Basically we’re putting a huge microbiome back out there for them to reproduce.”
— Ryan Gibbs, Hopkinton, Iowa, No-Tiller & Owner of Gibbsfield Ag
Ryan Gibbs, an Iowa no-tiller and the owner of Gibbsfield Ag, makes and sells vermicompost extract to improve the health of his no-till soils. The liquid product is crucial to his goal of growing 250 bushel corn without commercial fertilizers on no-till ground.
In part 2 of this interview with Gibbs, brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture, he talks about the logistics of making and spraying his compost extract, plus how he uses sap analysis and soil testing to make nutrient management decisions.
Missed part 1 of the conversation? Listen to it for free here.
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.
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 part two of my conversation with Ryan Gibbs, an Iowa no-tiller and owner of Gibbsfield Ag, Ryan talks about the logistics of making and spraying compost extract, plus how he uses sap analysis and soil testing to make nutrient management decisions.Ryan Gibbs:
It's a pretty simple system. I got the water here that's plumb to the pump. So it's just an auger system. A friend of mine built this, and I'm actually just testing it out. And we are finding out what works and doesn't work on it and just trying to make it more efficient. It is an auger in there that is turning this way and bringing the compost this way. Inside that auger there's a... it's stainless steel. It's all stainless, but that auger has got jets on it that shoots the water out and washes that compost. And the water actually comes through here, through the center of that flighting on that auger, and through them jets and washes the compost. The outside tube on that auger flighting is a steel mesh. A stainless steel mesh. And so what it does is we wash the compost and the liquid falls through that mesh and then into our tub.
And then the spent compost comes out the back. The finished product goes into there. And then from there I run it through a self-cleaning irrigation filter and into the tender trailer, the planter, sprayer, wherever it's going. This is the finished product. Like I said, it's like muddy crick water. Just muddy water. And like I said, we'll run that through another filter to filter it one last time before it goes out to the field.
And then you can kind of see out that end where the spent compost is coming out. So our whole goal with this, yeah, we're just washing the fungi and the bacteria off of that. And you get a little bit of sand particles, wood chips. Feeds out the back. And so we will actually take this. This isn't wasted. We will go throw this on our wood chip pile out there, and we'll just let it keep biodegrading. And we can reuse this stuff next year and add it to our Johnson [inaudible 00:02:19] and to our worm bay. And we'll reuse it. It'll get used up.
So yeah, that's basically the process. Turning a compost into a liquid form. And if you were to just put a dry compost out, a dry compost, it'd take a couple thousand pounds per acre to get the equivalent of washing the compost and putting it into a liquid form in. My three-year-old son's down here like, "Dad, I'm getting wet." And he loves it. I'll put a bucket here and he'll fork stuff in. He loves doing it. Nice part about it is it's safe to handle. My kids can be down here helping me with it. They're just playing in the dirt.
One of the bottlenecks with this is it takes a lot of time to do this stuff, and to make the biological yourself and filter it and get it to the planter and get it to the field. And when you're working one guy or two guys, it's a lot of work. It's not the easy button. It makes farming fun. It's something different. I don't go to my co-op and be like, "Well, I pulled off 200 bushel of corn. What do I need to grow crop again next year?" I do all my own agronomy work and then make biological. And like, "Let's try this. Let's try that. Let's see what happens with this." And don't get me wrong, we have a lot of learning experiences on the farm. Not everything is a success story, but it makes it fun. It's always something different.
And it's like, "God, if we can make this, how much can we cut back on this?" So last year I cut back on nitrogen on certain spots. This year, at this point with the moisture, I don't even think I'm going to side dress. I put down 40 pounds of nitrogen with my planter, and I've got hot manure out there. And it's been so dry that we've had roughly 2/10" of rain on this corn here since I planted it. And I put 40 units, 40 pounds right next to the row.Speaker 3:
Do you ever consider the liquefied urea if we do-Ryan Gibbs:
Yes. If I do, I think I'm going to liquefy my own urea. And I'm learning from a friend of mine, Michael Vitito, how to do that. It's basically you take a tank like that with water in it, and we will dump urea in it, which is what? 42% nitrogen, urea, I think. But we will liquefy the urea. And basically we'll put dry urea with water and then run a pump off the bottom into the top and recirculate it until it becomes completely liquefied.Michaela Paukner:
And the urea liquefied, I believe it's like 100% available nitrogen because of the form it's in.Speaker 3:
That's a lot closer to the form that you want it to be.Ryan Gibbs:
Yeah. It's closer to the form you want that is plant available. So if you put down 32% or 28% nitrogen side dress, that nitrogen isn't 100% available. It's got to go through a process to become available to the plant, whereas the urea is the most available. You spray it on the plant, it's available. I was told... who was it? Tom Robinson, or was it Michael Vitito? Told me one pound of urea is equivalent to seven pounds of a 32% or 28%.Speaker 3:
It's one pound foliar applied.Ryan Gibbs:
Foliar, yes.Speaker 3:
Equivalent to seven pounds of nitrogen.Ryan Gibbs:
In soil.Ryan Gibbs:
Yes. So if you were going to apply 50 pounds Y dropping or whatever, you could get by with, 50 divided by seven would be roughly seven pounds. You could get by with seven pounds of dry urea, liquefied foliar. So you get by with a lot less nitrogen because it's plant available. And you can liquefy it yourself. It's a lot more affordable.Speaker 3:
It doesn't take near as much water.Ryan Gibbs:
So your plant won't take as much water.Ryan Gibbs:
And John Kemp will tell you, if you were going to side dress nitrogen, use liquefied urea or plant amino acids, he said, because how much it dries the soil out by putting 32%, 28%. It actually pulls moisture from your soil, that nitrogen does.Speaker 3:
The plant takes more water too, to metabolize it.Ryan Gibbs:
To metabolize it. So it's says here, "If you're concerned about drought stress on crops, you should only apply urea or amino acid nitrogen in-season side dress. Ammonium or nitrate applied early can increase a crops water requirement by upwards of 30%." I think I'm going to get one or two ton and just try a batch in here. But I'm going to pull plant, a soil test here at V5 and just see where the soil's at and then what my plant sap analysis says. And we're applying by that.
I think between my hog manure and putting a little bit upfront, I don't need anymore. As dry as we are, nothing's leached. And if it stays this dry, shit, I'm going to have leftover for next year. And right now, according to my plant sap analysis, the only thing I'm short on is calcium. And I feel that not having the moisture to bring my gypsum into the ground might be part of that.
And I try to five gallon bucket everything around here before I go mix up a sprayer load. If it doesn't mix in the bucket, then I don't want to mix up 700 gallons and have a mess. I got one screen in the back of the sprayer. I think it's a 30, I believe. So I put a 30 mesh screen in the back, so it's bigger holes for the stuff to flow through. And then I put XtendiMax high volume tips on the sprayer. So I can run 25, 30 gallons per acre with that. I'm running 15 at like 12 mile an hour across the field. I'll knock out 40 acres in like 15 minutes if I can stay in the seat, but it does settle out.Speaker 3:
Oh, so yeah. You've got to agitate it.Ryan Gibbs:
Bob Kirkwood ran five pounds of this per acre, and he called me up and he's like, "Sprayer's plugged uptight." They pulled the filter off and it was solid. And he goes, "We spent three hours. We pulled every tip off, flushed the entire line out, blew all the tips." I'm like, "Oh my God."Speaker 3:
We used to have that with Roundup and spray for top. And then it made the Roundup pretty hot, the calcium did. But we had to get it. The spray had to be empty rinsed out when we got done at the end of the day.Ryan Gibbs:
Because it would calcify these nozzles.Ryan Gibbs:
See, and this stuff is heavy. I'm running 20, 25 pounds of pressure is all I can get out of it. So it takes 10 PSI just to get it to spray. For her I'll show you. Come over here where we can see it. So there are check valves on here. It takes 10 pounds of pressure to open that check valve for this to spray. But yeah, I've ran a couple thousand gallons through it already. No issues. Mix it with molasses and humic. But yeah, after talking to Bob about that, I'm like, "Yep, we better make some changes to make-"Speaker 3:
[inaudible 00:08:53].Ryan Gibbs:
Yeah. Calcium is... and I've talked to a fair amount of guys that are, "Be careful running calcium through your sprayer because you will plug stuff up and you will have a mess." It's nice having a group of people that we can communicate with.Michaela Paukner:
Yeah. Now someone else won't make that mistake. How often are you doing the sap analysis?Ryan Gibbs:
Probably every other week, depending on the growth stage of the crop. It all depends on the growth stage. So here's an example of a sap analysis. It basically tells me what the plant is low and high in. It'll tell us our-Michaela Paukner:
Oh, so you can combine-Ryan Gibbs:
Our old test and our new test, or the old leaves and the new leaves. Once that corn plant gets to be this tall, we're pulling new leaves and old leaves off that plant and putting them in separate bags. Then they will compare the nutrient level of the old versus the new to determine how well the plant's pulling up or what it's shortened on the old versus the new. So the new leaves might be high in nitrogen and the old leaves are low in nitrogen. So that means if you would've put nitrogen down, or maybe it's becoming available, the new leaves are showing it. The old leaves are not showing it.Michaela Paukner:
So in this, for example, our calcium levels are really low. Calcium's a driver of the other nutrients, so we're trying to get some calcium out there to make it work. These are my soybeans right behind here. So the biggest thing that's concerning to me is the aluminum levels being high, because aluminum is toxic. I don't know what that's from, if that would be from chemical residue or from...Speaker 3:
With the aluminum being high, it might actually make-Ryan Gibbs:
These low. I know that humic and humate binds to heavy metals and helps to flush them out and to get them out. So that's why I'm adding the humic acid too, because let's get some organic matter and some humic out there. Maybe that will bring my aluminum level down. And if we bring the aluminum level down, that might bring the levels of these up. Because something that is... if you are too high in something, it will tie up other nutrients. So if you can lower that, it'll bring them other ones up. I like to look at what I'm really low in and what I'm really high in.
Wayne Volk will tell you, "Look at what you're high in," because whatever you're high in, you need to bring that down to bring everything else up, which he's not wrong. It's like I've heard of tests where they were high in nitrogen but they were low in potash. And they were like, "We need to get potash out there." They actually had too much nitrogen. It was tying up the potash they had out there. So it's like a balancing act.Michaela Paukner:
Which acres are you doing the tests on, and how do you decide which-Ryan Gibbs:
Corn and soybeans. And I just pick a couple fields.Michaela Paukner:
And my program is pretty much the same across all my fields. So I'll pull a couple fields. And then I'm actually going to pull a few more fields. They were later planted, so the plants weren't big enough yet to send anything. So I'm like, "We'll just wait another week or two." And haven't got much rain, so they haven't grown much. But we'll start pulling them too, and then we will address the problem field by field if we have an issue.Michaela Paukner:
And a lot of this ties directly to next year. So we can say, "This year we were really high in this and this and this early in the season. Let's make a change for next year, so we don't have these excessive levels. Or if we're short on this, let's add it next year so we're not short on it."Michaela Paukner:
So it's kind of planning a year ahead as well. So these tests are $85 a piece, but when you look at if we do a 80 acre or 40 acre field, $85, we do this a couple times. We have a few hundred dollars a field invested in it. If you start looking at fertility, savings on fertilizer are possible yield bumps. It pays for itself pretty quick. So yeah, between that, and then I use Regen Labs for Haney soil tests. And this just gives me an idea of where my tests are at. And soybeans, we put in a yield goal and it gives us a rough idea of what we need.Michaela Paukner:
So it gives us a baseline to go off.Michaela Paukner:
I'd like to take a moment to thank our sponsor, 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. Visit sound.ag to learn more. Now let's get back to the conversation.
You said it's pretty affordable to make the compost extract. What does it come out to cost you?Ryan Gibbs:
So if I figure the compost and everything, we can make it on a per acre basis... I'm going to figure in my time and labor and water and electricity and everything.Michaela Paukner:
We're probably around $4 an acre, $5 an acre to make it.Michaela Paukner:
We're selling it for more than that, but that's made. The guys just don't have to worry about it. They just come and grab it.Michaela Paukner:
Yeah, exactly.Ryan Gibbs:
But when you look at it, you're getting so much more than just like a pop-up starter's going to have N, P, and K in it. My test came back on that, on my vermicompost. It was over 900 different species of fungi and bacteria in it.Michaela Paukner:
We had five different forms of trichoderma in it. It was a very strong growth regulator and growth promoter. And it's like nobody's got that. You can't even buy a product on the market that's got that many different species of fungi, bacteria, and trichoderma all in it. And don't get me wrong. Out of them 900 species, not every single one of them was beneficial to the plant. There are some non-beneficial ones in there, but there's way more beneficial ones than non-beneficial ones, so they keep them in check. I picked up a lot of acres this year and I'm trying to basically do this by myself.
My dad helps me part time, but trying to do this by myself. And it just gets to be so much. It's 4:00 in the morning. You're out here making fertilizer for the day and you've got customers calling that need fertilizer. And then I've got a seed business, so I sell cover crop seeds. So I got guys coming to get grass seed. And I got a few thousand hogs. I got a hog barn.Michaela Paukner:
Oh really?Ryan Gibbs:
So we've got livestock chores to do and shit.Michaela Paukner:
Oh my God.Ryan Gibbs:
So it gets to be a lot, trying to do all this and trying to learn. I did not have a place to do a test trial this year with it, but my goal next year, I want to have a five or 10 acre field, absolutely no commercial fertilizer, and I want to grow 250 bushel of corn on it just with compost extract, adding a little bit of fish molasses, and be able to do that on no-till ground. I think it can be done. It's going to take a lot more management. We're going to have to do a couple foliar applications, keep an eye on stuff. I think it can be done, though.Michaela Paukner:
I don't know.Michaela Paukner:
I see why you and Loran get along so well. You have that same-Ryan Gibbs:
Loran's a great guy. And-Michaela Paukner:
Zero [inaudible 00:16:07].Ryan Gibbs:
And Loran and Dale, who's here, have been the two that have influenced me the most probably in my life. And Kyle Schnell, who's literally my age. I started a drone application business five years ago doing drone spraying, and that's how I met Loran Steinlage, was I went up there and did a little bit of spraying of fungicide and plant growth promoter on his stuff. And I'm like, "Who the hell is this Loran Steinlage? Never heard of the guy." Went up there. And at this time I was doing full tillage. That would've been six years ago, because I've been no-tilling for five. Went up there, seen Loran's farm. Loran is a arms open guy. "Come on into my farm and I'll show you what I'm doing."Michaela Paukner:
And I like that about him because he's just super cool guy. And he's like, "I ain't afraid to try anything. We'll try stuff. It's kind of fun." And I went up, did some work for him. Hopped on his side by side at the end of the day. And he just shows you around, like, "Here's what we're doing. We're doing a little research here on this and that." And I'm like, "This is awesome." I'm like, "This is so cool." And it was about that same time, I'm looking at across the fence over at my other farm, and Dale farms right next to me. We have fields that border each other. Dale's crops looked better than mine did. I'm doing all this tillage, busting my ass off, putting down fungicides, doing all this stuff. His crops look better than mine. And I'm like, "All right."
So I walk out in his field and I'm like, "God, he's got residue out here." And I'm like... at this time I'd just started learning stuff from Loran. And Loran's teaching me a few things of what he's doing, and Dale's doing the same stuff right next to me.
So I'm like, "Dale, teach me what you're doing. I want to do kind of what you're doing." So he's like, "Sure. Nobody ever asked me." So we went out in this field and he's showing me stuff. And I'm like, "Yep." I'm like, "We're changing everything over right now."Michaela Paukner:
So we started. We transitioned two fields the first year. The next year we transitioned everything to no-till. We incorporated cover crops on some of the acres and then all the acres the next year. So that was step one. And then fast-forward two years from then, I quit doing drone spraying because I got out of spraying chemicals and my drone was getting old anyways. My cover crop seed business had just expanded, blew up. So I'm like, "I like doing that better anyways." So we started selling more seed. So I quit doing drone spraying, but then I went to that field day and learned about soil biological. And I'm like, "This is a game-changer." So then we incorporated that into it. The last four years have just been so much stuff. And trying to learn it all is just, I don't want to say impossible, but it is a huge task.Michaela Paukner:
For sure. Yeah.Ryan Gibbs:
Because if you think like, "Oh, compost extract. I've learned it all." This is the silver bullet. That is like the small tip of a huge iceberg. What's in it? How much is in it? How much do I apply? When do I apply it? Okay, now you start throwing food sources in. Let's feed the biology we just made.Michaela Paukner:
And it's like it just keeps compounding. And It's like... I have learned so much. I've learned more about biology in the last two years I've learned in my entire life. Most farmers look at their soil and they're like, "We need fertilizer to go grow crops." I look at my soil. And I look at it and say, "I need my biology to work to make the nutrients in my soil function properly to have a healthy plant."
I don't go to the co-op and be like, "Well, how much fertilizer did we take out?" We grew a crop. "How much fertilizer do I need to grow a crop next year?" I pull soil samples, we build biology, we grow cover crops to recycle the nutrients we have. My biggest thing is, let's get the biology healthy enough so we don't need fertilizer anymore. I would never tell anybody to quit using commercial fertilizer, but let's start backing ourselves off on it because we are throwing so much high salt and high chloride fertilizer out there. It is messing our biology up. And so we need to start getting it back into check. Mother Nature and the world, we come in as humans and think we can make it better. So we're actually messing it up. So that's where I feel by adding a natural biological compost, you could call it worm poop, by adding this back, hopefully we can help build that system back to where it used to be.
I used to apply fungicides. I'll tell everybody I used to... I was heavy tillage. We did fall application tillage, deep ripping. We put anhydrous on. We'd come back in the spring, we'd hit it with the field finisher at least once. And we were running, right there is three passes across the field, if not four, before we even planted a crop. Bought a lot of commercial fertilizer. And we have just slowly backed away from all of that. We've basically got rid of the tillage. We still do occasional field finisher or VT if we have a rough spot in a field. Or something gets washed out or we have to redo something. There's time and place for it. But other than that, we pretty much got rid of that. We quit using fungicides. Last year we went away from insecticides. This year is our first year planting naked seed corn with no treatment on it at all.Michaela Paukner:
Yeah. It sounds like you're not afraid to experiment.Ryan Gibbs:
And to see how far you've come in six years from doing full tillage to here. It's pretty amazing.Ryan Gibbs:
Yeah, it was a lot of change. Like I said, I've had a lot of learning experiences. My relay crop last year was literally a breakeven.Michaela Paukner:
We just didn't get the rain to fill the beans out, and so we ended up... we made enough money off the cereal rye to not lose money, but I still call it a learning experience / failure. But we grew enough cereal rye to make money on the ground, but the beans were like less than 10 bushel per acre. We had an expensive mess-up already this year. Our herbicide didn't work for our cover crop. It burnt the fields. Thought they were all dead, and then 10 days later it all started greening back up again.
So we ended up having to go back and respray all of our beans. So it was a learning experience. I did everything as I was told that it should work. It didn't work. So then we came back. We sprayed it, and then he came in with a roller crimper. And the beans are all four inches tall or whatever, and we roller crimped the field flat. Well, tried to roller crimp it flat.Speaker 3:
It does...Ryan Gibbs:
It kind of stood back up.Speaker 3:
It's like 50%, from what I-Ryan Gibbs:
I'd say 50%. It's just so hard out there because it's so dry and everything. If you could get that crimper to sink in just a little bit, then yeah, it works better. Well, I'll show you my corn fields. That was three, four foot tall cover crop. I terminated it with chemical. The least amount of chemical I've ever used on corn. I did roughly 25 ounces of glyphosate and molasses. Smoked the field. Came in with a roller crimper, laid it flat, planted corn right in it. Just split the cover crop. Had a nice... perfect. Ideal.Speaker 3:
Well, it works best with a roller crimper.Ryan Gibbs:
Spray it and then wait a couple days.Ryan Gibbs:
We waited 48 hours, came in, rolled the field flat. We have this beautiful mat protecting the soil. Didn't hardly use any herbicide. It worked awesome. I'm looking at this now and I'm like, "I think next year that's what I want to do on everything, corn and beans."Michaela Paukner:
Thanks to Ryan Gibbs for the tour over the summer and for sharing your knowledge with us on the podcast. If you missed part one of this conversation, check it out at no-tillfarmer.com/podcasts. You'll find a video of Ryan making his compost extract 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.