“No-till can mean no yield if you're not doing any other practice. In our plot with cover crop and livestock integration, we are seeing higher nutrient densities. We see corn test weights in the 60-64 pound range. That’s what regenerative practices have done for us.”
— Russell Hedrick, No-Tiller, Hickory, N.C.
To welcome in 2024, we’re revisiting some of the most-played episodes of the 2023 No-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment.
Listen in as we count down the top 5 most-played episodes of 2023, including top no-till soybean tips, making vermicompost extract for commercial no-till operations, solving soybean harvest problems and smashing yield records using regenerative ag with North Carolina no-tiller Russell Hedrick.
Listen to the Full Episodes
- Smashing Yield Records Using Regenerative Ag with Russell Hedrick
- Rebuilding No-Till Soil’s Microbiome with Compost Extract, Part 1
- Marion Calmer Solves Your Combine’s Soybean Harvest Problems
- Rebuilding No-Till Soil’s Microbiome with Compost Extract, Part 2
- Top Profit Building Soybean Ideas with 3 No-Till Innovators
No-Till Farmer's podcast series is brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment.
Yetter Farm Equipment has been providing farmers with residue management, fertilizer placement, and seedbed preparation solutions since 1930. Today, Yetter equipment is your answer for success in the face of ever-changing production agriculture challenges. Yetter offers a full lineup of planter attachments designed to perform in varying planting conditions, multiple options for precision fertilizer placement, strip-till units, and stalk rollers for your combine. Yetter products maximize your inputs, save you time, and deliver return on your investment. Visit them at yetterco.com.
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment. I’m Michaela Paukner, managing editor at No-Till Farmer.
In this episode, we count down the 5 most popular episodes of 2023, starting with a rapid-fire panel discussion between Alan Berry, Ross Bishop and Stan Miller — 3 farmers who spoke on a No-Till Innovator panel at the National No-Tillage Conference in 2023. Listen as they discuss soybean row spacing, planting green, cover crops and more.
As most of you probably know, I work with Marin Calmer and I've done a lot of work with the BT Chopper corn stalk rolls and I run a Calmer head with those rolls on it so therefore my residue is pretty well chopped up if you've seen us at the farm shows where we've demonstrated it. Many of you're running those roles anyway. I think residue management is important and by chopping those stalks with the head, our operations actually beginning in the fall, we're laying the groundwork for next spring by chopping that residue and making it so it is not a problem on our no-till planters, we do not use any row coulter out ahead. We used to have them and we took them off and they're piled in the corner of the shed. We do run a case IH planter which has the double disc opener setting at a seven or so degree angle instead of the 11 degree angle like the other one planters have.
So it doesn't make a very wide open seed slice when it goes through. Also, it has that leading edge coulter and the secondary coulter than on the other side is a little smaller diameter and trails so you don't really need a No-Till coulter out front if you're running that case IH system and we've had very good luck with it. I guess one of the downsides to that system is we have to put new leading edge coulters on the planter every year because that coulter, that leading edge one is doing all the cutting and so you do have, it will wear down and it'll wear out two or three of the right, the one on the other side and they are offset one half the planters one way, one half the other way. So the planter pulls straight all the time, but we think that's a very good plant system to plant no-till into about any kind of ground cover crops or whatever.
I also have a case corn planter 1200, I have 1620 so I'm in 20 inch rows going to Marion Calmer's farm three times to see his 15-inch rows and at that time he was buying tires like crazy because he was trying to get 15-inch tires down there and so I found 20 inch row was a sweet spot and so we plant corn 20 inch and the beans a 20 inch and with the red planter I bought that at oh four actually had a gentleman here tell me when I was buying it that year, he won't need to put the coulter in and I need to share that I had a John Deere before that I needed a coulter in front to kind of get that true V into the ground. The no-till ground was a little hard and so you needed a little help to get that John Deere in the ground with the Red Planter with that lead disc.
It seems to cut real well. I think I had it only four years on the Red Planter, that front coulter I took it off and I don't need that anymore. That Coulter and the red planter and we also now after 29 years of no-till and cover crops for over 12 years, the ground's so mellow. We took the coulter off the John Deere planter too, so as the ground gets healthier, it gets mellower, things get to go in the ground easier. My tip is when we have low fertility in our soils, we need the pot ash and we need sulfur because we're not getting it free anymore. So I was broadcasting between 200 and 400 pounds of pot ash in the fall with sulfur, elemental sulfur and I found out that the elemental sulfur releases over four years so it's always feeding the crop and when I started doing that I started seeing lots of the soybean yields go up. Now with the prices being a thousand dollars for potash the last two years I only put on a hundred to 150 pounds of potash in the fall. So we'll see where this is going with that. With the cover crops I'm noticing we don't need as much fertilizer for the corn. It seems to do really well with the organic matter going from 1% when I started in 82 to 4%, so we're getting a nice sponge starting there with the organic matter.
I think you've got two or three tips in there. Anybody counting? We're up close to dozen so go ahead.
I guess my tip or the next thing I had is the cover crops is what made my next thing everything is a little better. Neighbor comes over and he is talking about his tillage equipment and I'm like, well my tillage equipment is a 15-foot wide drill that goes an inch and a half deep. So that was just the cover crop's been improving everything for weeded control to everything, getting the biology moving stuff going through the soil getting better, everything's working out a little better, so.
Go ahead Alan.
We have a 24 row, 20 inch case planter that we plant our corn with and then we've got our 31 row, 15 inch case planter that we plant beans with. So I can't split the rows like some guys do because we're running 20 inch corn, 15 inch beans and that's another reason I run on the angle. But in studying university results, I think if you look, you'll almost always find that the narrower roads, the beans are the higher the yield. Over in Illinois at Monmouth, Illinois they have, I don't know if they're continuing it now, but for 10 or 15 years they did studies comparing the yields of different roll widths and the old drills always was the highest yielding because they were generally seven and a half or 10 inch they seemed to think and the wider the rose got at 15 you give up a little bit at 20, maybe a hair more especially at 30 inch.
And now we have in Illinois quite a few people wanting to buy these great big planters, 60 foot and bigger planters and they're moving away from the 15-inch beans just planting them in thirties. And I think if they look at the research results when you do that, you're definitely going to give up yield, you better go buy you an old Kinsey planter that you can buy a reasonable load of sale and keep those beans in a 15 inch because that yield loss when you move to those wider rows. Now the drills, I'm not advocating at all you go do drills because generally back then those university results they were planting 200, 210, 220,000 seeds per acre, double the seed costs. Now when we're spending 60, $70 or more a unit for seed, you've got to start looking at seed costs. I think that makes the drill a little less likely to be desired.
Question for you, Phil Needham talked about five inch spacing on wheat, any thoughts on how that might work with soybeans?
Well Phil, like he just said, the wheat definitely needs to be there. Even narrower row, so that seems to be the trend with the soybeans, but like I said, in the case of the soybeans, 15 inches about as narrow as you're going to get a planter and I think you need that planter to get it so you can have that seed placed at the right depth. You want to put that seed down into moisture without bearing it real deep, but you want it there and you don't want that unit hopping along. And when you've got, most of our planters have got air or hydraulic down pressures so you can keep that seed depth pretty uniform even if you're crossing some of the old stalk rows and so forth.
So 15 inch soybeans with a planter might be better or at least equal to seven and a half inch or five inch with the drill.
That's what we're hearing from the seed dealer. I bought a air drill this last summer 30 footer and I was thinking that I would go to back the seven and a half spacing and he tells me two seed dealers that no, we are breeding the soybeans to be bushy so you're going to want to stay at 15 or twenties because the beans are being bred to be bushy. And then you got the white mold and stuff and the reason I was going back, I want to go to a drill is we're seeing weeds resistant, your water hemp, your mare's tail and I wanted to get something that would cover the ground a little. I was thinking covering the ground better, shading it, but we're going to go 15 and 20 inch rows. They'll shade somewhere in that 4th of July, so 15 should shade a little quicker I would think.
And you got to drive down these fields, I mean you got to spray them and stuff. So 20 inches was pretty decent for spraying.
All right, I don't think I've heard a tip yet related to early planting and we've heard this week about planting that's coming. Is that coming? All right, go right ahead with it.
All right, so we've in the last almost 15 years, I've planted on the 1st of April, I've literally frost seeded it. The beans we did last year, I went to church on the 29th of April, came back home, ate and went out and planted beans that afternoon and it was mud, it was pretty, conditions weren't the best. I got five acres in the ground and those beans were hurt. There were some beans that didn't come up. It still, it's a 23 acre field. Those five acres still yielded as good if not better through the yield monitor than what I planted on the 10th of May because that was the next time we could get back in the fields we were wet. So early beans will definitely yield better.
I've seen where the root is out four or five inches and it'll come out, the bean will come out of ground the same time as when you planted, let's say the fifth or the 10th, they all come out together, but that bean has got a root started already and if I'm planting early, I make sure I use treated beans. Once I get past, let's say the 10th or the 15th of May, it's warming up then I do not have treated beans. I save that money and I've been able to get away with saving money that way.
I think the reason you got good yields from planting in the mud on Sunday was you went to church first.
I'm sure the good lord was looking over me.
I guess I'd like to plant earlier but I can't quite get to that point yet because I have some seed corn wireworm issues with planting early like that and it's always because the soil's cold, the soil's a little on the wet side and I struggle with that it seems like, and I don't want to put an insecticide down because I don't want to hurt my biology. But I see what you get and everyone is pushing it always earlier because of the light and that's what was mentioned here, getting the means in early. But that's one thing I guess I struggle with. So if anyone's got any inputs of how to get beyond that point because to give you an idea yield wise, so I was planning a 2.5 maturity bean and when you ran the combine through the field, you were seeing 80 to 85 bushel average, or I should say in spots it averaged 65 where I'd planted May 10th. That was averaging just two bushel less.
So what we saw this year is a 63 average across the full farm. I had some 1.9 beans and of course along the trees you got hardly anything but in the middle of field that was hitting 90 92 bushel and that was planted in cover crop, that was wheat planted into a 10 way mix of cover crops and then planted to beans into that and we're talking probably knee-high rye at the time, I always make sure rye is coming into the spring and so we're seeing a huge benefit planting into a mix. You've got to have a cocktail to bring that biology alive so no-till and cover crops, you'll see your ground explode in yields.
Corn wise, I've seen 10 years of no-till, no cover crops average about 135 bushel. We bring in the cover crops and three years later we're seeing 200 plus. It really changes the biology and it makes the ground really produce well and my nitrogen for corn is still at one 40. I have not increased it and I'm starting to lower that now to experiment. Where can I go with that? Is it lower? So I know this was for beans, but just to give you an idea of the biology of the soil with corn and beans.
Was that planting green?
Planting green in the cover crop? That's hard to say, but how many of you're planting soybeans or corn green? Wow, that's a pretty good number.
That's a pretty good number.
Illinois No-Till Legend Marion Calmer has spent the last 55 years tackling some of the most common combine problems that no-tillers encounter. Coming in at the no. 3 most popular episode of 2023, we bring you his top tips for setting your combine for a stellar soybean harvest.
Regardless of the color combine that you have, they all have problems. Just in the last year, I have been able to figure out the solutions. I've been harvesting since I was 12 years old. Dad put me on an air corn picker when I came home from school, had a sheller on the back end of it, and I started learning about harvesting. I have fought combines for 55 years, trying to get them to do what I want them to do. No matter what I do, I always got chaff or I got pods or broken cobs or corn on the ground or whatever. With the older conventional machines, we never had access, easy access, to the concave or underneath the concave. With a rotary combine, we now can open the side panel and we can go in there and we can change out a few things. So we can talk about sib settings, fan, rotor, all that kind of stuff. But if we miss the mark on concaves that are in positions one, two, and three, we're screwed.
People call me on the phone and, "Marion, I've got pods in the tank, I got beans going out the back. Tell me which setting to change." I said, "I'm not. There's nothing you can do it. We have to set the combine up before I get to the soybean field, not after I get to the soybean field." Okay, so one of the problems is pods in the sample. How many of you ever seen that? That's good. Your normal no tillers. Then at the same time, we close the bottom siv, we get high tailings. The solution to that one is something I've showed before at this class and they're called cover plates. These are not new. The guys that had old combines 50 years ago used cover plates. I read a book when I was 28 years old. He talked about cover plates for cutting wheat or cutting beans. We're going to show you what they are and they hold the pods, so they can thresh. Chaff in the sample.
How many of you ever looked in the tank and the stuff is lighter, lighter than the beans, and it's like, "Why in the hell didn't it blow off the back end of the combine?" Because it's got to leave in the airstream. These are larger than the beans. These are smaller than the beans. These here, are more of a threshing siv problem. The chaff, it's all about air. All about air. The reason is because there's too much chaff coming out of the rotor and it gets to the auger bed, the grain pan, and the top siv, and then it overloads the chaffer. That phrase is in the owner's manual, but there's no picture. I'm like, "Well, what the hell's an overloaded chaffer? That's a pretty broad term." I have a picture and I can show you a chaffer that's overloaded and right next to it, I'll show you a chaffer that looks normal. So we've got too much chaff coming, escaping the rotor and mog. That's material other than grain. So when we overload the cleaning system with way too much garbage, it doesn't need to be there.
One size does not fit all. The concaves are open enough so that we can flow shell corn, 200, 250 bushel, 25% moisture. That takes an enormous volume. I'm cutting 70 bushel beans. They're 12, 13% and the stems and the fodders going through the machine and it's dry. What happens when you grind up beans straw? It gets smaller. As it gets smaller, all of a sudden, it's starting to drop through the concave and it's overloading the cleaning system. You would be surprised how much you have to close up that combine to keep the mog in the upper portion and just let the beans drop down. We just learned this in the last two years, and I just feel like an idiot some days. It's like, "Why didn't I pick that up?" Now, if you've got siv loss, that comes from the same thing. The mixture of soybeans and mog on the top siv is too much and it overloads the chaffer. I'm going to show you a picture. Once that material becomes unairborne, it sits on that top siv and it just walks it right on out the back of the combine.
If it becomes unairborne at the beginning, it's never going to get reairborne because the highest airstream is always in the front and then it gets less and less as it moves through the back. So if it becomes airborne right here, now it's just going to sit on that siv and it's just going to shake it right on the back. I saw it live one time when I was younger. We had an old red combine, we were on a hillside, and I was walking along it and you could just see it. It was just shoveling shell corn out over that top siv. So if you've got a red combine, we're also going to go into the separating area and we're going to put the slotted grates in to close up those openings and keep more of the mog in the upper portion and just allow beans to drop down through. All right, let's roll along here. Green rotary combine, it's a great machine. It took me two years to get it to do what I want it to do. The other thing is I have some initials, JDDDNS, John Deere dealers don't know shit.
How'd I do? I have another one. We're going to go through the green people and then we're going to go through the red people. The red people have the same thing. Case dealers don't know shit.
Yeah, go back to the engineer.
Then we go back to... Yeah, yeah, it's a long...
So this is the green rotor. It's a bullet rotor, tri-stream, variable stream, whatever. I'm not really fond of the bullet design. The red combine runs a rotor that's the same diameter in the front as it is in the back, but we're right here. This right here, before we ever combine any corn or we combine any beans, the most important thing are the concaves. These are threshing concaves. This is position one, position two, position three. Now, the green combine, these separating, we're fine with them. I like them to be quite honest about it. So we're only going to talk about positions one, two, and three. Okay? We've all seen this. Pods in the tank and this is kind of the symptom. We think it's the problem and we try to tighten the bottom siv and does it do us any good? The answer is no. Here's why. That pod is smaller than the distance between those two bars. One size does not fit all crops. I have to laugh sometimes when I look at the parts that Deere sells. One combine, all crops. Bullshit.
We don't use the same plate to plant corn that we use to plant beans. You have to make a change. What we're doing is adding these cover plates underneath here. If it fell through once, it goes into the auger bed, onto the siv, down to the bottom siv, we tighten the bottom siv, and it comes back around, and it's called rethresh, tailings. If the pod didn't thresh the first time, what the hell makes you think it's ever going to thresh on the second pass? Because the other thing is the red and the green people, they don't drop the tailings in section one. They drop it back at section two or section three or position two or position three. So right down here on a John Deere monitor, there's siv. Here's the combination. Somebody needs to tell John Deere that's a straw walker and they don't make those anymore and they really ought to have an emblem that looks like a rotor. It's like, "Good God." So this would be considered rotor loss. Then here's the tailings right here. You can see, we got quite a few bars going on.
So that's the issue. That's what we see. So anyway, we use, I call them pod busting cover plates. It tells you what they do and you put these underneath the concave. One of the problems we have when harvesting soybeans is that we have pods in the grain tank. This is the real reason. It starts right here at the concave. The pod is small enough that it drops right between the round bar and then it goes down into the auger bed, onto the tops down to the bottom siv, and we try to tighten, and it never works. So anyway, no matter what you do, the pods are always going to drop right through. One of the problems we have when harvesting... Okay, I don't think I have to keep replaying it because I can guarantee you the pod will continue to fall through though. All right, you can change concaves, but I'm not going to do that when I'm switching from corn to beans. So they sell, John Deere calls them wide. I'm sorry, gentlemen, you need to learn. These are called large wire concaves.
These are called small wire concaves, and they've got the smaller yet for clover or crops. Anyway, these are pretty popular for wheat. These are what they would use for corn and beans. The problem is when I put this large wire in a green combine, it'll plug. I put this large wire in the red combine, it works just fine. We're still trying to figure that one out. So that's why John Deere's using round bars is to keep them from plugging in high moisture corn. So we have unthreshed pods. Right here, you can see it's wide open and we put these cover plates on the backside to keep them from falling through. On the Deere combine, I like 13 inches of cover plates and we're going to make them for the OEM John Deere because I tried to buy them out of their book. You can't find them. Now, they make inserts, but they don't make cover plates. So retain those thresh pods. We've got some other videos here. So here is, now we're looking on the top side where all the grain comes.
Right here, if the grain comes in and the pods are loose, they're going to drop through there. So that's why we cover this first 13 inches. This one right here, we take it to all the shows, it's got a piece of plexiglass over it. This came right out of the combine. You can see with a cover plate underneath it, these chambers fill. Once they fill, they create a mattress, and then we've got pods rubbing against pods. So one of the things that we see when we're cutting soybeans is pods that show up in the green tank, and we'll try to tighten the bottom siv, doesn't do us any good, but the real problem starts right here on a red combine with a large wire concave is that the pod is smaller than the opening, and so they just fall right on through and they never get threshed out. So when I go from corn to beans, we add in this white cover plate down here underneath, and what it does is retains the pods to be threshed.
So as we dump these, you can see how these pods are falling right through, but on this side over here, they're going to have to rub until they thresh out. Then once we get them threshed out, then it's a lot easier to blow the holes out and the beans go right in the grain tank. So our solution for pods in the tank is to add these cover plates underneath a large wire concave.
A 2-part interview with Iowa no-tiller Ryan Gibbs came up twice on our best of the year list. He discusses the logistics of making and spraying his vermicompost extract, plus how he uses sap analysis and soil testing to make nutrient management decisions.
We make a compost extract. So I don't know how familiar you are with that, but compost extract, basically we're taking worm casting and biodegraded material that's aerobic, and we're turning it into a liquid product to put on our crops. We do Johnson-Su compost, and then we also buy vermicast compost from Dan Rasure with Fed N Happy. He's got a really good product we tried this year and it's really affordable, really, really good quality product. So here's what we're making, and then what we'll do is we'll take this, this is a year long process to make a Johnson-Su. It's actually easier if I dump these out and then I shovel them in there and then we screen it.
So this is the final product, which is a rich, earthy material full of microbes. There's more organisms in one tablespoon of this than there is humans, life on earth. We can look under a microscope and find fungal hyphae and bacteria and all the good stuff, protozoa, nematodes, all the goodies on that. So what we do is we'll put it into this machine here, which it's a auger, and then on the outside of the auger is a screen, and then this water hooks up and it shoots water through the center of that auger and there's jets, and it basically cleans the compost. So your spent compost comes out there, muddy water comes out there.
Which one are you then putting on the crops?
So it's a combination of this, so this is our vermicompost we bought from Dan Rasure with Fed N Happy, so we'll take that and we will scoop it up and put it into that machine and we'll liquefy it and turn it into a liquid product that we can use. So I'll run it through this machine and this tote will be full of muddy looking water. So what we're doing is we're inoculating the soil. So if you go out to the timber and you grab some soil, it's beautiful. It's black, it's lush, got real good smell. Walk 100 feet into a corn field or bean field and the soil's not like that.
We've killed off a lot of them organisms with tillage, heavy chemical use, single cropping, corn, corn, corn, corn or whatever, and also by leaving it fallow. So we plant corn crop and then there's nothing there from November, December, January, February, March, April, there's nothing growing. So what we're doing is we're reintroducing the bacteria, the fungi to that soil that we've killed off with tillage and chemical and stuff like that. So basically, it's like a huge microbiome that we're putting back out there for them to reproduce and flourish, which our crops need those, but we've killed them off. So basically what we're doing is we're taking liquid timber soil and putting it out in our fields.
A lot of this stuff is native, like these wood chips and stuff came from around here. So all this is, is wood chips, straw, alfalfa, and a little bit of livestock manure, and what we did is we mixed all this until it was sopping wet, and there's actually five tubes in here. And then we filled this plump full, and then after 48 hours, we pull them tubes out and it naturally breeds. This one here is over a year old. So what happens is it's a no-stir compost system and it's fungal dominant, which we want more fungi. We're trying to get more fungi out into our fields. So we've always been told fungi is bad, we need to spray fungicide because we got fungus on our plants. Well, when we're spraying a fungicide, we're killing off all of our fungi, not just the bad ones, but the good ones as well.
Well, the good ones keep the bad ones in check, so now we start seeing diseases in some of our crops, because we have a lack of fungi, we have a lack of minerals and stuff in our soils that are causing these plants to not be healthy enough, which allows a host or a fungus to enter that plant. So we're actually putting fungi out there. The thing with a compost extract like this is we make it, it has a very short shelf life because this is a living organism. It needs oxygen and it needs food to live, so this isn't something you can just put in a jug and ship it to a farmer and when you plant corn next month, put it on because by then, the organisms in that jug will be dead. It'll just be muddy, stinky water. It should have an earthy smell like this.
. . .
Making the extract, we're not adding food source with it, we're not adding oxygen and bubbling it because you'll hear people talk about compost teas and they'll be like, "Oh, he's making a compost tea." A compost tea is where you actually brew it and you add food source to it because when I first started this, I got the two mixed up all the time like, "I'm making compost tea," and they're like, "How long are you brewing it?" And I'm like, "I'm just making tea," and they're like, "No, that's an extract." So we're extracting the nutrients off of the compost. Once you make a tea, which is what I also use this tank for, you see up there, I got a big blower?
That's a regenerative blower, and I hook that onto the bottom and I can actually put this compost right here, liquid, pump it into there, and I can run oxygen to it for like 36 hours, throw a little bit of molasses, a little bit of fish, and we will actually brew it, which I've done very few of these because you have to babysit them. You have to monitor them and when they're ready, you have to apply them. You have to apply them and if it rains and you can't apply them for eight hours, you've got a batch of anaerobic stuff that went bad because when you start adding oxygen to it and you throw a food source in it, when you give an organism food and oxygen, what happens? They reproduce and then their offspring reproduce, and those offspring reproduce and those offspring reproduce.
So you go from product that has a fair amount of bacteria and fungi in it to a product that has an unbelievably enormous amount of bacteria and fungi in it, astronomical amounts in tablespoons, it's just so much. And they got a huge benefit because you can fully apply and you're getting 20 times the benefit versus an extract, but there's so many living organisms in that once you brew it for 24 or 36 hours and it reaches a peak, it has to get applied now. You've got hours to apply it before it goes bad because there's so many organisms in there, they will consume food and oxygen so fast that they will actually run out of food and oxygen and then they all die.
. . .
I typically like to see it used in 48 hours. So I had farmers come to buy it from me, and we make it to order. If you're planting tomorrow morning, you come and get it before you're ready to plant, or if you're planting tomorrow morning, you can come tonight and pick it up. But I like to see it used up within 48 hours because you get the most biological activity in 48 hours. Try to keep it out of the sunlight if you can, or come with a stainless steel tank. Most of the guys that used it this year, they came, they picked it up, they were going straight out to the field to plant. So Zach Wright has told us, and Chris Trump. Chris Trump teaches Korean natural farming, Zach Wright is the owner of Living Soils Compost Lab out in South Dakota, and then Ryan Noss, he has We Grow With company. He sells a fungal product, a fungal spore.
And these guys are really intelligent and they say, "Use your senses when it comes to compost because your senses will tell you what it is." What's it look like? What's it smell like? What's it feel like? And in some cases, what's it taste? Maybe not for compost, you're not going to go licking it, but use your senses to define what something is. Now, you can look at this and you can say, "It looks like woody material, looks decent." You can grab it and you're like, "Well, it's got some moisture in it. I like texture of it." Biggest thing I look at is the smell. You smell this and it smells like beautiful timber soil.
That tells me that it's aerobic, which is getting aired through it, it's got living organisms in it and it's healthy. There's a lot of good organisms in it. So if it stinks, if it's real mushy, if I squeeze it and there's juice coming out between my fingers, probably has an odd smell, might be gnats flying around here, that would aerobic, so oxygen can't get through it and very well and make the organisms live. So what you got there is a lot of bad bacterias and probably no fungi. So with this, what we'll do is after four months or so, we will add earthworms to it. Red wigglers, you can see there's one there. Well, that's an earthworm. That's not a red wiggler, that's an earthworm.
So that one just popped up in there?
Yep. Well, we put them in there, but this we do not put in there. I don't know how he got there. A centipede. It's amazing, you'll have centipedes and stuff in here, it's like I never added centipedes to this. Somehow nature, they came in here somehow because I didn't put that in there.
Right. And they [inaudible 00:09:53].
But they help decompose this as well. And we'll take this, turn it into that, liquefy it, and then we'll reinoculate our soils with it. So that's where there's a lot of biological products on the market, and it's a multi-billion dollar business right now and a lot of these products, if you look at them, they are just a couple strains of bacteria. There is not a product out there that you can buy in a jug that I know of that is a fungal hyphae living organism in a jug, because they cannot survive very long in a jug. They need oxygen, they need food. So the only person I know who's made a product similar to that is Ryan Noss. So here's a few more of them. This is the oldest one that I made. I'm in the process of using it, but this is the oldest one I made, and then here's another one. I got basically three different ways of making them. I like the tote bag the best, just because it breathes. This doesn't allow air in the sides as well, but it still makes a really good quality product.
Are you letting it age for a certain amount?
12 months, okay.
We add the earthworms after. So this no-stir compost system called the Johnson-Su Bioreactors, we will mix all the product together, the wood chips, a little bit of livestock manure, straw, alfalfa, hay, whatever, mix it all together, get it really good and wet, fill these, literally plump full. After 48 hours, we'll pull the tubes out and there'll be holes in here, and then it'll heat up to 140 to 160 degrees and then it'll cool down. And once it gets below 80 degrees, then we throw a couple handfuls of red wiggler worms in, and then from there, it just breaks down. We water it every day, we'll just sprinkle a little bit of water on it, and after 12 months you've got a fungal dominant system. One of these will produce about 500 acres worth of product, give or take. It depends on the rate and stuff.
I'm screening this, so I'm not getting quite as much out of these totes as what you typically would if you were using the wood chips and everything and running it through a machine, so I'm probably getting like 250 to 300 acres out of a tote. I've got these three and I've got three more in the barn, and then my neighbor, actually, we made 10 of them for next year because you got to make them a whole year ahead of time. But what I like is this is extremely fungal dominant, and the worm castings are not really fungal dominant, but they got other bacterias and fungis in them. So I feel if we can get a combination of both, we can get a lot of good biology together out there.
So last year, putting it on our crops, I left check strips in every field. Crops coming up, above ground you would never notice a difference. Crops look the same. But once we dug below ground, the root structure was almost twice as good where we put this versus nothing. And when it came to harvest, it was anywhere from four to 17 bushel better yield depending, corn, beans. Lighter ground, sandier, rocky ground, really big yield benefit from this. Really good fertility ground, black dirt, I've got livestock manure on almost everything but really good high fertility ground, we didn't see as big of a yield benefit from it, but what we did see was a plant health benefit from it. We had very minimal disease on everything, little to no disease on everything, which was great because the big talk is tar spot. "Oh my God, we got tar spot."
Everybody's got tar spot. Everybody's got to spray fungicide at least once or twice or three times or however many times, because we got tar spot. Well, tar spot is a direct correlation to a copper, zinc and manganese deficiency within a plant. It's been proven. I've got a book with research showing why we have tar spot, and the point of putting this biology out there is we've got all those micronutrients and minerals in our soils already, but they're not available to the plant. Well, why are they not available? It's because our biology in the soil is so messed up, it won't release them products and them minerals. So by putting this out there, it's working with the biology in the soil to help release nutrients within the soil naturally, because these trees and plants out in the timber, they don't get fertilized.
They don't have disease. You don't see all them horse weeds in the timber with tar spot on them, so why is it that we don't have that issue in a timber, in an environment like that, but we have it in our crop fields? It's because the biology and our minerals and everything is so messed up. That's our whole point, is trying to get the biology back out there and let it reproduce and flourish and become better, and hopefully build our soils up faster than just using a cover crop to try to grow carbon and make the soil healthier, but also adding the biology to ramp it up and speed up the process. We can destroy it so fast, but it takes years to build it back.
. . .
If you start scaling up, this year we did it on over 1,000 acres, and that's just like planting. We'll come back and do foliar on well over half of that. So step one is kind of like when it comes to planting, we put it in-furrow right into the soil. It's got a home, it's got food sources, it can just take off from there. So that's step one, and then we can come back and do foliar applications with it too. So if you go to these fruit vineyards or fruit orchards and vineyards and stuff, they found that spraying a worm casting or a Johnson-Su extract on the plants at night before a freeze, it will protect that plant so it won't freeze, down to, don't quote me on the temperature, you'd have to look it up, but I believe it's like 26 degrees or something, or 25 or something.
So typically, a fruit plant would get frosted at 30 degrees. Well, by spraying a vermicompost, that bacteria and fungi protects that leaf and will protect it from getting frosted or frost bit all the way down another 10 degrees below that. And so that's one of the benefits that the vineyards and the orchards and stuff are finding from using it, but adding it throughout the season, you're just putting more biology out there and helping the plant. So if a plant can pull up biology, it's going to be more resistant to disease and bugs and stuff, and so it's just a really good thing, it's super affordable. What I like about it is it's safe to handle. Kendrick can be down here in his flip flops, helping me with this. You don't have to wear rubber gloves, it's not toxic. If anything, it's good getting dirt in your hands.
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Finally, in the no. 1 most played episode of 2023, we bring you a replay of Russell Hedrick’s 2023 National No-Tillage Conference presentation detailing the specific practices that propelled him to record-setting corn and soybean yields.
One of the key things that we have focused on on our farm, is looking at return on investment. If we apply a pound of nutrients, we want to get more than a pound of grain. So we do tissue sampling on our cover crop and we run a cover crop analysis. We go out into the field. We cut a two foot by three foot sample, you can do it any way you want as long as you maintain a known number of square feet. We dry that on a trailer and we send that to the lab. That's how we used to do it. Now we just bundle it up into essentially just a trash bag and send it into to the lab to get an analysis right on it.
If you're not doing this, this is what it looks like. It gives us a carbon and nitrogen ratio, how many tons per acre that we had. It also gives us a breakdown of the available nutrients that we're going to see from that cover crop. One of the key things I think farmers miss the mark on is they go out, they use a cover crop and they don't really understand what is the nutrient load inside of that cover crop. What's the benefit? I want to make you all work this morning. How many farmers in here have ever heard somebody plant cereal rye and it dinged their corn yield? That's quite a few hands. The big reason is if we get that carbon and nitrogen ratio too high, we're going to tie up that nitrogen and then we're not going to see it.
So what we're looking at here on the right hand side of the screen, our carbon and nitrogen ratio on this cover crop was a 16 to one. It was really heavy in legumes. If you go over 40 to one, you're going to start seeing that tie up. If you go over 80 to one, you probably won't see nitrogen for up to 12 months out of that cover crop residue, and farmers just don't understand that. So this is where we started at. You can see that we've really got some great [inaudible 00:02:44] ground right here on the left. This is typically what we start with, is very depleted soils, no aggregation, low organic matter, it's been beat up till to death. After four years of cover crops, you can see we start seeing a little bit of color change in the top eight inches. That's a 16 inch sample there.
But the big thing for us as we monitor on our farm, we utilize the Haney test to look at our biological indicators, carbon sequestration. For CO2 respiration, we've seen a 720% increase over the last nine years. That's been critical for us in nutrient release and nutrients getting into the crop and actually being available. And then we've also seen our increase in our water. Carbon was also a 590% increase. It's essentially the food that the microbial community can eat. This is what our soil looks like now after 10 years. We've been able to sequester enough carbon pumping into the system we've actually started to change the structure and the color of our soils that we farm in North Carolina.Then there was this guy, he came out to the farm, Ray Archuleta. We were working with David Montgomery.
We wanted to get some baselines on our farms. Understand how critical earthworms are to your operation. So me and Ray did a sample that was a foot by a foot by a foot deep, a cubic foot. We had 93 earthworms per cubic foot. It's about 3.3 million earthworms per acre. Those 3.3 million earthworms are turning roughly about 120,000 pounds of soil a year. So that really does help a lot with our nutrient stratification. It helps keep that soil mixed up, it moves organic residue up and down in the profile, and it really has helped us with that stratification issue. So this is where we started at. How many of you have ever rolled cereal rye that was over five feet tall? I used to do it in an open station tractor. It is the longest nosebleeds that I've ever had in my life.
We started with this, with a [inaudible 00:04:38] packer, simply rolling the cover crops down. We would plant into that no-till. If you've never had anxiety before, do that for the first time in cereal rye that's about six or seven feet tall. Didn't sleep too good back in the beginning years. This is where we're at now.
We have an issue finding labor and help for us to be able to actually get a cover crop rolled in one pass, come back and plant in another pass, do our spray pass. We've integrated it in. We went to a farm show and I saw these Yetter stock devastaters that were for a corn head. They've done a excellent job.
We've been running those now for six years. We simply just mounted them to the front bar. We've mounted these on a couple different planters that we have now. We've got the new ones now with the torsion bar instead of the spring. We've also went to looking at nutrient placement. We do not broadcast phosphorus or potassium anymore. We inject it into the ground. We're using liquid, we're looking to go to a dry system as well. But we're also able to go in here and place all of our nitrogen at planting time that we need for the front end of the crop. We're usually running it anywhere from about 40 to 60 pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous if it calls for it, or potassium thiosulfate. So you can see the cover crop comes up really good. We lay it down, we get our corn crop planted. We haven't had any issues with stand establishment.
We've had a pretty good time with getting the corn crop up out of even all that residue. We have good, even emergence. One of the things I'll say to farmers, how many of you in here plant your corn deeper than two inches? How many of you plant it deeper than three inches? There's a few. Start playing around with that stuff. I've heard other people that you are farming and trying to push yields and trying to see where the ground will actually work at. We actually plant corn sometimes three and a half inches deep depending on the farm that we're on. If you have good soil aggregation from these regenerative practices, you can plant that corn even a little bit deeper and pick up some extra nodal roots and it'll actually help with a lot of your uptake. We utilize a lot of sensors and technology on the farm. There's a company called Aqua Spy based out of North Carolina. They build a sensor. That sensor goes in the ground 48 inches deep.
We measure root depth, we measure temperature, water infiltration depth. We can also measure electric conductivity, and I can actually map where my crop is pulling our fertilizer out of what zones in the soil throughout the growing season and see where we actually need to look at nutrients. We started looking at electric conductivity where we had cover crops. Our highest readings were 12 to 16 inches deep. As the season progressed, that crop was fed its nutrients through the top 16 inches. Where we did our no cover crop strips, we actually only had highest readings between four to eight inches and our nutrients were actually only fed to that crop in the top eight inches. So that means where I had cover crops, where I did regenerative farming practices, I was actually get about double the amount of profile that we're feeding that crop and getting nutrients into that corn crop and getting those roots deeper, and that's a massive difference when it comes to increasing our yields.
We're also doing our injection systems. We run 2 inches to 3 inches on each side of the road and we're injecting this fertilizer when we use our liquid anywhere from about 6 to 8 inches deep because we maintain moisture. In North Carolina, we're always 10 days away from a drought. So that means if we don't get moisture every 10 days, the top 2-3 inches of the ground are going to dry out and we're not going to have nutrient availability. And so even with what we're looking at, we're trying to get this stuff down. So what's the comparison? Where we had our cover crops and our sensors, we actually had 7-9 inches more moisture. How many of you in here are dry land farmers? I'm going to pick on somebody. How much would you pay for another seven to nine inches of moisture?
I was always told cover crops use moisture. They do. They use moisture to grow, but our pan evaporation and our soil temperatures, we maintain such lower soil temperatures during the summertime, we actually can prove that we're actually saving what we use plus an additional seven to nine inches of moisture. Then we look at root depth. Root depth was deeper by 28 inches. That's a massive amount of profile that we're getting 28 inches deeper into the profile. We're also looking at coolness. On average, and this is pretty much from March the first until about November the first, we were averaging anywhere from about six to eight degrees cooler in the top four inches of the soil. That's a lot of moisture that we were conserving.
This is where we're at today in 2023. I always put something in there to make sure you all are still awake. I will say this, so many people talk about fertilizer is bad, chemicals are bad. You'll hear a lot of speakers talk about it, a lot of people online. I think everything is a tool. Fertilizer is a tool, chemistry is a tool. If we use it as best we can in the appropriate manner and balance what we're doing on our operation, they're necessary tools that we have to have to farm, and that's how we treat it on our operation. So I did not make this slide, I stole this slide, but it is something that I've used for the last three years now. Five years ago, we got challenged to see using regenerative practices and what we were doing on our farm, where could we push yield to in North Carolina? This is the mapping system that we've used.
The reason I show this is I want everybody to pay attention to this right here. From planting to V6, 10 pounds of nitrogen, six pounds of phosphorus, 14 pounds of potash and four pounds of sulfur, that's all it takes for us to get to V6. That is the complete opposite of what we were used to. Whenever I first started farming, I thought we had to preload this corn crop and get more nutrients out there in the beginning. We really focus on the later end nutrient cycles now. And the biggest thing that stuck out to me was our potassium needs. We go from only using 2.3% of our potassium at V6, to 31% by V10, so just in four leaf stages, we're seeing almost a 29% increase in potassium needs. There is a way that potassium cycles in the soil solution where it can. You can't just super load potassium in the soil without it being tied up, especially if you have clay content.
But there are ways that we can use cover crops in the organic acids that secrete out of those cover crop roots to actually help us free up quite a bit of potassium in our soils. And that's why plants feed soil biology. We all look at Y drop systems and precision placement and nitrogen in the root zone. Our plants are doing the same thing. How many of you in here have ever saw your corn plant make this mucus on these crown roots? Has anybody else in the room ever saw that? That right there is nothing more than sugar that feeds biology. It leaks right here in the road just like they talk about a wide drop system, and it's sugars and proteins. We're feeding biology, which then mineralizes nutrients. Our plants help us grow the crop as well if you pay attention. Then we look at this. I'll tell you a funny story.
We talk about fungal and bacteria dominance, and we want a balanced system. If you're too bacterial, you have too fast of a cycling system, if you're too fungal, the system's too slow and the crop will suffer. And we try to find that balance. And about five years into this journey, we started seeing mushrooms growing. So I'm going down the road one day, I had a neighbor farmer call me and he said, "Russell, you got mushrooms growing in your field by mine." And I was like, "Okay, well what do you think?" And he's like, "You got to get out there and spray. You got to get out there and spray them things." I was like, "Oh my gosh, what's going on? Are these mushrooms going around the field with a machete? Are they cutting the corn crop down? I've never seen a mushroom move so explain this to me." "Oh, they're a fungus and fungus is bad."
So these are visual indicators. And we do do a lot of laboratory testing, we do a lot of work with universities, but these are key indicators that you can see on your farm and you can tell which direction you're heading. So what we do is we try to plant a multispecies cover crop every single year. And so that time about August, Ray Archuleta sprouts up out of them and he helps us with determining what our residue breakdown looks like, look at different carbon to nitrogen ratios of the cover crop seeds that we're planting and how that's going to affect the nutrient release to our crops. So this picture was taken on my birthday. This is July the third, North Carolina. It's probably 95 to a hundred degrees, and with cover crops about two inches deep, we were maintaining soil temperatures of about 77 degrees. That's massive for our water holding capacity. This is what our crop looked like this last season.
We were averaging anywhere from 14 to 15 foot tall corn. We had an excellent growing season. When I say that we yielded well, we did. We did the preparation, mother nature provided the rainfall and the right temperatures for us to hit that crop. So some of the testing that we do on our farm is we still do some small tillage plots, we still do some just normal no-till. So many times whenever I first started looking at no-till, I always heard no-till, no yield. I have no idea how long that phrase has been around, but I think I will agree and say that no-till can mean no yield if you're not doing any other practice. If you're burning organic matter, you're not planting cover crops, putting in manures, compost, something to supplement that system, you will see the ground get hard, you will see issues, and that's what we saw right here. The corn here on your left is the same exact variety, the only difference is there was a five foot pathway.
Our plot on the right had cover crops and livestock integration, the corn crop on the left was strictly no-till with chicken litter and a conventional type fertilizer package. That's the difference. That's what regenerative practices have done for us on the right. We are seeing higher nutrient densities, we see test weights in the 60 to 64 pound range. Typically, every year our corn's weighing about 62 to 64 pounds on test weight.
Same thing with soybeans. When we first started farming, I hated soybeans. I called them peasant peas. When you farm on a mountain and no ground is flat, it's typically hard to pick soybeans. It's just one of the crops I don't really like to harvest.
When we started paying attention to when we plant our crop, what our day length is, we started looking at the same factors that we treated our corn crop with, we started looking at different varieties. We started seeing a lot of our soybean crops also have the same effect from these cover crops and regenerative practices. Just wanted to give you all a picture of what we see, where we see our stacking on our nodes. We've been able to keep them pretty tight. It looked like a bunch of soybean trees out here in the field when we started harvesting that year. And then we started looking at different things. So I met Jonathan Lundgren back in 2015. I will be honest, I was probably drinking bourbon at the time.
He started telling me how bugs don't have a pancreas and they can't process complex sugars, and if you can increase the bricks content inside of your plants, you're still going to have a few bugs come into the field edge, but they don't like it, the sugar retains the moisture in their body, it bloats them and they leave. I thought this guy was completely off his rocker. There's 14 farmers in the state of North Carolina that have been using this system since 2015 now. We're all seeing the same results. What I'll say is if you can get bricks increased in your crops, you can deter pest. If you already have pest in your crop and you're at the threshold or above the threshold, sugar doesn't work. It's a preventative, not a curative. It takes time for the sugar to get into the crop to deter the pest. If you've already got an infestation of insects in your crop, sugar's not the way to go. But we use it as a preventative.
It costs me 50 cents an acre per pass, and that's if I use a pound to the acre. Typically, we run a half pound to a pound per pass. So this is what we see with soybeans. Our check strip was a 5.2 bricks, our molasses was a 15.6, generic white table sugar was a 34.2, and cold process was a 36.3. Your target is 14. You want to maintain a bricks of 14 or above. You can see bugs come into that outer perimeter of the field. If you have a really high bricks, you'll see that number then go down. But like I said, if your bricks level isn't adequate enough and you actually see your threshold's getting close, you're going to have to spray an insecticide. So we started doing the yield contest on these soybeans. The state came out, did our ways. We ended up 2021, set another North Carolina state record of 117 bushels dry land on our soybeans. We pay a lot attention.
We do foliars. We do quite a bit of foliar packages. We actually don't broadcast much fertilizer on the front end of our soybeans anymore. You can see if we need it, we broadcast later in the season. Potassium sulfate mixed with symtrex and urea. That's a pretty basic package. It didn't break the bank. I think our cost of production on those beans was roughly about $400 an acre. This is what our corn production's looking like. We still do plots. So this ear here on the right had a full rate of nitrogen, the ear here in the middle had a half rate of nitrogen, and the ear here on the left had no nitrogen at all. So we do have about two or three farms a year that we push for yield, we want to see what our enhanced ground can do. The rest of our farm sees about 50 to 80 units of nitrogen total throughout the entire growing season. This is one of those farms.
So the ear here on the right where we had our full rate of nitrogen, that was our set. The half rate of nitrogen yielded five bushels less, and where we had no nitrogen at all, we only lost nine bushels with absolutely no nitrogen. The extra return on investment to the farm was $78 an acre. We made an extra $78 an acre net where we didn't use nitrogen at all. And I'm telling you right now, that's scary even for me to do now. I've been doing this system that is very tough for us to do. On some of the years, it's so much dependent on nature but we still do it. So Gabe Brown loves to tell you about cocktails, I didn't know David Brant was going to be here, but he loves to tell you about his radishes, I want to tell you about my corn. Man, got a few laughs out of that one. So here's our corn. So if you can see the scale on the left, we started weighing some ears back in August.
We just wanted to see what our crop was going to look like. We had ears that weighed over a pound each. Do not show any videos of this because this is what the USDA will do in the upcoming report, then the market will probably crash. So we talk about nutrient placement and nutrient timing. We still run humates, fulvics. We used to be strictly humates in furrow, and humates do have some extra elemental nutrients inside of them. But for me, what we started looking at and what I would encourage you all to try is look at a fulvic instead of a humic. The carbon on a fulvic is about half as long. We'll see quicker breakdown, quicker release, and quicker microbial response to fulvics over humics. And I'm not saying one's better than the other, but for me, I want to see biology come out of the spring and ramp up as fast as possible, mineralize as many nutrients in that small root zone.
And so we've made changes on our farm to where we put humates with our nitrogen program and we still utilize them, but when we go in furrow, now we're using fulvics and we're trying those out. This right here was a study. So the right hand side, we had our in furrow with a fulvic, on the left hand side we just had the regular corn planter, we didn't turn our system on. Even in no-till systems where we're getting high residue, high biomass cover crops, we are seeing a little bit of front end nitrogen tie up and these systems are really paying off for us. This is what it looked like during the growing season. I'm six foot six, you can see this is about the average corn height. We got later into the season. It's hard for us to take time, but my sister came out, took some pictures of me standing in the corn plot just looking at ear size. Those ears were anywhere from about 11 and a half to 12 and a half inches in length. It was some of the better ears that we've ever had on our farm.
Thanks to Russell Hedrick, Ryan Gibbs, Marion Calmer, Alan Berry, Ross Bishop and Stan Miller for those conversations. You can go to no-tillfarmer.com/podcasts to see the full episodes. Those are also available wherever you listen to podcasts.
Many thanks to Yetter Farm Equipment 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.