From the Farm of Gary Zimmer

Dear Farmer/Agribusiness person,

It seems like a long time has passed since I last sat down to write for the newsletter. Change is the only for certain thing that happens in life. Somehow we always seem to get a crop—this year was certainly better than last. Sure, it didn’t look that way in the beginning of June. It was raining every day (or so it seemed): the corn was not planted, the hay was getting more mature. Our alfalfa forage crops were not ideal—we ended up turning a lot of it into green manure crops for our corn. With all the delays, planting under ideal conditions was no longer going to happen. But at the end of the day, we did okay. We have plenty of feed, an outstanding corn crop, especially on those fields following the thinned out forage crops. We had lots of corn yielding at 200+ bushel/acre, though it was slow to dry down.

We, as all farmers do, notice that everything we do costs more; it seems like we are forced to search for more options. What to do? One method would be to cut costs by cutting corners: skimp on plant genetics, cut back on applying soil nutrients, skip the cover crops or rotations. Another option, the one we and many other farmers choose to follow, is to do more of the things that take our crops and soils to a new level. We know there is more potential out there, so the question is, how do we make changes to reach those yields? How can we be more consistent under poor conditions (to weather the storm, so to speak)?

You can’t pick up a farm magazine without finding at least one article on soil health and cover crops. I keep saying that to get the crops we have been getting doesn’t require spending all that money on insecticides, fungicides, biotechnology, multiple doses of herbicides and a heap of nitrogen. There is another sustainable method– Rodale has been testing it for years. It’s not complex—soil health is feeding and taking care of the soil life (biological farming!) It’s living roots, good soil water and air management, a diversity of plants, and no crust on the soil. In other words, it’s loose, crumbly soil that looks and smells alive. The mineral part of soil health is the least talked about. In fact, it’s almost ignored, except for the NPK, even though we know it takes 20 plus minerals to grow a crop. Some of them, like nitrogen can be home grown but others like sulfur and boron leach and therefore need to be added every year. The soil has a certain ability to dish out/exchange the minerals plants need, so supplementing a balanced diet in a plant/root friendly blend should be common sense. Minerals are essential not only for yield but for plant health, too.

Looking at the no till magazines, farmers, researchers, and agribusiness people are starting to take notice of the many benefits from cover crops and minimal disturbance of the soil. Vertical tillage is needed in many cases, so is ripping, building a zone can also be beneficial, but it is tillage. Why not promote tillage with a purpose, and for soil health. Soils and farmers are different all over the world, but all can improve soil mineral exchange, soil health and production.

If you think about mineral exchange and the need for the balanced diet and how the minerals are delivered, hooking them to carbon makes sense! In the manure, the compost, humates added, molasses added are not only food for the soil life but can help hold the minerals for more timely, efficient use. We want our minerals in the carbon biological cycle. That’s what green manure crops do, pull minerals from the soil and hook them in the plant. As that plant eventually breaks down through the work of biology, the minerals and the soil life’s dead bodies (they’re tiny but there are billions of them!), feed the next crops. That’s the cycle—that’s how nature works. How do we farmers expand this cycle and work to improve it? What is achievable? I believe we have the knowledge to do it, and there are already successful farms doing it, with the potential not yet reached.

The technology that’s coming today to monitor and precisely deliver nutrients and our zone equipment, planting equipment, tillage equipment—all that is here to do the job. Having healthy mineral rich fertile soils is possible but remember, soil fertility is the exchange of minerals, not just having a pretty soil test. This is a system. Midwestern BioAg has certainly been a leader in this movement. We spent the last 25+ years developing, teaching and perfecting mineral balance and delivery systems. Farmers are going to buy dry and liquid fertilizers with additives if they want high yielding crops– our job is to guide them on their choices.

This brings me to my winter meetings and this year’s theme, “40 Chances,” which is the title of Howard Buffett’s new book I’ve been reading. As farmers, we have about 40 years, or 40 chances, to accomplish our goals (and many of us have already used up a whole bunch of those 40 years!) On our farm we have a plan; we know there are more yield opportunities out there. More nutrients, more cover crops (both green and brown), deep tillage—we have seen the benefits of those practices after a few instances of wet, less than ideal conditions. Row support fertilizers, biological stimulants are among other things looked at. We have also added Ag Leader equipment and will do more detailed site specific sampling and nutrient applications. All this takes time and investment, but I have seen payoffs on farms all over this world. My winter meeting will be presenting these examples and opportunities.

While I will be speaking at fewer meetings myself this year, Bob Yanda and Duane Siegenthaler and some of our staff consultants will also be doing presentations around the country. Additionally, in many areas we will offer small group meetings on specific topics that fit the locality. We will be doing our best to make these events educational, thoughtful and beneficial for you– we hope you can attend one or more. We are a company based on education, information and ideas for you, our customers.

See you this winter,

Gary F. Zimmer