Strip-Till & TerraNu® Fertilizer: A Q&A with Duane Siegenthaler

Where does TerraNu® fit in my current strip-till program?

TerraNu MicroPack™, TerraNu Calcium™ and TerraNu Ignite™ will fit conveniently into your dry fertilizer program. They can be used as a standalone or added to your dry fertilizer program. TerraNu fertilizers use a new technology, combining fertilizer nutrients with carbon and biological stimulants that result in improved nutrient use efficiency and better soil health. 

Can I blend TerraNu with other fertilizers that I apply?

Yes. TerraNu Ignite can be used as a stand-alone fertilizer or blended with your dry fertilizer at rates of 100-200 lbs./acre. It is a homogenized, low chloride, complete fertilizer blend that works in the root zone to maximize soil and root health while providing balanced nutrition for your crop. TerraNu MicroPack and TerraNu Calcium are excellent additions to your current P and K dry fertilizer blend. TerraNu MicroPack provides a balanced blend of micronutrients that maximizes plant uptake to get the most out of your fertilizer dollar. TerraNu Calcium provides sulfur and calcium along with boron as an essential micronutrient that works with calcium to build strong cell walls and healthy roots.

What is the bulk density of TerraNu? How does that impact application?

The bulk density ranges from 40 to 48 lbs/ft3, with Ignite on the lighter side and MicroPack on the heavier side. The TerraNu manufacturing process produces a hard granule (for good dust control) with a good bulk density for blending with other dry fertilizers. Many strip-tillers used TerraNu this year and application went smoothly.

Will using TerraNu improve soil health in my strip zone?

Yes. TerraNu fertilizers are designed to provide soil health benefits in an easy-to-apply granule that maximizes nutrient use efficiency. The carbon base of TerraNu, combined with natural biological stimulants, feeds your soil biology and promotes a strong population of beneficial soil organisms and better soil health.

What kind of results are you observing in the field?

The TerraNu products are showing good results so far this year. Strip-tillers in particular like what they’re seeing. A strip-till farmer from Indiana applied TerraNu to over 1,000 acres this year. They blended TerraNu with other dry fertilizers and reported the fertilizer flowed well and was easy to handle. Their crop has looked great during the growing season, and they are excited to apply TerraNu again on the acres they strip-till on their 4,000 acre farm.

Chad Peterson of Peterson Grain Farms in Illinois said, “We applied 100 lbs./acre of TerraNu Ignite on our corn acres in a spring strip-till refresh pass using our Soil Warrior. TerraNu Ignite was easy to load and metered flawlessly through the machine. The crop looks great, and we are excited to see the results this fall.”

More results will be coming in over the next couple of months, but if what we’re seeing in early results holds true, we’re going to have some great yields along with the added soil health benefits from the TerraNu products!

Time is on Your Side, and Biology Can Be Too

The application of CX-1 and L-CBF this fall can be the first step to help ensure success next season. There can be 7,500 lbs. of stover left behind in a modest 155 bushels per acre corn field.

Secured within are:

  • 45 pounds of N,
  • 15 pounds of P2O5,
  • 92 pounds of K2O,
  • 6 pounds of S,
  • 18 pounds of Ca,
  • 18 pounds of Mg.

These valuable inputs become plant available through the biological process of mineral cycling.

It’s a process that can begin well ahead of next year’s planting. Very different than the loss that can occur with fall application of synthetic fertilizer, a fall application of CX-1 and L-CBF advances these minerals a few steps closer to plant availability the following spring.

Yield Decline Associated with Inconsistent Germination.

Data suggests a mere three-day lag in germination can lead to yield reductions of 16% or more in later germinating plants. Three additional days and the yield reduction can be in the 24% range. (Study data showed 230 BPA in plants that emerged first reduced to 174 BPA in those plants with a six-day delay.) A fall application of CX-1 and L-CBF can ensure a more even stand which means greater yield. Partial decomposition of the corn stalks in the fall means crumbles instead of hairpins under the planter coulter. A more uniform emergence is achieved when larger pieces are not there to shade pockets of soil preventing warming or inhibiting uniform planting depth.

Bio-Sanitation

Undigested corn residue serves as an ideal place for pathogens to survive over the winter. The best defense against fungal diseases is a strong, beneficial microbial community that can out-compete the fungal pathogens. A fall application of CX-1 and L-CBF reduces undigested residue and therefore reduces locations for pathogens to overwinter.

Organic Material vs. Organic Matter

Stover on the ground is organic material, but your soil needs organic matter. Cellulose is one of the most resistant of all plant tissues, and adding beneficial bacteria that digest cellulose to begin breaking it down into enzymes and organic matter gets you more organic matter and less organic material.

If these return-on-investment reasons aren’t quite enough, this anecdotal story might convince you. We hadn’t intended to conduct this trial; we simply ran out of time and material on the last few acres of a cornfield in the fall of 2016. Forgetting this by the following spring, we were reminded when the soil finisher went through the CX-1 and L-CBF applied areas like a proverbial “warm knife through butter”. However, organic material lodged in the equipment five times in those last few acres where the fall application was not accomplished. On and off the tractor to kick off the mud? This was all the data we needed to be convinced a CX-1 and L-CBF application is the right choice on our farm every fall.

From the Desk of Gary Zimmer

It’s a nice sunny March day today. Spring must be right around the corner. Are you ready?

I have spent my career working on soil health, nutrient delivery and quality feeds and foods. Yield is minerals, sunshine and water mixed in a carbon biological base. It’s not about how cheap the nutrient is or how much I add, it’s about uptake, availability, and exchangeability. When this company first started, it was about the source of nutrients and how we delivered them. Our fertilizers were all low-salt, with balanced nutrients, controlled-pH and timed-release. We certainly recognized that loose, crumbly soils with good organic matter and lots of life supported plants that could grow huge root systems and access nutrients resulted, not only in more crop resilience, but gave us the best quality and yields. This plant health allowed the plants to express their genetic potential. It certainly wasn’t about providing a certain level of the cheapest NPK and liming to a 6.5 pH.

When it comes to nutrients, calcium is king; it’s not just about having the ideal pH. It’s about providing plant-available, soluble calcium. That’s why Midwestern BioAg developed Bio-Cal® and OrganiCal™. They are a part of our program and still are a huge part of soil health — addressing limiting factors and driving quality and yields.

We have always been blenders of quality dry fertilizers since you do get the most bang for the buck by applying a dry blend. It’s not only the sources of NPK but all the extras, including sulfur and traces and biological stimulants. How can you expect to keep plants healthy and have high yields but not address limiting factors?

A few years back we ran into QLF (Quality Liquid Feeds out of Dodgeville, WI) and started adding carbon (molasses) to liquid fertilizers. We now have a 7-21-3 stand-alone starter, a nutrient enhancer called ‘Boost’ that we mix with nitrogen, and an organic molasses based liquid fertilizer. The liquids are not a complete fertilizer program but when used as a starter, foliar or mixed into nitrogen sources, we have seen dramatic improvements. These carbon-based liquids are a no-brainer because it’s not an added cost, it’s a replacement cost. Some liquid fertilizer or nitrogen is removed and our molasses based fertilizers are added in. It’s been researched and demonstrated over the last few years, and does give good results. We will be on over one million acres this year.

Starting a few years ago, we got involved in manufacturing carbon-based dry fertilizers. Part of the nutrients are from anaerobic digesters on dairy farms, and the rest we add. These are high-quality dry fertilizers in a biological base. The results have been great. Most of the fertilizer you purchase from MBA now will have this new added technology in it. We have a base blend, a micro-pack and a calcium blend. You can also purchase these as straight materials. You don’t need to add extra cost to use these materials because, like our liquids, they work as a replacement for some of your existing dry program.

The farm economy is tight right now, so what dollars can you afford to spend on fertilizers? One option is to match your fertilizer to the yields you are getting. Another option is to try something different that can take you to the next level. I believe most farmers know there is more potential for higher yields and with healthy soils and a balanced fertility program, plant-protective compounds and other technology may not be needed. Again, it is a shuffling of dollars. In today’s economy, I see no choice. We are forced to do better, reduce unneeded costs (things that don’t make your farm better) and invest in moving to a new level. We have many skilled consultants that can help you achieve these goals. “Management is doing something about something you can do something about.” In today’s world that means farming “cleaner”, getting more nitrogen efficient, and building soil carbon. These practices will take you to the next level on your farm.

Have a great growing year,
Gary F. Zimmer

Practicing Regenerative Agriculture

As more consumers care about clean air, clean water and clean food and want to buy organic foods more land is being transitioned to organic. Many organic farmers also talk about “regenerative farming”, but what does this mean? Regenerative farming is a system of farming that focuses on healthy, mineral-rich, biologically-diverse soils that grow healthy, mineral-rich food while also improving soils, crops, and the livelihoods of the farmers. A farm can be certified organic just by avoiding prohibited chemical substances, but regenerative organic farmers also do everything they can to get the soil healthy and mineralized. This not only leads to healthier crops but builds organic matter and good structure in the soil and builds soil resilience. Another name used for this farming system, and the one I like to use, is “biological farming”. Instead of focusing on chemistry to produce a crop it focuses on soil life, or biology, hence the name “biological”. I farm this way, my children farm this way, and my company has helped thousands of farmers learn to farm this way and reap the benefits for themselves, the people who eat the food, and for the environment.

To assess their soil’s potential to produce a good crop, biological farmers start out with a complete soil test looking at levels of at least a dozen different minerals. The minerals that are short are added by using high quality natural sources to both balance the soils and feed the crop. The next step is creating an ideal home for the soil life. Soil life is fed using manure sources, compost, or a mix of different plant species grown as “green manure” crops which are managed just to feed soil life. This green manure is usually shallowly mixed in soil where it is broken down by abundant soil organisms and builds carbon-rich, beautiful soil structure. Any tillage of the soil is kept to a minimum, and always done with a purpose: to create this ideal home for soil life; to break up any crust on the soil; or to do a deep aeration of soils when necessary to ensure water soaks in and there is plenty of space for air and water in the soil.

This balanced, healthy, mineral-rich soil not only produces high quality crops and high yields, but sequesters carbon the longer the farmer farms this way. The better soils become, the healthier the plants are as they have the needed nutrients and root systems to build plant protective compounds. Plant protective compounds not only protect plants from insects and diseases but also are very healthy for you as a consumer and have the added benefit of tasting great. Consumers like to buy produce that is high in health-promoting phytonutrients such as blueberries, elderberries, and kale. If these plants are grown in biologically active, mineral-rich soils they will be able to produce more of those phytonutrients that protect both them and you. So biological, regenerative farming is not just clean air and clean water, it’s also clean food with better health benefits. It is a system where the focus is on regeneration of soils using proper tillage, lots of minerals for the plants and for soil life, and living, beautiful, biologically rich soils. This is how land should be taken care of and food should be grown—with benefits for the environment and the consumer.

Living with Lower Prices and Increased Costs

Let me start with the good news about today’s dairy markets: It’s time to evaluate. That is exactly what my family is doing on our own farm. What expenses can we eliminate or reduce? On most dairy farms, there are things one can do that won’t negatively affect today’s production (or future production) and cow health. But there are also areas where you can’t skimp.
What are the key things we must do to maintain our farms into the future? Here’s a list of what I think are top priorities:

1. Raise top quality forages.

Harvest them at the right time and have good storage to maintain quality for ideal feeding. Grow thick, dense, high-yielding stands with the genetics and fertility for high digestibility. I’m convinced a fast turnover makes sense. There is a lot of evidence that beyond three years, the alfalfa yields start to drop and stands thin out. Working under a 3-year-old stand and planting it to corn is a sure win and a no-brainer: less nitrogen cost, weed control is easier and you don’t need all the plant protection compounds like fungicides and insecticides because your crop is healthier to begin with. This system also helps maintain soil health.

2. Maintain nutrient management & soil health.

The bare minimum I can do with crop fertilizers includes calcium, sulfur and boron in the blend. If your soil fertility and soil health are in good shape from your years of biological farming, you can now take advantage of that. But you are never done with adding calcium, sulfur and boron (which is included in Bio-Cal® or OrganiCal™). Adding these minerals improves plant health, nutrient uptake and digestibility and energy from the resulting solid-stemmed, pectin rich alfalfa.

3. Feed your soil and plants on poorer soils.

For soils that have less than ideal soil nutrient balance and soil health, apply a good balanced crop fertilizer and add some extra food for your plants and soil biology using the L-CBF products. These products are high in sugars which provide an extra “boost” to your crop and give you a great return on your investment. This is especially beneficial mid-summer when plants are more stressed.

Following this program allows you to maintain a well-balanced, high-forage diet for your livestock. You can expect fewer problems, more production and fewer off-farm purchases. The list can go on and on. Don’t forget that dry cows also need the correct forages and supplements to maintain their health and maximize productivity. Don’t skimp on the calves either. Healthy calves come from healthy dry cows. The key to all of this lies in quality forages. Our consultants can help you achieve these goals and survive today’s tough farm situation.

Systems Approach to Nutrient Use Efficiency

Read any agricultural publication and you will see several articles or advertisements about “soil health” or “nutrient use efficiency” (NUE). Midwestern BioAg has been practicing soil health and nutrient use efficiency for over 30 years and is truly the leader within the Ag Industry. So why are “soil health” or “NUE” just now becoming buzz words? Industry experts and growers are starting to understand that there is no silver bullet, no one product or practice to get to soil health or improved NUE. Only Midwestern BioAg can help you un-lock NUE in your fields.

Impacts of Nutrient Use Efficiency

Let’s look at your crop and soil performance in a socioeconomic manner. As world population grows, 9 billion people projected by the year 2050, growers need to produce more food to keep up with demand. The US Corn Yield trend-line has been increasing for the last 20 years (figure 1):

As yields increase, more nutrients are needed to be added to replace the nutrients removed in the grain/stover. Fertilizer prices have been up and down recently, and growers need to protect themselves from price volatility. Improving the return on fertilizer purchased is a must, it and starts with a healthy soil. Keeping fertilizer where it is applied is also critical. No one wants to see their nitrogen, let alone fertilizer dollars, flow down the Mississippi River or infiltrate Lake Erie or any other sensitive environmental watershed. Another aspect of NUE is social. Consumers are demanding healthier foods. Healthier food starts with healthier soils and protecting the environment in a sustainable way is essential to this process.

Soil health and NUE are all in the “Carbon” SYSTEM.

The system approach to farming, one that Midwestern BioAg has perfected, is the only way to optimize NUE and soil health. A simple start to building your farming system this spring is for you to take advantage of carbon delivery. Carbon is important as a food source for native soil biology. Carbon in the products in the subheadings below stimulates soil biology and improves NUE once they are applied.

Inclusion of TerraNu Nutrient Technology into your fertilizer blends.

TerraNu Nutrient Technology™ is an innovative technology that improves NUE by delivering quality, balanced nutrients in a carbon-delivery system. TerraNu Nutrient Technology is a granulated fertilizer that is homogenized with essential nutrients for plant growth. Midwestern BioAg can customize your fertilizer blend to optimize TerraNu inclusion for your field. Ask us today!

Incorporate L-CBF products into your fertility system as a starter fertilizer or a blend companion.

L-CBF products are another great way to deliver essential nutrients to your crop in a carbon delivery system. Growers utilizing liquid starter fertilizer can take advantage of the benefits L-CBF 7-21-3 either in-furrow or in 2×2. Growers can also add L-CBF Boost into their side-dress or foliar applications. L-CBF Boost has shown consistently promising crop response (figure 2, left). Ask your Midwestern BioAg consultant for more information today!

Nutrient Use Efficiency on Organic Farms

Nutrient use efficiency means maximizing the amount of yield produced with the amount of nutrients that are applied. Enhancing soil biology is one of the best ways to get the most from your fertilizers. Here are a few practical tips on how to build soil biology:

Feed your biology all year.

Soil biology is the living organisms in your soil. This includes things like earthworms, bacteria, fungi and even protozoa, actinomycetes, and beneficial nematodes. All of these organisms need to eat, and by keeping living roots in the ground and plants growing for as much of the year as you can, you provide a food source for your soil biology year-round.

Promote the healthy biology that’s in your soil.

In soil there are both beneficial organisms and pests, and your farming practices can favor one over the other. Keeping the soil structure loose and crumbly, growing a diversity of plants and avoiding things that are hard on soil biology (like high-salt fertilizers) helps keep more of the beneficials you want alive and healthy.

Add biological enhancers when necessary to build soils.

Soils can get compacted, eroded and degraded, and when that happens, you don’t get all of the benefits of healthy soil biology. As you rebuild your soil, add food for your biology like molasses and carbon-based fertilizers along with biologicals like CX-1 to give the soil life a boost.

Feed your soil life a balanced diet.

Soil biology, just like your plants, needs a balance of all minerals in order to thrive. When you apply micronutrients, you not only benefit your crops, you also benefit your soil biology. Tying those micronutrients to a carbon source further enhances the efficiency of those nutrients.

Build soil life diversity through plant diversity.

Each plant species puts different types and amounts of exudates into the soil through their roots — things like sugars, amino acids, complex carbohydrates and defense compounds. This means different types of plants feed different types of soil life. The more types of plants that are growing, the more diversity of soil life gets fed and can thrive.

Keeping your soil structure loose and crumbly, feeding the soil a balance of nutrients plus carbon sources, growing a diversity of plants, and avoiding things that are hard on soil life are all great ways to keep your soil biology healthy. And healthy biology is what delivers healthy, high- yielding crops! 

Nutrient Use Efficiency

In the current agricultural climate of low commodity prices and increased fertilizer costs, we keep hearing about nutrient use efficiency (NUE) as a key component of farming success. NUE is commonly defined as the yield per unit of input. But why is it important? To illustrate this, let’s use the analogy of two pick-up trucks. NUE is the difference between one truck getting 20 MPG compared to a different truck of the same make and model getting 35 MPG by using a higher-quality fuel source. Your crop acts in the exact same way as the truck: feed it a higher-quality input and it will utilize those nutrients more efficiently.

The Fuel: How Much of My Fertilizer Really Goes Into the Crop?

In keeping with the truck analogy, we can think about different grades of gasoline. Because of its quality, one is typically more expensive than the other. Fertilizer nutrients work the same way: plants perform better when a higher-quality, plant-preferred nutrient is provided.

For each macro and micro nutrient the plant needs, there are forms of those elements the plant prefers over others. For example, plants prefer the sulfate form of trace minerals over the oxide form. Taking into account the chemistry of ingredients in fertilizers is important because it directly impacts NUE and crop performance. A mistake growers often make during tough agricultural times, like the ones we face right now, is cutting back on fertilizer quality by buying “cheap” sources. This approach not only results in lower NUE (less BANG for every buck you spend) but it also affects your soil quality since cheap fertilizer sources can negatively impact your soil health. Tough agricultural markets should make us more efficient in our farming operations – and better selection of fertilizers is key.

The Engine: How is My Soil Health Influencing NUE?

The soil is the engine for your crop! Performance and NUE are directly related to your soil quality, just like the quality of your motor impacts your truck’s performance. Soils with good structure, high organic matter and a lot of soil life directly improve crop NUE and performance. All nutrient cycles are biologically dependent. A healthy soil is a soil that can transform, transfer and transport nutrients to and from the soil to the plant.

Our slogan “Better Farming Through Better Soils” reflects the science and principles of NUE and optimum crop performance. We design fertilizers that are highly efficient that help you take advantage of the benefits of soil life. Our liquid and dry carbon based fertilizers that feed and enhance soil biology resulting in improved nutrient uptake and higher NUE. Good fertilizer sources in a healthy soil will result in better crops and higher yields and quality for your farm.

New Tools for Your Animal Nutrition Toolbox

New Product: KuroCal GH™

This year has been another stressful crop growing season. As feed samples come in we are seeing a very wide range of quality, certainly impacted by the weather. Challenging growing conditions have caused molds and mycotoxins to once again become an issue.

Mold spores are found in both crop residues and soil where they can infect growing plants and stored feed. Mycotoxins are byproducts of mold growth and are often found in moldy feed—just because you don’t see mold does not mean that there are no toxins present. Mycotoxins seldom occur in isolation, and more than one type of toxin can contaminate a single ingredient. Research shows that molds and mycotoxins destroy nutrients and reduce palatability of the feedstuff thereby reducing animal performance. We recommend feeding KuroCal GH to help alleviate the stress caused by toxins in feed.

KuroCal GH is a low-inclusion feed additive formulated to support gut health in all types of livestock. It contains a live source of naturally occurring microorganisms, which work to improve performance and feed intake. Supporting gut integrity helps producers avoid costly herd health challenges, limits stress during times of transition and reduces feeding program challenges. KuroCal GH also provides protection against E-Coli, Salmonella, Clostridium and Winter Dysentery.

KuroCal GH is a proven formulation backed by years of research showing positive impacts on gut health. We have received positive feedback from a number of customers on the benefits of this product.

New Product: Liquid Organic Sugar

Bring on the benefits of feeding liquid sugar to organic dairy cows! Conventional dairy farmers have taken advantage of the benefits of feeding sugar to their herd for many years. Now organic producers can experience these benefits as well. Adding sugar to a ration means less sorting of the TMR mix, improved palatability, stimulated rumen function, improvement in DMI, feeding another carbohydrate source and increased fiber digestion—which results in improvement of body condition, reproduction, milk production and components.

We strive for high quality forages with a high sugar content. Most sugar in corn silage and haylage gets converted during the fermentation process into beneficial lactic acid. Bacteria consume the sugar and it’s quickly converted to large amounts of organic acids (adding silage inoculant containing these bacteria speeds up the process). This causes a rapid decrease in pH, which is good for feed storage but causes feed to be low in sugar for dairy cows. By feeding 2 – 3 lbs. of Liquid Organic Sugar we can improve the ration, increase fiber digestibility and get more of the energy from the feed into the cows which leads to improved ROI.

This product is 58% moisture and 38% sugar and needs to be stored in an insulated tank or inside storage above 50 degrees.

Synergistic Effects of Nitrogen & Manure

Farmers know that manure is an excellent source of fertility. It is a combination of nutrients and food for soil life that, when applied in the right amounts, is good for both soil quality and crop yields. A recent review article that looked at the results of 141 different research studies has highlighted exactly what some of these benefits are and why manure is such an excellent fertility source.

The study looked at crop and soil responses where manure-sourced nitrogen was used in place of commercial nitrogen fertilizers.1 The researchers found that fertilizing with manure increased grain yields by an average of 5.2%. In addition, plant uptake of nitrogen increased 8.8% and nitrogen use efficiency increased 10.4%.

Substituting manure-sourced nitrogen for commercial nitrogen improved soil health by increasing water infiltration and water holding capacity, improving soil structure, and increasing the amount of organic matter and microbial activity. The study also found environmental benefits to using manure. Researchers reported lower nitrogen losses due to leaching, volatilization and runoff when manure-sourced nitrogen was substituted for commercial nitrogen.

Midwestern BioAg’s new TerraNu™ line of products are a combination of commercial and manure-sourced nitrogen, capturing the benefits of both sources. This mix of nitrogen sources in TerraNu™ fertilizers ensures that your crop will have a ready supply of both immediately available and slower release nitrogen.

In 2016 Midwestern BioAg conducted field trials with the University of Nebraska Lincoln and University of Wisconsin-Madison looking at TerraNu Nutrient Technology™’s performance on corn.

In the University of Nebraska trial, TerraNu, despite having much lower application rates than other manure materials in the study, performed equally well. In the UW-Madison study the plants fertilized with TerraNu were more advanced, with a greater number of plants at stage V6 earlier in the growing season. These studies showed increased nitrogen use efficiency and season-long nitrogen availability with TerraNu products.

The benefits of the manure matrix in TerraNu fertilizers provide the boost in soil fertility that farmers look for to improve their soil health, and those benefits bring positive environmental benefits and the potential for increased yields and profitability.

Reference:
1. Xia, L, et. al. How does recycling of livestock manure in agroecosystems affect crop productivity, reactive nitrogen losses, and soil carbon balance? Environmental Science and Technology. 2017, 51, 7450-7457. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b06470