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.

Is Fall the Best Time for Soil Sampling?

Many growers take soil samples in the fall after their crops are off. It’s a good time to sample for several reasons. In fall, it’s convenient to drive the fields and pull samples when there isn’t anything growing to get in the way, and soils tend to be drier. Fall also tends to be less busy than spring, giving more time for sampling. Knowing your soil nutrient levels in fall gives you time to put on a fall soil amendment and plan your spring fertilizer application. These are all good management reasons for soil sampling in fall, but are there scientific reasons why we should pull soil samples in the fall rather than the spring?

Seasonality of Soil Characteristics

The fact is that there are fluctuations in soil nutrient levels throughout the year, but like so many things in soils, there is no one exact answer for what those fluctuations are. Nutrient levels and seasonal fluctuations are all impacted by soil type, soil health and what inputs are applied to the soil. In general, soil P and K levels tend to all be higher in the spring and lower in the summer as crops are growing and removing nutrients. Soil pH also tends to be lower during the peak of the growing season, especially if commercial nitrogen is applied in spring. Soil pH levels will drop as that nitrogen converts to nitrates, and also as plants grow and put out acidic compounds through their roots.

P and K levels then tend to come back up again in the fall, though not necessarily to the same levels they were at in the spring. How much of the nutrients were removed and how much becomes available again in fall depends upon what crop was grown, the amount of residues left on the soil, as well as moisture levels and biological activity in the soil. Soil pH levels will also tend to come back up in the fall. As crops are removed, there are fewer root exudates, and this combined with slowing of soil biological activity, microbial respiration and nitrification all contribute to the pH rise. But these fluctuations in pH and mineral levels aren’t easily predictable, and vary quite a bit depending on the soil’s organic matter level, biological activity, if a cover crop is present and overall soil health.

Given seasonal fluctuations in pH and nutrient levels, the best strategy is to sample at the same time each year. Ideally, sampling would also be done at about the same soil moisture level, but that isn’t always possible. In order to control as many variables as possible and to get the most consistent results, try to sample at the same time each year. Given the management advantages to sampling in fall, it makes sense to take your soil samples each year after your crops are off.

Soil Sampling Support

Midwestern BioAg is ready to help you with your soil sampling. We offer both grid and non-grid soil sampling services at all our locations. Grid samples are taken from 2.5-acre grids; non-grid samples, or composite samples, are taken from 5- to 20-acre parcels. Once the soil test results are in, we provide a complete program based on the soil samples we take. Growers who sample with us get a comprehensive look at what’s in their soil, help with interpreting data and access to variable rate technology (VRT) fertilizer recommendations.

Soil sampling is a good investment. We recommend that growers sample each field every three to five years. The return on investment from soil sampling can be significant. After taking that sample, you’ll be able to determine what nutrients you need, how much to apply and where to place that fertilizer. This is a more efficient way to spend your fertilizer dollar then purchasing a standard fertilizer and applying it throughout the field. With a soil test, you will be spending money on nutrients only where they are needed, applying the correct amounts and increasing the chances of achieving higher yields, better soil mineral balance and increased soil health.

From the Desk of Gary Zimmer

I’m sitting at our big table in the farm office this morning looking out at the rain. Two months late, but here it is. We got so dry this fall it was hard to work down the corn stalks after seed corn harvest. Overall our crops are OK, and some are looking really good. We’re now gearing up for a fresh start next spring. We need to put on our fall fertilizers (mostly Midwestern BioAg calcium sources and manures), do fall tillage and plant cover crops and then we’ll be ready.

Farms, as with life, are always changing. On my family’s farm we made two major changes this year. The first change was adding RTK, along with bigger equipment and all auto steer. We also have guidance systems with cameras. I know we weren’t the first ones in the game, and of course we had our excuses (like cost and poor GPS reception) but it should be a great improvement on weed control as we get things more precise.

The second major change is that we are taking the grain away from the dairy cows. Starting in spring we will be going to an all forage diet. At present we are about a 21,000 lb producing organic herd. These are mostly Holsteins and I’m sure there will be a learning curve. I’m also sure we will lose some milk, though hopefully no more than 10 to 15%. I have been on all forage dairies that get only 8,000 lbs of milk from their cows. At that level we can’t pay our bills! We have been feeding some corn silage, a small amount (10 lbs) of corn, 1 to 2 lbs of roasted beans and super quality forages. We will add more varieties of forages, like plantain, sudan grasses, brassicas and small grain silage cut before it heads out. Protein won’t be our problem, energy will! We just added organic liquid sugar into the cows’ diet and will continue that. Whatever we add to the diet—energy, protein, minerals—will be things that are missing in the forages but we will make sure we get all the nutrition in our forages we can.

As I mentioned in my summer letter, our farm went through other changes this year as we added more acres and milk fewer cows. The corn stalks now stay in the field. On fields where we grow oats underseeded with alfalfa, clover and grasses, the straw following oats harvest stays, then the underseeded mix grows as a cover crop. Late summer it gets clipped to keep it from getting too big, and the following spring when the legumes get a foot tall we turn the whole mix into the soils. This used to be bedding and livestock feed – now it’s soil livestock feed!

As I write this I’m looking out my window at a new seeding alfalfa field that had 5 cuttings this year. The alfalfa is now about a foot tall and next spring when the new growth gets a foot tall it will be turned into the soil to become soil livestock feed that will turn into a corn crop. Yes, we are growing one year of alfalfa grass forage and then one year of corn. This is done near the dairy barn where we are trying to export minerals off the land because the soil level is high due to a lot of manure use plus balanced fertilizers for 20 years. We don’t skimp. We also don’t grid sample on our farm. I think grid sampling is a good idea if the soil is lower testing on fertility. Ours is not.

When we fertilize we start with calcium and phosphorus, apply manures, and then add potassium and trace minerals to every field. After a while, the soils really change. I was visiting with a farmer yesterday who is trying cover crops, is interested in better fertility, but is still using every chance he can to apply plant protective compounds like insecticides, fungicides, etc. because he said research says it pays. What pays is having a healthy crop with no limits on production. One thing good about organic choices being limited is that we can’t bail out the crop when trouble happens so we have to farm for soil health and plant health in order to prevent problems from happening in the first place.

Midwestern BioAg also has a lot of changes this year with the introduction of our new TerraNu™ product line. Our TerraNu Nutrient Technology™—using the digestate from dairy cow manure coming out of an anaerobic digester and turning that into a granulated fertilizer that can be precision-applied—is a big part of the future at Midwestern BioAg. As results come in from farms, we like what we see. It’s exciting and a bit overwhelming to be involved in the future of obtaining healthy, high yielding soils and crops.

Have a great harvest.
Gary F Zimmer

 

Introducing REGALIA® Rx Fungicide

This growing season has been taxed by heat and humidity, creating ample opportunity for plant health issues to erode yield potential. At Midwestern BioAg, we’ve recently expanded our agronomy product line-up beyond plant nutrition to include a fungicide treatment option for our growers – REGALIA® Rx biofungicide. REGALIA® Rx is designed to provide defense against fungal pests on cereal grains, corn, soybeans, cotton, forage, peanuts, sorghum and sugar beets.

What is REGALIA® Rx Biofungicide?

REGALIA® Rx is a group P5 fungicide. P5 is a FRAC code specific to this fungicide because it has a unique mode of action (MOA). Common fungicides like Headline® (group 11), Stratego® YLD (group 3/11) and Priaxor® (group 7/11) all have similar MOAs, which can lead to increased chances of treatment resistance. According to the 2017 Fungicide Resistance Action Committee’s Code List, resistance risks associated with these common fungicides are:

  • Group 11: High risk
  • Group 7: Medium-to-high risk
  • Group 3: Medium risk
  • Group P5: Resistance not known

What makes REGALIA® Rx biofungicide truly fascinating and special is its MOA. REGALIA®’s unique MOA – host plant defense induction – provides needed diversification in fungicide programs while also boosting plant health. 

 

Understanding Induced Systemic Resistance

REGALIA® Rx works through induced systemic resistance (ISR). ISR is a unique mode of action that works by stimulating plant response to disease pressure before actual diseases are detected. This results in strengthened plant defenses, helping prevent the onset of actual disease when it is imminent.
At application, the REGALIA® Rx product stimulates plants to produce phenolic and antioxidant compounds, which can strengthen plant cell walls and protect against oxidative stress. Additionally, multiple plant defense systems are activated, including the production of pathogenesis-related proteins (PR proteins) and phytoalexins which can directly inhibit the growth of pathogens.  These changes systemically fortify the plant and protect it from future pathogen invasion and environmental stresses.

REGALIA® RX in the Fungicide Program

REGALIA® Rx is active against most pathogens commonly found in Midwest cropping systems. As a plant-health product, it should be used to target diseases affecting vegetative growth.  REGALIA® Rx is proven to be effective against many common vegetative diseases that traditional fungicides have targeted, in addition to certain diseases resistant to other fungicide treatments. This flexible product is also OMRI listed for use in organic production.

Enhancing the Integrated Pest Management Strategy

There is currently no known disease resistance to REGALIA® Rx, making it an excellent addition to existing pest management programs and IPM strategies. As a tank mix partner, it can improve the efficacy of other fungicides and increase plant yield potential. Over three years and 140 trials*, REGALIA® Rx application has generated yield increases up to 7.2 bushels in corn and 3.4 bushels in soybeans. It aids in disease prevention like the Headline’s and Stratego’s of the world, but through a mode of action that may have a more desirable environmental outcome for the grower. 

It’s important to remember that most annually persistent plant diseases take refuge in crop residues. If residue management is contributing to persistent plant disease issues, actions to improve soil health must become a top priority. Once soil health issues are addressed, products like REGALIA® Rx can begin disease prevention processes early in crop development, improving crop success rates and yield potential.

Application Rates

Apply one pint of REGALIA® Rx with preferred fungicide tank partner at:

  • Corn: V4-V7, or near VT
  • Soybeans: R1-R3
  • Wheat: 50-100% flag leaf emergence

*Based on data collected from 140+ trials conducted between 2013 – 2016 by Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. and Koch Agronomic Services.  In these trials, REGALIA® Rx + fungicide increased yield compared to fungicide alone in 77% of the corn trials and 67% of the soybean trials.  The average yield benefits shown represent data from the trials in which the grower fungicide + REGALIA ® Rx resulted in a yield increase compared to the yield delivered by use of the grower fungicide alone. All users should keep in mind that results may vary based on a number of factors, including environmental conditions.

Regalia and the Regalia logo are trademarks of Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc.

From the Desk of Gary Zimmer

Farming is an ever-changing and challenging business. By this time of year, crop outcomes are mostly out of our hands. Being organic, operations at Otter Creek Farms are always intense, from planting time all the way up until the window for weed control passes.

In southwestern Wisconsin, organic production got off to a poor start with all the rain and cold. However, the last ten days in May were great, and the crops are looking good. Recent changes at Otter Creek Farms include fewer livestock, more crop acres and increased crop diversity. We’ve typically used our herd “above the ground” to feed the herd “below the ground” through manure application, but with fewer livestock we needed to increase cover crop use and crop diversity to keep our soil biology thriving.

Previously, everything we grew was harvested for our cattle, including corn stalks for bedding. We always put manure back on the land, but distribution was a challenge. Now, not only can the corn stalks stay out in the field as a carbon and nutrient source, but we’ve also been able to add more small grains into the rotation as we transition ground out of hay production.

We under-seeded many of our small grains with clover, alfalfa and grasses this spring. For fields without an under-seeded mix, we will plant a cover crop mix after harvest (much like how we manage our rye fields). After small-grain harvest, we generally clip the under-seeded mix, let it grow in the fall and apply nutrients as needed alongside manure. We also leave most of the straw in the field as an additional complex carbon source. The following spring, we work the mix into the ground after about a foot of growth. Results from this approach have not only improved our soils, but also allowed the farm to produce outstanding row crops.

Changes at Otter Creek

We planted over 100 acres of seed corn this year at Otter Creek Farms. Talk about a challenge! Female seed corn plants are typically weaker and slower growing. Male seed corn plants are equally challenging to manage and must also be planted at different times. At the last cultivation for this season, we seeded a clover cover crop mix into the seed corn fields. Our goal is to get good ground cover so when they de-tassel and open up the field, it doesn’t turn into a weed patch. 

With seed corn, fertility management remains simple: we know what it takes to have enough nutrients available and delivered in time for plant uptake. Managing diverse rotations, cover crops and soil health requires a lot of common sense and the right tools for the job, especially in regard to tillage. I prefer shallow incorporation of residues and deep ripping as needed. I would love to be a zone-till or strip-till organic farm, but I haven’t figured out a plan to make that work to manage cover crops and weeds.

Updates from the Office

As we announced last summer, we did not host a field day at Otter Creek Farms this year. We have certainly enjoyed showing our farming system to thousands of customers, friends and curious minds over the past 25 years. We look forward to exploring new ways to share information on soil health, cover crops and balanced crop nutrition to an ever-expanding group of interested growers across the Midwest.

Midwestern BioAg’s newly released TerraNu fertilizer line is one of the most exciting innovations I have seen in my many years in the fertilizer business. This is truly a game changer in agriculture. TerraNu fertilizers provide excellent coverage of nutrients in the field but also help close the nutrient gap in farming by giving large-scale row crop farmers easy access to manure. This brings the benefits of Midwestern BioAg’s carbon-based fertilizers through TerraNu’s manure matrix, a carbon-rich food source for soil life. This feature feeds soil life while providing optimum coverage of nutrients and enhancing plant uptake.

Early-season results following spring application of TerraNu are positive. Findings include larger leaf-area indices and improved nutrient uptake.

Our next step is to create an organic-allowed version of TerraNu for our organic customer base. Our research team is actively working on this project, and I look forward to bringing another great product into the organic marketplace.

Wishing you a successful summer and bountiful harvest,
Gary Zimmer, Founder, Midwestern BioAg