Measuring Forage Quality

Forage test components and benchmarks have changed considerably over the years. In this Q&A, we sat down with Midwestern BioAg’s Director of Nutrition Dave Meidl to gain a deeper understanding of forage test components and how test results can be used to inform management decisions on dairy farms.

Q: How can I use trace mineral data from my forage test to improve results on my farm?

Plants have the unique ability to transform inorganic minerals from the soil or fertilizer into organic, highly available forms. Fertilizer blends with trace minerals can increase forage mineral content and yield, helping producers save on supplemental mineral and feed costs.

Most forages are low in calcium and high in potassium due to common imbalances in typical fertilizer programs. We recommend fertilizing for forage calcium levels at 1.5 percent or above, and keeping potassium levels under 3 percent. Phosphorus and magnesium should be at 0.35 percent or higher. When minerals reach these target levels, cows perform exceptionally well.

Q: Why should I evaluate forage protein content alongside nitrogen and sulfur?

Protein use is optimized in the cow when forages contain a nitrogen-to-sulfur ratio of 10:1. Without available sulfur, forage crops cannot make the sulfur-containing amino acids cysteine and methionine. Under these conditions, forages can form excessive nitrates and incomplete proteins, which can negatively affect herd health. Adding sulfate sulfur to fertilizer helps plants form complete, available proteins.

Q: How can fiber impact production?

Fiber values in forage tests represent digestibility. As ADF increases, forage digestibility decreases. Neutral Detergent Fiber Digestibility (NDFD) is an estimate of the portion of NDF digested by rumen microbes over a period of time. Higher NDFD results in increased dry matter intake (DMI) and production. It’s estimated that a one-unit increase in NDFD can increase DMI by 0.37 lbs and milk production by 0.55 lbs.

uNDF240 is a more precise analysis than lignin that measures and evaluates indigestible fiber. This is the amount of forage NDF that will never be digested. uNDF240 has many uses, including rate calculations for NDF digestion (as an indicator of rumen fill and intake potential) and forage comparison.

Q. How does digestible fiber provide energy?

When forages grow with a proper balance of nutrients, they produce solid stems filled with white, fibrous material called pectins. Pectins are carbohydrates from digestible fibers that break down into sugars in the rumen and provide energy. When calcium and boron are included in the forage fertility program, pectin levels also increase, improving digestibility.

Selecting the Right Calcium Source for Your Soil

Calcium plays a vital role in plant growth, specifically cell wall formation, cell division and pollination. It also signals plants to respond to drought and heat stress, activates many plant enzyme systems and helps plants absorb other nutrients. Calcium also promotes healthy soil structure by loosening soils and stabilizing organic matter, which increases soil water- and nutrient-holding capacity.

When evaluating calcium needs on your farm, we recommend looking at three key factors on your soil test: Soil pH, cation exchange capacity (CEC) and percent base saturation of calcium.

Soil pH

Soil pH is a well understood concept in farming. When pH drops below 6.5, growers understand the need for liming materials to increase soil pH and improve nutrient availability.

A common misconception is if soil pH is above 6.5, you don’t need to apply calcium. However, regular calcium application is needed to maintain optimal soil health and plant performance.

Two common liming materials are calcitic lime (CaCO3) and dolomitic lime (CaMgCO3). While both contain calcium, the ability of lime to increase soil pH is actually a function of carbonate (CO3) in the lime. When applied to acidic soils, CO3 reacts and neutralizes acidity, effectively raising pH.

If lime is not needed to raise pH, apply calcium in a form crops can easily take up. Bio-Cal® or OrganiCal™ are both good options for bulk-application calcium sources. If precision application is desired, consider applying a granulated product like TerraNu Calcium™.

Cation Exchange Capacity

Cation exchange capacity (CEC) is a measure of soil’s capacity to hold nutrients. Soils with greater CECs can hold more nutrients, but this may not indicate plant availability. Without knowing CEC, it is difficult to make fertility recommendations because CEC indicates the soil’s potential for crop production.

Think of CEC like a dinner plate — the greater the CEC, the more nutrients the soil can hold.

Percent Base Saturation

Percent base saturation is the percentage of exchangeable potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium and hydrogen in the soil (total = 100 percent). Growers should maintain a calcium percent base saturation level of 70 to 80 percent for optimum soil conditions and plant performance.

Calcium base saturation levels above 80 percent can mean you’re short on potassium or magnesium. If present, these deficiencies should be addressed through a fertility program. Recommended soil calcium levels as a function of CEC are summarized in Table 1.

Selecting Products

There are multiple calcium products available on the market with varying quality, formulation and physical forms. Commonly applied calcium products and their features and benefits are outlined in Table 2. Once you’ve determined what soil or crop deficiencies you’ll address with your calcium program, selecting the right product becomes much simpler. Other factors, such as available application equipment and tillage methods, must also be taken into account.

Because calcium deficiencies can negatively impact almost every aspect of crop production, it’s important to frequently monitor soil calcium levels. Keep in mind that plant and soil calcium needs vary widely. To ensure plant availability of calcium all season, we recommend applying calcium products that contain multiple sources of calcium like Bio-Cal or OrganiCal for season-long availability. If additional sulfur and organic matter is needed, TerraNu Calcium is an excellent fit.

Evaluating Stand Health: A Closer Look at Winter Injury

A hardy perennial crop, alfalfa typically overwinters in the Midwest well. However, a variety of environmental and management factors can have big impacts on a stand’s ability to overwinter successfully. Understanding these factors and how to manage them can help increase stand life and yield potential.

What is Winter Injury?

Winter injury can occur for a variety of reasons, but lack of snow cover and unusual freeze-thaw cycles are two of the most common causes. “Alfalfa plants can typically tolerate three weeks of winter injury before dying,” said Dave Meidl, Midwestern BioAg’s Director of Nutrition. “Snow acts as insulation for plants, so when snowfall is lighter, the risk of winter injury increases.”

Stand Assessment

Evaluating stand health early helps growers identify winter injury with ample time for action. “We recommend assessing stand counts before May,” said Meidl. “We also like to look at root color. Plants with winter injury will have dark, withered roots. Healthy roots are firmer and lighter in color.”

Stands with counts below 40 stems per square foot should be terminated or interseeded with another forage crop to maximize production potential. “Factoring in stand age is important when selecting reseeding or interseeding options,” said Meidl. “Stands less than one year old with extensive winterkill will likely need replanting. While you can interseed alfalfa in thin areas, the likelihood of young plants being eliminated by established plants in late spring is significant. Stands over two years old cannot be reseeded with alfalfa due to autotoxicity, but growers can interseed grasses or clovers to thicken stands.”

Causes of Winter Injury

While most common causes of winter injury are environmental, several management factors can impact stand performance in spring. “Soil fertility can play a big role in stand health,” said Meidl. “A sufficient supply of nutrients can greatly improve a plant’s ability to survive harsh winters.”

Stressed plants without access to adequate fertility cannot produce enough carbohydrates for the winter months. “During winter, plants generate energy from carbohydrates stored in their roots. Without an ample supply, plants are at risk for winter injury,” said Meidl.

Alfalfa stands on an aggressive harvest schedule or harvested late in the season are also more likely to winterkill. “We recommend avoiding harvest between September 1 and October 15 to help prevent winter injury, and leaving up to six inches of stubble before the first freeze,” said Meidl. “This allows plants to store more carbohydrates in their roots as energy for the long winter months.” 

The Biological Farmer: Fully Revised & Expanded

It has been 16 years since Gary Zimmer first published his ground-breaking book, The Biological Farmer. That booked paved the way for many farmers to gain a deep appreciation for their soils and introduced them to a different way of thinking about farming. After a year of writing, the second edition of the book was released this year.

The new edition follows the same format as the original edition, and is still one of the best resources available to gain a better understanding of soils, the value of fertilizer ingredients, how those ingredients interact with soils, and why soil health leads to healthier crops, higher yields and better farm profits. The book still contains real-world examples from biological farmers, updated to include their latest stories of on-farm successes and challenges.

Much has changed in agriculture over the last 16 years and a lot of those changes are reflected in the new edition. We don’t always notice how much things are changing when we’re focused on this year’s planting, this year’s fertilizer, this year’s harvest and this year’s prices, but when you look back, the recent changes to agriculture are remarkable. The first edition of The Biological Farmer came out in 2000, and at that time, only a small percentage of farmers were planting GMO crops. Cover crops were still a novelty, and it was a pretty rare and out-there fertilizer salesman who was selling biologicals. 

Today, ag markets are inundated with new biologicals, seed enhancers and the latest and greatest microbes to add to your soil. Cover crops and soil health have also gone from the fringes to the mainstream with talks and articles on these topics in just about every ag conference and ag magazine out there. To help farmers navigate this rapidly growing market, the book contains more information on biologicals. New sections on cover crop management and soil health have also been added to guide farmers in their decision making processes. There is also more information about soil biology and soil carbon in the new edition of the book, and a new chapter devoted to seed selection.

All of this updated and new information does mean the book has gotten lengthier — despite removing outdated information, the revised edition is over 100 pages longer than the original!  Our hope is that the new edition is easier to read and provides you with even more knowledge and tools to guide you on your biological farming path. 

Copies of Gary’s new book can be purchased from your Midwestern BioAg consultant or online from the Acres USA bookstore

Managing Mycotoxins on the Farm

Mycotoxins are poisons produced by mold. While mold presence does not always indicate mycotoxin contamination, it does increase the likelihood of mycotoxin contamination in feedstuffs.

We’re seeing increasing cases of mycotoxin contamination on farms. It can be confusing for producers because their feedstuffs appear fine and harvest conditions did not suggest excessive mold formation. But many conditions can cause mycotoxin contamination. This includes drought conditions and excessive rainfall, hail damage, and improper feed storage and feeding conditions.

Detection

Cattle fed contaminated feedstuffs may exhibit a variety of physical symptoms. Common side effects include reduced milk production, increased disease rates and reproduction challenges. Other symptoms can include reduced feed intake, poor hair coat and diarrhea.

Diagnoses can be difficult because many of these symptoms are also symptoms of other herd-health issues. We recommend including products in the ration to support gut health and immune function. In these cases, products like our newly-formulated KuroCal™ FarmPack are a good option to help suppress the impact of mycotoxin-contaminated feeds.

Common Mycotoxins

If testing detects the presence of one mycotoxin, the chance of other types of mycotoxin contamination increases. The three most commonly detected mycotoxins include aflatoxin, deoxynivalenol (DON) and zearalenone. Aflatoxin is the most concerning mycotoxin because it is both commonly found and carcinogenic. The FDA regulates aflatoxin levels in milk. They can’t exceed 0.5 ppb.

Mycotoxin poisoning symptoms and tolerance levels for the three most commonly found mycotoxins are summarized in Table 1 below.

Prevention

Preventing high levels of mycotoxin contamination can be accomplished through proper harvest and feed storage.

Limiting feed exposure to oxygen is the best way to prevent mycotoxin formation. It’s important that feeds are packed and stored properly, and that bunks are kept clean. If possible, avoid feeding moldy feedstuffs. If this is unavoidable, consider adding a product like KuroCal FarmPack to help suppress the stress associated with feeding poor-quality feedstuffs.

TerraNu Fertilizers Perform Well in UNL Study

Findings from a 2016 University of Nebraska-Lincoln study show TerraNu fertilizers have a comparable impact on corn yields as other types of manure and anaerobically digested organic matter. The study tracked the impact of various sources of organic-matter based material, including bio-solids, poultry manure and feedlot manure. The advantage of TerraNu fertilizer is that it is much lighter than manure, storable and easy to transport, and supplies a guaranteed nutrient analysis in every granule for precision application. Yield response from each material in the study can be found in Figure 1.

Despite having much lower application rates than other materials in the study, TerraNu fertilizers performed equally well. “TerraNu fertilizer provided the most nitrogen credits of all materials in the study,” said Dr. Maggie Phillips, Midwestern BioAg’s Director of Research and Development. “This allowed the product to be applied at much lower rates while still supporting yields. Formulating products with TerraNu Nutrient Technology enables us to provide growers with many of the benefits of manure, but through a much lighter and easier-to-handle product.” This directly addresses the concern many growers have about soil compaction associated with heavy manure applications. Detail on application rates can be found in Table 1.

“Thirty-eight percent of the nitrogen in TerraNu fertilizer is in the organic form,” said Dr. Phillips. “This means the nitrogen in TerraNu is more available following application, which explains the yield findings in Nebraska. Other materials in the study contained much higher amounts of organic nitrogen, which is less available to plants in the first season.” 

The study will run for two additional years to monitor nitrogen release over time.

L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP: More Phosphorus, Yield Potential

Now available for the 2017 growing season, L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP is a high-phosphorus liquid starter manufactured by QLF Agronomy. Like other L-CBF products, 7-21-3 is formulated with a molasses base to help stimulate soil microbes, support plant growth and maximize yield potential early in the season.

“L-CBF 7-21-3 conveniently offers many of the same plant health benefits of all our molasses-based fertilizers, and also contains a balanced blend of high-quality phosphorus,” said Tim Chitwood of QLF Agronomy. “This combination ensures early plant access to phosphorus and vigorous root systems.”

L-CBF 7-21-3 is blended with a unique orthophosphate source, monopotassium phosphate (MKP), and has an ortho-to-polyphosphate ratio of 70:30. Orthophosphate is readily available to plants upon entry into soil solution, while polyphosphate is available for plant uptake later in the season.

“We’re excited about the value 7-21-3 brings to growers looking for a stand-alone L-CBF starter,” said Chitwood. “This product can easily fit into most liquid programs, and can also enhance other applied fertilizers by improving nutrient cycling in the soil.”

Maximizing Yield Potential

Liquid starters are an excellent tool to help crops get the best start to the growing season and maximize yield potential. Soils in spring can be cool and damp, which reduces microbial activity and availability of important nutrients like phosphorus and potassium. Applying 7-21-3 in spring has two key advantages: Sugars in the molasses base help stimulate soil microbes, which cycle nutrients in the soil, and the added orthophosphate provides readily available phosphorus in cool growing conditions.

“Applying 7-21-3 in a concentrated band near the root zone supports uniform emergence and higher yield potential,” said Midwestern BioAg’s Vice President of Sales Jim Krebsbach. “The nitrogen to phosphorus ratio in fertilizer should be between 1:2 and 1:4 to optimize phosphorus uptake. 7-21-3 has a 1:3 ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus, making it an ideal liquid starter.”

University of Illinois 2016 Study

L-CBF’s impact on crop growth has been studied at the University of Illinois for two consecutive years. First-year findings showed corn plants treated with L-CBF were significantly ahead in early season development. Grain moisture was also lower, which reduces grain drying costs following harvest.

Preliminary 2016 data once again shows that L-CBF can help plants get a stronger start to the growing season. The 2016 study tracked multiple L-CBF treatments on corn, including an early prototype (7-20-3) of the new L-CBF 7-21-3 MKP product. The study was replicated at two different locations – Yorkville and Champaign, Illinois – with varying soil conditions. Soil reports for each location can be found in Table 1.

Taller plants, higher yields

Soil conditions at each research location played a significant role in crop yields. While L-CBF application in all treatments increased plant height and yields over the control, plant response on the low-phosphorus soils in Champaign was most notable.

On average, 7-20-3 application increased yields over the control by 5.5 bushels and the BOOST treatment increased yields by 8.5 bushels. However, at the low-phosphorus plots in Champaign, these advantages increased to 9 bushels (7-20-3) and 13.5 bushels (BOOST treatment).

“We were extremely pleased to see the results of the 2016 study,” said Chitwood. “We’ve seen and heard many positive reports from the field. This independent data verifies what our customers have shown and told us, and validates the efficacy of our products.”

 

Available for Spring 2017

L-CBF 7-21-3 can be applied to all major crops and is compatible with most other liquid fertilizers. It is now available for spring delivery, and is also eligible for Midwestern BioAg’s Spring Prepay Program discounts through March 31, 2017. For more information on L-CBF 7-21-3, click here

Know Before You Grow

Soil testing has become a fundamental best management practice in crop production. The knowledge provided by these tests allows growers to apply the exact amount of nutrients needed in each field, helping avoid over or under application of valuable crop inputs. In this Q&A, we sat down with Midwestern BioAg’s lead soil technician, Andrew Cory, to learn more about the benefits of soil sampling and the services available to Midwestern BioAg customers.

What soil sampling services are available?

Midwestern BioAg offers 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. We also offer nutrient management sampling, which helps farmers abide by their nutrient management plans. Nutrient management plans (NMP) cannot be written by Midwestern BioAg staff at this time, but our NMP samples provide the minimum amount of knowledge needed to comply with NMP requirements at a lower cost than our standard tests.

How are Midwestern BioAg soil tests different from traditional P-K and pH tests?

At Midwestern BioAg, we go beyond the standard P-K and pH soil tests. We conduct comprehensive secondary and trace mineral analyses to identify yield-limiting factors. These are the soil conditions that stop a plant from producing yields that match its genetic potential — a deficiency in just one trace mineral can have this effect. Our tests also track important factors like cation exchange capacity and organic matter.

Why should I sample with Midwestern BioAg?

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, an experienced sales consultant to help assist in interpreting that data, and access to specific variable rate technology (VRT) fertilizer recommendations. We also have the equipment and staff available to help you precisely apply fertilizer as well.

What is grid sampling? How is it beneficial?

Grid sampling is a type of soil sampling that places sample locations on a gridded map. This type of sampling is typically done for growers who are data driven, want the most accurate placement of fertilizer, and want to use VRT fertilizer application.

This precise approach can benefit growers year after year because the same sample site locations are stored using a handheld tablet, which allows the soil technician to retake samples at the same spots as previous years. This helps continually target deficient areas while tracking the progress of soil nutrients. Data can also be plotted against yield maps to show direct return from your program. This can be especially helpful in fine-tuning soil and crop management.

Do you also offer nitrate testing?

We do provide nitrate testing. This test is generally conducted seasonally on corn ground to help growers determine total available nitrogen. When testing for nitrates, we need to take deeper samples (1 to 2 feet) than what is typical, so these must be collected and analyzed separately.

What documents come with my sample results?

Soil sample results include field maps of sample locations, colored maps showing nutrient deviation from sample to sample (if grid sampled), and fertilizer recommendations from our staff.

How can sample data be used with VRT?

Variable rate technology can be used with our floater applicators to conduct more accurate placement of fertilizer. This is done by generating a fertilizer prescription based on grid sampling data. VRT prescriptions use equation-based analysis within our software program to achieve the correct amount and placement of fertilizer.

Are sampling services available at all locations?

Our team of soil technicians can sample farms throughout our complete service area. We currently have three staff soil technicians at our Michigan, Illinois and Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, facilities.

Midwestern BioAg uses utility vehicles (UTVs) for sampling. How do these work?

Our UTVs are mounted with hydraulic soil probes powered by small Honda motors. These units have the capability to pull samples at a much faster pace than hand-collected samples and also at a consistent sampling depth.

How does soil sampling improve efficiency?

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 means of spending money then by purchasing a standard fertilizer and applying it throughout the field without a specific goal. 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 because of this knowledge-based approach.

For more information on sampling services, contact your local Midwestern BioAg facility. To learn more about soil fertility, go to www.midwesternbioag.com/soil-guide_2016_web.

Tillage Considerations for Fall & Spring

Depending on where and when tillage is applied, it can both help and hinder soil structure and soil biology. Tillage is not one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to have a specific goal in mind before tilling in the fall or spring.

Illinois-based sales consultant and Certified Crop Adviser Ben Adolph offers the following advice when selecting tillage strategies for your farm.

How can tillage impact soil structure and life?

Adolph: Over tilling can damage soil structure, which decreases pore size and air and water movement. Deep tillage can remove layers of compaction and increase the depth of water infiltration, but certain tillage methods can put a restrictive layer in the soil. In this case, soil compaction may increase, causing restricted root growth and possible plant health issues.

Soil life benefits most from a no-till system, but some farms must balance the need for reduced compaction and diverse rotations with tillage. Match your tillage system to the outcomes you’d like to see on your farm to leverage tillage benefits while mitigating its negative impacts on soil life.

Which tillage system would you recommend?

Adolph: Strip tillage is the tillage of choice from an agronomic perspective. Coverage, resource usage, and input efficiency are optimized under these systems. Strip tillage offers many of the benefits of traditional tillage with few of the draw backs. It reduces compaction and controls residues around the seed bed while avoiding the large-scale soil disturbance and erosion seen with traditional tillage. Strip tillage also allows growers to band nutrients in close proximity to the seed bed. This increases nutrient uptake efficiency by reducing nutrient loss from leaching.

Can I use dry fertilizer in a no-till system?

Adolph: Dry fertilizer nutrients in a no-till system need to be stable and highly efficient to avoid loss due to environmental causes. Nitrogen sources like ammonium sulfate are soluble and in ammonium form, so leaching is minimal. Other nutrients like calcium must be soluble so they are available to make efficient impacts on crop performance.

Which system is best for mitigating soil loss?

Adolph: No-till and strip-till systems, in combination with proper conservation tools like buffers and waterways, will prevent most soil loss. Unfortunately, many of the weather events we are seeing exceed “normal” rainfall totals. Wind erosion during the winter is a major factor if adequate snowfall doesn’t cover the soil. Dirty road banks are common around conventionally tilled fields and are an indication of poor soil structure.

Cover crops are a great tool to help prevent soil loss outside the growing season, especially in strip-till or no-till systems where residues are removed for fodder. This combination of tools will keep top soil and any remaining nutrients intact for the coming growing season.

I want to preserve more soil moisture in our fields. What tillage system is best for managing soil moisture levels?

Adolph: No-till soils retain moisture longer, but may have infiltration issues if soil biology and structure are degraded. Cover cropping in no-tilled soils can aid in establishing a balance of infiltration and drying after rain events.

We often struggle with wet, heavy soils. What should we try to improve drainage and keep compaction to a minimum?

Adolph: Drainage tile is the most effective at improving soil quality issues in low-lying, heavy soils. If this has already been done or is not an option, in-line ripping and cover crops will improve air and water management to a certain degree.

If I switch to a no-till or strip-till system, how can I manage residues to ensure good seed-to-soil contact and even emergence?

Adolph: Residues are a valuable source of crop nutrients. Corn residue, for example, can provide around 17 pounds of N, 4 pounds of P and 20 pounds of K per ton. In low-tillage systems with healthy microbial populations, residues are decomposed quickly, ensuring plants have access to these nutrients in the next season. Residues also provide soil cover, which helps prevent nutrient and soil loss.

Good seed-to-soil contact can be achieved in any tillage system with help from the right equipment. Emergence issues are typically a result of down-pressure issues or general poor planter performance. Proper row cleaners and adequate down pressure will remove most seed-to-soil contact problems.

If you remain concerned about residue issues in spring, use of choppers and chaff spreaders in the fall can help evenly distribute residues across the field. If livestock are part of the farm, fall grazing and baling can also be used to help remove residues. It’s important to remember to replace the nutrients taken off the field in the form of residues with fertilizer in the fall or spring.

Can I use cover crops in a no-till or strip-till system?

Adolph: Yes. Many growers think that cover crops add too much residue if used in a no-till or strip-till system. However, because soil biological activity increases in these systems, the ground is better equipped to handle the increase in residues. Cover crops can also be grazed or harvested for livestock feed, which can alleviate residue concerns on farms with animals.

I’m an organic farmer and often have to balance the benefits that tillage brings to weed control, and the disadvantages it can have regarding soil loss and soil structure degradation. Is there another way I can effectively terminate weeds while also preserving my soil health?

Adolph: Cover crops are the ultimate tool in combating weed pressure and soil loss due to erosion. It’s a BOGO [buy one, get one] special.

How might tillage impact fuel usage?

Adolph: Typical conventional tillage systems consume 2 gallons more per acre in fuel than no-till and strip-till systems. The strip-till machine at our Milledgeville location requires about 0.2 to 0.4 gallons per acre of fuel, significantly less that what is typically needed in traditional tillage systems.

Do I need to purchase new equipment to try strip-till or no-till on my farm? What do you recommend I try?

Adolph: Our Illinois location offers strip-till services to farms within 25-mile radius of our Milledgeville office. Application costs are $15 per acre, which can be a significant savings when compared to the cost of a clean-tillage system in the fall. Plus, the fertilizer is concentrated into an 8-inch zone for optimum efficiency.

Research Shows Bio-Cal® Improves Yields by 10.7%

Findings from an alfalfa fertility study show Midwestern BioAg’s Bio-Cal® can increase forage yields by 10.7 percent when used in combination with a conventional alfalfa fertility program. The study is conducted in partnership with the independent Great Lakes Agricultural Research Service in Delavan, Wisconsin, and will run for an additional two years to track long-term yield performance and soil health benefits.

“Bio-Cal is time tested and field proven,” said Iowa-based Midwestern BioAg sales consultant Firman Hershberger. “Growers have applied this product for over 20 years in my region with positive results. We expected to see good results from this study, but we’re very impressed by the 10 percent yield increase. This shows that Bio-Cal can benefit any farm’s program, regardless of what fertilizer supplier they work with.”

Study Details

The Bio-Cal study was replicated across 42 plots seeded with Midwestern BioAg’s WinterKing™ III alfalfa and a wheat nurse crop. In the establishment year on plots where calcium was added to the conventional fertilizer recommendations as part of the treatment, either Bio-Cal or a synthetic gypsum product was applied at a rate of 1,000 lbs. per acre. The conventional fertility program for the alfalfa was based on soil test results and included potassium chloride (0-0-60) at 208 lbs./acre, and diammonium phosphate (DAP) at 65 lbs./acre.

In both treatments, application of additional calcium improved yields over the conventional fertilizer program alone and the control. However, Bio-Cal outperformed the synthetic gypsum product with an average yield advantage of 3.7 percent, or 0.14 TDW. The 2016 results, reflecting two cuttings from the establishment year, are summarized in the Table 1.

bio-cal-study-table-for-web

“There are many calcium products on the market today,” said Hershberger. “We’ve heard quite a bit about some of the synthetic gypsum products available, but questioned the plant availability of nutrients in the product. This study confirms what we’ve said at Midwestern BioAg for over 30 years — fertilizer value is about much more than the numbers on the tag. It’s about nutrient availability, and more importantly, results.”

About Bio-Cal

Manufactured exclusively by Midwestern BioAg in their Buffalo, Iowa, facility, Bio-Cal is a blend of multiple calcium sources that are available both upon application and later in the growing season. As a liming material, it contains 32 percent calcium and can be applied to all major crops to supplement the traditional NPK programs seen on most farms.

Bio-Cal can be applied in the spring or fall, or following cutting. Other benefits include improved forage quality, better soil structure and health, and increased winter hardiness.

Calcium Supports Plant Health, Yield

Like sulfur and magnesium, calcium is an essential secondary crop nutrient required to support productive cropping systems. It plays a key role in cell wall formation and also supports plant uptake of other important nutrients such as phosphorus, boron and sulfur. Calcium also promotes healthy soil structure by loosening soils and stabilizing organic matter, which increases soil water- and nutrient-holding capacity.

“Calcium is needed by all crops to support plant growth, but it plays a particularly important role in forage production,” said Hershberger. “Alfalfa production can remove over 100 pounds of calcium per acre per year, so calcium deficiency can be a common and serious yield-limiting factor on many Midwestern farms. This is why I recommend all my alfalfa growers apply Bio-Cal to their fields. It enhances every other part of their program.” 

Additional findings on other products are available on our Research page. Click here for more information on Bio-Cal.