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.


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.


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

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.


“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.

Cover Crop Basics: A Q&A with Gary Zimmer

Midwestern BioAg President Gary Zimmer has planted cover crops on his farm for years. In this Q&A, we sit down with him to learn the basics of cover crop management and the resulting benefits they bring to the farm.

How do I select a cover crop for my farm?

Zimmer: First, identify the purpose for your cover crop. Will it provide nitrogen or scavenge it? Do you want to use it for grazing? How about to build organic matter? Then, identify the cover crops that will best serve that purpose within your soil type and region. Choices can be limited. In this part of the Midwest, cereal rye is sometimes all we can plant following corn and soybean harvest. In cooler regions, varieties with winter hardiness and tolerance for cold temperatures and frost are key. In the south, drought- and heat-tolerant varieties with lower water requirements are a necessity.

Should I plant a cover crop seed blend, or a single variety?

Zimmer: It can depend on the time of year and, again, your purpose for the crop. It took me 30 years to learn this, and I’ll give it to you in one sentence: Plants determine soil life. The more plant diversity, the more soil life diversity there is. Plants extract minerals from the soil differently. So, the bigger the variety of plants, the bigger the array of minerals I’ve extracted, and the more diverse biology I have. Which, if you add that all together, leads to healthy, mineralized soils.

What is the best way to establish a cover crop?

Zimmer: Treat it like a cash crop. Drilling is a common method and helps improve seed-to-soil contact. If soil is really wet, drilling isn’t always an option. We’ve used a bulk spreader in those situations. On our farm, it works best to prepare the surface to ensure seed establishment.

Which variety should I try first?

Zimmer: Oats are great at scavenging nutrients, and they are easy to manage and terminate. Red clover and rye grass are two easy-to-manage, shade-tolerant cover crops that work well interseeded into corn.

If I want to scavenge nitrogen following corn, which cover crop should I plant?

Zimmer: Cereal rye is a go-to option to scavenge nitrogen following corn. If it’s too late in the fall to establish a cover crop, I would no-till in oats in early spring. Another option is to plant shorter-day corn. With advances in technology, we can grow a high-yielding crop and have a better chance of establishing a cover crop after harvest.

Do cover crops generate nutrient credits for next season’s crop? How does that factor into my fertility plan?

Zimmer: It depends. The stage at which cover crops are harvested is critical. They will trap nutrients, but the question is: How fast are they released? If the cover crop contains nutrients and it gets too mature, it turns into fungal food. At that stage, nutrient release is slow and plant residues are hard to digest. Fungal food has a high carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, meaning nitrogen will tie-up in the soil as residues break down. This is ideal before planting soybeans, because soybeans don’t require large amounts of soluble nitrogen, and the cover crop effectively scavenges nutrients away from weeds prior to planting.

If it’s a young, succulent cover crop, it becomes bacterial food and the resulting nutrient release will be much faster and more available that season. This management approach is best before planting corn, which needs more soluble nitrogen and other nutrients. You won’t get as many credits the first year of planting cover crops as you will on a long-term basis. If you plan to add cover crops into your rotation, you have to commit to them for about three years to gain the full benefits. Cover crops have a learning curve — expect to make mistakes while learning how to manage them.

Do I need to fertilize a cover crop?

Zimmer: Yes, whether it’s manure or commercial fertilizer, fertilize right in front of your cover crop. We want maximum plant growth and sequestration of minerals in the carbon-biological cycle. When the cover crop is terminated, incorporated into the soil, and combined with nutrients from manure or fertilizer, it provides fertility for the next crop.

I’ve heard that some cover crops can tie-up nitrogen in the soil if not properly managed. Can I prevent this from happening?

Zimmer: Many people think that the bigger the cover crops get, the more nitrogen and benefits they provide. However, as the cover crop grows, the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio increases and the digestibility of the plant material decreases. This can reduce seed-to-soil contact at planting and affect germination rates. It’s important to either harvest cover crops or put them back into the soil at the right stage to control the areas of soil biology that you want to improve. Feed your soil like you would feed a cow. You want it to produce? Feed it highly digestible, highly soluble feeds harvested at the right time.

What cover crop(s) should I plant as supplemental forage?

Zimmer: Summer grasses, small grains, spring triticale and rye grass are options for late-summer planting in fields rotating out of corn silage or wheat. Last year, we planted an 85-day silage corn. Our workload was done earlier, and we had time after harvest to do some tillage and establish a cover crop. In the beginning of August, we fertilized and planted our grazing cover crop. It was grazed from mid-October until Thanksgiving. Harvesting was an option, but I worked it into the soil because I wanted to capture nutrients from the livestock manure to feed the soil.

We had a lot of rain early this summer, and we weren’t able to establish corn in some fields. Should I plant cover crops in these fields?

Zimmer: Yes, keeping soil covered helps build soil health. So, for producers with goals of driving yields, establishing cover crops in those fields is the natural decision. It will save money on pesticides and insecticides, and can reduce nitrogen needs for the next crop. Overall, I would expect better crops during the next rotation in that field.

What is the best way to terminate cover crops?

Zimmer: Cover crops feed soil life. If I terminate cover crops with spray, we’ll still get some plant nutrients back into the ground, but everything above ground can no longer feed the soil. The ideal situation is discing-in the cover crops, or shallowly incorporating them into the top soil. o

The USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offers financial assistance to growers meeting NRCS cover crop seeding requirements. Growers can receive up to three annual payments, with rates based upon the seed mixture used. Learn more at

L-CBF Research Study: Stronger Starts, Drier Grain

Now in its second year, Midwestern BioAg’s liquid carbon-based fertilizer (L-CBF) study at the University of Illinois is once again showing positive results. In early June, Midwestern BioAg scientist Bill Petersen traveled to the University’s research farm and reported back visible improvements in plant height. “Early plant response to L-CBF treatment was consistently positive,” said Petersen. “Plants in treated plots were noticeably taller, validating for the second year that L-CBF application gives plants an early season advantage.”

Derived from cane molasses, L-CBF delivers quality plant nutrients in a carbon base to stimulate soil biology and increase nutrient availability. It can be applied to all major crops and can also be added to most other fertilizers and herbicides.

The L-CBF study, conducted in partnership with QLF Agronomy, analyzes the effects of multiple L-CBF treatments on early season corn growth. The study tracks plant development on three sites, DeKalb, Champaign, and Harrisburg, Illinois, and is overseen by Professor Fred Below and Research Specialist Tryston Beyrer of the University of Illinois Crop Physiology Laboratory.

Stronger Starts

First-year findings showed plants treated with L-CBF were taller on average than the untreated control and 10-34-0 treatments alone. Increasing early season growth in corn carries multiple benefits, including quicker canopy cover, less weed competition, reduced soil evaporation and lower moisture at harvest. A summary of each treatment and its resulting impact on plant height is summarized in Table 1. LCBF table 1

Lower Moisture at Harvest

Grain moisture at harvest was significantly lower in corn treated with L-CBF 10-14-1 and L-CBF BOOST™ added to 10-34-0. This indicates that corn treated with L-CBF can be harvested earlier in the season and will require less grain drying after harvest.

“L-CBF can help growers get out in the field early and improve nutrient availability in cool soils,” said Petersen. “L-CBF is also a great tool when planting operations are delayed. The addition of starter fertilizers can speed up development, assuring the crop is mature and dries in the field. This is especially helpful in northern climates with shorter growing seasons.” Final 2015 data on grain moisture is summarized in Table 2.

LCBF table 2

2016 Study: New Formulations, Combinations

This year’s study continues to track L-CBF’s impact on corn performance, but includes two new formulations: monopotassium phosphate (MKP) 6-24-6 with L-CBF BOOST, and L-CBF 7-20-3. All plots, including the control, received additional nitrogen per Illinois Extension recommendations prior to planting. Treatments include:

  • L-CBF 10-14-1 at 3 gal/ac and 5 gal/ac
  • MKP 6-24-6 at 3 gal/ac
  • MKP 6-24-6 at 3 gal/ac, with L-CBF BOOST at 1 gal/ac and 2 gal/ac
  • L-CBF 7-20-3 at 3 gal/ac and 5 gal/ac

Currently under development, L-CBF 7-20-3 combines the benefits of L-CBF’s molasses base with an additional high-quality phosphorus source. It has a higher ratio of ortho to poly phosphates, a feature often touted for improving season-long nutrient availability.

Figure 1 compares L-CBF 7-20-3 in-furrow at 5 gal/ac (left) to the control (right). “Plants in the treated study were taller and more robust,” said Petersen. “The added phosphorus in L-CBF 7-20-3 can be very beneficial to corn, especially in central-Illinois soil where we’ve seen bigger responses following phosphorus application.”

LCBF fig 1

Final study findings will be shared once available later this year. Information on other Midwestern BioAg research projects can be found at:

Growing Farm Margins with High-Quality Forages

Ten years ago, Plaetz Dairy came to Midwestern BioAg looking to improve their conventional dairy farm. Farmers Bruce and Sherry were struggling with feed quality, a problem they hoped Midwestern BioAg’s forage program could help them solve.

“Everything we grow is fed to the cows,” Bruce said. “Before switching to BioAg, we spent a lot of money on feed, protein and minerals trying to keep cows healthy. A big problem was that our cows didn’t like their hay. It was bitter tasting; they picked through it.”

After testing their forages, Midwestern BioAg consultant Josh Elsing noticed excessively high potassium levels — a problem for many Midwest dairy farms. Elsing recommended a new fertility program, and the Plaetz’s decided to give it a try.

After ten years, the changes Elsing recommended have led to significant improvements in forage quality — the farm now saves 63 cents per cow per day on supplemental minerals.

Plans for Change: Going Organic

When Bruce and Sherry first began working with BioAg, they had major changes planned for the farm. “Our son, Matt, wanted to start farming with us, but it just wasn’t economically feasible at the time. We decided to go organic so that Matt could join the farm and we could stay profitable.”

“When I first started working with Plaetz Dairy, my goal was to balance the farm’s soil and improve biological activity,” said Elsing. “Knowing that they wanted to transition the herd to organic, it was important to get their ground in great shape to help make the transition as smooth as possible.” Today, the Wabasso, Minnesota, operation milks 75 cows on 520 acres. They’re organic on 320 acres and are currently transitioning another 200 acres.

A Different Fertility Program

At Plaetz Dairy, organic corn yields average 150 to 180 bushels per acre. Their organic soybeans average about 45 to 50 bushels per acre, close to the conventional average in the area — results, Elsing says, the Plaetz’s have earned.

“The Plaetz’s have worked hard on improving and mineralizing their soils so that now, after years on our program, they can reduce the amount of fertilizers needed to grow a crop. They are excellent managers — they are open minded, willing to try and they observe and learn.”

“You don’t need chemicals to grow a good crop,” said Bruce. “But you still have to take good care of the soil and use the right inputs to be successful.”


After ten years, the changes Elsing recommended have led to significant improvements in forage quality — the farm now saves 63 cents per cow per day on supplemental minerals.


Adding calcium was the first change Elsing made to the Plaetz Dairy fertility program. “We applied Bio-Cal® — and later, OrganiCal™ — to the Plaetz’s ground to improve both soil and crop quality,” said Elsing. “Calcium improves soil structure and plant uptake of other minerals, including phosphorus, boron and sulfur. This helps improve feed efficiency and reduces dependency on purchased mineral.”

The Plaetz’s organic herd is producing well on the BioAg-fertilized forages. “Production averages 60 lbs. per cow per day, and herd health is very good,” said Bruce. “For the first time in the 35 years I’ve been milking cows, we had to sell springing heifers. We’ve never had that ‘problem’ before.”

In addition to OrganiCal when needed, Plaetz Dairy bulk spreads Midwestern BioAg’s organic fertilizer blends each season. These include phosphorous, potassium, HumaCal®, K-Mag®, potash and rock phosphorous, with analyses ranging from 0-0-2 to 0-1-25. Additionally, they apply liquid fertilizer at planting, which includes a mixture of Midwestern BioAg’s OMRI-listed L-CBF TerraFed™ and fish at 5 gallons per acre.

“Now that our soil is balanced, we’re growing much sweeter, more palatable hay,” said Bruce. “One of the first things Josh told us was to take care of our alfalfa and the rest will take care of itself. We’re seeing that coming true.”

Diverse Crop Rotations

In addition to their hay ground, Plaetz Dairy rotationally grazes 40 acres of pasture during the growing season. Their TMR includes all homegrown corn silage, haylage, dry hay, high-moisture shell corn and roasted soybeans.

“We grow a lot of alfalfa,” said Bruce. “Our hay is a combination of Midwestern BioAg’s WinterKing alfalfa and High Quality Forage (HQF) grass mix.” Alfalfa on the Plaetz farm is kept in a short rotation (three-year maximum) and yields about 4 to 5 tons of dry hay per acre. Alfalfa is then followed by two years of corn and one year of soybeans.

Organic farms like Plaetz Dairy must grow a majority of their own nitrogen on the farm. For the Plaetz’s, this includes livestock manure, green manure crops like oats and alfalfa, and chicken pellets when needed. “We rotovate our fields in the fall, so they’re pretty smooth for planting oats in the spring,” said Bruce. “Once the oats are 6 to 8 inches tall, we work them in with a field cultivator.”

Transitioning Challenges

Transitioning to organic isn’t simply leaving the sprayer parked in the shed. It requires a whole new management system, including using cover crops and well-timed planting to help control weeds. “It takes courage not to use herbicides,” said Bruce. “We took the leap. Our yields haven’t dropped, our production hasn’t dropped. We’ve been truly blessed.”

For Plaetz Dairy, the initial transition to organic went smoothly. On ground where BioAg products and practices were previously applied, the change went well. However, when the Plaetz’s decided to transition additional acres in 2014, the process was not as seamless. “We had issues with grasses on land that hadn’t been in the BioAg program. We found we needed to do more work with cover crops,” said Bruce. “We didn’t get a cover crop in on two new soybean fields, and we had a mess with grass.”

“Taking a few seasons to prepare the ground before transitioning to organic can be extremely beneficial to producers,” said Elsing. “On the Plaetz farm, the advantage was very clear.”

The Plaetz’s continue to see their soils improve, a full decade after first working with Elsing. “They are getting really loose and mellow,” said Bruce. “Our soil takes the rain better, and we don’t have standing water in the field like the neighbors do. We’re excited for what’s next. Before working with BioAg, we were going backwards. Things are different now. We’re excited for the future.” 

Transitioning to Organic in Michigan’s UP

Nick Theuerkauf is the fifth generation to farm the 2,000 acres that is Elmbrook Farms. Originally a dairy, the farm shifted gears eight years ago to produce beef, feed and a variety of cash crops that included corn and soybeans.

Located in Menominee, Michigan, the Theuerkauf farm is fortunate to be situated in what is known as the “banana belt” of the Upper Peninsula. With a 120 to 140 day growing season and average annual high of 52 degrees, the region is more suitable for farming than land further north. This allows the Theuerkaufs to grow corn and beans, while the much of the UP’s limited farmland produce crops such as hay, potatoes and barley.

Nick farms with his father, Bill Theuerkauf. In 2014, they made the decision to transition to organic production when Nick’s two brothers, Travis and Stephen, expressed interest in returning to the home farm. Nick and Bill reasoned that organic production could maximize profitability on the farm, making it possible to support the larger, extended family.

Asking for Help

With the part-time help from Travis and Stephen, Nick and Bill began the transition in 2015. At the time, market trends led them to consider edible beans — on the 185 acres that could be certified organic right away, they planted pinto beans. On their transitioning acres, they added another 500 acres of black turtle beans, 40 acres of soybeans, 90 of corn and put the rest of the ground in small grains, cover crops and alfalfa.

“You have to try everything, give it a fair shot,” said Nick. “That’s the way you see what works for you.” For Nick, trying everything also included asking lots of questions.

“Ask questions, bug people, go to classes and conferences and learn as much as you can,” he said. A neighbor who had transitioned 10 years ago was a great resource both for information and equipment sharing. The Theuerkaufs did extensive Internet searches, attended webinars online and attended events like ACRES and MOSES to learn as much as possible. They recognized that the individuals who visited the farm were great sources of information. “If they are a good salesperson, they’ll be able to put you in touch with the answers,” Nick said. One such person was Midwestern BioAg sales consultant Ben Bartlett.

Having worked with organic operations for more than 10 years, Ben had a lot to offer the Theuerkaufs. He reviewed Elmbrook’s soil tests, shared them with the extended network of experts available through Midwestern BioAg and talked with the Theuerkaufs about both dry and liquid fertilizer options. To help get things going in the cold northern spring, Ben developed a starter fertilizer customized for the Theuerkauf’s sandy-loam soil. Throughout the season, Ben continued to work with the Theuerkaufs to assess program results.

Early Challenges

“One of the main challenges was a lack of soil biology. It just didn’t have that earthy smell that lets you know soil life is at work,” said Ben. He said this can be typical for farms starting their transition. “I’ve had customers come to me ready to transition, and I’ve suggested they build their soil biology for a year or two if possible. It’s not the response they expect, but if we think it’s the best business decision, then I believe we need to say it out loud.”

The Theuerkaufs faced another big challenge: Learning lots of new agronomic practices all at once. In particular, they had never grown edible beans. It was much more work than they expected, at a time when they were already taking on new challenges.

“It was a huge learning curve for us,” said Nick. Some of the problems they faced included seed maggot infestation, drown-out and wet soil issues, and weed pressure. Despite these challenges, the Theuerkaufs intend to plant more edible beans this year including dark kidney beans, as well as organic corn.

“The hard thing about transitioning is finding a buyer for transitional crops that will pay premium,” said Nick. “You know what you have is valuable and it’s hard to accept conventional prices.” In the UP, finding markets of any kind within a reasonable distance is already a challenge. A neighbor helped locate a buyer for transitional beans early on and Ben Bartlett helped them find market options for 400 acres of transitional oats.

“I was able to connect them to Mercaris,” Ben said. “It’s an online data and auction company specializing in organic and non-GMO grains.” Through the Mercaris auction system, Nick found a buyer for his oats at a strong price.


“It’s not just about using different products that are organic approved,” said Ben. “You have to understand how the whole system works to stay profitable.”


Cover crops were also challenging. Nick sees their value in fixing nitrogen and keeping his soil biology thriving, but getting them established in the short UP growing season is tough. The long fall in 2015 allowed him to seed cover crops following most of his crops. This year, he plans to experiment with interseeding cover crops into his corn. He’s also looking to use a 80-day corn (or shorter) to allow time to get a cover crop down before winter. Midwestern BioAg was able to be a resource for securing a variety of cover cop seed options for the farm to use.

A Different Mindset

“It’s not just about using different products that are organic approved,” said Ben. “You have to understand how the whole system works to stay profitable on a consistent basis.”

“We’re still figuring it out,” said Nick, as their second full season of transition is about to begin. “We’re at the point where we see it can be done. It starts making sense and you feel better about it. It’s still scary, but we feel like it was the right decision. You have to change your mindset.”