Top 6 Benefits of Applying Calcium

With farmers searching for new ways to increase yields, they’re looking more closely at nutrients and minerals. Gone are the days when it was all about N-P-K. Today, growers are learning how to enhance fertilizer performance, soil health, and plant nutrition.

Ag scientists are providing new information on using natural inputs like calcium to get better results.

“Calcium kicks soil into high gear,” says Leroy Stuecker, a Midwestern BioAg customer who farms in Lee County, Iowa. Here’s why.

1. Calcium for Healthy Soil

“Calcium is key to good soil structure,” says Firman Hershberger, a Midwestern BioAg Sales Consultant based in Kalona, Iowa. “It plays an important part in regulating acidity, or pH.”

Hershberger, who consults with Stuecker, explains that the optimum amount of calcium helps improve soil structure, creating the healthy, aerated soil farmers want. “It opens up the soil, allowing water to be better absorbed, helping other nutrients to be more available and reducing erosion,” he says.

However, calcium is not mobile in the plant, so a continuous supply is essential.

2. Calcium for Nutrient Uptake

“I call calcium the trucker of all nutrients,” says Midwestern BioAg Sales Consultant Josh Elsing. “It takes the nutrients up into the plant where they need to go.”

Calcium enters the plant via water moving from the roots through the leaves. A good calcium source is a catalyst for helping everything else in your program move forward.

Hershberger says, “farmers using Bio-Cal® see better stalk strength in corn. That’s because of that nutrient uptake.”

3. Calcium for Early Season Growth

Calcium leads to greater root mass and faster, better growth in spring. It also helps promote plant uniformity, a key factor among row crop and forage growers.

“They say when corn is in its early stages, you want it to never have a bad day,” Hershberger says. “Calcium helps with that — even early on, you can see uniformity and strong growth.”

Stuecker says, “We usually apply Bio-Cal in the fall. We see really good results with that. It seems to get our soils activated.”

4. Calcium for Healthy Plant Tissue

Without going deep into plant biology, growers should know calcium is a component of cell walls, and is important for cell division, permeability of cell membranes, and nitrogen utilization.

Soils need calcium. But plants need available calcium. This means farmers need two types of calcium — slow release and soluble.

According to Hershberger, Midwestern BioAg’s Bio-Cal provides five calcium sources ranging from soluble to time-released. It also contains sulfur, which helps with nitrogen efficiency and turning organic matter into humus.

5. Calcium for Nutritious Forages

In addition to cropping corn, Stuecker specializes in growing high-quality alfalfa. He sells it as feed for high-end Holsteins producing over 90 pounds of milk per day.

“They’re very particular about hay for these cows,” says Stuecker. “The soil and the hay are both tested so the rations can be fine-tuned. Bio-Cal helps make my alfalfa more nutritious.”

“Bio-Cal helps make solid-stemmed alfalfa instead of hollow-stemmed. We want it to be filled out with nutrients,” says Hershberger.

6. Calcium for Higher Yields & Profit

Stuecker is a firm believer in calcium, and in working with a crop consultant. “Firman has been a big help to me,” says Stuecker. “With his expertise, we combine Bio-Cal with testing and fertilizer from Midwestern BioAg, and it’s a very good program.”

“That’s why my yields are coming up over the last seven years,” he says. “We’re up to 256 to 263 bushels of corn on some fields. With alfalfa, quality is the name of the game,” says Stuecker. “Bio-Cal is the foundation of my program.”

Managing Nutrients with Cover Crops

Farmers all over the Midwest are looking to cover crops to fill several niches — soil conservation, nutrient management, and production of an extra forage crop. Whether planted in late summer or after fall harvest, now is an excellent time to start researching cover crop applications and seed varieties.

Kevin Shelley, outreach manager for the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW Extension’s Nutrient and Pest Management program, says farmers are increasingly using cover crops after relatively short-season crops like wheat or small grains. “There’s a lot of interest,” Shelley said. “Adoption of the practice seems to be increasing for the reasons of providing supplemental feed, but also for soil health and nutrient management.”

Getting cover crops planted by late July or early August covers and protects the ground from summer washouts and winter winds. “It can offer substantial soil erosion protection,” says Shelley. Summer annuals like clover offer the additional benefit of fixing nitrogen that will be left in the soil for the following crop — often corn.

“Having a green and growing crop is more desirable than weeds in an otherwise fallow field,” Shelley adds. For dairy farmers, certain cover crops can offer 1 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre that can serve as heifer or dry cow feed. In addition, cover crops add organic matter to the soil. Even if the above-ground portions of the plants are harvested, the plant roots add to the organic profile in the soil.

Midwestern BioAg President Gary Zimmer has advocated the use of cover crops for over 30 years. “I never miss the opportunity to have something growing on my land,” says Zimmer. “Green plants feed soil life, build organic matter, and capture nutrients in their tissues. Those nutrients will not erode, and they are in a form that is linked to biology so it’s easier for plants to access them.”

Many growers choose to put in a cover crop after wheat or a canning crop like snap beans or peas where double cropping with a more conventional crop would be risky. Oats or barley are two good options to plant after short-season crops are harvested in mid-summer.

Legumes, like some clover varieties, can be an option, but Shelley notes that these can be riskier if the weather turns hot and dry. “The cereal grains need moisture to germinate and grow, but they [legumes] are a little more forgiving. They can make up for it a little later in the season.”

In addition to less establishment risk, cereal grains offer the advantage of producing significant biomass as long as they are planted in the right time frame — the last week of July to mid-August. There have been trials with oats and barley and some with triticale. Barley and peas planted together provide more top growth, and with decent conditions, can provide two tons of dry matter per acre at harvest, Shelley said.

Oats and barley often grow until November and continue to produce valuable forage because small grain production is dependent on photoperiod — in the shorter days of autumn, the plants don’t begin the process of producing grain as quickly.

They continue to produce sugars and don’t go into a rapid decline in quality. That is especially true with varieties of oats that are bred for forage use, Shelley adds. Soil conservation and organic matter are also improved with the use of cover crops. The value of organic matter is magnified if the crop is plowed down for “green manure.”

Working with a Dane County, Wisconsin, farmer last summer, Shelley helped plant oats and field peas after wheat and then knifed liquid manure into the standing crop. That crop was left on the field to be plowed down this spring.

“That was definitely a very impressive crop, providing a lot of cover. There was all this green biomass waist-high in the field.” In that case, the crop reduces the farmer’s need for nitrogen fertilizer for the following crop.

The use of any variety of cover crop will encourage earthworm growth, which in turn creates micropores that channel water and nutrients into the soil profile. Some farmers prefer cover crops with a number of different species planted together because biodiversity is good for the soil. “The different roots growing in the soil have a lot of different associations with fungus, bacteria, and arthropods that like one species or another,” says Shelley.

Another good time to plant cover crops is right after corn silage removal. Apply manure if available and then establish a cover crop to hold the soil in place over winter, Shelley adds. “Having that cover crop in place lessens runoff and scavenges nutrients.”

At that time of the year, it’s really too late to plant brassicas or legumes, but farmers have had good luck with winter rye. “The earlier it can be planted, the better.” Trials have shown that cover crops sown from September 20 through October 1 are significantly better than those planted around October 10 through October 13 for nutrient management or conservation planning.

 

Getting cover crops planted by late July or early August covers and protects the ground from summer washouts and winter winds.

 

In addition to cover crops holding soil nutrients in place over winter, they can provide 1½ to 2 tons of dry matter per acre when harvested at the recommended root stage in the third week of May.

Midwestern BioAg growers have successfully incorporated cover crops into their rotations for years. “All cover crops have different attributes, and it is important that you choose the right cover crop for your farm,” says Zimmer. “I do everything I can to promote healthy soil life on my farm, and planting cover crops is an essential part of my system.”

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Jan Shepel has over 25 years of ag journalism experience and lives in southwestern Wisconsin.

Growing Champion Forages

Todd Schroeder set a goal to win the World Dairy Expo’s Forage Analysis Superbowl contest in 10 years. With the help of the Midwestern BioAg soil fertility program and his sales consultant Travis Klinkner, Schroeder achieved that goal last fall. It took the Cashton, Wisconsin, farmer only a few years.

In last year’s contest, the cash crop and beef farmer won the Grand Champion prize for first-time entrants and a cash award of $1,500.

Each year at the Forage Analysis Superbowl, more than $22,000 in cash prizes are handed out to top-finishing forage producers. In last year’s contest, there were 486 entries from 25 states and provinces in seven forage categories.

Schroeder raises 800 to 1,000 head each year, bringing in Angus, Simmental, Limousin, and crossbred cattle at 400 to 500 pounds and raising them to 800 to 900 pounds. He finishes 30 to 40 head each year as well.

Schroeder’s route to winning the Forage Superbowl started in 2013 with a crop of soybeans. After harvesting the beans, he planted winter rye as a cover crop to build his soil capacity. In spring of 2014, Schroeder made two passes with a McFarlane Reel Disk and no-tilled the corn.

 

 

“It’s all about improving soil life to get better feed. It takes the stress off the plant and improves the soil structure.”

 

 

For early-season growth, Schroeder applied both dry and liquid starter fertilizer. 19-6-14 was broadcast-applied at 410 pounds per acre and 9-10-15 was applied at a rate of 250 pounds per acre as a row-assist starter fertilizer. These dry fertilizer blends provide sulfur, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, iron, and boron for a more complete plant nutrition program. Schroeder also applied BioAg’s liquid, carbon-based fertilizer (L-CBF) 10-14-1 in-furrow at five gallons per acre to help stimulate soil biology.

When the corn plants reached the V 5-8 stage of growth, Schroeder side-dressed the corn with a combination of 20 gallons per acre of 28% liquid nitrogen and three gallons per acre of 10-14-1.

Combined, this fertility program provided 165-60-95-70S of nutrients per acre, including Midwestern BioAg’s proprietary trace mineral pack. Midwestern BioAg’s low-pH fertilizers go beyond standard N-P-K blends to deliver the micronutrients plants need for optimum plant health. These premium blends are especially important when growing forages. Healthy, more nutrient-dense plants produce healthier, more productive feeds.

To grow his winning silage, Schroeder planted seed from Master’s Choice, a partner of BioAg. At harvest, when Schroeder tested his side-by-side corn variety trials on the farm, Midwestern BioAg consultant Travis Klinkner noted how good that stand of corn looked and urged him to enter the contest. “I thought it would be cool to see where we compare to other growers,” Schroeder said.

He also wanted to get data on how his crops fared after only two years with the BioAg soil fertility program. “We’re seeing tremendous results. I thought I was doing a good job before, but I really feel this new program is worth the investment. We are getting better quality feed.”

He plants 50 to 60 acres of corn specifically for silage each year and another one of his goals is to surpass the neighboring dairy farmers in production. That’s another reason he likes the Forage Analysis Superbowl contest. “It’s neat to see how you compare to farmers from all over the country. I was competing with farmers from Pennsylvania to New York to Kansas.”

Schroeder likes the floury corn varieties for their improved digestibility and plants a lot of Master’s Choice 527, 5661, and 5370. He has begun aiming for more non-GMO corn varieties in order to reduce costs given the lower corn prices of $3.50 to $4.25 per bushel.

Each year he works 550 to 600 acres of land, growing corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. This year’s crop rotation includes about 220 acres of corn. Since he isn’t a dairy farmer and doesn’t spread a lot of liquid manure, he especially likes the results he’s seeing from the BioAg soil fertility program. “Yes, it’s an investment and you need to put some money into it,” Schroeder says. “But you need yield to get cash flow and I’m seeing yield improvements.” His silage varieties are making 28 to 32 tons per acre — that’s 11 tons of dry matter per acre.

“I have definitely seen the benefits of getting on the program. It’s all about improving soil life to get better feed. It takes the stress off the plant and improves the soil structure. “It’s worth the investment to get better quality feed.” On his farm, that has also translated into a new and improved cattle feeding program.

Because the World Forage Analysis Superbowl contest is held in conjunction with World Dairy Expo, one of the parameters used to measure forages is milk per ton. His winning entry measured up at 3,799 pounds of milk per ton.

He laughs at the folks who ask him how many cows he milks because he only has beef cattle. “But I figure that the starch digestibility and feed quality that allow dairy cattle to make milk are also going to give me gain for my beef cattle.”

He encourages other growers to see how their forages compare by entering the Superbowl contest. “It’s only a $25 entry fee and it really allows you to see how your forage program measures up.”

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Jan Shepel has over 25 years of ag journalism experience and lives in southwestern Wisconsin.

From the Farm of Gary Zimmer

Dear Farmer/Agribusiness person,

My first book, “The Biological Farmer,” came out 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve met hundreds of farmers as I traveled the world in search of innovative biological farming practices and ideas. I’ve spoken with farmers of many different agricultural backgrounds about a variety of topics, including soils, crops, livestock, land, management, and natural resources.

What makes biological farming work? Essentially, support of biological system basics: plant diversity; creating an ideal home for soil life and feeding it well; managing soil, air, and water; and providing a balance of minerals in the soil. Much like the way a cow’s rumen functions, biological farming works effectively when the system’s rules are followed, and fails when they are not.

What common goal drives biological farmers? Increasing and balancing plant-available minerals in the soil. To accomplish this, I believe you not only need a variety of all the major minerals that we test for (calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, iron, and boron), but also nutrients sourced from natural-mined rock materials and animal manures. We also must manage nitrogen, which can be grown in the form of forages and green manure crops. Green manure crops provide carbon, nitrogen, and feed for soil life, and also supply, hold, and recycle minerals.

As biological farmers, we must take every opportunity to feed soil life and create an ideal home for our “soil livestock.” Doing so improves soil structure and soil health, which in turn helps grow larger root systems that capture and retain moisture. Minerals, soil life, and soil health are central to the biological farming system. The better we are at farming with this system, the more successful we can be.

So, what is the biological farming system? Everything in the soil used in crop production. This includes the basics — minerals, sunshine, and water. Most minerals come from the soil and are made plant-available through organic matter, soil life, and farming methods.

What can farmers do to improve availability of minerals? Careful selection of fertilizer sources is a good starting point. By including soil nutrients in our fertilizers and delivering them hooked to a carbon source as nature does, we can improve both soil and crop nutrition. Soil health and soil structure, while not always easy to measure, are important factors in plant growth and water management. A good soil structure can capture, retain, and aid in the distribution of nutrients and water.

For me, the farm is a day-after-day learning experience. With biological farming, common sense and a good eye for observation can take you a long way toward success. This is the challenge and the fun in farming; this is what I share, talk about, learn from, demonstrate, and observe with farmers all over the world. It’s about taking biological farming concepts and applying what best fits your farm and your management system. It’s about always improving the system. It takes time to see results, but once you start, it just keeps getting better and better.

My travels have provided me with many opportunities to listen to a wide variety of farming stories, learn from others’ experiences, and apply the best practices on my family’s farm, Otter Creek.

At Otter Creek, we make milk from quality forage. Because we like to feed 65-75 percent forages, we need tasty, highly digestible feed with balanced mineral content that is high in energy to keep cows productive. While we rotationally graze from April to November on a smorgasbord of legumes, grasses, and brassicas, we also must have quality stored feed for winter months.

Quality forages form the basis of our rations, and that forage quality starts in the soil. The soil fertility program starts with a soil test that goes beyond N-P-K to include secondary and trace minerals. We add any mineral that is in short supply, starting with calcium and phosphorus, and use natural-mined minerals when possible. Calcium, sulfur, and boron are always involved.

We do calcium and soil correctives in the fall, apply a crop fertilizer early in spring, and apply compost-type manures in the summer. We also provide a balanced diet for the current year’s crop, again including trace elements. In our fields, we grow a large diversity of plants to extract natural soil minerals and run a tight crop rotation — our standard forage rotation is just two years. This tight rotation improves our feed quality and nutrient management and works great for growing corn in the third year. Our forage stands are typically a blend of alfalfa and other types of legumes and grasses — blends vary depending on the feed we want and on soil conditions.

Once we’ve grown our forages, the Otter Creek crew does everything it can to maintain feed quality. Forage harvesting is a priority job; from timely cutting to wrap-baling quickly and using inoculants to proper storage, every step is designed to maintain feed quality. These high-quality forages reduce our need to purchase costly feed supplements.

 Gary F. Zimmer

 

Farmers Find Forages Profitable

Forages play many important roles on the farm — as cash crops, livestock feeds, and pastures, and in healthy soil rotations. Midwestern BioAg’s Forage Program can help farmers unlock the full potential of their forage crop and maximize farm profitability.

Forages as Cash Crops

Twenty-year Midwestern BioAg customer Lauren Enzinger raises a large crop of alfalfa and alfalfa-grass mix hay each year. Supplying quality forages to his customer base is a major part of his operation. Enzin
ger’s buyers look for feed value, protein, and mineral content.

Enzinger came to Midwestern BioAg in the 1980s to improve the growth rate and stand uniformity of his alfalfa crop. With Midwestern BioAg’ help, Enzinger discovered calcium-deficient soils were the leading cause of his underperforming alfalfa crop. Enzinger has since used Midwestern BioAg’s calcium products Bio-Cal® and OrganiCal to grow top-quality forages for his customers. Today, Enzinger follows many biological farming principals in his forage program: short rotations (three years in hay), cover crops, balanced fertilizers, and mineralized soils.

In addition to calcium products, Midwestern BioAg offers liquid-carbon based fertilizers (L-CBF) for increased forage yield and quality.

Enzinger has used L-CBF Terra Fed™ in his forage program since 2013 when he first applied it to his alfalfa crop. In areas where L-CBF Terra Fed™ was applied, Enzinger could see that the alfalfa was leafier, taller, and more mature. Tests showed higher sugar, crude protein, NEL (Net Energy for Lactation), RFV, and RFQ levels, and improved IVTDMD (In Vitro True Dry Matter Digestibility).

“I’m sold on it,” Enzinger says. Enzinger advises that application timing is key; he applies L-CBF Terra Fed™ when alfalfa stands are 8-10” tall.

Forages in the Pasture

In southern Michigan, a herd of nearly 500 dairy cows can be found on Dan and Ken Sparks’ farm. Quality forages, in this case pastures, are vital to the success of the Sparks’ four-year-old seasonal dairy operation. Establishing a new dairy operation in the 21st century is challenging, and good management and attention to detail are crucial.

 

 

In areas where L-CBF Terra FedTM was applied, Enzinger could see that the alfalfa was leafier, taller, and more mature.

 

 

Early on, the Sparks realized they needed excellent pastures to meet the nutritional needs of their lactating cows. When soil tests showed their pastures were low on calcium and magnesium, they switched from applying local marl to using higher quality lime, K-Mag, and Midwestern BioAg’s Bio-Cal®. The Sparks improved their pastures by focusing on balancing and correcting their soil.

Using a pivot irrigation system, the Sparks apply 28% nitrogen every three weeks to coincide with their paddock rotation interval. They also apply ammonium sulfate in spring and fall. The result? “Pastures stay lush and green,” says Dan. As soils balanced, the Sparks saw improved forage analyses. Plants had more minerals, more calcium and magnesium, and an improved nitrogen to sulfur ratio.

Midwestern BioAg’s consulting services have been drivers of success on the Sparks’ farm. The Sparks work closely with Consultants Steve Hooley and Duane Siegenthaler and Nutrition Specialist Dave Meidl to maximize the potential of forages on their farm.

Forages in the Rotation

Bob Bellmeyer has a small farm in southwestern Wisconsin where he successfully grows alfalfa as a cash crop. Despite less-than-ideal ground, Bob consistently achieves good yields using the Midwestern BioAg program: hay over six tons per acre, corn at 185 bu/acre, and soybeans at 50 bu/acre.

Bob uses a three-crop rotation: soybeans, corn, and hay. He seeds about 10 acres per year with a nurse crop of oats, often finding it a challenge to combine the oats before the hay gets too big. “The hay grows too well,” Bob notes.

Bob has used Bio-Cal® for the past 10 years to raise the calcium content of his soil and maximize alfalfa yields. He also uses short rotations (keeping a field in hay for no more than four years) and applies 300 lbs/acre of 3-10-25.

“It’s as good a program as there is,” Bob says of Midwestern BioAg’s forage program. “If you stick with the program, your soil improves.”

5 Ways Biological Farming Can Improve Your Operation

What’s coming down the pipeline to help farmers increase profitability? Biological farming has been getting a lot of attention lately — and for good reasons. Genetic technology and equipment innovations have made dramatic changes in farm management and profitability within a generation. Yet most farmers are still using the same fertilizers their fathers used. That’s where looking at soil nutrients comes in, says Bob Yanda, a 25-year biological farming industry veteran and Vice President of Development for Midwestern BioAg. Yanda explains how biological farming can improve your operation.

1. Custom Consulting

“Our approach for each farmer is custom,” says Yanda. “We look at their operation, ask questions, pull soil samples, analyze nutrient levels, look for problems, and learn about that farmer’s goals.”

“Then we put together recommendations for achieving those goals that involve traditional and biological solutions,” he says.

One of Yanda’s clients, Gary Manternach who farms near Monticello, Iowa, especially appreciates Yanda’s extensive knowledge.

“It’s so valuable to have a consultant with expertise, like Bob, who really understands soil,” says Manternach. “He explains the different interactions with elements in the soil, how one product impacts something else.”

 

 

A lot of the things I’m reading now in magazines sound like what Midwestern BioAg was saying 20 years ago about sulfur, calcium, tillage, cover crops, and biological interactions in the soil.”

 

 

2. New Farm Management Tools

Yanda’s recommendations help farmers expand their management toolbox.

Biological options focus on soil correction and crop fertilizer. These options may include recommendations on crop rotation, strip-till or no-till, cover crops, and application methods.

3. Improve Soil

According to Yanda, soil is the key in understanding biological farming practices. The company offers comprehensive soil sampling, which is different from the analysis provided by most labs.

“We are looking to build organic matter so that the soil can maintain nutrients and minerals,” Yanda says. “Soil correction products can also change the physical properties of the soil to balance its health.”

“It might be about using the right type of lime, or about where they haul their manure. It’s different for every farmer,” says Yanda.

Natural-based fertilizers enhance soil life and plant roots. “Looking at a different nitrogen source is often the ‘gateway’ to getting into biological farming,” says Yanda. “We go beyond N-P-K and test for minerals like manganese, sulfur, and boron.”

Manternach says he first got involved in biological farming with the intent of increasing yield and productivity. “We’d tried conventional approaches and we weren’t getting anywhere,” he says.

After starting with Midwestern BioAg dry fertilizer products, Manternach says the difference was clear. “We could see a change in our soil’s ability to hold water, and it’s improving all the time.”

4. Achieve Potential

Manternach says when they began using biological farming products, “We saw a change in our yields.”

“It’s because of the increased organic matter,” says Manternach.

“Farmers want more than increased yields” says Yanda. We look at, ‘What is their true potential?’ It’s about bottom line profitability more than yields.”

Yanda believes that good farming is doing the best you can with what you have to work with. He points to Manternach’s practice of twin row planting as another way to help plants — and acres — achieve their potential. “He can push the plant population without sacrificing use of sunlight and nutrients.”

5. Changing Soil, Changing Minds

According to Yanda, Manternach is a smart, open-minded farmer who wants to improve his operation and isn’t afraid to try new things.

But these days, biological farming is no longer considered unusual.

“Biological farming is becoming more and more mainstream,” says Manternach. “A lot of the things I’m reading now in magazines sound like what Midwestern BioAg was saying 20 years ago about sulfur, calcium, tillage, cover crops, and biological interactions in the soil.”

“If you’re interested in learning about biological farming, talk to a consultant at Midwestern BioAg,” Manternach says. “They’ve been in the biological farming business for 30 years. They’re really good at educating farmers so we can choose for ourselves.”

BioCal® in Rotation

As we move forward into fall, it’s important to remember a valuable piece of information—all part of how we got to where we are…

Manage the agronomics

The term “Agronomics” can be misused in many ways, but it all comes down to maximizing the crop yield while maintaining the soil ecosystem.

BioCal® has been an integral part of many successes we have had at MBA, and you have had as a farmer.  It carries benefits beyond improving our percent base saturation Ca, such as helping decompose corn residues, improving soil tilth and texture, aiding in mobilization of vital plant nutrients, feeding soil life, and supplementing sulfate sulfur.  The agronomics of a product like BioCal® can be viewed as positive or negative, both depending on the outlook of who is writing the checks.   By adding the multiple benefits together, BioCal® brings a large amount of value to a row crop operation, increasing its agronomic benefit.

With the current market value of our crops it becomes necessary to tighten up our crop inputs in order to continue being profitable and hang in through a lower market period.  As a company we have always been conscious of this, and that’s one reason we have also recommended tight rotations.  Rotations are not only beneficial for our soil function, they are a means to capture different market targets for different cash crops.  Through this system, some of us at MBA have placed BioCal® in a rotation with our crop cycle.  We can retain improvements credited to soluble Ca while using a product that might take second place in our nutrient hierarchy for low value crops.  In Illinois, we use it in our soybean rotation.  The economics are as simple as this:

60 bu. soybeans x $9/bu = $540/A

At this price point we could be looking at net profits greater than $100/A

200 bu. corn x $3.20/bu = $640/A

At this price point we would be in the range of $25-$35/A net profit

My point with this hypothetical scenario is for you to look at what crops present value, and ask how can we retain agronomic progress?  Higher net profit crops in rotations create opportunity to keep our focus on improving soil/nutrient function and carry input cost away from lower value crops.  A 1000lb/A rate on corn residue going to soybeans will provide benefits defined above, and improve yield potential of the new crop at a low input cost.  Combine that with a low dose of fertilizer and you have created more production potential and an improved soil environment when rotated back to corn or wheat.

In 2014, soybean yields have been average.  By average I mean all over the board.  One constant remains—Soybeans grown under our system yield more.  Whether it be seed beans or beans for crush, our fertility program provides the productivity worthy of bragging rights, should they be desired.  BioCal®additions on our soybean ground have shown a +4 bushel advantage (so around $36/A depending on how you marketed. And there are carry over benefits to future crops, too.)Sure, we might have had a $45/A BioCal®application, but we put a lot of soluble Ca to allow us an opportunity to reevaluate our input strategy as a new crop plan goes into place. If we have enough to continue a BioCal®plan annually we can; if not, we can adjust your fertilizer blend to increase soluble Ca.  MBA’s advantage isn’t that we can do this, it’s that we’ve been doing it for 30 years.

As always we wish you a safe harvest and thank you for the opportunity to do business with your operation.

Are Your Forages the Best They Can Be?

Now that your 2014 forages are harvested it is a good time for you and your consultant to evaluate them and your ration.

What are we seeing this fall?  There are some reports of this year’s Corn Silage feeding better (more digestible) than the 2013 crop with a 2-3 lb. bump in milk production with higher yields in general. This is causing some farms to feed leftover 2013 silage to low group cows and the 2014 crop to higher production cows. Hay crop quality seems to be all over the board mostly reflective of timing and the amount of rainfall that interfered with harvest.

Therefore take some time to evaluate what you have for forages and to what groups of animals it would best be fed. Some producers have had the experience of feeding more alternative annual forage varieties due to the move to improve crop rotation and soil health and have been pleasantly surprised by the digestibility of these crops if harvested in a timely manner.

Did you get the yield and quality needed to provide enough consistent high quality forage to optimize production and profitability? Along with yield data your forage sample test results are your report card. If you do have quality feed, that is great! If not, what was the limiting factor? Of course there can be many factors influencing forage quality besides the weather. How good was the alfalfa stand, what was the corn stand population, the soil fertility? When did you harvest and how, what storage did you use and how did you feed out?

Success really comes down to understanding what is being managed for on your operation. We all want high quality, highly digestible feed, but it can take a process to get there. We have to plan for it and work toward it—that’s animal nutrition from the soil up.

Our goal at Midwestern BioAg is to help your operation be more profitable. Our consultants are trained to look at the foundation (the soil) of your operation to make it a strong sturdy platform for raising quality feeds. Remember that the minerals in a healthy plant are more available than feeding rock mineral supplements. When you change the quality of feed, you also change the digestibility and availability of the nutrients that feed contains. The higher the quality of your forage (more pectins, sugars, and digestible fibers) the less grain or off farm supplements you’ll need to buy, resulting in healthy animals and improved return on investment.

Midwestern BioAg consultants can look at both your soil test and forage test (report card) to help you make informed fertility decisions for your crops.  If your soils are low in soluble calcium (partially determined by forage test), fall is a great time to apply Bio-Cal® or OrganiCal if you are organic), to your fields products that balance soluble to slow release.

We know calcium is important in the dairy ration for milk, bone, heartbeat regulation, nerve impulses and activation of enzymes, but what about its role in the plant? Calcium works to improve plant health by supporting membrane structure, stability and function leading to better yields and higher quality forage. We see improved soil structure. And let’s not forget protein and the nitrogen to sulfur link to creating more complete protein as sulfur contains the essential amino acids cysteine and methionine, which again benefit both plant and animal.

From the Farm of Gary Zimmer

Dear Farmer/Agribusiness person,

What a beautiful fall, not only is the weather wonderful but these fall colors are incredible. It’s harvest time of a year I’d call ‘not bad’: it sure had its challenges. There was plenty of water, just delivered at the wrong time in the wrong amount.

My son says we need more “good” land. I say we need to do better with every acre we already have. When our range on alfalfa grass blend hay runs from 4 to over 8 tons/acre it seems like we are missing some. I know we have hills, sand knolls, clay knobs and wet areas, but can we do anything about it? The corn ranges from 100+ to 250+ bu/acre ,the sweet corn under irrigation with great weed control was 10.6 tons/acre. Other areas with wet spots, weed control that was not so good and no irrigation was under 5 tons. I know we can do better, be more efficient and change how we fertilize those bad or good areas. It’s not just the weed control or bad spots—what about the minerals and organic matter? Can adding minerals, especially calcium, change the soils? If you don’t believe so you need to check it out—and you have some huge opportunities in front of you.

When I started this life-long BioAg career, our main focus was on changing fertilizers and dealing with calcium—and it changed farms. Soils changed, cows did better, yields went up and problems went down, just by changing the fertilizers and minerals.

Now fast forward 30 years to today. We have gotten better at application of minerals, improved delivery with carbon based fertilizers, manufactured homogenized trace mineral products with controlled nutrient release and controlled pH for maximum plant use. Our calcium sources also improved as we better understood how to get performance—we now manufacture three calcium sources for different purposes.

We at BioAg have benefited from 30 years of observations, looking at results and constantly improving. For the last several years we have been working with liquid fertilizers, not only as row support but also as foliars. We have added biologicals with root stimulating materials and food for the soil life—not just a liquid but feed quality materials in a molasses base. We are just getting started but I see huge potential for improving crops and farms. We have options for soil testing, cover crop seeds for many situations, and plant genetics selected and bred to fit our faming system. The how to manage, the what and how to plant and its value are now better understood.

On many farms we tightened the rotation (unless they’re corn/beans) took opportunities to grow the cover crops and gain knowledge in manure and compost use. Tillage has also really changed: zone tillage, vertical tillage, shallow incorporation of residues/cover crops, managing decay, ripping for improved drainage and air management—all gained knowledge of improving the farming systems. There are so many opportunities here!

Fall is the time for many important farm activities: soil correctives, field evaluations, tillage if needed; soil tests whether grid or field, or soil type or yield maps to help make the best use of your fertilizer dollars. Unlike my son I don’t think we need to work more land, I think we need to be more efficient and do better with the acres we have.

So let us know—get the soil tested, evaluate each area of the farm and its performance. What are the soils like? Are tillage changes needed? Lay out a program, looking at the whole system. I am developing my winter meeting program which will be discussing ‘Best Practices’ of successful farms. Whether you are biological, conventional, organic, or some combination, let’s find constraints and products and practices that  produce results.

Gary F. Zimmer

Profitable Practices are the Bottom Line

What’s profitable?

That’s the question that drives decision making for Bill Ehrlinger, a southern Wisconsin farmer with 1200 acres of corn and soybeans. He considers the price of purchased inputs not just what he pays today, but also the long term costs  of products and practices, understanding that what he does this year can keep his land profitable and productive in the long term.

That’s important to Bill because this land has been in his family since his grandparents purchased the home farm over a century ago. Ehrlinger describes the low rolling landscape as varying from “good low ground” to “not so good” hills, and the light soils are a mixture of silt loam to sandy silt loam.

Bill spent time in California and doing some traveling before making the decision to return to Wisconsin and run the family farm in 1974. “There were a lot of lean years in the 70s and 80s,” he recalls of his early years on the farm.  Always an out of the box thinker, he came to farming with a willingness to view new ideas with an open mind and try new products– as long as they were good for the bottom line.  One of his long time influences during those years was Dick Goff of Midwest Labs and Goff’s philosophy of adding more minerals in the soil and in the right balance.

For example, “I used to plow everything,” he says, but “I stopped plowing in 1982” and went no till five years later. Though he’s primarily a no-till farmer, he can be described as a minimum tillage farmer, utilizing strip till which puts “a large concentration of fertilizer exactly where you want it, with the seed right over the top of it.”  His Bio-Ag consultant reminds him that’s that advantage of Bio-Ag fertilizer blends, “balance, concentration, and recovery.”  Bill likes to build his zones and get fertilizer on in the fall which is important for timely spring planting with all the acres he farms.

His curiosity about new ideas brought him to Midwestern BioAg four years ago.

Soil testing showed his soils needed minerals across the board and was especially low in calcium and phosphorus. On the advice of his MBA consultant Tim Chitwood he applied BioCal® and Rock Phosphate as a fall soil correction on the 700 acres he owns.

With BioCal® and a high potassium sulfate blend fertilizer, his 600 acres of soybeans last year averaged 48/bu to the acre which is “good for the hills I have.” This year Tim convinced him to try dual applying a lower rate of Bio-Cal® with potassium sulfate on his rented ground ahead of his 2014 soybeans and found that gave a nice return.

Attending a BioAg Field Day, he decided  MBA’s liquid molasses based L-CBF 10-14-1 fertilizer was an intriguing product and “the price was competitive.”  He uses L-CBF in furrow and with liquid nitrogen applications.  He is experimenting also with foliar passes along with herbicides.

As can happen during the initial rollout of a new product, he encountered a problem that first year with filtering the molasses-based liquid, but he found MBA and QLF quick to respond and find a solution. That impressed him– “They stood behind their product,” he recalls – and with the problem solved and good yields, he’s stayed with it.

 

“Bill’s hoping to match his best ever yields, which was a 182 average over the whole farm, and topping out at over 200 on his good low ground.”

 

The 2014 corn is still in the field but “looks really good,” says Bill. He used a custom blend his consultant put together: a balanced MBA fertilizer blend with ESN and extra rock phosphate applied through his strip till bar at 400-500 lbs/acre. Bill’s hoping to match his best ever yields, which was a 182 average over the whole farm, and topping out at over 200 on his good low ground.

A residue management practice he’s found to be effective in his farming system is to broadcast L-CBF with Nitrogen (UAN) and BioCal®, then he runs his Phoenix harrow over it which lays down the residue for better soil contact.  Residue management is extremely important for cycling nutrients and soil health and is something he is trying to stay proactive with.

“Every farm is different. Find what works for you,” says Bill. “I’m very happy with BioAg, their service and their willingness to work with me.

BioAg brings to the farm “a better understanding of the nutrient balance in the soil, and an outlook that I agree with.”

But for Bill Ehrlinger the bottom line is always the bottom line. “Everything is price sensitive. You have to make money. It has to turn a profit.”

And BioAg does that for him.