The contrast is often visible from roads across the Midwest. The day after a hard rain, one field has absorbed the water into a healthy, moist soil, and a neighboring field appears covered by a pond. After a series of rains, one crop is off to a strong start, while the other appears drowned out — at V6 corn, the difference is already clear. The reason? One field has better infiltration rates and improved water-holding capacity.
We take pride in helping our growers build soil that allows water to infiltrate sooner, with fewer instances of ponding. They find their soils hold more moisture for longer, and those who irrigate can do so less often.
The primary reason is soil structure. Healthy soils have high levels of particle aggregation — small materials clumping together. The increased surface area on these microscopic clumps provides more opportunity for water molecules to bind to the soil, and more open space to hold water. This allows these soils to look a bit like a piece of cake — spongy material that breaks up easily. Soil microbes play an important role in this process. The aggregation happens when healthy microbe populations secrete exopolysaccharides that cross-link soil particles. In addition, they produce glomalin, a protein which also has glue-like properties. Calcium flocculates the soil when it binds with other nutrients, a process that helps break up tight soils. Our cover crops also help build soil structure — for example, tillage radishes open the soil as they grow and then decay over winter.
Another reason: Our products and process lead to increased carbon embedded in soils from decaying plant and microbial material. Carbon tends to hydrate; retained carbon causes the soil to release water more slowly.
Runoff of phosphorous or nitrogen is a major issue in communities across the Farm Belt — and just about anywhere nutrients are applied. Farm communities, dairies and individual farms have been the target of lawsuits. In some cases, water districts are alleging that nutrient runoff is tainting their water supplies, and they are seeking financial judgments to help pay for more advanced water treatment facilities.
We see a more cost-effective solution, one that also works to a farmer’s advantage: Use phosphorous more efficiently on the farm, so it ends up in crops and not in rivers. By building healthy soils, producers can use fewer applied nutrients per bushel of food grown — and the applied nutrients end up in the food and out of the rivers. In this process, yields can increase, and the quality of the crops and forage grown can improve. Rather than experiencing the financial pain of a lawsuit, producers can see increases in margins and the long-term productive potential of their farm.
The nutrients in our blended fertilizers are often linked to a carbon source, a mechanism that helps embed nutrients into the soil food chain. The nutrients then become much more plant available, supporting plant growth when the plant needs it. We use a variety of approaches to allow for nutrient release throughout the growing season. This keeps the nutrients where they belong — in the soil, in the plants and, ultimately, in the crop. It stops nutrients — phosphorous and nitrogen, in particular — from running off and ending up in the water supply.