This picture doesn’t have anything to do with farming, but it makes me think of spring. It’s a photo of Frank Sinatra catching a baseball outside a film studio. The other neat thing about this is that Sammy Davis Jr. took the picture. When I’m done blogging today I’m going to head outside to play some ball with my boys. It’s 68 degrees here today!

Year 2 of the Blank Slate field will be corn on corn. Friends tell me I shouldn’t do this on ground with low levels of organic matter and fertility. I think it’s the perfect place for it. One of the initial challenges to deal with this spring will be determining what rate of Nitrogen to use and how to apply it.

The first thing we do on our farm when determining how much Nitrogen to apply is look at the Cation Exchange Capacity of our soil, which is commonly abbreviated CEC on soil tests. On a trip to Minot ND and Sidney MT yesterday, I got the chance to look at a number of soil tests from growers in those areas. NONE of them had a CEC test or base saturation. Frankly, the tests were barely worth the price of the paper they were written on. You see, the CEC test tells you the holding capacity of the soil. It’s a measure of 3 things:

1. The type of clay soil you have
2. The amount of clay your soil contains
3. The amount of organic matter your soil has.

By understanding the holding capacity of my soil at the Blank Slate, I can make an informed decision about how much Nitrogen I can responsibly use at one time. Without that test, I’m shooting in the dark. Soil has a negative electrical charge and Nitrogen, when it converts to the nitrate form, also has a negative charge. If you apply more than your soil can hold the result will be Nitrogen loss that could eventually end up in someone’s water. Here’s an example of how important that test is.

My CEC on the hilltops is as low as 12.2. In the valleys it’s as high as 22.3. We use a rule of thumb for Nitrogen application rates. The soil can hold about 10 times as many pounds of Nitrogen in a single application as the CEC.

12.2 CEC X 10 = approximately 122 pounds of Nitrogen my soil can hold on hilltops.
22.3 CEC X 10 = approximately 223 pounds of Nitrogen my soil can hold in valleys.

If you’re new to my blog, the Blank Slate field is a 60 acre field with 70 feet of drop from its highest point to the lowest. With that kind of slope, there has been a great deal of soil erosion over the years. While the field has terraces, they were installed far too late to do much to help the situation. Years of conventional tillage and the management of cash renters on a 12 month contract has been tough on the soil that I just purchased in the fall of 2009. As a result, much of my topsoil is either in the valleys of the field or washed down the hills into the neighbor’s fields.

So what am I doing with Nitrogen rates and application methods this year? I’ll get there in a minute. I have one more problem in addition to my highly variable CEC levels, I also have to deal with last year’s cornstalks. So far we’ve managed the cornstalk residue by using a chopping head on our Case IH combine in the fall and following up by strip-tilling an 8 inch wide path down the middle of the 30 inch rows. Cornstalks have a Carbon to Nitrogen ratio of 60 to 1. Soil bacteria need that ratio to be around 15 to 1 in order to begin breaking down those stalks. As a result, corn on corn and especially 1st year corn on corn needs a little extra Nitrogen in order to get that Carbon to Nitrogen ratio in line. Most guys in our area that are successful with corn on corn add another 50 pounds of Nitrogen per acre to account for the breakdown of cornstalks. That Nitrogen will eventually free back up for you, but not in time for helping this year’s crop.

With my 150 bushel yield from last fall, I will have at least 3 tons of cornstalks per acre to break down. This should allow me to safely place a little bit extra Nitrogen. I’m planning on putting 50 gallons of liquid 28% on this spring in a broadcast application on the soil surface with my pre-emerge herbicide. Each gallon of 28% contains about 3 pounds of Nitrogen.

3 lbs/gallon X 50 gallons = 150 pounds of applied Nitrogen.

In addition, I’m planning a sidedress application later so I can feed my crop as it begins to use up my pre-plant application of Nitrogen. I have another 25 gallons of 28% purchased, so I can add another 75 pounds of Nitrogen for my crop. I was just reading an article about how in the first 50 days, corn uses about 43% of the Nitrogen it needs for the year. If I wait to apply the rest of the Nitrogen rather than putting it all on at one time, my soil will then be able to hold it. Here’s a ridiculously long link if you’d like to read the article (which also talks about P, K and micros) that I mentioned above.

Nitrogen is a key nutrient. I’ll discuss the other nutrients I’m using as we get closer to planting. By the way, if the weather stays good we’ll begin planting on our farm in about 4 weeks.


Mar 072011

I’m having a lot of fun with this 60 piece of farmland I’m affectionately calling the Blank Slate. The lack of fertility on the ground when I bought it is the reason for the name. Too bad the field wasn’t weed-free as well! Today, I’ll start detailing the plan for my second crop on this ground.

Last year I planted corn and got a little better than 150 bushels per acre. That was a nice start. In 2011, I’ll be planting corn again. One nutrient that I’m concerned about is Sulfur and its role in improving Nitrogen efficiency.

One of the new things I’ll be doing in 2011 is using different source of Sulfur. Last year we applied some eNhance with our 28% liquid Nitrogen. This year we’ll use accesS from Agro-Culture Liquid. If you’d like more info on accesS, there’s some on the home page at It’s a much more concentrated Sulfur product with 17% Sulfur as well as 0.25% Iron and 0.25% Manganese. Since the Sulfur is in a more usable form, you can expect similar performance to Ammonium Thiosulfate (ATS) at half the rate. Since ATS is in tight supply this year and expensive, I can save money and handle a lot less product.

My plan is to use 1 gallon of accesS for each 10 gallons of 28% I apply.

Lots more to cover in the coming days and weeks. Thanks for reading, and I’m happy to respond to any questions.


Feb 262011

Still love that picture. Always makes me smile!

Took a few months off from the blogging, but I’m ready to get going again this spring. The plans are nearly complete for my Blank Slate 60 field, so I’ll be sharing the details in the coming weeks. I also have a number of interesting soil tests from last fall that are beginning to build quite a story for the soils in this field as well as the program we’re implementing to build fertility, organic matter, topsoil, and ultimately yield.

Look for more info beginning next week.



Oct 292010

Having a little back and forth with my friend, Ed Winkle, on inoculant. He sees great gains in yield putting inoculant on the seed. Unfortunately some farmers get discouraged when they do a trial and only see a one bushel advantage using inoculant.

On our farm, we look at things a little different than most. Let’s say for example that on average you gain 1 bushel using inoculants year in and year out. It’s still a great deal when you look at the return on investment.

1 bushel X $11.00 = $11/Acre gained
$11 gain – $2.75 cost (varies by product, custom treating, etc.) = $8.25 Net Gain
$8.25 net gain divided by $2.75 cost X 100 = 300% Net Return on Investment
Treated seed May 1 and harvested October 1 = 5 months from time of investment to time of harvest
300% ROI divided by 5 months X 12 = 720% Net APR ROI

The only problem I see is that you can only use so much inoculant each year. I wish I could put every dollar I had into inoculants because the return on investment as a farmer is so fantastic!

My feeling is that most fields have a number of things that are out of whack. My Blank Slate field would be a good example: low organic matter, soil erosion problems, drainage problems in the lows, high soil pH, low fertility, etc. Adding one correct practice may not show results in and of itself. Once you figure out the worst thing in the field that’s really killing your yields and you eliminate that, then everything else starts working better.

Problem is the Good Lord wants to keep us working hard so he reveals things slowly so we don’t get big egos and think we know it all. Either that or I’m just a hard headed Norwegian that doesn’t listen too well. Probably a little of both.

The bottom line is to look at your fields individually and treat the problems specific to each field. When I travelled to Ukraine in 2006, this was one of the concepts they had a hard time understanding. They wanted to treat every acre exactly the same way, and they expected each acre to produce the same. It doesn’t work that way and never will. There are too many variables.

Find the biggest problem in each field and deal with that first even if it’s costly like adding drainage tile, soil amendments, etc. Once you have that BIG problem out of the way, everything else will start working better and you can pick off one little issue after another until your yields soar.

As for rhizobia inoculants for soybeans, Ed’s right. Use them every time. They will give you a great return on investment.


Alright, I’ve kept you in suspense long enough. It’s time to reveal some final yield numbers and begin the observation (a.k.a. 2nd guessing)that inevitably follows such cold, arbitrary numbers.

Yield = 151.7 Bushels Per Acre
Harvest Moisture = 13.6%
Test Weight = 55.7 Pounds Per Bushel

There. I said it. It’s out there. 151.7 Bushels. I didn’t really say what my yield goal was before harvest. It was 160 bushels per acre, but I didn’t set that in my mind until part way through the season when we were getting plentiful rains. Let me explain.

When I first bought this farm about 14 months ago, I thought that 150 bushels had never been raised on this piece of soil before. Wouldn’t it be nice to do that? The other fields around here look better than this one. They’re yielding more. Maybe they’re treated a little better. There were soybeans on the field at that time. They didn’t look nearly as good as the beans on the rest of our farm. I was anxious for the tenant to harvest them so we could get to work.

Then we took some soil samples. I knew they were going to be bad. You can look back on previous posts to find out the actual numbers, but they were beyond bad. I didn’t have much to go on. 1.5% organic matter and 1 ppm of Phosphorus?!? The observations about the topsoil were a little disheartening. In some places it was just gone. My brother’s favorite line was that “not only was the topsoil gone, but some of the subsoil had eroded as well.” Thanks, Brian! These are the reasons I decided to call the field the Blank Slate. There’s nothing out there unless we put it out there and build it up for the long term.

Over the winter there was time to think and plan. My dad has been giving me a hard time, too. He wasn’t sure that Brian would pile it on enough, I guess. Of course they both know that’s the kind of stuff that motivates me to work a little harder. I was working primarily with Rob Fritz, who is one of our key agronomists specializing in fertilizer. Rob tolerates my crazy ideas because he has plenty of his own.

Rob and I have been looking at Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizer on our farm for a couple years and the performance has been fantastic. However, we haven’t used Liquid as our total program on whole fields until this year. In the past, we’ve been loading up with dry P and K because it’s typically cheaper and we own or long-term rent all of our ground. The dry isn’t tremendously available (although we’ve had good luck using Avail in recent years on the MAP with our Phosphorus). We figured we’d eventually pull that fertility out, but it could take many years.

The ACLF Liquid approach is intriguing. The Blank Slate offered virtually no native fertility. It looked like a great place to give a very difficult but fair trial. In my mind, ACLF gets high marks. We had a few fertility trials using different rates and timings. I’ll share those results another day.

A majority of the field we fertilized for 150 bushels and got it. The crop looked great all year long. I haven’t had time to put the dollars, cents, and return on investment information together yet, but 10 gallons of a 50/50 blend of Pro Germinator and Sure K along with a half gallon of Micro 500 appeared at first glance to be the best. That was all done at planting time in the furrow. Pretty easy to execute fertility plan if you ask me.

So there you have it. 151.7 bushels on the Blank Slate for 2010. The new baseline yield is set and all future targets will be higher than 151.7. More information to come as we analyze the results.

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