As September arrives and the nights begin to cool down, crops continue to be harvested, school has started and we welcome the beginning of Autumn. Each year brings its own set of successes, as well as challenges. I encourage you all, in these unprecedented days, to stay focused on, and thankful for the good things in your life.
It is always my goal to bring knowledge and positivity to those I meet. If I can share an idea with you, orboost your bottom line, then I've done my job. So, here are a few things I can share from my times in the fields as harvesting continues. There are times for reading written theory, and then there are times to apply practical, real-world strategy. I like to offer advice that sits somewhere in the middle, utilizing the best points from both sides.
If time permits and you are able to plant a mixed blend of cover crops, this is something that should always be done. These crops will feed soil microbes and keep life sustained in the soil. The roots and the mass above will contribute to increasing organic matter. You will notice more moisture retained, and often more plant-available nitrogen for the next crop, thus saving input costs down the road!
Adding a mixture of different cover crops also allows for different root penetration throughout the soil. So, rather than just specific crop, with a specific root system feeding a specific depth and specific biology, a mixture of cover crops will feed different biologies and loosen up different depths of soil. This allows for oxygen and water to be retained throughout your soil, again, increasing organic matter.
Plan to keep your soil covered as long as possible and you will see good things happen. Often, this is also a good way to help manage weeds and lower soil-borne diseases.
If you are organic, try planting crops that are more prone to winter kill and let them die off and breakdown through the winter.
Soil Conditioning and Residue Management
If residue management is something you need to focus on, then try some of these ideas:
As you help the system continue to break down decaying plants, it can become a great food source for microbes in the soil and thiscan help increase resistance to disease pathogens as well.
For many years I have worked with many growers who are doing just this, and we have been able to see great results. A good mix of humates, carbohydrates, microbes and a food source of hydrolyzed fish really works well.
I remember getting a call from a customer who had just purchased a new field. He commented on how hard and compact the soil was and asked me what he could do about it. So we developed a soil foliar mix and applied it. About two weeks later I walked the field with him and, wow, what an incredible change. He commented that it was like walking on a mattress versus the area where he had not sprayed, which felt hard like concrete. The soil was spongey and broke up easily in your hand and had such an excellent earthy smell to it.
I have heard comments that insect pressure on new growth is heavier when there is more plantdecay on the soil, and less insect pressure if the field is cleaner. Often times this can be true, as the old plant matter that has not broken down yet can become a home for these unwanted insects. Also, microbes will be spending time breaking down residue at the time when they should be breaking down minerals in the soil for the new growing plant.
So, always remember to manage your residue as best you can.
If time does not permit you to plant cover crops or you would like to further enhance your soil’s conditioning for next season, adding a soil conditioning program can be extremely beneficial for years to come. I will not go too in-depth about soil conditioning as it is part of a program we are offering at AGSOL, but if you would like to read more on that, you can click here:
I know that harvest can be different for everyone for many reasons. It is my hope that each of you ends up with a successful harvest. Every year is so different with regards to challenges of weather, pressures of insects, weeds and diseases and, of course, markets and changes. On top of all that, this year added COVID-19 issues and the lastingeffects it has had on everyone. I encourage you to stay positive and healthy and find ways to enjoy each day, and to find silver linings.
I’ve found this positive story in a negative situation to be very encouraging.
My wife and I like a certain little pub with craft beer and amazing pizza. Like others, it has been hurt by COVID-19 and has been closed for many months, until just recently. We finally got to go back for drinks and food, and one of the owners came to take our order and we started to chat. I asked her how she has been doing throughout all of this and, to my surprise, she smiled and said it was the best thing for her family. She admitted it was tough on the business, but she explained that she has two young children and did not realize until she was forced to stop working, just how much her kids had missed her. She explained her daughter had been struggling with some health problems and mood issues and soon after staying home and slowing life down, those problems disappeared. They just needed their parents around a bit more. She is now refocused on her business and home life and finding a healthy balance of the two.
I understand that this doesn’t directly help with your soil, but what a positive story from a great lady. It makes me think, as we harvest, as we stay home and maintain social distancing, as we eat from our gardens, we need to focus on and count our blessings and where we can in our lives, we can readjust and find a healthy balance.
This year was definitely not what I had pictured for 2020, but it has offered some perspective on what is most important in life. What is worth fighting for and what is worth slowing down for. We are entering into the season of sitting in harvest equipment with time to think and I encourage you to spend some time thinking: “What has been good about this year, what am I thankful for?”.
And always remember that your soil cannot be forgotten about.