2 Questions that Lead to Success

The last 3 growing seasons across the corn belt have been a challenge.  I always enjoy the post-harvest time towards the end of the year as it gives me a “gauge” on what growers are thinking simply by the questions that they ask.  There were 2 primary questions this fall –

  1. Should I put more fall Nitrogen on?
  2. Should I rip/work my ground?

These are both very “loaded” questions and those I seem to get a lot, and unfortunately it’s because too often in life and farming we look for the silver bullet that’s going to magically change the next outcome.  Most of this simply still goes back to lack of education and understanding.

For the ultimate success, the 2 questions we must always ask ourselves are these:

  1. Does it address the Root Cause that’s creating the problem?
  2. Does it provide one or more actual solutions to the problem?

So let’s use these 2 questions (Root Cause/Solution) to address the first 2 in this post.

 Does applying more fall Nitrogen address the nitrogen issues we faced in ’21?

 No it doesn’t.  In some cases it can actually create more problems in terms of more N loss, more soil degradation (C:N ratios), higher plant NO3 levels, etc.  Did applying more N this fall address the issue of cost/finances?  When comparing $750 ton NH4 to $1200+, it absolutely did.  However, what happens if next spring/early summer turns off wet and this applied N converts mostly to NO3 and is lost? 

 For those who applied more fall N, did you also apply the necessary other products to convert this N to a much more stable form – ie Amino Acid N?

Did we properly address the Root Cause and provide one or more solutions to the problem here? Once again folks, I’m not being disrespectful.  My role as a consultant is to provide you the information to help you be more successful, not simply tell you what’s easiest or “what you want to hear.”

 Ironically, very few questions involving Nitrogen mgmt. this fall/early winter have revolved around Amino Acid nitrogen…

Does my field(s) need ripped/worked because of compaction?

Only if you have a significant density/compaction layer present that this tillage pass will fix.  To answer this question, one should first get a shovel and either a tile probe or penetrometer and use these 2 tools to make a management decision based on good science – not poor science or even our opinions in our head. 

Sometimes these density layers are deeper than one can till and sometimes we also destroy what aggregate structure we have built with one tillage pass. 

 What’s your water infiltration rate (WIR)?  Most soils WIR is really pretty poor and without soil aggregation won’t improve.  Tillage doesn’t build aggregates.  It degrades them.  However in soils that lack soil aggregates, tillage can be an important tool in getting this started because it does allow for short term soil O2 levels to support beneficial aerobic soil microbe activity.

If you have a common cold and you go to your Doctor and he or she prescribes an antibiotic, did the Dr. actually do you any favor(s)?  Not for a common cold.  Why?  The common cold root cause is a virus and antibiotics do nothing for viral infections.  In this case the Dr did not address the root cause.  What actually happened here was the Dr. likely gained financially due to your lack of education/understanding and your immune system became further degraded due to the antibiotic taken. 

The ultimate root cause to almost every negative aspect of this growing season is simply soils that do not function properly.  N loss, lack of oxygen, diseases, etc. are merely symptoms of the root cause. Soils must be able to function properly and exchange both O2 and CO2 efficiently to have resilient soil systems.  

Always pick battles you can win.  Sometimes yes, that means doing things we maybe don’t want to do like using Antagonistic practices or even an antibiotic.  They do have their place when necessary – but only when they’re completely necessary.

To fix any problem, we first need to recognize there is one.  From there asking these 2 primary questions, and then taking a few steps back to analyze the situation and then implementing a plan addressing the Root Cause/Solution principle will allow us to make more informed decisions leading to Success.