Organics: Manure and Humates – Winter Learning Knowledge
Posted February 10, 2020 by Dani Kusner
While many people in the organic community may be familiar with the ACRES or MOSES conferences, I would argue that the best organic grain farming conference in the Midwest is the Organic Grain Resource and Information Network (OGRAIN) conference hosted by Erin Silva’s lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Annually, the gathering occurs during the last full weekend in January. In my opinion, it exceeds other learning opportunities because it is packed with science and data driven presentations focused solely on the success of organic grain farmers, rather than multiple types of farmers. See below for a few bits of wisdom that stood out to me this year.
More manure is not better. This was stressed multiple times by both farmers and university researchers. The organic farmer faces challenges with the application timing window of manure. There are some strategies to avoid the flush of weeds that can be associated with the high concentrations of soluble phosphorus and nitrogen in manure that promote rapid weed seed germination. 1) Apply manure on a cover crop, prior to termination of the cover. The carbon in the plant manure, also known as a “green manure,” will help to soak up the phosphorus and nitrogen and hold them in stable forms. 2) Apply the manure in the fall, or as early in the growing season as possible, while lightly working it in with crop residues. This method allows for more time for the incorporated manure to be worked on by soil microbes that help to digest and hold nutrients in more stable forms. This is preferable to the highly soluble nutrients that cause a weed flush if applied in the spring prior to planting. In both strategies, the earlier the application of manure, the better. The additional time allows the cover crop and/or microbes to make the most use of the nutrients in the manure, transforming them into forms that are held in organic matter in the soil and releasing them to the crop via microbial activity when the crop needs them.
Another perspective offered throughout the conference was that the most valuable use of your time and your brain thinking-power is probably not best spent in a field operation. Rather, the best return on the investment of your time may be working on a desk or office project such as grain marketing, budgeting, or field-trial planning on your own farm. You can hire additional help or utilize the younger, less experienced members of your team to complete field-work. The tasks requiring deeper concentration and analysis of your brain-thinking power might actually make you the most money, and you should prioritize spending time on these, especially during the winter months!
Speaking of potential field-trial planning, The Andersons completed our third year of an organics trial involving our humic acid products. For the third year in a row, applying Humic DG™ at 10 lbs/acre over the top of the row during planting resulted in a 10+ bushel increase across multiple replications. I am a skeptic by nature when it comes to field-trial testing because rarely do we see consistent results based on multiple variables that change from growing season to growing season. However, knowing the power of carbon and what it does in the soil to feed microbiology in the root zone, thereby increasing nutrient uptake and utilization, these consistent results with our 70% humic acid make sense. Now that Humic DG is a “proven” organic product, we can confidently recommend its use in organic operations. There wouldn’t be reason to believe that conventional farmers could not get the same yield benefits with Humic DG, but these trials were on organic land and not treated with conventional farming methods. All treatments received 160 units of nitrogen in the form of cow manure, pre-plant broadcast in addition to the treatments listed below. This is the summary of the top performers the past three years:
There are a few more opportunities to visit with our organics team at February meetings and shows –we look forward to seeing you soon:
Feb 20 at the Purdue Organic Conference in West Lafayette, IN. For more information visit www.purdue.edu/dffs/events/2020-indiana-organic-grain-farmer-meeting/
Feb 27-29 at the MOSES Organic Conference in La Crosse, WI. For more information visit www.mosesorganic.org/conference/
Dani Kusner has worked in biological and organic farming systems for the past 10 years since graduating from the University of Dayton with a Bachelor of Science in sustainability studies. She has worked at the Rodale Institute, and in Ontario, consulting with growers in both Canada and the United States. Dani joined The Andersons in 2016 and currently serves as an organic agronomy advisor, partnering with farmers as they transition to organic.