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Liquid Organic Matter Can Save Costs, Increase Yields

Plants, when delivered liquid organic matter, have been proven to use less and make a higher yield.

Organic matter improves tilling properties and increases soil water holding capacity in soil. It also makes nutrients in soil more readily available to plants as they leach through soil at minimum rates. Most importantly, due to their unique chemical and physical compositions, organic matter-bound nutrients have been proven to be very efficiently utilized by plants. Organic matter is no doubt one of the most important key ingredients to increase soil productivity, which ultimately results in higher crop yields.

However, there are many types of organic matter with different methods of application, in which practicability and efficiency can be a concern. Canadian Humalite International Inc. of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has been making an effort to mitigate this challenge by utilizing low-quality coal (non-hazardous material, energy value around 7,000 BTU/lb) as a source of organic matter. This material is transported from the mine, crushed, liquefied, combined with nutrients, and then applied to soil and/or plants. Rather than using it as a non-efficient source of energy, this coal material is developed into products which are beneficial to soil.

The products are applied to soil/seeds, seedlings, and plants up to 15 percent flowering through drip irrigation and pivot/spray systems. Significant yield increases have been observed on various crops grown in different types of soil and climate regions in Canada and the United States. The following example is one of the most recent findings obtained from a field trial completed in Forrestburg, Alberta, Canada, in 2013.

Soil in the area was loam with solonetzic clay underneath, degree of acidity (pH) = 6.1, electrical conductivity (EC) = 0.3 ds/m, and organic matter = 6.0%. It contained available macronutrients at 51 lbs nitrogen (N)/acre, 43 lbs phosphorus (P2O5)/acre, 631 lbs potassium (K2O)/acre, and 75 lbs sulfur (SO4)/acre. Available micronutrients were 0.8 ppm copper (Cu)/acre, 0.9 ppm boron (B)/acre, 4 ppm zinc (Zn)/acre, 21 ppm manganese (Mn)/acre, and 160 ppm iron (Fe)/acre. Nutrient analyses indicated that the soil was deficient in nitrogen, marginal in phosphorus and copper, adequate in boron and zinc, and optimum in other nutrients.

The field trial was completed at 27 outdoor test plots of 4½ feet x 22 feet (99 ft2) each (see Figure 1). Wheat of “Harvest” variety was planted in each plot in May. Macronutrients were applied on each plot during seeding at 60 N and 20 P2O5 lbs/acre. Micronutrients and liquefied organic matter were sprayed two weeks later on seedlings. On each of the control plots, copper sulfate was sprayed at a rate of 0.10 lbs Cu/acre, iron sulfate at 0.55 lbs Fe/acre, and zinc chloride at 0.25 lbs Zn/acre. On each of the treated plots, a liquid product of Canadian Humalite International Inc. containing 1.5% liquefied organic matter was sprayed at a rate of 6 ounces/acre (or 2.55 g liquefied organic matter/acre) in combination with each micronutrient. The micronutrient rates were 0.10 and 0.05 lbs Cu/acre, 0.55 and 0.28 lbs Fe/acre, and 0.25 and 0.13 lbs Zn/acre. Each control and treated plot was replicated three times. Harvest was made in September, in which yields from each replicate were averaged and recorded as bushel/acre (note: 1 bushel of wheat weighed 60 lbs).

It was found that crop yields increased from 64.7 to 65.3 lbs/acre (control) to 68.6 to 70.3 lbs/acre when liquefied organic matter was incorporated (see Figure 2). In comparison to control, zinc micronutrient experienced the lowest increase at 6.0%, while copper the most at 7.7%. Even when the micronutrient applications were reduced to approximately one-half (50%) of the original rates (control), yield increases were still observed at 67.7 to 68.3 lbs/acre when liquefied organic matter was incorporated. In comparison to control, iron micronutrient had the lowest increase at 2.8%, while zinc the highest at 6.0%. Although detailed mechanisms were not investigated in this trial, it suggested that liquefied organic matter helped the plant to utilize the applied micronutrients more efficiently, resulting in higher crop yields. This would be great news for end users as they could enjoy a higher crop yield or a lower input cost while maintaining the same yield and reduced nutrient rates would also promote a healthier soil environment.

Most interestingly, the trial was completed in a relatively good quality of soil. Past experiences showed more dramatic results when similar crops were grown in poorer quality of soils (such as those with lower organic matter). In this case, the end users could reap a double benefit on the higher crop yield and reduced input cost.

In summary, liquefied organic matter did improve crop yields even at reduced nutrient rates.

Acknowledgments: Battle River Research Group of Forrestburg, Alberta, Canada completed the field trial. National Research Council of Canada (Industrial Research Assistant Program), Agriculture & Agri Food Canada (Canadian Agriculture Adaptation Program), and Canada Revenue Agency (Scientific Research & Experimental Development) provided financial supports and subsidies.

By M. Cano, P. Verdi & E. Liem. This article first published in the March 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.

Cano (agronomy), P. Verdi (agronomy), and E. Liem (environmental, technical manager) are with Canadian Humalite International Inc., Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For more information call 780-488-4810, email eliem@cdnhumaliteintl.com or visit www.cdnhumaliteintl.com.

Composting Tips and Strategies for Balanced Compost

Composting tips are common to find, but information to build a composting program is really what most people are seeking.

A wheelbarrow full of compost that is ready to apply.

Charles Walters, as quoted in Secrets of the Soil, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, says of microbial life: “There are more kinds and numbers of minute livestock hidden in the shallows and depths of an acre of soil than ever walk the surface of that field.”

As much as a cattle rancher’s livelihood depends on healthy livestock, he and his cattle’s very lives depend on armies of beneficial microbes for survival. Microbes are the foundation for all life on earth; without them the earth would be nothing more than a barren rock. There would be no fertile soils, no plants, no trees, no insects, no animals and no humans.

Soil bacteria secrete acids that break down rocks, and enzymes that break down dead plant and animal matter into rich, life-giving soil, while transforming minerals into forms that are usable to plants. Microbes help prevent soil erosion, combat disease organisms that attack plants, animals and humans, and are an important link our food chain.

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Soil Testing Based on Mehlich III Extraction Methods

Soil testing, wrote Jerry Brunetti in 2009, is the foundation for the actions you take to add fertility to your soil:

A farmer starts to test the soil.

I’ve always been a fan of foliar nutrition, especially on forages. However, I don’t advocate the application of foliar fertilizers as a replacement for sound agronomic practices involving comprehensive soil analysis (including multiple trace elements), tissue testing, and an evaluation of the soil ecology.

A soil test can be quite easy to interpret and recommendations can just as easily be made based on the results of the test. Since many articles on soil fertility have been written for Acres U.S.A., this article will provide the reader with an “ideal” test based upon a Mehlich III Extraction.

Forage tests generally determine whether or not you are on target with adequate feeding of the crop and are becoming considerably more revealing than in the past. This is especially true in the measurement of total digestibility and fiber digestibility, protein quality, and the various fractions of energy such as sugars, starches, digestible NDF, etc.

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Compost Tea: A Remedy for What Injures Your Crops

A compost heap with kitchen food waste, animal manure, vegetables, fruit peel and green refuse.

Compost tea can serve multiple functions to develop healthy and fertile soil.

Combating disease on fruits and vegetables can be a frustrating experience, even for the most committed organic grower. A brief spell of adverse weather at just the wrong time can reduce peaches to unappetizing brown mush, apples to hard scabby nuggets, and cucumber vines to wilting, mildew-covered disasters. Organically approved disease control materials that are effective and do not demand too rigorous an application schedule are hard to find. So, what can you do when your grapevine gazes at you imploringly, begging for relief from yet another battle with botrytis?

Perhaps a spot of compost tea would be just what the doctor ordered!

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Fertile Soil: Understanding Fertility Levels and Inputs

A farmer tosses a handful of soil.

Fertile soil is a goal of every farmer, gardener and orchardist, but achieving fertile soil and maintaining fertile soil takes some understanding of the soil ecosystem, including minerals, microbials and other inputs will affect your soil fertility.

There are those in agriculture who insist that if you will only use the program they recommend, regardless of your farm’s condition, there will be no need to purchase phosphate and potassium and perhaps any other fertilizers anymore. Names of actual farmers successfully using such programs can be provided by the salesman. Some of these farmers have actually been able to maintain yields without the use of fertilizer for several years. Keep in mind that it is possible, under the proper conditions, to achieve excellent results without adding more fertilizer. But on most farms the proper conditions do not exist, and hardship would ultimately result for those involved in such a program.

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From Coffee Grounds to Gourmet Mushrooms

oyster mushroom

Kansas State University researchers are taking used coffee grounds from a campus coffee shop and using them as compost to cultivate gourmet mushrooms at the K-State Student Farm. By composting alone, 50 pounds a week — or about 30 percent of the coffee shop’s total waste — has been diverted from landfills. “The goal of the project is to demonstrate our potential at Kansas State University to initiate a successful closed-loop recycling and composting program that diverts waste from landfills and produce a beneficial product,” Natalie Mladenov, assistant professor of civil engineering said. While developing the compost program, the researchers made an important discovery: coffee grounds make excellent compost for cultivating mushrooms, particularly gourmet mushrooms, such as oyster, shiitake and reishi. The United States gets nearly 45 percent of its mushrooms from China, and there is a need for more local suppliers of gourmet mushrooms, said Kaley Oldani, student leader for the project.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Acres U.S.A.