Soil School: Combining soil health with nutrition for higher yield

Farmers are taking a closer look at their soil’s health lately, and measuring the impact of cover crops or different types of strip-tillage. In this episode of Soil School, we’re talking about overall soil health and nutrition and we’ve got a great example of what you can achieve when you combine soil health and balanced nutrition, as shown in an alfalfa field. We’ll also have some tips for soil health management for in the fall.

“Sometimes when you blur it on either side, when you look at soil health and fertility, they really meld together,” says Aaron Stevanus, technical sales manager for Mosaic. “When we have good healthy soil, we get good nutrient cycling, and that means a better ROI on your fertility because you’re holding it in the fall, having it available when the crop’s growing, it just comes together.”

The video shows an example of a fertility trial done in a full-scale field of alfalfa with great visual results. Stevanus developed a plan with the farmer to do an untreated check, then apply different rates of Aspire and K-Mag. Story continues below the video.

The grower’s initial concern was for yield and protein, and when they took off a second cut and they were worried about the tonnage. A balanced fertility blend that included potassium, sulphur, magnesium, and boron, resulted in double the dry matter yield.

Potassium in particular helps keep leaves on the alfalfa plant, and the longer the leaves stay on the plant, the more protein you can get out of your feed. This means more nutrition for your cattle, whether they’re dairy or for beef — it’s more milk in the tank, or more meat on the cow.

Another study that Stevanus worked on looked at boron in synergy with potassium. Stevanus and a researcher from Turkey did a hydroponic study found that when adequate levels of boron were combined with potassium, there was rapid potassium uptake into the plant — versus when boron was low, there was less potassium uptake. (The video has a great graph for visual aid)

“If we can get boron and potassium together, we’re going to drive more potassium into that plant, and essentially make it more efficient,” says Stevanus. “Especially in hay, where we really need potassium for winter hardiness, keeping leaves in tact, better standability and drought tolerance, and for protein, we’re getting to get all of these for a positive ROI and potentially be more efficient with our potassium and our fertility.”

Heading into the fall, soil testing should be the first thing you do when considering your fall fertilizer applications, advises Stevanus.  Since the wheat has been off for a while, a soil test is like a report card to base your balanced crop nutrition fertility plan on. If the potassium can be applied this fall, without rutting up your fields, it’s one less thing to do in the spring. Stevanus says stick with the 4Rs for the phophorus though, don’t broadcast it, it’s more efficient when it’s placed with or near the seed in the spring.

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