Every year as the Soybean fields turn color; it makes me want to become a photographer. Not that I’m particularly artistic, and if I am completely honest, my wife is a much better photographer than I am. But the reason that I want to become a photographer is that no matter what annual crop you have in the field right now, I wish that I had pictures of it to show you in the Winter, Spring, and Summer. Because every time that we gloss over our variability as we are making input decisions throughout the rest of the year, I wish we could pull up a picture on our phone as a reminder.
What we see in our fields right now is a function of one of three things, Plant Health, Soil Properties, and Soil Health. I am going to take Plant Health off of the board right now though. True, we have plenty of issues out there with diseases, insects and such, but I am going to choose to believe that you all have scouted and monitored your fields and you know if you have those issues right now.
So then, we move on to Soil Properties. These are the things of the soil that we cannot change but are extremely important to how we manage. To be honest, this is what I spend most of the summer talking about with all of you. Water infiltration, water holding capacity, soil parent material, and so on. These are critically important to consider when talking about cover crops, seed decisions, irrigation management, and even tillage. I certainly don’t want to discount the importance of soil properties. They are a huge part of how to manage properly. But, I hope you will allow me to set them off to the side temporarily.
I would be willing to bet that the main reason that we see different areas of our bean fields changing color at different speeds is largely related to soil fertility. Our pH is a big contributing factor, whether it be acidic areas or high pH hillsides. Phosphorus and Potassium are also big factors in the how soil health affects plant health and leads to early death or other stresses. I know that soil fertility is an afterthought for many of you in this day and age. You have done the zone or grid soil sampling program and addressed deficiencies and challenges as they arose. Most of us have. But I will tell you that soil tests continue to tell us that we have not done enough. The IPNI (International Plant Nutrition Institute) shows that we have more soils in the extremely deficient and less in the good soil test levels than ten years ago when it comes to Phosphorus. And nationwide, we are seeing a consistent decline of our average Potassium level as well.
So here is my challenge for you today. I want you to go for a drive and visit all of your farms today. Take your camera, stand up in the back of your pickup and take some pictures. And then store them in your phone in a 2017 harvest folder. And as your FSA visits with you this fall about your fields that are up to ReGrid, or to renew in the Zone Program, or even move to Advanced Zones, pause a minute and remember this day. Quietly pull your phone out of your pocket and go to the photos and look for this folder. And as you have the internal dialog going in your head about if you want to tackle this expense for 2018, look at the variability in your fields on September 15th, and recall what they looked like on June 15th as well. Then I want you to put your phone away, and think about how the importance of your soil sampling program. It’s not flashy. It isn’t something that makes for good coffee shop talk or cool banter on AgTalk. Think about September 15, 2018, and looking over your fields. Do you want to see the variability all over again and take pictures, or do you want your neighbors asking you why your field is all the same color and theirs looks like a calico cat? I have a pretty good idea which one is going to be more profitable.