Saturday, January 11, 2020

Direct seed conference notes

Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association 2020 Cropping Systems Conference
January 6-8

Here are the notes I took. It was a valuable conference for me. I learned that many of the ideas I've been hearing about have been successfully tried in my bioregion.  

1st session. Innovative farmers told of their new projects.
Andy Juris has upgraded his equipment and acres over the years until he’s running a 620hp tractor and an industry best CrossSlot drill. 10K acres, much is custom hire for others. Harvests with a stripper header to leave maximum crop residue standing and less work for the combine to do threshing. Grew 120 bu wheat in an 11 inch rainfall year! Has been switching fields from grain production to annual hay production. Mainly forage barley or forage triticale mixed with peas. Hay yields have been good, one cutting a year, 1.5 ton/a Barley, 2.5 ton/a Trit, 1.8 ton/a dryland alfalfa.
Has ran into rattail fescue infestation and glysophate resistant cheat grass. Had to start tilling some badly infested fields, switched herbicide recipes, took grass crops out of rotation there, and worked at better weed control timing. Resistant cheat is a disaster that he and his neighbors are working to get under control. It was caused by a previous farmer who sprayed low rates of roundup and assumed the weeds wouldn't get used to it.

Rob Dewald
9-12 inch rainfall zones. Has tried all the planter types, has both. Using stripper headers now. Is doing some grass seed now. Working at having living roots in ground at all times. Sunflowers do improve the soil for next crop.
Planted a 10 species cover crop mix, it really does create its own moisture! Roots put carbon in the soil, and now getting livestock to join the party. Didn’t use too much moisture to hinder next years crop.
Now doing the cover crop mix 25 lbs an acre, mixed with a cash crop, tried fields with CC + 60lbs wheat, CC + 90 lbs trit, CC+5 lbs canola. Fert at spring planting was humics and molasses. Grazed 65 days, could have been longer. Excellent gains, but could have been better as calves took a while to calm down and learn to eat the cover crop. Fertilized with solution32 in fall. The cover crops winter killed, the cash crops that had been hiding out in the mix took off in the spring, and had a decent grain crop.

Chris Eckhart
12-16in rainfall. Also switching to hay production, doesn’t want to flood the local market. With careful residue management, was able to use a tillage style drill to do no-till at first. As a beginner, Chris discovered the problem of ruts and ridges from previous year are there to contend with. Chaff out the back of the combine wasn’t spread evenly, leaving a chaff strip that the next crop didn’t like at all. Really likes a well adjusted double disk drill. Main reason for buying a proper no-till drill was the old one wouldn’t adjust to a low enough rate for small canola seeds. Ended up getting a used, mechanical feed corn planter from the mid-west for that. Row cleaners are important for this style of machine. Since canola wants to be planted shallow and moist, and you don’t always have the right conditions, Chris tried putting down high rates of water with the seed instead of fertilizer. It sort of worked, but takes a LOT of water.
Fertilizer plan is all dry granules in spring. Mycorhyzal fungi inoculents for wheat are producing good results. Ordered wheat seed without the usual fungicide coating, and used inoculent power instead. It worked great! No problems found. Good fungus displaces bad.

Eric Orem
5-12in rainfall. Flexicoil hoe drill with stealth openers.
He cut 800 lb/a sunflowers with a wheat header! Yes they do get caught on the reel and flip out. Had his kid walking along, tossing them back in. Bought a corn header for next sunflower crop, that worked good. Tried dryland corn, it didn’t work, but will try again. Also moving grain acres to hay, trit/pea did 2.3 ton/a. Next year planning on expanding crops to sunflowers, milo, sorgam, beans, corn, peas, and cover crops.

Pat Purdy
All irrigated, heavily depleted gravel soils in Idaho. Crops since 1883. Season is such they can only grow annual spring crops. Growing hay, barley, mustard, cows, hunting and fishing land. Not using pesticides because bugs for fish are more valuable. Need to regenerate the soil with natural carbon. Tried other drills, liked disk drill best. Even with transport, its cheaper to find used drills in the midwest.
Roundup Ready alfalfa was too hard to kill. Cheap alf in for 3 years is better. Seeds 25lb/a alf with 50lb/a barley to boost first year production.
Giving up tillage means you can’t wipe slate clean. So plan each operation for its long term effects, don’t make ruts! Bought a powercast tailboard for better combine chaff spreading. Working on goal of no synthetic fertilizer.

2nd Session
Mike Nestor and Doug Poole 6-9in rainfall.
Doug has bought into all the regenerative agriculture concepts, but how to apply? The soil is alive, work with nature, soil typically has 500-1000 years of minerals available. Biology first. Natural vs synthetic chemistry. Even poor soil has greater potential!
Tried 30 day covers, but when terminated, moisture would leave. Have to find economically viable solution when leasing land at 25/75 crop share. (Farmer gets 75%)
Tried mixed cover crop and cash crop. Triticale, turnip, clover, pea, sunflower. Humic and molasses instead of fert. It grew well, but it was a summer with no rain. Was looking bad in late summer. The weed that wasn’t suppressed by mix was marestail. Will have to adjust mix next time. Soil was hard. Roots in plates and clumps of soil, but they were live. A quarter inch of rain in October brought it back, soil was soft, crop was growing and photosynthesizing despite the cold. Decided to fertilize, 20% less than usual since other farmers who have gone down this path have said it takes a while for soil to get used to all natural fert instead of synthetic. As the snow melted, it didn’t run like usual. There was less frost, soil had air bubbles, and the mud left this field first. The roots looked great. In the spring, sprayed humics, molasses, with 24D for mustard. Way less weeds than usual. Other field with this mix had a goat grass problem, but not enough of it grew to be worth spraying. As the triticale crop matured, it grew great, the soil was darker than ever, there was still moisture, soil testing showed no deficiency. But the leaves did. The grain was slow to dry. Yield wasn’t as great as it could be, but of the four fields the results were:
May planted mix 1300 lb/a net profit -28
June planted mix 2100 lb/a net profit 19
winter trit mono 3000 lb/a net profit 46
spring trit mono 1100 lb/a net profit -2.5
(Long term average grain yields in this area are 2040 lb/a)
The mixes had additional advantages of way less weed spray, less equipment use, better activity timing, and they were exciting and beautiful. Didn’t get these grazed, but that would add an additional boost. The mix fields were full of birds, bugs, deer, and ranchers were asking to graze it, but none were able to pull off the logistics this time.
Version 2 of this trial this year had more cover crop species, which all germinated. There was a 3 inch downpour that caused some damage, not as much damage as the conventional fields suffered. And more of the water was caught and held.
We learned that the concept works, covers do suppress weeds, the roots look 2-3x better than conventional with the same fert and seed variety. It definitely works for triticale, a try as this mix with canola has room for improvement. And we need to figure out how to graze it.

3rd session
Microbes give you 25% yield increase
Tom Poole 6in rainfall.
His big thing is applying liquid extracts of composted manure.
Principles: 1 break down residue. You can bail and till it, but its better to get that carbon back in the soil.
2 moisture, 3 fertilizer, 4 water infiltration.
Adding Nitrogen burns up soil carbon. Get your Carbon : Nitrogen ratio right with managing tillage, environment, crops, fert and rotation.
Use these same factors to manage your bacteria/fungal ratio.
Tillage benefits disease. The future is microbes instead of trucked in N. No one sells carbon, you have to do it yourself.
Applying compost extracts has brought the soil biology from and assay of 50lbs N to 100 lbs N.
Counting protozoa/amoeba that are easier to see can give you an idea of your bacterial population. The amount of soil disturbance a no-till planter causes is acceptable, it releases water from fungal hyphe in the root zone for seed germination. But the microbes and soil life will be doing the tilling and converting crop residue. Tom started with organic matter of 0.6 to 0.9%, now up to 2%! Root sugar is the best carbon injection. Fertilizer program is now 21 Lb/a N instead of 50, split between planting and in season. Two applications of compost extract, after harvest, and in October. It is made by buying one truckload of manure compost, putting it into 400 mesh bags, soaked in IBC totes over night. It has to soak so the fibers swell and stay in the bags, otherwise they clog the sprayer nozzles. 10 bags per tote. Can use them twice, then reload. Applying 12-13 gallons per acre. Isn’t it better to use the compost directly? That would cost too much, and require different equipment to apply. Only uses one $2000 truckload a year. The spot where the compost got dumped grew as well as the extract acres.
Once you have good revived soil, you can use your old conventional hoe drill to plant. There wasn’t these clay knobs 50 years ago, they have eroded. They need carbon, rebuild the soil.
With this program of no-till and compost extract, yields have gone from 50 bu/a to 67 in one area, 27 to 38 in another. Yet a good year now is about the same as the top yields 100 years ago, when farming had just started here.
How does the extract work? Don’t know, just does somehow. Too much Phos in it being from cattle? Tests say it isn’t a concern. Also it has 1-2 lb of N.

4th Session
Cat Solois from McGregor company.
Sports talk, trying to get crowd engaged with talk of couches and teams.
Think outside the box, have a young mindset. Yield breakers, offense and defense planning. What scoring opportunities do you have? Be ready, not reacting late.
What is yield? Seed weight, grains per head, heads per acre.
What are limiting factors? Water, growing degree days, N? Not any one thing, it changes throughout the lifecycle of crop. Plant needs what it needs when it needs it. Different mineral use at different stages. Research from high yield contests show helping crop early is easier, later made the most impact. Phos most needed early, get it in the furrow for sprouts.
30-40% of inorganic fertilizer gets tied up in soil, broke out later by biology. Early wheat tillers are productive, later ones just use resources and don’t make much grain.
Later N application is better, during stem elongation in spring. Since its often put down during seeding, inhibitors that slow N release have been shown to help a lot, better than split application in cool PNW conditions. Mid season need for boron & zinc, can boost yield 10 bu.
85% of photosynthesis happen in head, top two leaves of wheat plant. Track your heading date, grain fill date, to really know which varieties perform the best. Heat stress is anything over 85 degrees!
A bunch of plot trials show strobie fungicide increase plant growth, some sort of hormonal trigger. Lowers ethylene which causes premature reproduction. Improves N use efficiency. Fungicide timing is critical, can see 5bu difference. These fungicide trials were all in conditions where there wasn’t any of the wheat fungal diseases present.

5th session
Dale Strictland, Green cover seed.
Wants to pass land to the next generation that will be prosperous.
All around the country, the cost of farming adjusts to water availability. Drought is just less rain than you were expecting. All crops need the same stuff.
Stories of cover crops. They increase water infiltration, reduce evaporation, improve capacity, boost root depth and root efficiency.
In this soybean field, the previous crop of wheat had all the straw baled off. With a hot, low rainfall summer, the beans all died, except where the baler broke down and left a big patch of straw covering the soil.
Rysotron root imaging shows crops using the root holes made by previous crops. Worms improve infiltration, and lots of other aspects. Feed them with legume crops. Slow evaporation a lot with standing residue and tree wind break field boarders. They work and don’t take up that much of the field. In Kansas, 5inches of moisture can be saved per year with some kind of mulch covering the ground. Most stands of cover crops can be killed with a roller crimper instead of herbicide. Topsoil is built the best by mixes of perennials. Overlapping roots types share exudates. Cows turn top growth into perfect microbe soil amendment. Hardpan layers are hard for roots to get through because they need soil pore space for oxygen. Less than 10% space and roots won’t have enough oxygen to grow.
8th session
Dale Strictland, Green cover seed.
In an Australian trial, no cover went 27bu, early terminated millet did 40 and late terminated 44. But with cover crops you have to measure the result of the whole rotation, not just one crop. Long term soil building benefits. Before synthetic fertilizer, farmers would often broadcast clover into winter wheat in the spring. It still works.
Picking the right cover crops for your situation. Every plant has its unique characteristics. Teff grass produces a lot of biomass and winter kills. Photoperiod sensitive sorgam sudan grass can be timed so it stays vegetative and frost kills before it tries to produce seed, which takes a lot of water to do. Sunhemp is tropical, produces lots of biomass above and below ground, water efficient but only one variety is palatable to cows. Gaur is the most drought tolerant legume. Only produces seed in a SW Texas environment.
Fall plant options can start with tillage radish, oats. Hairy vetch, needs terminated in spring, popular for making enough N for organic crops. A field of bellonsa clover in Indiana was measured at providing 275 lbs of N.
In some mixes, the right grasses will use up the available nitrogen, starving weeds and giving good conditions for a subsequent crop of legumes.
You can use corn stalk chopper rollers as a roller crimper to terminate covers, though you will need to add weight, and some are too sharp. Cutting isn’t as effective as crimping. In addition to a roller crimper, there is a non-inversion sweep called a noble blade, slices through root zone without much surface disturbance.
Calculate the moisture bare soil would loose in comparison to what a cover crop will use.
A precision corn strategy is to interseed with perennial clover, then a tool that is a row of string trimmers can go between the rows to keep clover suppressed. Graze after corn harvest. Replant by spraying a narrow band of herbicide in front of each corn planter.
Wide crop spacings are finding more uses with compatible crops between.
The homestead act required 10 years of successful grain crops to claim the land. 80% failed. The loophole was using fallow years between crops, this worked. But fallow doesn’t store as much moisture for the next year as you’d think. Bare soil fallow held 10-17% of the rainfall, chem fallow with plenty of residue held 25-30% of rainfall. A well designed cover crop can match, beat or at least be more useful. So find out if you can afford to fallow. Use the moisture, don’t store and loose it. Consider grazing, baling, some farmers have found perennial pasture more valuable than grain crops.

6th session
Nutrition of wheat Dr David Killilea, private research scientist & nutritionist.
Does part time nutritionist work at a children's hospital, recently got a grant to look at identity preserved wheat varieties. Not taking any funding from industry or pharma. Will be speaking about all public domain data.
Everyone is micro nutrient deficient – in statistical population studies.
The biggest deficiencies are in potassium, Vit E, E K, and magnesium. To a lesser extent Calcium, A, C, and zinc.
There’s no legal definition for “whole grain”. Regulations use industry definition, which has wiggle room.
There are many well designed grain nutrition studies. According to which, eating whole grains are good for preventing many diseases and and some GI cancers. Good for all the common ailments, heart, diabetes, blood pressure, stroke, asthma. Most benefits are gone, and some health problems worsened in studies tracking intake of white and refined flour. Lists of studies can be found on
Whole grains contain a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and flavinoids. A half cup of whole grains has half the RDA of fiber.
There’s a lot of new research being done on lignans, which are in wheat, flax, and sesame. Gut bacteria processes some nutrients into other forms the body can use.
White flour has carbs and protein, enriched flour only adds back in a handful of the vitamins and minerals that scientists knew of a 100 years ago. A chart of the nutrients in whole vs enriched flour looks pathetic.
There are toxins in wheat. Gluten which can irritate the digestive tract, phytates that can bind nutrients unhelpfully, lectins that are wheat antibodies that stick to bacteria, though lectins can have good properties. Immune system activators. And can there can be agriculture toxins. In whole wheat the problematic elements are balanced by the good stuff. The popular opponents of wheat base their concerns on some facts but exaggerate and take their conclusions beyond what science can verify. Some people just can’t digest wheat.
Soaking, sprouting and fermenting have only been found to improve nutrient profile and digestibility.
The OSU Linus Pauling Institute has wheat articles you can read, and there is more research being done in the field of testing the nutrient density of particular grain varieties and growing methods.
Only 8% of population is getting enough whole grains, so we can all promote better, unprocessed products.

7th session
Farmed Smart certification program and NORI carbon credits market Jill Clapperton
Within industry meetings and government policy meetings, wheat industry people are working to build recognition for identity preserved and regenerative practices and the carbon capture they facilitate. General Mills isn’t interested, organic certification is enough for them. EPA and state agencies are interested. Work is being done to make Farmed Smart a certification process that measures sustainability, carbon capture, energy efficiency, fish and wildlife protection. Working to build new marketing opportunities with this. Trying to convince banks that anyone with this new cert is a lower risk for loans. Looking to get it into the government grant / loan system. Working to measure effect of integrated livestock, companion and intercrops. Moving toward rewarding farmers who stop using a fallow system. Might use microbiometer test from Prolific Earth Sciences in New York.
Some of the players involved: Indigo Ag, Tech Stars, South Pole, 3Degrees, Native Energy, Climate Underground, Nature Conservancy, and NORI.
Check out
Nori is a private startup, backed by investors. They are researching carbon credit marketing and working to build a CC trading platform. Connect the buyers with the farmers, ranchers, foresters. Other CC ventures had the middle man getting 40-60%. Nori shooting for 10-15%. Something like $14 per ton for the farmer and $16 per ton for the buyer.
No where in the developed world do market prices cover farm expenses. Everyone is getting some kind of subsidies. Carbon credits would be a better way. Currently, the big buyers of CC are power/electric companies and oil companies.
Part of any venture like this is verification. You need to work with partners you can trust with your data. Farm data is extremely valuable on the secondary data markets. Make sure you get paid for your data! Read all contracts carefully. Some of the Nori team are long time data tech industry workers and are committed to not selling your data.
Contract length? 10 years. At most can buy credits backwards in history 5 years. You would agree to do your best effort to maintain a dynamic baseline. No double selling (to other CC vendors), and submit annual reports. What if some disaster results in carbon getting unsequestered? (fire, flood, drought) There’s a buffer in the credits sold, some are held unsold for such an event as insurance. The farmer will never be charged. Buyers of damaged credits will have to write off or buy more. Nori will have a complicated token system that makes everything work. Who buys CC without legislation making offsets mandatory? So far its rich people, company executives, big ag, Granular, power companies and fossil fuel companies. The biggest worry on their side is that there won’t be enough CC available to buy. Its easier to buy CC than to build smokestack scrubbers, even though there are subsidies for scrubbers. How are farmers tested? Farm visit, the practices you are using. Cornet farm model. New model in the works. For extra credits, you can agree to satellite data analysis, and taking soil samples. The Farmed Smart program will do the visits and map checkup points for future sampling. Working to train more certified conservation planners, and offer them B&O insurance.

9th session
Derek Axten
Learned from Dakota Lakes Research farm, then met Gabe Brown standing in line at a hotdog stand. Has been using a microscope to identity fungus and microbes in soil samples. Started chasing this metric, using compost from local cows. Turns out there are lots of good nematodes and only a few bad ones. Has improved his soil to where it will infiltrate one inch of rain in 29 seconds, and the second inch in 10 minutes. In the neighbors field its one inch in 10 minutes. Went with wider row spacing for less soil disturbance. Got a stripper header, works fine unless weather flattens crops. Started using controlled traffic, got all his equipment the same size. Modified this combine so the heavy chaff is dropped into the permanent wheel track. Has gone to all intercrops. Peas & mustard, Flax and chickpeas/lentils. Stacking crops is more efficient land use, 35% more money. Seeding rates of 50-50. Legume and a broadleaf. So canola pea, lentil vetch, flax bean. No need for fungicide when intercropping. Haven’t gotten watermold like the neighbors. And somehow the crops mature together, haven’t had a problem with harvesting. Even some neighbors are including some flax in the lentils to improve standability. All intercrops are in alternating rows! 20 inch spacing, there wasn’t a yield hit. Only time Derek had to use fungicide was when mixing the seed and planting them mixed. Mixed seed rows have the most symbiosis going on, help each other grow, but alternating rows has been amazing at avoiding diseases. For beginners, clover is the easiest to include in wheat. Better planter openers have made a big improvement. With live downforce automatic adjusters the applied map shows compaction and soil types. Planter can now plant into live crop, early July. Haven’t had problem harvesting two crops together. Upgrading from a complex mobile seed cleaning plant to a full scale industrial seed cleaning facility. Not just for separating the crops, certified clean seed sells for more. Screening refuse goes into compost. Got into thermal manure composting with windrow equipment. Makes liquid extract of compost with an aerobic bubbler system. Inoculates the extract with peat moss, its cheap, $1 per acre. Use peristaltic pumps to avoid pump clogging issues. Starting to get into sap testing.

10th session
Joel Williams
Only microbes get nitrogen from the air.
Foliar nutrient applications skip the soil, are more efficient, fast but limited in how much can be delivered at once. Foliar applied urea can be applied up to 7% solution, 2-5% is more typical. At anthesis is is best timing for wheat.
Carbon compounds are carrier for other nutrients. By itself, a nutrient may tie up with the wrong stuff in the soil. Microbes want carbon, and symbiotically break out the nutrients in forms the plants can use. Carbon amendments are molasses, aminos, fish, kelp, teas, humates.
Plants use natural forms of N easier than synthetic forms. Using legumes for N is all about roots in the round. Top growth doesn’t contribute much. Could breed for greater root growth. It has been found that other bacteria contribute N to plants, not just the legumes. There’s a Mexican maize variety that has slimy air roots that work with bacteria that give it 30-80% of the N it needs. Synthetic N suppresses nitrogen fixing bacteria. In the right situation with lots of fungi, and root overlap, legumes can contribute N to other plants. Alfalfa isn’t good at this with its deep taproot, doesn’t have many lateral roots that will overlap with other plants. More N is fixed later in plants growth, and defoliation increases it. In the process of using N, a plant converts it into other forms. Other minerals are necessary in this process, which differ depending on the form of N coming in. Ammonium needs magnesium and manganese as catalyst. Nitrate need those, plus sulfur and molybdenum. Urea needs nickel. N fixation in bacteria also need catalysts, so your bacteria may need nutritional supplements! Foliar applied N hinders root N fixation the least.

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