Re-Evaluating Soil Fertility
Re-Evaluating Soil Fertility
One of our main goals at Bio Ag Management is to help growers become as efficient as possible in their use of fertilizers. The mineralization process in soils is complex and is almost always overlooked by traditional agronomy. In fact, most—if not all—traditional fertilizer recommendations do not take these processes into account at all when determining fertilizer rates. They are based on a simple calculation that takes grain yield and calculates a fertilizer rate based on “removal.” Many of these removal numbers have not been reevaluated in years—not to mention the fact they cannot take into account natural biological processes and their effects on mineralization rates. For this reason, we must reevaluate current fertilizer recommendations. Furthermore, current soil testing—although better than no testing at all—only gives a small glimpse into the whole picture and can vary based on environmental conditions. All of the products Bio Ag Management produces and sells speed up natural processes and make the use of traditional fertilizers much more efficient. We like to look at fertility as part of a complex system and not a simple addition and subtraction equation.
Below are tables of fertilizer applied and soil test levels spanning four years. After running a traditional fertilizer program in 2015, we began to implement biological farming practices and products and cut fertilizer rates accordingly. We significantly cut fertilizer costs while not sacrificing yield or soil test levels. In fact, organic matter levels actually increased.
2019 Organic Matter Analysis
In 2019, we took a deeper look at the increase in soil organic matter that we were seeing on a few fields in 2018 and expanded it to cover more acres. We analyzed the soil organic matter levels from two operations that had implemented a biological farming approach in 2016. We compared soil samples pulled in Fall of 2016—when the program started—and samples pulled in 2019—after four crop years—running Bio Ag Management products and transitioning away from deep tillage.
Table above shows the change in organic matter across two operations. Sample data represents approximately 1,600 acres total (800 per operation). In both operations organic matter has increased significantly. In 2016, each of these operations transitioned away from relying on deep tillage and high rates of fertilizer and switched to using Bio Ag Management products as well as strip tillage and minimum tillage systems.
- Over two years, trials where the Bio Ag Management system was used showed an average return on investment of $35.65 per acre at $3.16/bu selling price and accounted for the additional cost of program.
- In two years of trials the corn program has shown a range of 7-48 bushel advantage over an untreated check.
- In trials using Bio Ag Management products, we measured an increase of 4-12 bu/acre on beans.
- Across two years, Bio Ag Management products have shown a 77% success rate in corn yield trials.
- Plants treated with the Bio Ag Management system showed significant root growth advantages versus untreated plants helping balance plant nutrition overall.
- A four-year trial (with no added P or K fertilizers—while implementing a Biological based management approach) showed no decrease in P levels and only a marginal decrease in K levels.
- Late-season plant health was noticeably increased. Better plant health helped with last season harvestability.
- Many acres managed using Bio Ag Management products and a focus on soil health have brought nitrogen rates down to 0.5-0.7 lbs. per bushel while maintaining high yields.
- Grain quality and test weight at harvest were increased where the Bio Ag Management systems were implemented.
- Bio Ag Management systems showed benefits across all yield environments.