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RRL-Blog

2019 Moisture Affected Both Soil and Plant Health

Posted on
December 10, 2019
by
Buffy Uglow    buffy_uglow@rockriverlab.com

By: Dustin Sawyer, Laboratory Director, and John Goeser, Animal Nutrition, Research and Innovation Director

As if 2019’s moisture-laden growing and harvest conditions weren’t enough, the very soil that farmers everywhere depend on may also suffer long-term effects of this challenging year. Recent plant analysis data is showcasing a new story, heavily impacted by moisture’s capabilities to leach away minerals in the soil and contribute non-nutritive components to the crop. 

As we look at the samples coming into Rock River Laboratory, we’re observing lower macro minerals than past years in the 2019 corn silage crop and mineral content of corn silage is indicative of less plant available nutrients in the soil.

Mineral content in soils

As showcased in Figure 1, Sulfur in 2018 and 2019 corn silage significantly diminished in the fall of each year.

Figure 1

Graph of Rock River Laboratory's data on corn silage sulfur levels by year

The heavy moisture throughout 2018 and 2019 leached soils of some key minerals. Potassium and sulfur are the most susceptible to washing away when we see significant moisture throughout the growing season as we did this year.

Similar sulfur diminishes also showed up in legumes, as shown in Figure 2. 2019 Alfalfa saw reduced sulfur levels in May and June, around first or second cutting, and sulfur is a limiting or indicator nutrient, revealing that yield may have taken a hit.

Figure 2

Graph of Rock River Laboratory's data on legume sulfur levels by year

While the extreme moisture of 2019 is a likely contributor to this phenomenon, lacking foliar feeding is likely another factor. 2019 brought about management decisions and changes that other ‘normal’ years may not require. One of these decisions was less foliar feeding by farmers due to the small windows of opportunity. Foliar feeding adds key nutrients throughout the growing season for plant uptake.

Ash in the crop

While the tell-tale signs of nutrient loss in the soil are becoming apparent, high ash content in the crop is also rearing its ugly head, as seen if Figure 3.

Figure 3

Graph of Rock River Laboratory's data on corn silage ash levels by year

Ash, or soil and minerals that are splashed up on crops during wet weather or in the process of harvest, can lead to long-term repercussions in the crop. Ash dilutes energy, as sand and dirt take up space in the diet. Microbial contamination – both fungal and bacterial - also usually follows suite as microbes in the soil are picked up with the crop. Alfalfa and grasses are more susceptible to these microbial contaminations than other crops. Ash can also act as a buffer, making it harder to ferment and stabilize feeds.

Despite the nutrient leaching seen over the course of the last two years, we see opportunities to mitigate these challenges. Greater analysis of forages can help you watch your soil nutrients so that you’re not paying extra for nutrients or minerals in the diet. Plus, soil sampling and analysis now in the fall or even in the spring can help monitor soil fertility to supplement efficiently in the spring.

As farmers, nutritionists, and agronomists wind down and assess 2019 while trying to learn for what 2020 will bring, monitoring both plant and soil nutrients could be the key to successful management decisions. Work with your team of consultants to review baselines and fluctuations throughout the year to best prepare and supplement what’s to come in both the field and bunk.

Rock River Laboratory

Founded in 1976, Rock River Laboratory is a family-owned laboratory network that provides production assistance to the agricultural industry through the use of advanced diagnostic systems, progressive techniques, and research-supported analyses.  Employing a team of top specialists in their respective fields, Rock River Laboratory provides accurate, cost-effective, and timely analytical results to customers worldwide, while featuring unsurpassed customer service.

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