Tech Tuesday

From Corn Yields to Prions

Corn does slightly better in rotation, calcium measurement relate to carbon sequestration and a grant is made for prion research.

Now here's some tech news that may, or may not, surprise the corn farmers in our readership. Pennsylvania State University has looked at long-term cropping systems in an effort to better understand crop systems. However, the work also points to the value of manure as a crop nutrient.

In the long-term study of rotations - researchers looked at corn grain yields, yield trends and yield stability over the last 16 years. While it's based on information for Central Pennsylvania soil, the information may have value for your farm. What they found is that corn rotated with alfalfa, red clover and timothy yielded moderately higher and was less variable than continuous corn. Add in dairy manure, and continuous corn can perform equally well to the rotated high-yielding years, but didn't do as well in low-yielding years.

But here's an interesting side note. When synthetic fertilizers or phosphorus-based manure are applied, continuous corn may yield less than rotated corn in low- and high-yielding years. Conclusion: More study is needed to look at these cropping yields. The results of the study were reported in the July-August 2009 edition of Agronomy Journal

Calcium and Retaining Carbon. Scientists are hard at work trying to get a better understanding of carbon storage and cycling into the environment. The Earth holds carbon in reservoirs of stocks stored in and on the planet and oceans as organic and inorganic matter. Soils are second only to the ocean as a carbon sink, and scientists have a better understanding of soil organic carbon than they do soil inorganic carbon - but they're giving SIC plenty of attention because it could be the key to capturing carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere.

Researchers at Clemson University and Virginia Tech measured SIC based on the presence of calcium and using spatial analysis. Essentially, a better understanding of the presence of calcium may provide insight into the presence of SIC, which is a more stable form of carbon sequestered in the soil.

The debate in Congress over carbon sequestration and the role farmers may play will no doubt also include more measurement of practices and their ability to store carbon. This latest research offers more information about the carbon itself, which could impact the process in the future.

More Work on Prion Diseases. Creighton University is getting more money to study prion diseases thanks to a National Institutes of Health grant of $1.4 million awarded recently. Prion diseases including bovine spongiform encephalopathy and chronic wasting disease in wild and captive deer and elk populations.

Researchers at the university already made a breakthrough when they found that prion diseases could be spread by inhalation of the agent into the nasal cavity. Until that discovery, scientists thought prion diseases could only come from consuming infected meat. More work is being done on the inhalation information offered. The Creighton research used hamsters, but further work by others has shown that sheep may be susceptible to the disease following nasal cavity exposure. The new grant will help advance the research on chronic wasting disease.

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