Indiana farmer Dan DeSutter firmly believes how a crop finishes is just as important as how it starts. And a lot of that wisdom comes from a very high perspective – hundreds of feet in the air, to be exact.
As a pilot he's learned much from looking at fields from the sky – and sometimes the lesson is humbling.
"We've been amazed many times with the yields we've achieved after the way crops started out," he says. "When we till, we frontload the release of soil nitrogen in early spring making it more prone to loss. The plant uptake of N starts off slow and peaks in early July.
"If you look at growers who raise exceptional crops, their management system allows for late release of organic nitrogen," he says. "We are trying to manage the carbon/nitrogen cycle so our soils release N later in the season -- that's where we're getting a lot of yield bang."
Fall applied nitrogen may look good early, he adds, "but if you see nitrogen deficiency in July and August, that's 100 bushel per acre walking out the door."
The other side of that question is this: which is easier? Feed the crop upfront or supplement it later?
"Soil microbes eat first, and when they're done they release it to the plant," he says. "We have to feed the crop adequately early, but you're going to get more back later if your soil mineralization levels are higher. With high carbon farming, you're tying up "at-risk" nitrogen early and trying to release it later in the growing season when the crop can fully utilize it."
The Attica, Ind., farmer has no-tilled 21 years, plants cover crops and uses livestock manure to supplement commercial fertilizer. He's documented organic matter increases of 2% in his soil over the past two decades. He believes that could be achieved in half the time with a three part strategy.
"First, we want to be good stewards, which include keeping our soil and nutrients at home," he says. "We want to figure out what our competitive advantage is agronomically. And third, we want to manage our resources so they are better in the future than when we started.
"Those three factors color every decision we make."
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