Basics of Crop Production

Soil and Plant Fertility

Soil Quality
• This is the most important factor in farm crop production. • Soils will determine which plant species yields the most, the time of harvest, and ultimately the investment a landowner must make to yield an acceptable economic return from management.

Soil Profile
The soil profile shows the layers, known as horizons that represent the soil.

Horizons formed over the centuries due mostly form weathering. A lettering system is used to name the different horizons.

Where can you find info on a farm’s soil?
• In the County Soil Survey Map. • There are Tables on several land options such as Woodland Management and Productivity which provides a lot of valuable information on the potential for soil erosion, seedling mortality, species preference, and tree growth.

County Soils Map There is even a table in the Soil Survey Map that evaluates sites for wildlife habitat. .

involves soil .Factors Controlling Plant Growth • Light • Mechanical Support • Heat • Air • Water • Nutrients • All except for light.

Matter Mineral 50% .Major Components of Soil Air Water Organ.

concerns the size of mineral particles. specifically the relative proportion of various size groups in a given soil • Soil structure .Soil Terminology • Soil texture .the arrangement of soil particles into groups of aggregates .

1 Sand 2 Silt 3 Clay .Soil Texture • Soil texture is separated into three soil separates based on particle size.

also high water holding capacity • Sandy to gravelly . clay .imparts a fine texture and slow water and air movement.are referred to as lighter soils with lower water holding capacity .Soil Texture • Silt.

Soil Texture • Sandy soils are normally very well drained and often lack nutrients due to constant leaching loss. • Mostly clay soils are at the opposite end of the soil spectrum. They will hold nutrients. . They tend to allow water to move through more slowly and will stay wetter longer.

fine that portion of the soil occupied by air and water . wet soils are more easily compacted .compaction reduces pore spaces . while silt and clay soils have high soil porosity • Soil compaction .Soil Terminology • Pore space .sandy soils have low soil porosity.

Soil Terminology • Soil depth .deep.defined as that depth of soil material favorable for plant root penetration . well drained soils are the best .

and erosion .the steeper the topography largely determines the amount of drainage.Soil Terminology • Slope . the more management is required . runoff.

adequate levels benefit soil by: 1) improving physical condition 2) increasing water infiltration 3) improving soil tilth 4) decreasing erosion losses 5) supplying plant nutrients 6) holding cation nutrients .Soil Terminology • Organic matter .it consists of plant and animal residues in various stages of decay .

<7 represents acidity.pH objective for most ag crops .5 .expression of both acidity and alkalinity on a scale whose values run from 0 to 14 with 7 representing neutrality. and >7 represents alkalinity • pH has a significant impact on the availability of soil nutrients • pH 6.Soil Terminology • pH .

PH 7 is neutral. .pH Scale The figure shows the break down of where acidity to alkalinity is on the pH scale.

the more available the nutrient. . The wider the black band in this graphic. At this pH most of the essential plant nutrients are available.pH Effect on Nutrient Availability This graphic shows how the major plant nutrients change in availability with the increase and decrease of pH.5 pH. This has a direct impact on plant health. For most agricultural crop recommendations. the goal is to have a 6.

.0. This shows that it is important for producers to know the fertility and pH requirements of the plants they plan to grow. most plants prefer a pH between 5.5 is considered to be very acid and above 7.5 and 7.pH Preferences by Plants This graphic shows the range in pH preferred by plants. . As can be seen from the black bands.0 is alkaline. A pH below 5.

a limiting layer may increase site productivity. • On rare occasions. such as on sandy soils where the layer may retard leaching of nutrients and increase available moisture. Root .Limiting Factors • A layer which restricts the downward penetration of a plant’s root system will reduce growth in direct relation to the depth of the layer.

. There are farm implements available that can breakup soil hard pans and improve the crop production in otherwise limited soils.Subsoiling Subsoilers have long shanks that physically dig down to break open the hard soil to form channels where plant roots can penetrate.

producers have had to routinely include supplemental sulfur to their crop fertility programs as the air around us becomes less contaminated with sulfur. During the Industrial revolution. 10-6-4. In recent years. Magnesium and calcium are obtained from liming materials.16 Essential Elements (part 1) • Primary Nitrogen (N) Phosphorus (P) Potassium (K) • Secondary Sulfur (S) Magnesium (Mg) Calcium (Ca) The primary elements are plant nutrients that are needed and most used by plants for growth. most of our sulfur came from air pollution (sulfur dioxide).e. i. The primary nutrients can be found in commercial complete fertilizers as the fertilizer number reflects these three elements. . Secondary elements are the next most needed plant nutrients.

16 Essential Elements (part 2) • Micro-nutrients Iron (Fe) Manganese (Mn) Boron (B) Chlorine (Cl) Zinc (Zn) Copper (Cu) Molybdenum (Mo) .

• They are: Carbon (C) Hydrogen (H) Oxygen (O) .16 Essential Elements (part 3) • The final three (3) essential elements to plant growth come mostly from air and water.

The Primary Elements
• Nitrogen: It gives plants their green color, promotes above ground growth, and regulates utilization of other elements.
• Phosphorus: It has favorable affect on - cell division - stem strength - crop maturation - root development - flowering/fruiting - disease resistance

The Primary Elements (con’t)
• Potassium (K) - It is essential for starch formation and translocation of sugars. It is also essential to the development of chlorophyll. K helps plants to over-winter.

What is the nutrient content of commercial fertilizers?
• Expressed as a percent called the “guaranteed analysis” or fertilizer grade. • Nutrient content always appears in this order: % total nitrogen % available phosphate (P2O5), or phosphoric acid % soluble potash (K2O)

The Fertilizer Number
The fertilizer number refers to a ratio of N-PK 5-10-5 (1-2-1 ratio) has: 5% N 10% P205 5% K20 = 20% The other 80% of the material is called the carrier. This is typically some inert material. 10 - 6 - 4 (2-1-1 ratio) 10 -10 -10 (1-1-1 ratio)

5 lbs. potash . phosphate 7.5 lbs. nitrogen 5 lbs. This bag contains: 5% nitrogen--10% phosphate--15% potash or 2.What does a fertilizer guarantee mean? Ag-Gro-Pro 5-10-15 50 lbs.

0 30 .46 .0 34 .Common Fertilizers • • • • • • • Urea Ammonium nitrate UAN Ammonium sulfate Diammonium phosphate Triple superphosphate Muriate of potash 46 .0 .60 .0 21 .0 .0 .0 .46 .0 18 .0 .0 0 .0 0 .

K soil reserve N –P .P .K .Determining Fertilizer Need Production Goal: Total lb/A N .P .K crop residue N manure N-P-K ______________ Commercial fertilizer + lb/A N .

Example: Calculating the Quantity of Commercial Fertilizer Required to meet a Nutrient Recommendation Jasper Little Farm: • needs 60 lbs.18 in training guide ./A of potash (K2O) on his soybean crop • broadcasts muriate of potash (0-0-60) pre-plant • see Example 4-1. p.

60 . 60 lbs. 60% 3) CONVERT the percentage of nutrient to a decimal fraction by multiplying the % by . muriate of potash.01 = .01 60 x 0.Calculating Quantity of Commercial Fertilizer 1) RECORD recommended quantity of nutrient (see nutrient management plan)./A 2) RECORD the percentage of nutrient in the preferred product.

/A: divide the recommended quantity of nutrient by the nutrient content expressed as a decimal fraction./A Little needs 100 lbs.60 = 100 lbs. of muriate of potash to supply 60 lbs. of potash.Calculating the Quantity of Commercial Fertilizer CALCULATE the quantity of muriate of potash required in lbs./A ÷ 0. 60 lbs. Done! .

other growers .Determining Production Goal • Cropping history • Soil Survey Map/Soil Capability Chart • Investigate species/variety potential .private and university trial results • FSA records • Experimentation .field days .

MARYLAND’S AGRONOMIC SOIL CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT PROGRAM Va. • Estimate yields goal by averaging the yield from the best 3 of 5 growing MASCAP seasons. estimated yields for the soil type in the field can be found in “MASCAP”. Bandel. and E.Determining Yield Goal • Take the average yield for typical years that a crop is grown in a certain field. A.A. Heger Agronomy Department Cooperative Extension Service September 1994 University of Maryland . • When actual yield data is not available.

Mg.depends on crop and management • Typical test looks at P. and pH. .Soil Reserve • Soil test .private labs • Frequency of testing . Ca. K. Minors are as needed. lab .M.

1-1: Phosphate Recommendation (lbs/A) as a function of soil fertility level (FIV-P) for corn grain (yield goal-150 bu/A) 120 100 80 # P205/A 110 85 70 65 45 45 35 30 60 40 20 20 20 0 10 30 50 70 90 Low FIV-P Optimum Medium Excessive 110 0 .Fig.

.Crop Residue • Benefits left by a previous crop or cover crop • Previous crops leave little unless it was a leguminous crop • Leguminous crops leave nitrogen • The amount of N left depends on the species of legume and the stand density and maturity. • Cover crops are not harvested and will recover nutrients otherwise lost.

Manure Analysis is available from the University of Maryland’s Soil Testing Laboratory. .

How much of the nitrogen in manure is plant-available? It depends on: * the nitrogen content * animal species * incorporation practices .

. Distribution of organic nitrogen & ammonium nitrogen in dairy manure 3 Ammonium nitrogen Organic nitrogen 9 This dairy manure contains 12 pounds of total nitrogen per ton.3b.Figure 2.

the year it’s applied.through the process of mineralization -.Available Organic Nitrogen Only part of the nitrogen in manure becomes plant-available -. .

biosolids (sludge). . • The largest proportion of this organic nitrogen breaks down and becomes available in the year of application. • Organic sources include manure.Nitrogen “Credits” • Organic nitrogen in organic sources continues to break down or mineralize for several years after application. and composts.

Nitrogen “Credits” • Progressively smaller amounts of the organic nitrogen break down and become available in the subsequent years. • Credit needs to be given to this available nitrogen from previously applied manure to the current year’s nitrogen recommendation. .

4b: Distribution of Available Nitrogen from Organic and Ammonium Nitrogen Components in Dairy Manure 0.4 pounds of available nitrogen per ton .4 lb 6 lb 3 lb Available ammonium nitrogen Available organic nitrogen Organic nitrogen This dairy manure contains 12 pounds of total nitrogen and 5.6 lb Ammonium nitrogen 2.Figure 2.

A funny slide to breakup the class. This could be an Iraqi surface to air missile. Don’t Overload! .

.Manure Mineralization Factors •Vary by animal species. A table explaining these differences can be found in the Nutrient Applicator Guide on page 10. •See Table 2-1 in the Nutrient Applicator Guide. The mineralization rate of manure varies between animal species.

Nitrogen Loss . • When manure is left on the soil surface after application. it can be lost through the process of volatilization.Available Ammonium Nitrogen • NH4 is a plant-available form of N.

4 (lb/T) • Poultry (layer stored in pit) 65% moist.3 . 3 .5 .24 (lb/T) • Swine (storage tank beneath slotted floor) 95% moist. 7 .5 .2.8 (lb/T) .5 (lb/T) • Beef (bedded manure pack under roof) 80% moist. 2.6 (lb/T) • Dairy (stored outside. 5 .Estimated Manure Values • Dairy (fresh.3 . spread daily) 89% moist. leachate lost) 87% moist.4 . 25 .27 .

Example: Calculating Quantity of Dairy Manure to Meet Crop Nutrient Recommendation Ralph Gonzales Farm • PAN content of semi-solid dairy manure is 6 lbs. p./T • wants to supply the N for his corn crop • yield goal is 120 bu/A • incorporates the manure the same day as application • see Example 4-2.19 in training guide .

/A 2) RECORD PAN of manure (lbs./T) 6 lbs. 1) RECORD nitrogen recommendation (lbs. 120 lbs./T ./A) from the nutrient management plan.Calculating Quantity of Dairy Manure to Meet Recommendation Note: The nitrogen recommendation for corn grain is 1 lb./A of PAN per bushel of yield.

120 lbs.Calculating Quantity of Dairy Manure to Meet Recommendation CALCULATE the quantity of manure required in T/A: divide the nitrogen recommendation by the PAN of manure./A ÷ 6 = 20 T/A Twenty tons of a dairy manure with this PAN are needed to provide 120 lbs. Done! ./A of PAN.

Use of Raw Manure • Heavy applications can throw off nutrient balance • Excess available N can lead to excessive growth and nitrate buildup in plant • Plants with high nitrates do not store as well and attract insects • Nitrogen and phosphorus are pollutants • Weed seeds pass through animals .

Often Forgotten Sources of N • Carryover from past manure/biosolids • Cover crops ( fixed & recycled N) • N released from soil organic matter (40-80 lb/A) • Nitrates in rain & irrigation water • Weeds. 80 lb/T lambsquarter • Crop residues. plowed down have slow-release N. 85 lb/T pigweed. and composts . bedding. humus.

Component Input to soil Loss from soil The Nitrogen Cycle Atmospheric nitrogen Atmospheric fixation and deposition Animal manures and biosolids Crop harvest Industrial fixation (commercial fertilizers) Volatilization Plant residues Runoff and erosion Plant uptake Biological fixation by legume plants Denitrification Organic nitrogen Ammonium (NH+) 4 Nitrate (NO-) 3 Leaching .

AlP) Leaching (usually minor) Soil solution phosphorus •HPO4-2 •H2PO4-1 . FeP. Fe and Al oxides. MnP. carbonates) Secondary compounds (CaP.Component Input to soil Loss from soil The Phosphorus Cycle Animal manures and biosolids Plant residues Crop harvest Atmospheric deposition Mineral fertilizers Organic phosphorus •Microbial •Plant residue •Humus Plant uptake Primary minerals (apatite) Runoff and erosion Mineral surfaces (clays.

Component Input to soil Loss from soil The Potassium Cycle Crop harvest Plant residues Animal manures and biosolids Mineral fertilizers Runoff and erosion Plant uptake Exchangeable potassium Soil solution potassium (K+) Leaching Mineral potassium Fixed potassium .

) 4 Plant uptake Reduced sulfur Runoff and erosion Volatilization Leaching .Component Input to soil Loss from soil The Sulfur Cycle Atmospheric deposition Atmospheric sulfur Crop harvest Mineral fertilizers Animal manures and biosolids Plant residues Elemental sulfur Absorbed or mineral sulfur Organic sulfur Sulfate Sulfur (SO.

fertilizer is applied uniformly to entire field before crop emerges • Topdress .Fertilizer Application Terms • Broadcast .fertilizer is applied to field then is tilled in with a disk or a plow .fertilizer is applied uniformly to entire field after crop emerges • Plowed down or tilled in .

omitting the area between the rows • Side-dressed . generally in a band at the base of the plant .fertilizer is applied directly over the top of the crop row. generally before the crop emerges.Fertilizer Application Terms • Banded .fertilizer is applied directly to growing crop.

load-area method .Calibrating Nutrient Application Equipment • Calibration is a way to set your application equipment to apply material uniformly at the desired rate. • Two common methods are used: . • It insures application of the required amount of nutrients without overfertilizing.weight-area method .

L e n g t h L e n g t h Width Area = Length x Width Width .Basics of Calibration Determining the square feet in an area is basic to the calibration of farm equipment. The size of an area can be determined by multiplying length X width.

or . try: . • If the application rate is substantially greater or less than the recommended rate.changing equipment settings.changing ground speed of the tractor .How to Calibrate Nutrient Application Equipment • Measure the actual rate of application. • Compare actual application rate to the recommended application rate.

Load-Area Method Know: • capacity of the spreader • size of the area where manure is spread Apply nutrient supplying material. . then measure area of application. Project rate of application to a per-acre basis.

Arrange at least 3 plastic sheets in the center of the spreader’s path. 4. 3. Average the quantity applied to the sheets and project to T/A. 2. Collect & weigh the manure on each sheet. . Drive the spreader over the center of the sheets at a known speed with specific equipment settings.Weight-Area Method for Manure 1.

plastic sheets can be used to catch dry manure .Weight-Area Method • Works well with calibrating fertilizer spreaders and planters. • Works well with calibrating both dry and liquid manure spreaders.pans can be used to catch liquid manure . .

Basics of Calibration Using Sheets and Pans This diagram shows how pans and sheets can be arranged in a field to calibrate a spreader. 1 Spread manure 2 3 1 3 2 4 7 5 Spread manure 8 6 9 10 .

Refer to your “Nutrient Applicator’s Training Guide “ for additional help .

Let’s take a quick look at some other materials we apply to our soils. .

Limestone • Supplies calcium and magnesium • Mined calcium carbonate is the principle liming material. typically 50% oxides • CaCO3 equivalent is the basis for liming material recommendation rates • Comes in various forms and grades .

N. can be found on the labels of liming materials and fertilizer as an indicator of the products impact on soil pH.= 100 This means that liming materials are compared (greater than or less than) to the neutralizing ability of calcium carbonate. Reference Standard: Calcium carbonate (CaCO3) E. E.V.N.V. This is a comparative value that refers to the ability of a liming material to modify soil pH within a year.N.Comparing Liming Materials Effective Neutralizing Value E. .V.

Limestone • Mesh size determines how quickly it reacts in the soil • Good quality ag lime is typically 80% 90-100 mesh and 20% 40 mesh • Ground dolomite (dolomitic lime) is over 10% magnesium. it is a good source of Mg when needed .

Other Liming Agents • These are typically industrial byproducts • These include stack dust. sludge lime. so get an analysis • These contain mostly Ca and traces of other elements and materials . and river mud • Domino Sugar lime is a new source • Solubility and % oxides vary.

smaller particles work faster .may not need additional Mg • Oxide form of calcium (CaO) is readily available • Mesh size of carbonate form of Ca (CaCO3 ) reflects its availability . especially % oxides -Application rate is based on lb/A oxides • % calcium and magnesium .Liming Recommendations • Know the analysis.

. • Limited to 1. or around the same time.e. except for special crops. alfalfa.Liming Notes • Limestone recommendations are based on raising the pH of the plow layer (top 7-9”) to 6. • Liming materials laying on the surface will neutralize pesticides. pastures • Avoid applying liming products and fertilizer at. i. i.5.500 lb/A oxides/year when not incorporating.e.

C:N ratio is 15:1 .Offers a well balanced slow release supply of nutrients .Compost Decomposed Plant & animal Matter • When correctly done: .pH is near neutral .Majority of weed seeds & disease organisms are dead .As much as 1/4 of compost weight is microbes (dead & alive) .

1600 F within the first 3 or 4 days .Principles of Composting • Best composts come from piles with the highest microbial activity • Temperature is easiest sign of microbial activity • Good composts heat to approximately 140 .

or size of pile keeps it from cooling too quickly .Principles of Composting • Small particle size makes a greater surface area available to microbes .piles 4 x 4 x 4 ft.particles that are too small however can pack a pile • Adequate volume. do well .

Unfinished Composts • Can hurt crops • Chemicals formed in process are toxic to plants • N can be tied up • Good composts take 12 .18 months • Moisture must be adequate (50 .70%) similar to a squeezed sponge • C:N ratio in initial pile should be 30:1 .

Common C:N Ratios • Undisturbed top soil 10:1 • Alfalfa 13:1 • Rotted barnyard manure 20:1 • Corn stalks 60:1 • Small grain straw 80:1 • Oak 200:1 • Spruce 1000:1 .

Compost Problem Solving • Bad Odor .not enough air .moisten while turning .not enough water .turn the pile more frequently • Center of pile too dry .

collect more material and mix the old ingredients into a new pile • Pile is damp and sweet smelling. but will not heat up . but nowhere else . or urea .Compost Problem Solving • Pile is damp & warm in center.lack of nitrogen .mix in N-rich material like fresh grass.pile is too small . manure.

breaks the parasite life cycle • Harvest vs.variability in root growth improves soil pores and water penetration • Pest management . cover crop is the decision .cover crops add organic matter .fixed and recaptured nutrients • Benefits soil structure (tilth) .Crop Rotation and Cover Crops • Benefits crop fertility .

• Don’t be like the old farmer who told the County Agent that he did not need any advice. There are a lot of resources out there for you.Some Parting Advice • Seek help when you are not sure about what you are doing. He told the Agent that he has already worn out two farms and that he had his own way of doing things. .


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