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Hefty Seed Company hosts meeting

By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 02/05/2013 4:21 PM

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LARCHWOOD, Iowa — Almost 500 farmers attended a recent Ag-Phd meeting presented by Brian Hefty and Darren Hefty, brothers who own and Hefty Seed Company.

Expanding on the store their father began in 1969 in Baltic, S.D., Hefty Seed Company has grown to 33 stores in eight states. Their focus is on informing farmers about current farming news to help them make profitable decisions.

The firm has scheduled more than 20 free workshops this winter, including two tiling clinics in Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Concerns exist that the widespread drought will continue this growing season. At Larchwood, the Hefty brothers provided insights on drought-proofing row crops.

"Soil fertility makes a big difference," said Brian Hefty. "Many people believe their crop is suffering from drought when in actuality it is suffering from lack of nutrients."

He backed his statements up with soil testing results.

Results from tests show adequate phosphorus and potassium at one inch depths. If testing is continued at inch increments downward, nutrient levels drop significantly.

Phosphorus is immobile, he said. It stays where it's put, but moves with water. Unless it's incorporated into the soil, phosphorus remains on the surface. Too much applied phosphorus is causing concern with EPA because it compromises water quality. The crop doesn't benefit from phosphorus applications if it's not available to the roots.

"With stricter air pollution controls, crops are no longer able to pull sulfur from the air as they once did," said Darren Hefty. "Sulfur is a component of amino acids and proteins, and is very important to plants."

Crops are using more sulfur, but less is coming back free. Really high carbon levels tie up sulfur breakdown. The carbon to sulfur ration in soybeans is 125 to 1 so it is readily available. The ratio is 300 to 1 in corn and wheat stover. Nitrogen and sulfur are needed, said Hefty.

Farmers do a good job with N, P and K, but need to go one step further with micro-nutrients, he said. Zinc, boron and iron are necessary. Plant tissue analysis should be a priority.

"Rainfall can correct many of our mistakes," said Darren Hefty. "But a dry year exposes them. It is not rocket science, plants need food. You need to know whether your crop suffered from lack of rain or something else."

Drought-resistant corn isn't the complete answer. Corn is constantly respirating or transpiring — spitting out or taking in moisture. A defense measure is triggered when a plant is drought-stressed. Cuticles thicken and wax develops to prevent moisture loss.

When reading a soil test, Brian Hefty said growers need to take note of the Caton Exchange Capacity. The CEC relates to the holding capacity of the soil. The three components are type of clay, amount of clay and amount of organic matter.

"This is important to know for nitrogen application," said Hefty. "Soil will hold 10 times the CEC. For example, if your CEC is eight, eight times10 equals 80 pounds of nitrogen. If you are raising 150 bushel corn, you need approximately 150 pounds of nitrogen. But if the soil capacity is only 80 pounds, that nitrogen can not all be applied with one application."

Knowing the organic matter number is vital. More organic matter means additional mineralization and more nutrients to the crop. Another benefit is that organic matter acts like a sponge in its ability to hold water and nutrients before plants need them.

For every 1 percent of organic matter increase in the soil, the average soil can hold approximately 4 percent more water. Additionally organic matter improves microbial activity and soil life.