Greenhouse Trials Underway

Greenhouse trials are well underway at the Soil Health Lab. Research and development are high on the to-do list in the summer months. Field, greenhouse and the laboratory are all involved in R&D here at the Soil Health Lab. 

Trials in the greenhouse are new this year to the Lab. With six large growing tables, we have just enough space to run a few studies at a time. On the list of trials for 2016 are: promoting and testing the effects of beneficial soil bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and natural foliar applications on soil and plant health.

Corn and soybean are among the crops happily growing in the greenhouse.  Harvest has just begun on the first round of trials, which means we get to take short breaks out of the greenhouse and into the lab in this hot summer weather!

For the next couple of weeks, lab staff will be busy collecting, counting and weighing soybean. Here is the first batch, ready for their weigh-in:

Check back later this summer for updates on SHL's research and development!

Corn Residue Trials

Dealing with tough corn residue, getting it out of the way at planting time and onto the field to build soil profile, is not just a challenge in no-till farming. Even when stalks are tilled, they will be hard to break down by spring if the soil microbes are not there to carry out that process.  All farmers are being encouraged to build their soil health and one way to do it is to manage crop residues to build soil organic matter and promote soil microbe populations.

After harvest last fall, a simple study observing corn residue break-down was spearheaded by Huron Bay Co-operative Inc. out of Belgrave, ON. Small sections of three fields, two no-till and one shallow till, were sprayed with nitrogen blended with a humate and soil microbe product (PlantXL).  The exact blend of 1 gallon 28% UAN, 1 litre PlantXL and 40 gallons water was applied per acre. The results are starting to come in!

One of the no-till fields has already been planted with soybean, the other two will be planted (with soybean as well) by the end of May.  In all three fields before any planting is done, we see no obvious differences between the sprayed and the unsprayed corn residue. When walking the field, much of the stalks and husks are still recognizable. 

However, in the field that has been planted, the farmer could tell that something was different. Planting was very different between the two areas of the field. In the treated side, planting was smooth. Stalks broke easily, ensuring that the tractor didn’t bounce or jig off course and seeds were well placed.

  Photo: Corn residue on the right was sprayed with a blend of nitrogen and PlantXL in the fall. Photo taken this spring after soybean planting.

Photo: Corn residue on the right was sprayed with a blend of nitrogen and PlantXL in the fall. Photo taken this spring after soybean planting.

The sight of the field after planting is very different. It is easy to see where the PlantXL was sprayed, right down to the row where the spray didn’t reach. As you can see in the photo above, the untreated (left) side of the field still has corn stalks standing. This is evidence that this residue is not contacting the soil to build its profile and may get in the way of soybean growth. Perhaps there will be an effect on weed pressure this growing season as well.

We will continue to monitor these fields to try to answer these unknowns over the next couple of years. Perhaps spraying microbes, along with nitrogen, onto corn residue will benefit the field and crops more than breaking it down. Stay tuned for updates on the other two fields to find out how planting goes!