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From the Spring 2013 Logan County Farm Outlook

The condition of Logan County soils

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[March 29, 2013]  During the early 1930s, farming practices changed because of a single technological breakthrough: harvesting with combines. This changed everything for the producer because larger crops could be planted and harvested economically. As many as 100 million acres of ground in Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas were put into production. Hedgerows were eliminated to make more acreage for production. Moldboard plows were used to make deep furrows, exposing huge amounts of good soil for production. The plan was to change the world by producing so much wheat that everyone would have enough to eat.

By coincidence, an extended period of drought and heat affecting much of the United States and Canada began at exactly the same time. It was remarked that the drought and heat of the '30s was a plague of biblical proportions. Instead of increasing the wheat yield, the drought and heat turned the whole country into what became known as the Dust Bowl, a 10-year period of ruined acreage, blowing soil and deep economic depression.

It is a fact that the abandonment of farming practices such as the maintenance of hedgerows and crop rotation, plus open tillage and the lack of cover crops were the greatest contributing causes to the Dust Bowl, but the drought of the '30s and the intensification of heat also contributed to ruining the soil on as many as 10 million acres, according to Wikipedia.

In light of the drought and heat of 2012 in our county, this dust bowl reality begs the question, "Were the soils of Logan County and central Illinois injured by the heat and drought conditions present last year?

Greg Phillips of Sparks Soil Testing, a local soil testing lab and service, testified that we have some of the best soils in the country right here in Logan County. They are deep soils with plenty of organic matter, a high cation exchange capacity and a high ability to retain moisture. Phillips said this is a wonderful place to plant crops. The soils here are one of central Illinois' richest resources.

As to the practice of soil testing, Phillips explained that producers cannot control the amount of sunlight, rainfall, season length or the temperatures, but they can control the soil fertility and therefore influence production that way. Soil testing gives the producer the best indicators for proper application of fertilizers, including micronutrients to make crops grow better.

Sampling is taken from the top 7 inches of fields from the time the soil thaws through the first part of July to analyze what levels of nutrients are present and what levels of nutrients the plants are taking from the soil; all are indicators about how the corn production is proceeding. Phillips and his staff pride themselves on their ability to know what is going on in their clients' ground, and they keep copious comparative records about these conditions, dating all the way back to 1987.

Phillips explained that there are plenty of soil labs around the state, but the local lab gives added benefit to local producers because they are very familiar with all the local fields, which they have visited many, many times. This familiarity allows them to recognize things that technicians from distant labs would be unfamiliar with, and the long-term relationship with their clients also gives them the opportunity to share additional recommendations based on their observations, such as recommending the application of pesticides on a particular field because they saw an overabundance of corn beetles while visiting to take soil samples.

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When asked if the drought and heat of 2012 harmed the local soils, Phillips was very reassuring. "The heat and drought of 2012 did not damage our Logan County soils," he said. He remarked that these soils are remarkably tolerant and fertile, and since they are so deep and vast, there is little that can harm them except for the same kinds of farming practices that were used in the West and Southwest in the '30s. Over-tillage, which exposes too much soil to the ravages of the wind, can cause our valuable soils to become someone else's valuable soils.

The National Weather Service has reported that we have had adequate precipitation so far in 2013, and Logan County's drought status has been updated from extreme drought in fall 2012 to normal precipitation. Farmers have reported that water is flowing from field tiles, indicating that soil moisture in many places in the county is good even to the depth of 4 feet. This is quite a turnaround from the conditions that started in late June 2012.

Phillips said that with good soil conservation practices, even through an extended period of drought conditions, the abundant benefits of the soils in Logan County will persist and remain productive.

And so, our treasure is safe for now.



Spring 2013
Logan County Farm Outlook


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