Big crowd at Conservation Tillage & Technology Conference

Melvin Lahmers, from Bakersville, was named the CCA of the Year, sponsored by DuPont Pioneer.

By Matt Reese

Around 900 attendees gathered today at the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference in Ada for what has become one of the most popular late winter meetings of the year.

One of the major components of the program was focused on making agronomic adjustments in a changing climate.

“Climate has changed, climate is changing and climate will change in the future. This is not a new phenomenon,” said Jerry Hatfield, a climatologist with USDA-ARS in Ames, Iowa in the general session to kick off the event. “Our winters and springs are projected to be a little wetter, but drier during the summer. This shift creates an issue in how we think about our production systems that are built upon adequate summer rainfall. The sky is not going to fall and it is not all doom and gloom, but it is something you need to be aware of.”

The changing rainfall pattern creates a number of issues for crop production.

Jerry Hatfield talks about the changing climate.
Jerry Hatfield talks about the changing climate.

“The increase in spring precipitation has reduced the number of workable field days in April through mid-May. Over that six-week period, we have 3.5 fewer days from 1995 to 2010 compared to 1979 to 1994,” Hatfield said. “And, a 10% change in summer rainfall can be the difference between 250 bushel corn and 175 bushel corn.”

To make matters more challenging, the smaller amount of rain events have increased in intensity.

“There is a 31% increase in very heavy precipitation as well. We are going to see greater numbers of consecutive dry days — monsoon to drought all in a short period of time,” Hatfield said. “Then, when it rains, it rains harder.”

In addition to the increased likelihood of decreased precipitation, the rising temperatures are also a concern.

“The warming trend is not so much that the maximum temperature is going up, but the low nighttime temperatures are going up. With high nighttime temperatures, the plant grows more quickly and when that happens, we get smaller plants, smaller ears, and smaller grain size,” Hatfield said. “Warmer temperatures also make the atmosphere a great sponge for moisture.”

The net result of these climatic changes can present significant challenges for corn and soybean production. Hatfield said the answer to managing these challenges lies in the soil.

“We have undervalued soil biology as a part of this equation. We have to understand that we manipulate the physical properties by managing the biology,” he said.

Conservation tillage, cover crops, proper nutrient management can build organic matter, increase water holding capacity and infiltration and, ultimately, serve to buffer yields against the weather extremes that likely lie ahead.

Here is more on improving soils from expert interviews with Dale Minyo at today’s event.

Dave Brandt, from Fairfield County, talks about cover crops and how they improve the soil.

Dave Brandt cover crops

Mike Plummer, from the University of Illinois, talked about the rewards of cover crops.

Mike Plummer cover crops Univ. IL

Bob Nelson of Purdue University give an agronomic update.

Bob Nielson Purdue Agronomy update web

Robert Meinen of Penn State talks manure managment.




Robert Meinen Penn State

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