ISSUE 5 May 30, 2002
CALL BEFORE YOU DIG (SOIL SAMPLE)
No, this isnít an amusing story. Itís about a law passed in North Dakota in 1999, North Dakota Century Code 49-23. Many of us who live in town are familiar with North Dakota One-Call. Before you dig, you call a number and the people on the other end of the line will dispatch representatives from all appropriate utilities to mark the locations of the underground buried utilities so that the people digging will be able to avoid hitting them. Failure to call and hitting a utility can be extremely expensive, harmful and sometimes fatal to the digger. What does this have to do with agriculture? The current law states that any digging activity deeper than 18 inches must proceed only after calling North Dakota One-Call. Within 48 hours the tract will be marked. The digger then has 10 days in which to conduct the digging activity, or they must call and have the area remarked. This must happen every time the excavation occurs. When drafting the law, the people involved considered farm field operations and concluded that most agricultural activities did not go deeper than about 18 inches. However, soil sampling on about 100,000 fields in North Dakota every year is conducted routinely at 24 inches and many samples in the Valley are taken from 48 inches in depth and occasionally to 6 feet. Soil sampling is not exempt from this call!
Most if not all of us in agriculture were unaware that this system included soil samplers. After all, most utilities are located in the road right-of-ways within 100 feet of a road and hardly anyone samples there. The utility most often found in the fields are buried gas pipelines, which are pretty thick steel and immune to puncture with our puny hydraulic core machines and, I thought, were marked next to the field with flashy standpipes. My first knee-jerk reaction to this information was that it was not relevant to soil sampling and that somehow we needed an exemption. However, when several interested people including myself attended a One-Call committee meeting in Mandan recently, it was pointed out that even if the soil probe did not puncture the pipe, it would scar the surface and increase the risk of corrosion and failure in the future. Also, the utilities in the field sometimes donít follow the right-of-way all the time and cut corners. Many times the utilities arenít absolutely sure where the buried lines are until someone actually has to find them. The gas pipeline stand pipes are routinely knocked over by farm tillage equipment and overgrown with weeds or brush. I can see the value in having these areas marked.
How do people carry through with this law?
*First, I would suggest anyone who is planning to carry out any substantial soil sampling next fall to put their fields ASAP into a list based on township range and section. You need to make the information specific to the actual fields. If you mark a whole quarter and only 80 acres has the wheat off and the other has corn on it yet, I think someone will be upset. Make the list easy for you to understand which fields they are so that you can easily access them and know which field belongs to which farmer. But One-Call needs the town/range section information.
*Secondly, call North Dakota One-Call at 1-800-795-0555 and tell them you have a list of prospective sampling sites for fall and would like the list-form for reporting multiple locations. They will mail or FAX you this form, and you should make copies to keep on hand. On the list, tell them somewhere that you will only sample areas 100, 150, 200 feet from the field margin (pick a number that is relevant to your sampling plan and stick to it while sampling). This will limit the number of fields that will need to be marked.
*Thirdly, in the fall, as fields become available to sample you can FAX the list of fields you will be sampling in the next short time to One-Call using the FAX number they will provide you, and they will have the fields marked within 48 hours. You then have 10 days to complete your sampling. If it rains before you complete it and 10 days elapses, you need to call it in again, perhaps with another list of additional fields that are ready.
*Next year, you will need to call these same fields in again.
There are three reasons it is important to follow through on this law:
I do not know of any instance of a soil sampler hitting a line. But I wouldnít want to be the first. There are lines that have been in the ground for 40 years and are probably not as sturdy as newer lines. There are pipelines that are made of plastic. Some are shallow, some are deeper. Some were buried deep and erosion has moved them closer to the surface (or moved the surface deeper.
The One-Call committee is in the process of stream-lining their procedures to be able to handle 100,000 fields. They frankly arenít really set up for it now. What might happen is that when you send in your fall list, they might send back the list with only those fields with utilities nearby marked. The other fields you should consider safe to sample- at least for 10 days.
The most important thing is that you understand the law and take steps to follow it as best you can. I think we can do this, but the first time will be painful.
PHOSPHATE FOR LESS THAN RESPONSIVE CROPS?
Flax growers for years have fertilized flax with phosphate fertilizer at seeding. Depending on the source of fertilizer recommendation, there are varying thoughts on the usefulness of this activity and whether or not to apply fertilizer with the seed. Most older publications suggest that only small amounts of P be applied as seed-placed fertilizer due to salt or ammonia effects. More recent publications from Canadian provinces do not recommend any P at all due to the lack of response of flax to P fertilizer, particularly when it is applied with the seed.
Research studies that I have reviewed show at most a bushel per acre increase with P fertilization, hardly significant, but several studies have also resulted in no yield increase and some with yield decreases. Recent Canadian studies on the mycchoriza relationships with flax roots (mycchoriza are a group of fungi which infect many crop plants, including flax, and enable greater uptake of nutrients than if they are not present) suggests that P fertilization of flax decreases this infection, so although there is more P physically present, it still doesn't get into the plant well because the mycchoriza are not there in sufficient numbers.
However, there is a school of thought that says that many growers are either limited to the rate of fertilizer they can apply with their seeding equipment and need to apply P to flax because they cannot make up the deficit anywhere else in the rotation, or growers won't remember or won't care if they skipped a year and soil test levels and yields of subsequent crops will decline. If you embrace the first scenario, then the grower must increase P fertilization elsewhere in the rotation, preferably to a crop more responsive to P, such as small grains or canola. This might be the best rotational answer to the flax/P question, but it takes good record keeping and grower commitment to holding P soil test levels up. If you embrace the second scenario of fertilizing whether the flax yield will increase or not, the grower will still raise flax, but the P goes into maintaining soil test only, not to yield increases.
Flax is not the only crop with low response to phosphate fertilizer. Field peas are also low responders to P, and soybeans, dry beans and sunflowers seem to respond when soil test levels are low to very low on our charts, but hardly at all when soil tests are medium or higher. Similar decisions regarding when to fertilize in the rotation to best maintain or build soil test P levels and achieve the best returns on the P fertilizer applied need to be made.
Dr. Dave Franzen
NDSU Extension Soil Specialist