NDSU Extension - Griggs County


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February 23

The Extension Connection

By Megan Vig

What do worm burrows and standing water have in common? They were two powerful demonstration tools shared by Luke Ressler, Soil Health Technician and Naeem Kalwar, Langdon REC Specialist during the Griggs County Crop Improvement Association meeting held February 6th. Soil health was the topic addressed that morning. Why soil health? Because those white spots we see along field edges (during the summer months) keep expanding and the snirt (snow + dirt) during the winter months serves as a reminder that our topsoil is blowing away. We want to keep our topsoil, right? And we don’t like seeing beans turn yellow and die in white patches of soil, right? These are two good reasons why soil health is such an important topic.

During the crop improvement meeting, the speakers used demonstrations to convey their message. Luke Ressler shared a research approach for evaluating worm movement in soil. With the use of rubber, Ressler is able to infiltrate the burrows worms leave behind, demonstrating their movements through the soil. Notice in the photo how the burrows run up and down. Why is this important? The channeling and burrowing left behind loosens and aerates the soil. Most importantly, these burrows improve soil drainage. What else are worms good for? Improving nutrient availability and soil structure. Next growing season, take a spade with you when you check fields and see how many worms you can find in your dig. The more, the better.

Naeem Kalwar used six different soil, amendment, and water combinations to drive home the message of salinity and sodicity issues. Salinity and sodicity are two different issues that occur in our North Dakota soils. Saline soil is a term used to describe excessive levels of soluble salts in soil water, high enough to negatively affect plant growth, resulting in reduced crop yields and even plant death under severe conditions. Excessive soluble salts limit the ability of plant roots to absorb soil water even under wet soil conditions due to osmotic pressure. The most common soluble salts in North Dakota soils are sulfates of sodium, calcium and magnesium. In contrast to saline soils, sodic soils have excessive levels of sodium (Na+). Soil sodicity causes degradation of soil structure. Poor physical structure then results in soils difficult to till, poor seed germination and restricted plant root growth.

During Kalwar’s demonstrations, some infiltration of water in the soil collected beneath in a cup, while others did not and you can see the water levels still remaining in the tubes. If you would like to get into the exact details, I am happy to visit in the office or over phone (797-3312), but to cut to the chase—see those tubes with “standing water”? What happens in real life in those tube synthesized situations? Rain water fails to infiltrate the soil profile and ends up as run off—to a slough, to the lowest part of the field, and/or to the ditch. We need moisture in our soil to grow the crop, not feed the slough.

Be sure to catch our next extension event, Beef Cattle Update. Lunch is provided at 12:30 on Tuesday, February 27th with presentations on alfalfa, EPDs, and vaccination procedures. Event is held at the Aneta Auditorium basement. See you there.  


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