Science continues to change, farmers must rush to catch up


Science doesn’t stand still. Scientists continue digging deeper into all subjects, bringing refinements. This applies to farming as much as to any of the hard sciences.

Farmers learned long ago how the science affecting their farms changes

Huge changes came in corn when the skill of selecting ears of corn to shell for seed to plant next year fell away. Early corn hybrids brought seed to the planters in paper bags. That wiped out corn ear selection at home.

Now with genomics and stacked genetics, seed corn making advanced from those original crossbred hybrids.

In the last couple of years, big changes emerged as weather changed right down to the roots of every crop grown.

On the livestock side, genomics affected cattle breeding on the farm. With corn, genomics changes go back at the seed corn company. With cows, farmers make those genetic selections. Amazing progress took place in beef herds.

Beef farmers followed what happened on dairy farms. Dairy producers led the way in use of artificial insemination (AI).

Dairy has an advantage. Changes are seen every day as more pounds of milk fill the bulk tank. With beef cows, the changes genetic make on a cow’s calf aren’t seen daily. That shows up when the calf sells. An annual impact is measured.

Now that Show-Me-Select herd owners can gain a $500 bonus per calf, the lesson hits home.

Right now, this fall, farmers must change the way and the when they plant corn and soybeans. Frequent rains and flooded fields changed how soil serves farmers. A new science of planting arrived.

In fields drowned with too much water, the oxygen loss affects soil health. Without air, the micro-biomass growing in the root zone dies. That must be restored before next planting season.

Farmers are just beginning to know of that change in soil health.

Cover crops planted this fall put new roots in that soil zone to restore micro-growth. Vital growth comes from a fungus, a helpful fungus.

MU soil scientists are on top of this, learning the last few years in strip-crop studies. Farmers help with this research. Much more will be learned, as science never stops.

Scientists make up their own language. Journalists must learn those big words and translate them into farm talk. I can’t do that yet. So, I’ll lay it on you. The new talk tells of “mycorrhizal fungi.” Here’s what I can remember and it’s an acronym: VAM. That’s short for “Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhizal” fungi. Now you know VAM.

Without VAM, crop roots fail to pick up fertility from the soil. If corn is planted in a field that did not grow a crop last year, you get Fallow Field Syndrome. That means without fertility transfer from VAM to roots, crop yields drop.

Complicating things, the USDA enters into promoting cover crops on prevented planted acres. They set deadlines for planting cover crops. They approve corn and soybeans for planting this fall. These fall crops aren’t for grain, but for cover.

Covers prevent erosion and smother weeds. See this gets more complicated. Be sure to check with the local USDA office to get the rules of any of this. It means money in the pocket, if done right.

MU Extension specialist Greg Luce helps farmers learn to stop Fallow Field Syndrome. There will be many stories from MU Extension. Local specialists will teach the new science.

In his guide, Luce says many cover crops can be used: cereal grains, clovers, sorghum, corn or soybean. All host the fungi in the roots that boost crop yields next year.

Plant the cover crops this fall and fungi will return. They just need new plant roots to survive. Plant cover crops and VAM will flourish, whether we can pronounce their names or not.

Tell your story of success or failure in learning Fallow Field Syndrome in 2016, after prevented planting of 2015. Send to


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