Cutting Trends in Desert Alfalfa to achieve 10 tons/ac.

Are your fields producing 10 tons/ac per year of alfalfa hay?    If not, the cutting data above may give you an hint as to why.

Many years of research here in the Palo Verde Valley, California on good producing alfalfa has shown us that good fields follow a yield trend through the season.    Our highest yielding cutting generally is the 5th cutting (May-June) at 1.61 tons/ac.   Yields diminish from there to the end of the season.

It has been our experience that if the third cutting out yields the second cutting then the field may be on it’s way to 12-13 tons/ac for that year.


Responses of Alfalfa Production and Quality to Water run applications of Micro-organisms.

Below is an excerpt from Stanworth Crop Consultants Inc Research

Introduction: Questions regarding soil health in the SW deserts of the United States have been posed. Indigenous populations of micro-organisms may not be as effective in decomposition of organic matter or competitive with plant parasitic nematodes or soil borne diseases. Recent regulatory and environmental pressures have been put to growers to switch from caustic soil sterilants (methyl bromide) to alternatives. These alternatives include biological organisms as agents to help control soil borne diseases. Recently, benefits of these materials have been noted anecdotally. Increase in production and quality have been seen in treated versus untreated fields. Increase in plant analysis nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus have been observed on sugar beets. Decreases in nematode populations have been seen in treated vs untreated fields. A replicated treatment and untreated control experiment was proposed. This experiment was performed to test the efficacy of using Pure Ag Solutions micro-organisms and quantify benefits on nutrients, yields and quality of alfalfa hay.

Results: Alfalfa quality improved significantly in the treated plots. Median %ADF and %NDF decreased over 3% in treated versus untreated check plots. Energy calculations showed an increase in median Relative Feed Value from 119 to 133, TDN increased from 53.7 to 56.1. Median Crude protein increased over 1% in treated plots over the untreated check, but was not statistically significant. Yields increases were noted. Average yields of the treated plots were 1.23 tons/ac, the untreated plots averaged 1.09 tons/ac. This was not statistically significant however. Total bale counts showed there was no increase in yield, treated 1.46 tons/ac, untreated plots at 1.47 tons/ac. Bale weights were estimated at 105 lbs/bale. Comparison of soil nutrients between treatments revealed that there was no significant change in any of the soil nutrient tested in alfalfa soils treated with Pure Ag Solutions Micro-organism when compared to controls. Alfalfa plant tissue analysis of the top 6” of plants showed a similar lack of significant differences in nutrient content between treatments.

Discussion: Significant increases in alfalfa feed quality and moisture was noted in the treated over the untreated check of these fields. The mechanism of this increase is unknown. Increase in alfalfa leafiness, or higher leaf to stem ratio may be occurring in the treated areas. Possible influences from micro-organisms could be better tilthe and aeration of the soil allowing better uptake of water to the plants, giving more lush leafy growth. This experiment was performed during the peak of the desert summer. High heat stress on alfalfa causes a condition locally described as “summer slump”. Alfalfa quality and yields are depressed as plants struggle to survive through the heat. I recommend checking the same plots again in the fall as cool temperatures and un-stressed plants may respond in the treated plots.


Undersander, Dan., et al. Forage Analysis Procedures. Omaha Ne.: National Forage Testing Association. July 1993

Zar, Jerrold H. Biostatistical Analysis. Englewood Cliffs N. J.: Prentice-Hall Inc. 1974

Pure Ag:

Yield Estimate:


John Shenk Passes

Below is a well written email post, it is published without permission.

Dear NIRS Consortium members, friends, and associates: It is with the deepest regret that I must tell you that Dr. John S. Shenk passed away this afternoon, Thursday, September 15 following surgery to remove a tumor on his kidney. For more than three decades, John has been an incredible driving force in the creation and advancement of NIRS technology. His unmatched passion to help everyone, everywhere benefit from NIRS brought success to scores of people and improved animal and crop production throughout the world. John accomplished this with the help, love, and unwavering support of his wife Gloria, his children, and his grandchildren. To so many of us, John’s love of our Lord was exemplified in the friendships he formed with everyone he met. Several times over the last quarter century he stated that his mission in life was to simply share with others the understanding of NIRS that God had so generously shared with him. And share he did! With each sample we scan, may we bring honor to Dr. John Shenk’s life’s work by remembering not only what he did, but who he did it for. Information on viewing, memorial services, and related information will follow soon. Sincerely, Tim Hoerner President, The NIRS Consortium


Estimating Hay Yields on Research Trials

Estimating yields on alfalfa or other hay crops can be challenging. Hay harvesting in the desert SW United States involves a period of curing and baling on dew moisture. Raking and Baling may occur at 3 am in the morning. We like to rise early here in the hot desert, but unless one sleeps in the field, one will miss the bale count. So here is our compromise to the traditional bale count to estimate yields on large research plots. We have used this method for a variety of trials ranging from fertility to soil amendments to soil micro-organism trials (seen here).

Here is a list of items needed: A field that had been cut. A pick up truck with an arm swung out off the bed of the truck. A milk scale. A tarp. Rakes. Measuring tape. Zip lock baggies. Clipboard. Pen. And a couple of assistants.

First measure a length of windrow in replicated plot with the tape.

The length of windrow is raked onto the tarp.

The tarp is weighed, the weight is recorded on the clipboard (don’t forget to post the tare weight).

A sub sample of the hay is placed into the zip lock bag. The bag is returned to the lab for dry matter test.

Yield is estimated by back calculating the net weight of the hay to tons/ac. Moisture content is then corrected by dividing the yield by the percent dry matter found from the lab analysis. Yields are commonly reported on Dry Matter or 90% dry matter basis.


Real Time Soil Moisture Reports

Recently new IT products allow traditional soil moisture meters to update to the internet to give reports in “real time”.

The report to the right is an example of how soil moisture is depleted from the rootzone of an established cotton crop. Note that root depth can be estimated by the zone of water depletion in that area. For example, the 32 inch sensor began to show water just prior to the last irrigation on July 15th. We can assume that the roots are now in the vicinity of that sensor.


Decagon Logger Measures Rain Event

As the old Arab saying goes “All sunshine makes a desert”, so it is that I post a recent rain event here in our valley. We received 2.28 inches of rain Tuesday morning. This event was recorded by our Decagon Echo data logger and connected instruments. *see image.

The bar graph shows the rainfall amounts with 1.4 plus inches of rain falling between midnight and 1 am. Capacitance soil moisture sensors responded to the moisture from the rain event. First the top foot (red line) responded. Then the second foot (yellow) and even the deep soil moisture sensor (green line) at 36 inch depth increased. This field is in alfalfa and irrigated by center pivot irrigation system. Due to high water demand (ETo) and limited water supply, it is difficult to refill the soil profile this time of the year to the deep sensor. But it was accomplished by the precipitation that night. Note green line appears at about 4 am after the water had infiltrated to the depth.


First Impression Sauce

Have you ever noticed how sometimes, the first time you use a product the success is immediate and conspicuous? A while ago, I opened a box that contained a new bar of soap and took a shower. Right away I noticed how well the soap lathered up in our hard desert water. The effect was impressive. I compared the new bar to an old bar of the same brand. I had to really work at the old one to get it to lather. Showers are normally known for singing, but this got me thinking. Why was I so impressed with the new bar, when I had been using the same old soap brand for years? I think proctor and gamble or whoever made the bar sprayed a solution of calgon (sodium hexameta phosphate) on the surface to soften the water and make it lather well right away. I have given this effect a name, it is “first impression sauce”.

I remember when I was just out of school with my Undergrad degree (20 years ago now), I had a sales meeting with a salty older Agronomist that gave me a pretty hard time initially. As the meeting went on, I noticed he had a bottle of Vitamin B1 on top of his filing cabinet. Vitamin B1 is sold as an amendment, used mainly in the ornamental industry to be applied during transplant of young plants. In a little sarcastic smart-ass tone, I said, “Wow Vitamin B1! Do you use alot of that?” He told me “You know as well as I do that that stuff is worthless, but I manufacture it.” He went on, “I just add a little iron and zinc chelate in the solution, the grower sees the plants green up when they first use it. They don’t know any different, they think it is the Vitamin B1 is great.” There is my definition of “first impression sauce”.

There are others. Dr. Paul Eberhardt of IAS Labs in Phoenix discovered years ago that calcium levels in the cotton plant really respond to boron applications. Flower pollination- boll retention increase dramatically in cotton to boron fertilization. About the same time, a plant growth regulator used in cotton changed it’s anion chemistry from chloride to borate. This borate is considered a foliar fertilizer when the pgr is applied. Is this a co-incidence or “first impression sauce”?

Nitro-sul is a liquid fertilizer applied usually as a water run in furrow/border strip systems. It has a stinky rotten-egg-sulfury smell when applied. Stanworth Crop Consultants has never recommended the material. We believe that there are more economical alternatives to increasing soluble calcium on calcareous soils. I believe growers like the “first impression sauce” as they observe the stinky milky white emulsifier move across the field in the irrigation water.

Can you think of any “First Impression Sauces” in your life? If so, you may want to consider why the company adds it. Maybe you would be better off to buy just the sauce and not the product…. Me, I just put more salt in the water softener.



Michael Mullion had an excellent idea. Why don’t you blog while you are on your trip to Saudi Arabia. Well, I am not long winded or fluent with words. But I am having a pint of London’s Pride at the Robert Inn. It is a traditional English pub in Hounslow London. And, I can post pictures with a little explanation below each. So here Goes…..

This is the Boeing 777 loading at the Jetway at LAX.

This my isle seat, Eric Edlund, from Stockholm Sweden next to me. He is returning from a business trip to LA. His sister lives in Smaland Sweden, the Quist ancestral home. He was married in an 800 year old church, Lutheran of course. He commented that many Swedes left Smaland in the mid 1800′s because of hard times and even hunger. He related that the soil there is very rocky and not very productive. He said the people from there have a reputation of being hard working.

These ladies are from the Netherlands. Many of the plane passengers are Scandinavians going home from vacationing in the US. I overhead them speaking in Dutch, it is a beautiful language, it sounds like the a bubbling brook flowing through the forest. They had just finished a joint-family vacation with 8 kids and parents spanning 4000 miles across the US. I apologize for the quality of the print

Picture of London Heathrow Airport. Side note now, they are serving green peas with my fish and chips here at the pub. Yes Teresa, other people in this world do enjoy eating green peas, thank you.

Next up, A cute Bobby, a shrubbery, and a dark Cloak Room! Later, AQ


Irrigation Management- Nitrogen Efficiency

As I am reviewing last seasons Wheat agronomic reports one fact keep appearing. Good irrigation management pays in savings on nitrogen applications. Part of our service is to review the previous seasons agronomic reports with growers. But this year, the pressure of increasing fertilizer costs are causing us to scrutinize more closely the efficiency of fertility programs. Good management pays, this is nothing new. But as I look at these reports I see that growers that monitor the soil moisture and irrigate accordingly irrigate their fields less often than those who irrigate by calendar.

Whether reduction in Nitrogen efficieny is due to leaching of the fertilizer (out the tile drain) denitrification (loss of N to air in saturated soils) I cannot quantify. I can tell you that fields that have excellent production and protein (4 ton plus yields and 14% protein) generally were irrigated less often and used less nitrogen than comparable yielding fields of comparable soil texture that were irrigated more often.

Tile Cleaning Crew on the Vail Canal system near the Salton Sea (loss by leaching).

First turn off the fertilizer tank, then the head gate (just plain lost).



Each year I come into contact with local growers that are led to believe that water run applications of anhydrous ammonia hardens the soil. They are concerned that applying this form will lead to losses in soil quality and crop yields. These beliefs are based upon opinions from those who do not understand local soil and water conditions.

I believe that water run anhydrous ammonia applications make good sense in the area irrigated by the Lower Colorado River and here are my reasons. 1. Economic Sense: The cost of ammonia historically has been 1/2 (on per unit N basis) that of other nitrogen fertilizers such as UN-32 and Urea. At my last check, the cost for NH3 was $0.35/lb N compared with $0.57/lb N for UN-32. This means a typical water run of 30 lbs N/ac of NH3 would save the farm $6.60 per acre. 2. Agronomic Sense: NH3 is a good “maintenance” fertilizer. It must convert to Nitrate before becoming completely available to root uptake. It has been said, it is the “next irrigation” fertilizer and moves into the plant over time. In this sense, it could be considered “slow release”. If plant analysis shows adequate levels of Nitrogen and if the crop is entering a time of high Nitrogen demand, NH3 is a good form to apply to maintain those levels. 3. Soil Sense: NH3 does not cause hard soil where the source of the water is the Colorado River. Yes, precipitation of Calcium Carbonate occurs with applications, but the sodium hazard of the River Water (SAR) does not increase to severe or even moderate levels. Water analysis of samples taken during these water run applications show the precipitation of ~100 lbs Calcium per acre foot of water, but the sodium hazard increase(2) SAR unit 2.1-3.3 and R-Na from 1.7-2.2. Both are considered in the no restriction on infiltration category(1) with Colorado River Salinity (ECw 0.85). Therefore: Water run Anhydrous ammonia does not harden the soil in our area. NH3 is an acid-forming fertilizer, It converts over-time to nitric acid and actually reduces soil pH. 3. Environmental Sense: Yes, NH3 can burn the lower leaves where it contacts plants and roots on very sandy soils with over-application. And, NH3 is a gas and can be lost during water run applications. Therefore, I recommend neutralizing the water pH with sulfuric acid during the water run, this keeps the NH3 in solution and reduces plant burn and Nitrogen loss. NH3 is immobile in the soil and does not contribute directly to Nitrate pollution of groundwater (see agronomic sense above). Also, NH3 stimulates micro-organism growth as it is converted to Nitrate.

Safety/liability Concerns: While NH3 applications are lauded above, it must be stated that NH3 is a noxious gas and must be handled and monitored only by trained professionals. Some commercial fertilizer companies no longer supply this fertilizer because of high insurance liability costs and these safety concerns.

All considerations taken in stride, NH3 can be a good tool to have in the growers tool box to maximize production and minimize costs.

1. Soil Improvement Committee. Western Fertilizer Handbook. 9th Edition. DanvilleIlCPHA, 2002.

2. Ayers, R. S., and Westcot, D. W. Water Quality For Agriculture. Rome Italy; FAO of the United Nations. 1985