Saturday, November 30, 2013

Soil Compaction and other Pollutants from HVDC Transmission

This is a DMI experimental subsoiler.  Bill Dietrich at DMI made this somewhere about 1990 or 1991.  The outside two are regular subsoiler shanks with the center pivoting on a hydraulic cylinder.  It could go down about 30 to 36 inches deep with a tip 15 inches wide.  It was quite a piece of equipment.  I wish I had it today.  It was literally a one of a kind. 

 Sorry for the quality.  It's an old photo that been scanned. 

Here’s the story behind how it ended up at Prairie Center for one fall.

Back in the drought of 1988, the home field at Prairie Center produced 165 bushels per acre on the north end.  The south end from the slope at the shed to the road (about 25 acres or so) produced 35 bushel corn.  Traditionally corn directly over field tiles produce less in the mixed dirt, but in 1988 this corn was considerably taller.  You could tell exactly where ever tile was laid in the south end of the field along Route 52.

Out of curiosity my Dad, Harold Thorsen, wondered why.  So we went out with a backhoe and dug about 4 holes in the field and we learned a lot about the importance of subsoil, compaction, and the importance of root development.   While the field is covered in uniform black topsoil, the subsoil is vastly different.  Much of the field has a nice brown subsoil that breaks up easily.  It has a good natural mellow texture with just the right amount of sand silt and clay.

The south end is something completely different.  That subsoil is a blue clay.  Yes.  Right below the topsoil it’s a blue clay.  After digging a hole 5 foot deep, you need a pocket knife to break chunks off chunks of the subsoil off the wall.  It’s unbelievably tight.   What we learned was corn roots will go down 4 feet deep but soil compaction is a key limiting factor. 

After talking to a person who talked to a person who talked to Bill Dietrich at DMI, this little 3 shank subsoiler was created.  Dietrich tried it out everywhere from Minnesota to Goodfield.  Dad ripped that Rutland soil 30 to 36 inches deep in an attempt to break up that blue clay.  A Deere 8630 was used and he moved over 30 inches every trip across the south end of the field. 

Yes we tore out field tile by doing it.  That was known from the start and we retiled it.   I was the guy walking the ditch behind the tiling machine covering the new tile with a fresh layer of dirt by hand.  Yes, I was a ditch digger once, and what I saw there really surprised me.    Every 30 inches there was a hole big enough I could stick my entire arm in it.  I could get on my hands and knees and pull out chunks of blue clay.  The triangle shaped hole wasn’t much bigger than my hand but it was consistent every 30 inches.

A year later we laid more drainage tile.  Those holes had closed up.  They were about the diameter of a golf ball but every one of them poured out water as the trench was dug.  There was enough backpressure that every one of them would blow out the dirt that had plugged the hole from the trencher wheel. 

I don’t know how many more years that subsoiler benefited the soil.  While it’s highly unlikely, maybe that soil is so tight and those holes are deep enough they are still there today.  But more importantly what I learned from that experience is the importance of having a good soil texture as deep as possible.  

Funny how back in the late 80's and the 90's every governmental "expert" and university guru was preaching the virtues of no-till.  A few contrarian farmers didn't drink the kool-aid and went in the opposite direction.  Today I bet the number of farmers who practice deep tillage out numbers no-tillers 4 to 1.    

To grow corn over 200 bushel, besides seed genetics, and fertilizer, you need to create as mellow of a soil as you can.  After Dad passed away, I made a few mistakes for the first couple of years, but it didn’t take long to go back to some of the things he was doing right.  One of them is running the subsoiler over corn stalks and bean stubble and parking the disc. 

The theory goes, this year’s bean stubble is going to be next year’s corn, and corn is king.  Corn is where the profit is made.  It’s typically more profitable than soybeans, so we do everything we can to promote root growth and running the subsoiler over the bean ground is the first step.  After that, we do everything we can to promote root development.   Triple stack seed is used.  A little insecticide is also used, even on corn beans rotation.   Spring tillage is also reduced to a minimum.  Everything is done to give the corn roots the best chance to grow as deep as possible.

Yeah, maybe this is a little overkill.  Maybe too much is spent on seed and maybe the little extra insecticide isn’t necessary, but I firmly believe the secret to 250 bushel corn versus 175 bushel corn is root development.  Yes, I’ve only been doing this since 2008.  I am no expert at growing corn, but I was pretty proud of last year’s 185 bushel yield in the field RICL wants to cross.  For the drought of 2012, that beat Dad’s best of 165 bushel per acre for part of the field just south of it during the 1988 drought.    

It’s funny.  The only yield my Dad ever spoke about was the 165 bushel and 35 bushel per acre in the same field from the worst drought he had seen.  2012 had soybeans in that field and we didn’t see a yield change over the Rutland blue clay subsoil.  (FYI, Soils are named like Rutland, Muscatine, Flanagan.  When you see the name of a small town in the Midwest, if it's not named after an indian, there is a good chance it's named after a soil.)  Proper management of soil compaction is key. 

This year I think that field did 245 bushels  for a field average.  I’ll know for sure the yield in about a week when we empty the bins.  We also didn’t see a difference in yield from the north end with the better subsoil to the blue clay in the south end of the field.  As soon as the harvest was finished, we were asking ourselves what we need to do different to get reach 265 bushel corn.  The key is still root development. 

I hope this explains to you transmission folk why farmers treat soil compaction from the construction of RICL as such a great threat.  We take our corn yields very seriously and we are very protective of the soil.  It’s not just dirt.  Greater yields will not be reached without being protective of our soil's condition. 

Root development is also why we need to know about the effects of stray current.  There isn’t much out there written about it and the effects on plants, and even less about stray current’s effects on corn specifically.  What I can piece together from a couple different papers on the subject, there is a potential negative effect with stunted root growth, but at this point there is no definitive proof. 
After Stray Current Pollution, yes, there is a concern about the effects of electrostatic fields on the leaves and pollination.  From what has been found on this subject, Clean Line’s informational paper isn’t very reliable information and it’s a legitimate concern to ask about electrostatic fields created by 3,500 MW HVDC transmission.
Yes, how Clean Line Energy has steered the conversation towards stray voltage and electromagnetic fields, issues that pertain to AC transmission, is disturbing .  It speaks volumes that Clean Line has kept the subject steered towards issues that do not exist with HVDC.  In spite of what self proclaimed environmentalists claim, growing corn at today’s yields is much more than planting GMO seed and fertilizing the heck out of the ground.  It’s also about protecting the soil from compaction and guarding against pollutions that will damage the soil and reduce the yields. 

So, Jimmy, you do need to explain how much electrostatic we can expect in our fields and what kind of stray current levels we will see leaking from a 3,500 MW HVDC powerline that will deliver the “more power than three times the Hoover dam”.  If it will not be a problem, then will this right of way easment butt up next to the existing pipeline easement?  

You know if we don’t get the information from Clean Line Energy, we will eventually find it.  We’ve done it before when we desired to find the truth about Clean Line Energy and it’s slowly being pieced together.  The real masters at growing corn are in Iowa.   I’m just a gardener compared to the farmers in Iowa. 

I see Clean Line Energy has found its analyst.  Maybe it’s time Jimmy starts putting out want ads for an agronomist.  Eventually, you’re going to need it.  Growing corn is far over the heads of Team Clean Line with experts like Hans, the political science major. ...a political science major...why don't you just bring someone from New York City to talk to us Mayberry folk.  You  people are so in over your heads with this HVDC powerline.

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