(Texas A&M AgriLife photo)
Word of Norman Borlaug’s death was a sad surprise. I was hoping that somehow the man would live forever. The world could have used that.
There is much yet to be written about the “father of the Green Revolution” and Nobel Prize winner. I just want to add my own little note of tribute, and that's to celebrate his ear for language.
No one in production agriculture spoke more straight about the need for new technology, which too seldom has had effective voices. I think Borlaug reminded a lot of us of our fathers and grandfathers, of our mothers and grandmothers, who tended the soil, were humble, and saw true purpose in their labor. When Borlaug and these men and women of the land spoke out, it really meant something.
One thing I guess I didn’t expect to find in Borlaug was an ear for poetic language. He had this to say to one of his biographers, the New York Times reported today: “When wheat is ripening properly, when the wind is blowing across the field, you can hear the beards of the wheat rubbing together. They sound like pine needles in a forest. It is a sweet whispering music that once you hear, you never forget.”
Norman Borlaug is someone we in agriculture likely will never forget either.
Here's a collection of YouTube videos that let you hear Dr. Borlaug in his own voice:
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Monitoring sump at demo farm gives view of drainage
If ever there were a place in need of drainage, it was the flat cropland on a southeast Iowa research farm last week. After about six inches of rain in 36 hours, you could get a sense of why Midwest farmers see drainage as an essential, high payback production practice.
All the moving water was also a reminder of why ag is in the spotlight for its contribution of “nutrient-enhanced” flows into streams, rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.
You had to jump over a ditch and wade through mud and ankle deep water in field borders to get a look at the experimental drainage structures presented at the demonstration.
Lifting the steel cap off a monitoring sump, Iowa State University ag engineer Matt Helmers explained how the new drainage technology can be used to reduce nitrate flows into waterways, manage cropland water tables, and potentially raise crop yields.
So far the conservation benefits are fairly clear in the Iowa work. If you retrofitted your fields with this equipment, you could be pretty sure to cut nitrate flows leaving your farm—by as much as 50 percent.
Managed properly, the control structures would enable you to drain the root zone for field work and planting in the spring and to conserve soil moisture for crop use in the summer.
The yield impacts are less vivid. In Illinois last year, one 160-acre field in a project produced a 20% increase in corn yield. Long-term studies in North Carolina show a 5% increase in a corn-wheat-soybean rotation, 9% in corn alone. But that’s North Carolina, not the Midwest, where the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition is attempting to change drainage practices. “That doesn’t happen every time [in the Midwest],” said Leonard Binstock, the coalition’s executive director. “But we think the potential is there.”
Binstock presented a calculation, assuming a 5% yield boost, that showed a net payback of $21.95 per acre for installing a full conservation drainage system with new tile lines and control structures. Cost-sharing and low-interest loans are available for the practices, too, he pointed out.
The golden rule of drainage, Binstock says, is to drain only what’s necessary to get your equipment in the field and to produce a crop—and to drain "not a drop more.”
That “not a drop more” is a big drop--one that could have a major impact on how agriculture manages one its most fundamental practices.
View video: Matt Helmers discusses conservation drainage benefits
See slideshow: Testing out conservation drainage
Posted by John Walter at 11:50 AM