It was pretty well agreed that there was no way the winter blizzard that buried the Twin Cities and the Windy City and the Indy City was going to cause much of a problem for attendance at the 29th Annual Conservation Tillage Conference in Ada this week. As one expert put it, "Most of these guys need their CCA credits too bad not to be here."
As expected a crowd of 917 farmers and agronomists showed up for the excellent agronomically-oriented agenda Tuesday and Wednesday. We were there to present the Master Farmer Awards Tuesday morning to Nancy and Jim Patterson of Chesterland, Brenda and Jim VanTilburg of Celina and Brenda Butler and Joe Celuch of Frazeysburg. Congratulations to the new honorees and thanks to Randall Reeder and all the CTC organizers for making room for this great award on their schedule.
Given the dire predictions for up to 8 inches of snow in the area, I was relieved when all of the winners showed up Tuesday. Still I could tell there were some folks watching the windows and wondering just how bad it was really going to get and just how best to time their escape in case things got flakey.
It was only appropriate that the opening speaker for the conference directed his comments to extreme weather. Jerry Hatfield USDA Ag Research Service from Ames, Iowa, asked the audience if they were prepared to handle the added stress of dealing with extreme weather. He noted that the dry weather over the last year has pulled soil moisture from as deep as 6 feet in places. He attributed some of last year's better than expected yields to the fact that a dry spring encouraged the crops to send their roots deeper than usual. But that deep growth was also what pulled the water out of such deep levels of the ground.
"There's no water left in our deep soils in Iowa," he said. "It will take 10 inches of rain to regenerate that water."
The extreme weather events also continue to degrade our fragile soil resources, he said. Not only were the number of days of consecutive heat greater than usual, the extended number of hot nights were also hard on the soil and its biology.
"Soil is too often ignored in the discussion of climate change," Hatfield said. "But soil is the foundation of crop production and the key to nutrient management and fertility. Stressed soils are less able to handle extreme weather events."