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Pray for rain

local farmers need it

October 09, 2007|By JEFF SEMLER

The weather has been making news everywhere lately, with landslides in California to hurricanes in Central America.

Closer to home it is dry. September 2007 was the driest September in Hagerstown with 0.18 inches of rain.

Also, we have experienced extreme heat conditions during the dry spell from June 1 until the end of September; with 34 days over 90 degrees and September temperatures averaged 3.6 degrees above "normal."

Fall is a time of year that can lull you to sleep a little bit when it comes to weather. We enjoy the cooler nights and changing colors, but forget we are not getting any rain.

The scattered storms of two weeks past were just that - widely scattered. Reports of 1.5 inches at the R.C. Wilson water plant outside of Williamsport and no precipitation in the Clear Spring area demonstrate just how scattered those rain events were.

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As you might imagine, feed supplies this winter may be a little short. Many acres of winter cereal grains have been planted, as well as oats, to try and make up some of these shortages; however, rain is still a key ingredient in the success of this strategy.

In short, we need rain and the weatherman does not see any in the forecast until at least next week.

Farmers are a resourceful and resilient lot, so they will weather this dry spell as they have many before. The dry weather has additional implications for both farmers and homeowners and that has to do with soil testing and fertility. Dry soil conditions for an extended period of time can affect soil pH and associated lime recommendations, but dry soil conditions can also influence the quality of soil samples.

Drs. Mark Alley and Rory Maguire, extension specialists at Virginia Tech, provide the following advice:

When soils are very hard and dry, it is difficult to take quality soil samples simply because the ground is too hard to push the soil probe to the needed depth. Samples that are taken too shallow or at varying depths at different locations are not representative of the field.

High quality soil samples require that each core of soil be taken at the same depth within the field. In particular, very shallow soil samples can show very low pH values due to surface acidity that has developed from fertilizer applications and decompositions of crop residues (homeowners, read grass clippings here).

Soil pH levels following extended drought can also be influenced by the "salt effect." The "salt effect" results from the lack of dilution and leaching of fertilizer salts and organic matter decomposition products.

Lime and fertilizer inputs have become more expensive in the past three years due to increased demand and fuel costs. Soil acidity must be neutralized for the efficient utilization of fertilizer nutrients. Soil pH values may be lower than expected in fields that have been subject to drought in 2007.

So, take quality soil samples that are representative of the field in order to get proper recommendations. It is especially important to utilize historic knowledge of the lime requirements for particular crop rotations and fields, as well as the soil buffer index on the soil test report, to determine the appropriate lime needs this fall and winter. Proper soil pH and lime use is the foundation of an efficient fertilizer program. Until next week, pray for rain.

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