Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:00 AM
Farmer experiments with a variety of combinations to find best soil solution
By JOHN O'CONNELL
PICABO, Idaho -- The fertilizer salesmen often visit the Purdy family farm here, always touting the latest product that improves yields but costs less.
"You get inundated with information. We've tried the product and at the end of the year we say, 'I don't really know if it worked or not,'" said Pat Purdy.
This season, Purdy hopes to find his own answers by conducting an elaborate experiment on his farm, involving all of his 1,700 barley acres and 2,500 alfalfa acres. Thus far, he's found it difficult to draw comparisons due to a lack of current, objective university research on nutrient management.
He's planted his crops in 10 different soil-nutrient scenarios. He's used different combinations of compost, fertilizer and biological stimulants.
"My ultimate situation would be to find a balance of compost and commercial fertilizer, and possibly some type of biological (product), ultimately being able to reduce our overall load of commercial fertilizer," Purdy said, noting fertilizer costs have risen sharply lately. "I don't think it's going to be possible to eliminate that."
He's also testing how acid-based liquid fertilizer and slow-release nitrogen affect barley growth.
The Idaho Barley Commission may award a grant to assist in Purdy's project, with the intent of using the information to develop a more formal and scientific trial. At the commission's request, University of Idaho Extension soil specialist Amber Moore has submitted a grant application for $7,000 to $10,000 to work with Purdy. Moore will attend the commission's May 23 meeting in Twin Falls, where members may approve the grant as part of a broader "barley research roadmap" they're developing.
If the grant is approved, Moore and her team plan to test soil samples from Purdy's fields in June. Though it won't be scientific, she believes this first year of trials will help work out errors and decide which combinations merit further testing for multiyear trials.
"Some of them I think we're going to see more responses on than others. I already have my own theories," Moore said.
Kelly Olson, administrator with the IBC, said the idea for a barley research roadmap was considered during an April 28 roundtable discussion in Moscow, sponsored by the commission. During the discussion, Olson said research into soil fertility and nutrient management was identified as an area of "immediate interest."
Participants agreed to attend a second discussion in Eastern Idaho in early October.
"We've got to look at the whole fertility picture. That's just critical," Olson said. "The question is can they make adjustments in fertilizer regime that can help them save some money but still meet their yield and quality goals?"
Olson said there's also been talk of creating a new barley research position with U of I.
"U of I put a proposal on the table," she said.