Start thinking now about your fall check list


As this summer season begins to draw to a close, it’s not too early to begin plans for the 2017 growing season.  We’ve prepared a possible list of management practices for you to think about, but before we get into the list, we would like to relate this little story first.  We first read this about 30 years ago, but recently saw it again on the website.

“By 1918, Charles M. Schwab was one of the richest men in the world.  Schwab was the president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, the largest shipbuilder and the second-largest steel producer in the U.S. at the time.  Thomas Edison once referred to Schwab as the “master hustler.”  He was constantly seeking an edge over the competition.

Accounts differ as to the date, but according to historian Scott M. Cutlip, it was one day in 1918 that Schwab – in his quest to increase the efficiency of his team and discover better ways to get things done – arranged a meeting with a highly respected productivity consultant named Ivy Lee.

Lee was a successful businessman in his own right and is widely remembered as a pioneer in the field of public relations.  As the story goes, Schwab brought Lee into his office and said, “Show me a way to get more things done.”

“Give me 15 minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.  “How much will it cost me?” Schwab asked.  “Nothing,” Lee said. “Unless it works.  After three months, you can send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”


During his 15 minutes with each executive, Lee explained his simple method for achieving peak productivity:

At the end of each day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow.  Do not write down more than six tasks.

Prioritize those six items in order of their true importance.

When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the second task.

Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion.  At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.

Repeat this process every working day.

The strategy sounded simple, but Schwab and his executive team at Bethlehem Steel gave it a try.  After three months, Schwab was so delighted with the progress his company had made that he called Lee into his office and wrote him a check for $25,000.  A $25,000 check written in 1918 is the equivalent of a $400,000 check in 2015.

So how does this relate to our own endeavors? Simple … lists work!  They help us remember what we need to do each day … the really important activities.  As humans we all have a tendency for certain “not-so-positive” habits, and when it comes to productivity, two of the worst is procrastination and being easily distracted from important tasks.

This second is especially insidious in that we can tell ourselves how busy we were all day, and perhaps we were … but just not busy doing anything important.

So, as we come into fall there are several items to put on your checklist to get ready for this next season.

  1. Get your soil analysis: We discussed the proper method of collecting a soil analysis in the spring issue of this newsletter, and want to reiterate once gain that collection of your soil samples and recording where you sampled is of utmost importance. This is an important tool in your fertility management program, and should not be performed in a haphazard manner.  This information is also available on the ISP website.

We are often asked if a soil analysis should be taken every year, and in a high value area such as a high tunnel or greenhouse this is perhaps a good idea.  In other areas, such as fields for row crops, or other crops of lesser value, then every two or three years is often sufficient.  An analysis is also recommended if major soil adjustments such as liming have been performed.

There are a number of good labs to perform the actual analysis, and most all will provide fertility recommendations for a small additional charge.  All of the ISP Distributors will also provide fertility recommendations based upon our approach for improvement of soil productive potential.  Two labs that we often use are Midwest Labs, Omaha, NE, and the A&L Labs, which have several locations across the U.S.

When choosing which lab to work with, make sure they offer a complete analysis of all of the recognized trace minerals (zinc, manganese, iron, copper and boron), as well as a Percent Base Saturation of cationic nutrients.

  1. Soil Amendments: Once you receive your recommendations, the fall is the best time to apply major soil amendments such as lime or gypsum, as well as animal manures, compost, or other materials such as green sand. If applying manures, it is important to have it analyzed as well, in order to determine the nutrient value of what you’re applying. If utilizing “green” plow-downs, it is also beneficial to apply a small amount of nitrogen to aid with decomposition.  This nitrogen is usually not lost, and will release during the spring.
  2. ReStore 3G: ReStore 3G is recommended at a rate of three gallons per acre (8.82 ounces per 1,000 square feet.) ReStore 3G is particularly beneficial in “covered” growing environments where we grow high value crops, and will often grow the same crop (tomatoes) year after year.  It has also shown strong benefits with row crops in fields or soils that indicate soil biology issues.  See the accompanying article on 3G in this newsletter for more information, but it’s a strong choice for refreshing your soil.
  3. Deep Tillage: Perhaps the only situation worse than too little water when growing crops is too much water. Oxygen is essential in maintaining beneficial soil microbial activity.  In areas of a field where soils are either shallow due to underlying compaction, or even in lower areas of a field where water tends to collect, excess water will quickly create an anaerobic situation (lacking oxygen), which tends to bring on an array of pathogenic organisms resulting in root diseases and perhaps even plant death.

In addition, the reduction in beneficial microbial activity has a strongly negative effect on nutrient availability, as microbes are paramount in how nutrients become available for plant uptake.  Proper drainage is also important in allowing a soil to “flush” excessive nutrients and fertilizer salts below the root zone.

We have often state that in years of excess or deficient moisture, one should carefully study their crops.  Make notes where the crop shows stress.  Take a penetrometer, or even a metal rod and push it into the ground.  The depth to which you can insert the rod is about the same depth that plant roots will be able to penetrate.

Compaction is a major factor in inhibiting crop yield, and fall is an excellent time to incorporate deep tillage if necessary.  One might even need to consider drainage tile in fields where the topography indicates water collection.

  1. Plant a Cover Crop: The data supporting the benefits of having a cover crop is very strong, and it has long been our opinion that it’s very positive to have something growing in your fields if weather permits. This encourages soil life as it provides a food source for soil microbes, thus increasing potential nutrient availability for future crops. It also aids with adding organic matter in your soil, which will certainly aid in building soil productive potential.

There are many choices for cover crops, although late fall planting limits your options somewhat.  Cereal rye or oats can be planted late, and still achieve a respectable stand, and although perhaps not the best choice it is much better than nothing.

With all of these suggestions, your goal is to improve your soil’s productive potential.  Crop yield is a combination of a wide variety of factors, some of which we can’t control.  Others we can impact in a positive manner, and in all instances, it makes sense to continue building your soil.  It pays off in many ways.

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