Clipped From The Brookshire Times

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' ANHYDROUS AMMONIA AS A SOIL CONDITIONER By Dr. Arthur M. Smith Dr. Smith, well-known throughout the nation as an authority on anhydrous ammonia, is chief agriculturist and director, Technical Service Department, OUn Mathieson Agricultural Chemical Division, Olin Mathieson Chemical Corp., Baltimore, Md. This article was delivered as an address by Dr. Smith at the Anhydrous Ammonia Conference, sponsored by the Great Lakes region of the Agricultural Ammonia Institute and the AAI at Madison, Wisconsin, AUK. 18, 1954. Most organic compounds are soluble in anhydrous ammonia. Ammonia is also a dispersion medium for many organic compounds. This means that when anhydrous ammonia is injected into the soil, it dissolves organic matter, and redistributes it sufficiently on the surfaces of the mineral soil particles, to form "water-stable" aggregates or granules ; thereby improving the structure of the soil. Anhydrous ammonia is, therefore, a good soil conditioner; and this very real value should be stressed among the other values farmers obtain when they inject anhydrous ammonia in their soils. Since this idea of anhydrous ammonia as a soil conditioner is still new, and is not generally known or understood, it is interesting to review some of the field observations, some of the factors and conditions which influence the effectiveness, and other pertinent information we now have. Definite Evidence of NH3 as a Conditioner While talking to farm audiences in the black clay and brown silt loam areas in the Corn Belt states, farmers have frequently told me that, in plowing when they came to the part of the field where anhydrous ammonia had been applied the year before, they shifted their tractors into high gear — the plowing was so much easier. This is rather definite evidence that something had improved the physical condition of the soil. That this conditioning effect is not restricted only to soils known to have an unusually high organic matter content, has been demonstrated by the work of Purvis and Anderson, at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, who found that aggregates taken from Sassafras Sandy Loam wherfr'100'pounds nitrogen per acre as anhydrous ammonia had been applied were significantly more water-stable than thdse taken from untreated plots in the same field. Sassafras Sandy Loam is a soil normally low in organic matter; but which, when farmed intensively with all crop residues plowed under, has an appreciable content of active or fresh organic matter. Other Experiment Stations are working along this same line, with progress reports indicating similar results. The factor then which favors the soil conditioning effects when anhydrous ammonia is injected into the soil is the organic matter content; either a larger amount of old organic matter, or some lesser amount of fresh, active organic matter. Accordingly, any type of farming, or method of soil management, which adds to the organic matter content of the soil, increases the soil conditioning effects and value of anhydrous ammonia. What Makes The Difference? There are soil conditions under which anhydrous ammonia has an opposite and adverse effect. During the question and answer period, while addressing a meeting of farmers in the yellow clay area in southern Illinois, a farmer asked me — "Does this anhydrous ammonia make the land stiffer?" My reply was—"The answer is yes, if you have the kind of soil I think you have." What makes the difference? There is an old, well recognized chemical principle that monovalent bases deflocculate colloids. In plain language — they puddle clay. Sodium, potassium, or ammonium added to a mixture of clay soil and water will keep the clay particles in suspension for a long time; weeks or even months. Sodium or potassium fertilizer salts, or ammonia, either as anhydrous, as solution, or as a combined fertilized salt, when applied to a soil high in clay and low in organic matter have the effect of deflocculatingr or puddling the clay by causing it to disperse from aggregates (the particles separate); and the soil becomes stiffer, more compact, the mud stickier when wet, and the clods larger and harder when dry. Calcium (a di-valent basic element) has the opposite effect, and liming help relieve this condition. So does the addition or incorporation of organic matter; either as barn-yard manure, as green manure, or plowing under crop residues — this latter especially if nitrogen, as anhydrous ammonia, is applied at the time of, or before, plowing under the organic matter. Organic Matter Is The Key Organic matter in the soil, then, is the key to soil conditioning; whether you buy it as an expensive soil conditioning organic chemical compound; or whether you have it as a gift of God, Nature, and someone's wisdom in buying good land; or grow it by applying 1 the most economical nitrogen fertilizer, anhydrous ammonia. Higher rates per acre of fertilizing with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash, including more anhydrous ammonia, will produce larger crops, more economically per crop unit; provide more crop residues to plow under; and thereby, put an appreciable and effective amount of organic matter in the soil — resulting in better physical condition. Especially, when anhydrous ammonia is applied just before, or at the time of plowing under non-legume crop residues, the organic matter will stay in the soil longer, and with more beneficial effects. When in 1916 I took my first job as a chemist in the Soil Fertility Laboratory of the Agronomy Department at the Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station, Corn Belt farmers were wind-rowing and burning the corn stalks before plowing the land for the next crop. In Kansas, what farmers were burning the straw stacks for the same reason. Both corn and wheat farmers said they make a bigger crop the next year after they burned the corn stalks, or wheat straw, than when they plowed these non-legume crops residues under. The Experiment Station in Illinois scolded the corn farmers, and the Experiment Station in Kansas scolded the wheat farmers, both without effect, until — the soil bacteriologists got to work and found out why the farmers got better results when they burned the corn stalks and wheat straw; and what to do about it. Today, a farmer sure is crazy if he bums any non-legume crop residue; unless it is necessary as part of an insect or disease control program. More N Needed in Plowing Down Corn stalks and wheat straw contain about 80 pounds of carbon to one pound of nitrogen. This is not enough nitrogen to supply the needs of the soil bacteria, and other organisms, which decompose this organic matter after it is plowed under. The result is that, in doing their job by living, eating and multiplying, they use up all of the readily available nitrogen in the soil — unless the farmer applies nitrogen to the soil before or at the time of plowing down these non-legume crop residues. This is not only one of the best reasons for Autumn application of anhydrous ammonia, at the rate of 80 to 100 pounds ammonia per acre; it is the means by which farmers can use anhydrous ammonia to build up the active organic matter content of the soil (each pound of nitrogen so applied holds 20 pounds of organic matter in the soil a year longer on the average). It is a method of soil conditioning that cannot be beat for effectiveness and economy; and a way of using commercial nitrogen to build soil fertility while increasing crop yields. It gets the farmer and his crops completely away from the "shot-in-the-arm" type of stimulation by enabling the crops to feed evenly and fully from start to end of the growing season. It helps crops use moisture more efficiently, because the soil is in better condition for moisture infiltration and retention; and the roots can breathe normally and get the oxygen that is so necessary for the proper intake and use of plant food elements. Is anhydrous ammonia a soil conditioner? Yes, effectively and immediately in soils which have an adequate amount of organic matter. On all other soils, the answer is still yes; even though it be indirectly as the most economical means of growing the organic matter, getting it into the soil, and holding it there long enough to be of real benefit. Optimistic About Future of NH3 I am optimistic about both the near and the ultimate future of anhydrous ammonia in over-riding all other nitrogen materials as the dominant source of fertilizer nitrogen in the United States. Anhydrous ammonia developed as a "7-Year-Wonder" fertilizer, before the Experiment Stations had time to find out just what it was or what it could do. Research is fast forging ahead, and is pointing out values which farmers have benefited by but have little understood. The differences between anhydrous ammonia and other nitrogen fertilizers are sufficiently favorable to assure its future as the leading source of nitrogen in crop production. This informative bulletin is published as a service to the farmers by ... South Texas Liquid Fertilizer Corp. MELVIN SCOTT — WILLIS B. HICKS Phone 4301 Katy, Texas

Clipped from
  1. The Brookshire Times,
  2. 20 Mar 1958, Thu,
  3. Page 9

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