Bill Darrington knows his comments aren’t exactly popular, but he has no problem telling growers they need to give up anhydrous ammonia — especially if they care about soil health.
At the 2015 National Strip-Tillage Conference, the strip-tiller from Persia, Iowa, recalled the time he realized the negative impacts anhydrous was having on his soils.
Ray Rawson, known as the ‘father’ of zone tillage, had come to his farm and was examining a root pit. Darrington says Rawson took out a pocketknife and began digging. About 8 inches down, he hit a “shelf,” Darrington says.
“It looks like I took a piece of plywood and wedged it into the soil profile,” he told the audience.
Rawson said to Darrington, “Well, I see you’re still running anhydrous.”
In that moment, Darrington decided he’d never let anhydrous ammonia touch his farm again.
Darrington’s not the first person to call out the disadvantages of using this popular source of nitrogen (N). At the 2015 National No-Tillage Conference, world-renowned soil biologist Jill Clapperton explained how deadly it is to earthworms.
“If it’ll kill us, it’ll kill them,” she said.
And as mentioned in the last issue of No-Till Insider, Midwest Bio-Tech vice president Doug Miller says if you’re having trouble getting residue to breakdown and you’re using anhydrous, that may be your problem. It can take months for soil fungi to recover after being in contact with it, he says.
Darrington understands the reason a lot of farmers like anhydrous — because it’s cheap. But he asks: How cheap is it if it’s killing your biology?
“That’s why they make runways out of it,” Darrington explains, referring to the dirt runways made during World War II. “It kills the biology. It knocks out the calcium. Basically sterilizes the soil. Hit it a bunch of times with a disc and rolling packer, you’ve got yourself a runway.”
With the chances of volatility harming germination, the harm it causes to soil biology, and the safety risks it poses to growers, Darrington says he doesn’t think anhydrous and strip-till fit. I think that could also extend to no-tillers.
What are your thoughts on anhydrous ammonia? Have you moved away from it because of concerns for the soil health? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Hear more from Bill Darrington on his nutrient management strategies to include sugar applications in his Strip-Till Farmer podcast below.