If you want to succeed in any business, especially in agriculture, learning is non-negotiable. Luckily for us, this episode is going to treat us with bales of valuable wisdom on soil fertility and crop nutrition from two of the best minds at TEVA Corp. Father and son duo Mark Coots and Caleb Coots join Todd Steinacher in this extremely information-packed conversation about managing the health of your soil to increase crop yield and quality. The information they will be sharing have been curated for more than four decades of the company’s existence and even before that! Listen in and harvest a takeaway or two from this incredible generational wisdom.
Listen to the podcast here
Learn, Unlearn, & Relearn – Soil Fertility And Crop Nutrition Education With Mark And Caleb Coots Of TEVA Corp.
To be successful in any industry or skill but very specifically production agriculture, you must be willing to learn, unlearn, relearn and learn some more. I tell you this because our agronomy team had some training on nutrient management that intrigued my learning. It got me thinking a little differently about how I made recommendations or even educated on the topics. I was so inspired by the information that I quickly reached out to the individuals to book them as guest speakers.
I’m joined by Mark Coots and his son, Caleb. They come to us from Missouri to bring a wealth of knowledge on soil fertility and crop nutrition. To dive into it, I want to take a deep dive into understanding soil fertility from a soil sample standpoint. If a grower is out there, what are some of the big things or some of the obvious pieces that they need to be looking at to correct an imbalance within their soils?
The first thing here at TEVA Corp that we look at are base saturations over pounds per acre. When you look at base saturations, they take into consideration the CEC of your soil. Those two numbers say the same thing when they’re expressing it in pounds per acre or in your base saturation. Those numbers are the same. The difference is with the base saturation, they’ve taken into consideration your CEC. That’s why we prefer to look at those numbers first. Your CEC is your cation-exchange capacity. It’s the ability of your soil to hold nutrients and give up nutrients. It can tell you what soil you have. The first thing that I look at on a soil test is normally their CEC.
If it’s in a 3, 4, 5 range like what I have here in Southeast Missouri, I know it’s very sandy soil. If it gets up there around 10 to 12, we’re more in the silt loam. You get up there into the twenties, you get into more of the clays, gumbos and different things like that. That’s the first thing that we look at when we first look at the soil test, then I look at your base saturations. We go strictly by Dr. Albrecht system of soil balancing. There are certain balances that we want those five positive cations in your soil to be. Of those five positive cations, when you add them all up, you want them to equal 100%.
Of that 100%, you want potash to be anywhere from 2% to 5%. You want magnesium to be 10% to 12%, calcium 65% to 70%, hydrogen 6% to 9%, and sodium, your salt in the soil less than 1%. If you’re on lighter soil, you would like that potash level to be on the high side. Let’s say you got the CEC of around 6% or 7%, you’d like to try to hold that potash level up there a little bit higher. If your CEC is in the twenties, your products level may be down at 2.1% to 2.5% ranges and be okay.
It depends. That’s why I like looking at those base saturations because it takes into consideration that CEC that you got. On your magnesium, you want it to be 10% to 12%. Remember about magnesium. Magnesium is the only thing of those five positive cations that can lock up the big four. When magnesium is high, let’s say you’re at 15% or 18% or even 20%, whatever it may be. It’s the only one that’s going to lock up nitrogen, phosphate, potash and calcium in the soil. Those are your four big things that it takes to grow a crop. When you’ve got high magnesium, it’s difficult. I wouldn’t be too alarmed. Most everybody has high magnesium. It’s something that we all deal with and it doesn’t mean, “I’m not going to grow a crop,” it just makes it more difficult than things that we can do to try to remedy that going through the season and stuff.
Your calcium, 65% to 70%. You can see that the largest portion of your soil test is going to be in your calcium. The reason is the plant uses more calcium by weight and by volume than any other nutrient that you put out there. Without calcium flowing in your soil, you don’t get nutrients into the plant. You need water-soluble calcium in the soil flowing so they can carry nutrients into the plants. It’s a very big importance. Your hydrogen is your natural acid in the soil. You want it to be 6% to 9%, and that’s what helps you keep your pH in check. If you’ve got good hydrogen flow, then you’re normally going to have a pH of around 6.6 to 6.8, somewhere in there. If your hydrogen goes to zero, then you’re going to have a higher pH. You’re going to be in the 7.2, 7.4, 7.6 ranges.
Hydrogen is the weakest of those five positive cations. When anything else goes out of balance, it knocks hydrogen off the plate because it’s the weakest link. Calcium affects it. If calcium goes high, let’s say your base saturation of calcium goes up to 80% or 85%, there are a lot of people out there saying, “You can’t get too much calcium,” but what happens is when calcium gets up to 80% or 85%, your hydrogen goes to zero. When you have no natural acids flowing into the soil, even though you’ve got all that calcium there, it’s not breaking down and flowing to the plant. You may have an abundance of what you need, but you don’t have the acid flow in the soil from your hydrogen in that case.
On the reverse, if you’ve got low calcium, let’s say you’re at 50% or 55% base saturation, your hydrogen more than likely is going to be 10%, 12%, 15%, and your pH is going to be 5.8 to 6. It’s going to be down on the acid side. In that case, you’d need to lime or whatever else. It’s one of those things that calcium and hydrogen are linked pretty well together. The last one is sodium. You want it to be less than 1%. Sodium got the highest molecular pool of any of those five positive cation. It wants to get what it wants first. If you’re a dryland farmer and you have high sodium levels in your soil, what more should you get to satisfy that salt before the plant has a chance to take it up?
Sodium also does a lot of other detrimental things in the soil as far as compaction, the way that it works, and how it breaks soil particles up and things like that. That’s a real down and dirty look at those five positive cations that we look at. From there, we look at your organic matter. We look at your phosphate, your P1 and P2. Remember that your P1 is the available phosphate for the plant. The P2 is what’s in reserve. Your P2 is your bank account. We also look at your traces to see where we’re at. We look at your sulfur level, your zinc, your boron, your copper. Those were the secondary things we look at after we originally looked at those base saturations.
A lot of great information right there. One piece that I want to take a little bit deeper dive on to was the organic matter piece. It seems across all soils we deal with, there is a huge range in organic matter depending on where the glaciers landed. How does your recommendations on soil fertility differ based off the organic matter on a given farm?
We don’t do a lot with organic matter just straight up because it’s so different everywhere you go. Let me explain how they get the organic matter on a soil test. What they do is burn off the dry matter in that soil test. Let’s say you’ve got a pint of dirt, they burn off the dry matter in that dirt, and that’s how they get your organic matter. When you’re taking a soil test, you don’t scrape back the residue when you do your probing. You get extra residue in that soil test. You may have a distorted higher organic matter reading than you have there. That’s why you see a lot of the guys, in a lot of cases in no-till, where you’ve got a lot more residue out there. They will normally have a much higher organic matter because their burning off that residue.
I mainly look at it for moisture-holding capacity and what we can do there. As far as giving up on the fertility side, I look more at your CEC and your base saturations because your organic matter is something that we can change slowly over time, but we can change fertility quickly. In the organic matter, I mainly look at it especially on dryland farmers. We want to build that organic matter because for every 10%, if you go from 2.0 organic matter to 2.1, you can hold an inch more water in the soil for moisture. I look at it more for that than I do on the fertility side, to be honest.
It stems into the next question for that. We see articles and folks saying how they can increase organic matter for that specific reason, water-holding capacity. Do you feel over time they can increase your organic matter to where it can hold more moisture? What are some of your recommendations to improve that?
I think we can build organic matter and CEC back. I don’t think it happens overnight like some of these do. There are a lot of things that you can do. The no-till system is going to build your organic matter back quicker than anything else you can do because you’re doing less tillage. You’re losing less humus. Ig humus is a decomposed organic matter in your soil and stuff like that. I wish they would do a humus reading on our soil tests instead of an organic matter because it would be a more true statement of what’s out there, and what your soil can do. In that organic matter, it’s a lot to do with the tillage that we do and the systems that we do.
For instance, a guy that’s going to burn off his wheat crop or burn off his corn crop, which I know sounds crazy, but here in Missouri, we burn both of those off. We burn off the residue of corn and we burn off the residue of wheat. When you’re doing that, you’re burning up organic matter. You’re getting some carbon there, but you’re not going to build your organic matter because you’ve lost all that material. Another good way of building your organic matter over time is do cover crops. You’re seeing more and more of those coming out. A lot of the states are encouraging and giving guys money to put in cover crops. I’m a big believer in cover crops if they work in your system.
They’ve got their place and in some places they don’t work well. For us, a rice farmer, it’s hard to try to incorporate a cover crop for a rice farmer. It’s very difficult. As far as building organic matter, it’s probably one of the most economical ways of doing it. You’re putting a lot of green matter back in the soil. You’re building a lot of good humus back in the soil. I like the multispecies cover crops over the singles and things like that. The last thing that you could be looking at, but it’s going to be one of the more expensive ones is putting dry humates out there on the soil, dry decomposed organic matter from hundreds of years ago. To get the amounts that you need out there, it’d be a multiple-year thing. It’d be more expensive than maybe going some of these other routes that are out there that we could take advantage of instead of spending money.
To piggyback off that too, we talked about leaving your wheat or your corn behind. Your biological life can play a big part in that too. We want to make sure our biological life is moving in the soil to help turn that over because we can leave a stalk out there. If we don’t have something to help break it down and get that into the soil, it’s not as efficient as we’d like to be.
One thing that guys need to remember, and we talk about that a lot here in Missouri, a lot of guys are starting to burn their cornstalks off. Remember, this is 150 bushel corn. Hopefully, we’re growing much better than 150 bushel corn. In a 150 bushel corn, you have a 100 pounds of nitrogen, 37 pounds of phosphate, 145 pounds of potash, and 26 pounds of calcium left in that stock. In that stock, if you can decompose that, you can save about 80%, 85% of those nutrients, not much the nitrogen but the P, the K, and the calcium for sure. It’s another good way of building fertility up, and the soil is managing your residue very well.
It’s a very great insight. That leads me to a thought I’ve always had. I’ve got customers who grow corn for silage, whether it be beef or dairy. I’m always thinking, calcium is built within the plants all within the structures, does all these great things. If we’re moving a large volume of the material that has calcium into it, over time, do you feel that we could start seeing a result of that on our salt test and we need to be managing a bit more aggressively from a calcium standpoint?
I agree 100% because when you’re removing that tonnage, you’re removing a lot more off than just the grain. We see that as a rule in Florida where we have a lot of dairy farmers have that issue. One good thing is most of the dairy farmers can take the manure and put that manure back out there. We can build it back up that way. If you’re selling your silage off or if you’re a beef farmer, you may not have the opportunity to have the manure out there from your own animals and stuff. When I know a guy is cutting his corn for silage, then we do make adjustments with fertility. We do watch our base saturations across the board.
We’ve talked a little bit about base saturations and a little bit on the magnesium piece of it. If we do get in a situation where we have high magnesium in the soil, what are some tricks or management tactics that we can implement to help improve that so it doesn’t have a negative impact to the crop?
The easiest and best thing to do is use sulfur. That’s something that everybody will have there locally that they can buy. For instance, if you’ve got high magnesium in your soil, let’s say it’s 16% or 18%, then I look at depending on your CEC. You make recommendations on how much sulfur we can put out there to help knock that magnesium out of the soil. You can remove that magnesium over time. It’s not going to be a one-year fix. It’s taken us many years to get magnesium to those levels. By doing sulfur, we’re going to automatically knock it down to where it needs to be. Sulfur is the key in that. You can use gypsum. You can use ammonium thiosulfate. You can use elemental sulfur, CAL-SUL which is pelletized gypsum. There are many different forms that you can get into on how to, and what you would want to do, and what you would want to use.
I will make one big caution about this. If you’re going to do sulfur and magnesium management where you need to get those numbers down, you only want to put that sulfur on in the fall of the year after harvest. If you go in there in the spring of the year and you put a bunch of gypsum down, and you knock that magnesium loose in the soil, then you’re going to suffer in yield. It can ding your yield up 40, 50 bushels. I’ve seen it happen in the past. Any soil amendments, I like to do in the fall. That includes liming and anything else.
If we’re going to try to fix your base saturations, I would encourage guys to hear that point that you want to do them in the fall of the year. You’ve had snowfall, rainfall and all those other things to help purge those out of the soil and get them out of that root zone to where we won’t have any issues with it before. On the flip side, if you’ve got low magnesium, it can be detrimental to your yields also. We can look at going in there and using something like K-mag or something like that to bring your levels up.
If you’ve got low magnesium and low calcium, that’s when I might suggest you use dolomitic lime over calcitic lime. The type of lime that I will recommend for a guy to use will depend upon his magnesium level in the soil. If you’ve got good magnesium or you got high magnesium, you don’t want to use dolomitic lime, you would rather use calcitic lime because the magnesium level in it is much lower. For example, here in Southeast Missouri, for years we’ve used dolomitic lime. On this sand, we’ve got magnesium levels that are 28% and 30%. You can imagine what that sand we’ve turned into a hard-concrete ground because it’s gotten hard from that magnesium out there. You make recommendations based off of that and using sulfur to help reduce it.
The good thing is normally when magnesium is high, you’ll have high aluminum, high iron, other bad metals in the soil. It will help also get those out of the soil too. Remember, all your traces are iron. Zinc, manganese, boron, these things, if you put too much sulfur on it one time, you can knock those down, loosen those up and lose them too. That’s why you want to talk to somebody that knows the amount of sulfur that can look at your soil test and make a good recommendation for you on the amount. It’s hard to say what that is. You’d be better off to look at it individually and try to figure it out with them.
Going down the path of correcting some imbalances within the soil from a case standpoint, potassium, it seems like in certain areas, it’s always a struggle to grow our soil test levels. What’s your thoughts on the reason that we can’t grow K levels? Should we be growing K levels? What products should a grower be looking at?
We can grow K levels and we need K in our soil. On our base saturation, we wanted it to be 2% to 5% to get your best efficiency in the soil. If you think past over the 30 or 40, 50 years that we’ve been using muriate of potash, but yet we look at our soil tests and we don’t seem to be building our potash levels in the soil. I understand that we got bigger crops coming off and all the different things that’s out there. For the amount of potash that we’ve used, we ought to be able to build the soil with it. The chemical symbol for muriate of potash is KCl. Of that mixture there, that 0060, 53% of it is potash and 47% chlorine. Guess what makes potash go deficient in the soil? Chlorine does.
The very thing that you’re putting out there, half of it is making itself go deficient. I prefer different forms of potash if you can get them. The question is, can you get them? The different forms that are out there, you’ve got potassium sulfate, which is K2SO4. You don’t have the chlorine there. You’ve got sulfur, which sulfur is going to help break down the nutrients and make them more available because it’s another natural acid like hydrogen is. I prefer that form. Yes, it’s more expensive. Sometimes it’s double the cost than muriate of potash. If you’ll do money for money, not pounds for pounds because you won’t be able to do that, you’ll notice that you’ll build your soil better with potassium sulfate than you will with potassium chloride.
I can always look at a soil test and tell where guys have used manure. If you want to build up your soil test K in your soil, manure is probably one of the best ways to do it. A good example is they’ve got ten fields, but there’s always one field that’s closest to the house. It gets about 60% or 70% of the manure, and you can always easily pick it out on a soil test because it’ll always have the higher P and K levels in the soil. Manure is another good way to build K levels in the soil that’s less detrimental in my opinion, than maybe what the potassium chloride can be.
A quick follow up, if somebody is using potash, KCl, and we’re not seeing the numbers increase, is the soil tying it up? Are we losing some of that product? What are your thoughts?
I think it’s both. We’re tying it up. Just because it’s there, it doesn’t mean it’s available like Caleb was mentioning on the biological life. It’s leaching. Remember, potash is mobile. It’s not mobile sideways, but it’s mobile up and down. You will leach it and lose it, depending on your CEC. If you’re light soil, you’re going to be more apt to lose it than you are in the clay soil.
On clay soils too, depending on the type of clays you have, the moisture content can expand and contrast those clays. Potassium is small enough that it can get trapped in between those clay particles. Your clay can expand and can’t get in there. It shrinks back down and you can lose some of your K that way. It gets trapped in those clay particles and becomes unavailable.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that why over time we start to grab our soil test if you do it the fall of the year when there is adequate moisture. All those clay particles have expanded and we get to see more realistic numbers versus if we go into a dry, all the clays are tight and we might give a false reading from a K level. Maybe that’s why guys have moved more towards the spring sampling. Any thoughts on that?
The fall definitely gives you more moisture. You’re getting maybe a more accurate look at that, but a bigger reason is if you do it in the fall like my dad was saying, we like to do all our amendments in the fall. If you’re taking that soil sample in the spring, you found out what’s wrong, but it’s too late to change some of those in the way that we do our programs. We like to take them in the fall. You’ve got the fall and winter area there to try to make some of those adjustments so you’re ready for the next season.
As we think about different products as it relates to raising a P level. There are a lot of products on the market. You said, some products are more logistically available. As you start thinking about the options that growers have around the countryside from a dry standpoint for P, what are some recommendations on that product?
You’ve got MAP, DAP, triple phosphate, those are the main three that you’re going to use. DAP is probably the number one sold, 18-46-0. If you’re looking at it from a standpoint from the use for farmers, one good thing about phosphate is that it is orthophosphate. It is the form that plant wants to take it up. In those two, the difference between MAP and DAP, if you were to take DAP and MAP and put them in a jar and fill them up with water, come back 24 hours later, the MAP will be dissolved, the DAP will not be. You could come back a month later and that DAP will not be dissolved. I’ve had some that were up to 2.5, 3 months and it still wasn’t dissolved. It doesn’t break down quite as easily as the MAP does.
Also, when the MAP breaks down, it breaks down into a more acidic form than what the DAP does. DAP breaks down more on the alkaline side, MAP breaks down on the acidic side. Your plants will like the acidic side better. They take up nutrients better on the acid side than they do on the alkaline side. That’s one thing you want to look at. It’s the availability. People will say, “I’m getting more nitrogen out of that 18-46-0 and the MAP is 11-52-0.” To me, that’s the most expensive nitrogen you can buy. You’re putting it out there for the phosphate, not the little bit of nitrogen that you’re getting there. In my opinion, if you’ve got the druthers, if you’ve got the chance to use MAP over DAP, that’s what I would do because the availability is quicker. It’s in the form that the plant wants in the acidic side. The DAP does break down some of the acid. Eventually, it does get acidic where the plant can take it up. Initially, it’s going to break down more on the alkaline side. On the dry forms, those are the main ones.
If a grower was trying to decide whether they’re doing fall application or spring based off the water solubility and the plant ability or the attractiveness to one over the other, is there one product that you would recommend using fall or spring or one of those situations where you would not use one of those products?
I base fall application of any fertilizer on P or K based on your CEC. If you’re under a 10 or a 12 on your CEC, I wouldn’t advise to put fall application of fertilizer on. You’re going to be more apt to lose it. If you’re above that, you’ve got enough clay as Caleb was explaining, that you’ve got enough there to hang on to things. I base it off either form that you use MAP or DAP in that case. Remember, phosphates is the least mobile nutrients you’ve got in the soil. It only moves about an inch a year. It’s a little less than that. It’s not super mobile in the soil. That’s why it’s very inefficient, when we’re broadcast spread and dry fertilizer and especially phosphate. It’s super inefficient because it’s not mobile in the soil.
A little bit ago, you did touch on from a phosphorus standpoint ortho and what I want to compare it to is the poly. As we start getting into more liquid fertilizer options on planters, there are several products in the market. The efficiency is different, the formulation is different, the pricing structures in there. Can you take a deep dive into the difference between the ortho and the poly?
Orthophosphate is the plant available. Polyphosphate has to be broken down into the ortho form for the plant to take it up. Ortho means it’s got one water molecule and one phosphate molecule. Poly means it’s got two phosphates and one water. To turn poly into ortho, you have to add water through heating and all kinds of different things like that. You can flip them back and forth in between each other. The problem though is the plant can’t take up poly because it being two phosphates and one water. It’s like trying to have a strawberry milkshake and suck up a strawberry through the straw. The plant can’t take it up because molecularly, it’s too big.
That’s why it has to be broken down into the ortho form. If you look at all the studies that are out there and this is probably going to be a little controversial compared to some of the companies out there. Most guys will tell you polyphosphate is slow release phosphate and it’s a good thing. To get Polyphosphate to break down, it takes biological life, water and heat. You have to have the right conditions in the soil for that poly to be converted into ortho. You can convert that very easily in the lab as long as you don’t have nitrogen and potash mixed with that phosphate. Once you do that, it changes things molecularly where it’s much more difficult for that to do it.
If you look at the research that’s out there. Even in the best conditions, it can take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to convert poly to ortho. We ought to be shelling corn by then. If it’s slow-release, it’s too late to be released. Your phosphates are not mobile in the soil. Why do you need them to be soil released when they’re not going to be mobile and you’re not going to lose them anyway? That’s the thing that we look at on this thing. You want to get the orthophosphates are going to be the way to go. The polys are popular because they’re cheaper. 10-34-0 is anywhere from a 50/50 ortho-polyblend to a 70/30 ortho-polyblend. You never know what you’re getting there. If you’re going in row or you’re foliar feeding with something, in our opinion, you want it to be 100% ortho, especially foliar feeding. If you’re trying to foliar feed with a polyphosphate, you’re wasting money.
Over the last several years, we start seeing more growers add a planter attachment to spoon-feed this crop early on to get to the root systems develop. There are several products in the market. I’m glad we had the opportunity to help differentiate which products could be most utilized here. I can remember in one of your talks, you’re referencing from a liquid standpoint, to add up the analysis and if it was over 40, there are some issues with product settling out. Is that correct? How does somebody be on the watch out for that?
The trick is if you take the NPK in the analysis and you add those numbers up and they are over 40, you’ve got a good chance it’s going to settle out. I’ll use 10-34-0, 10 plus 34 is 44. That’s why if you let 10-34-0 set for several months, you’ll get settling out in it because it’s oversaturated. Another example would be like we would have 3-18-18. You add those numbers up, that’s 39. You could have that product for five years and you would never get any sailing out on that product. That’s what you’re talking about there.
I’m glad you brought that up. It seems like a lot of guys are either getting a custom blend solution or they’re custom building it themselves on farm. We start adding all these different products together. It’s wise to do some of the jar tests to make sure some of these products are compatible. Would you agree that’s a good way to offset any risk?
It’s a good thing to say there. Orthophosphate, if you buy a 3-18-18, it’s 100% orthophosphate. You try to mix it with nitrogen for a 2 x 2 x 2 situation. It’s going to turn to mush. It has to have water to buffer it. That’s why you use something that’s got a little bit of poly in it. You can blend those together and not have any issues. Compatibility tests are always the way to go.
I think at the end of the day when growers are looking for options, it’s anything else, not all liquids are created equal. There’s a reason why certain products have more desirability. Those are ones that maybe do have a little higher cost to them, but at the end of the day, it’s probably the better product to be using for many reasons out here. One of the things that is coming more popular in questions is the topic of sugars. Could you dive in a little bit on explaining the importance of sugars in crops and the concept behind guys wanting to apply sugars to the crop?
Sugar is one of those new things. Everyone is all of a sudden jumping on the bandwagon seeing the value in it. It’s something that we’ve been playing with since my dad and my grandpa started working in the business. We start at the very beginning. Sugar is essential for all life. Sugar is what’s powering your plant and our bodies. That’s why we eat plants because the sugar molecule is the basis for what creates energy in every cell of our body. The same is said for our plants. They do photosynthesis. They are creating their own because they need that energy. We are coming behind now with these sugar products to help with that problem.
You can help alleviate energy issues if you haven’t had the sun that you’d like to see, sugar can be a bump there. The better way to look at it is since sugar is so essential, that is the first thing that your plant has to worry about. It’s what’s called a primary metabolite. It is the first thing that your plant has to make every day because it’s essential for every other process the plant is going to do. You think about it first thing in the morning. Let’s say the plant has ten workers. All ten of those workers are being focused on making sugar because they need the energy to go do their jobs throughout the rest of the day. If we can get the sugar levels up in that plant through sugar applications, we’re now freeing up some of those workers. They now have enough first thing in the morning. Maybe 4 or 5 of those workers don’t have to be making sugar.
They can often start processing nutrients or moving stuff from root to shoot or helping in grain fill. They’re freed up to do these other jobs because the sugar they need is already there. It’s a new thing. People are looking at it. We’re finding out with a fertilizer, not all liquid fertilizer is created equal and not all dry is created equal. The same thing can be said for sugar. There are three big things you want to look at when you’re talking about sugar. The first is whether you want to use a dry product versus a liquid product. When we started, we tried liquid. We were using molasses.
It’s hard to work with it, at least molasses. A lot of these newer liquid sugars are a little more flowable, easier to use but the problem that we see with liquid sugar is that sugar is what powers everything. Your biological life and your bacteria. They want that sugar as much as we do to grow. If you have a liquid sugar and you’ve had it for a while, and it’s not growing up, you don’t see something fuzzy on the top, or you get a jug and it’s not swelling up. They’ve had to add something to that to try and keep that biological life dead. Molasses, when they’re bringing that in from the Caribbean, it’s not some barges. They’re adding all kinds of stuff to it to keep that for growing up because it’s 55-gallon drums out on a barge being brought in.
It’s biologically dead. Any biological life we have in our soil helping turn over nutrients to help us turn over sugar and make the process more efficient is going to be a good thing. That’s why we’ve gravitated towards a granular product, but then you got to take it a step further. With a granular product, what form is that sugar in? The sugar that you get off the shelf is going to be glucose sugar like what you put in your tea or your lemonade. That’s a very simple sugar. While that’s what the plant makes, that’s the base sugar, it is in very high demand in every cell of your plant.
It gets hard for that to be used efficiently in a plant. Let’s say your foliar feeding it on, as soon as it gets in the leaf, every cell in that leaf is like, “Give me that. I want to use it. I need the energy.” You think of it a very weak magnet. One side is a little positive, one’s a little negative. The plant can grab onto that easy and use it immediately. What we’re using and what we recommend is a sucrose-based sugar. It’s two sugar molecules put together. Those charges cancel each other out and it makes it much more available to the plant as far as transport goes.
You can get it to the plant because there’s not this pull and grab on it from every cell along the way. All the plant has to do is take a simple enzyme and cut it up. They can get glucose to use for energy or glucose is only usable for energy. If you give it sucrose, there are a couple of different enzymes a plant can use there to cut that up in different ways. You’re giving the plant a more versatile tool. You’re saying, “Here’s sugar. Use it in the way you need.” Rather than giving it glucose where it’s, “You’re going to use this for energy, whether you need energy right now or not.” The last thing that we look at is the way that that is processed.
Especially when you’re looking at dries, whether it is a heat process or a cold process sugar. Heat processing, what they’re doing there is they’re taking that cane and they are evaporating the liquid off of that. They’re heating all the water off until all that’s left is the sugar, the granular product. We talked about with the liquid. That heat kills any biological life or any enzymes that might be packaged with that sugar to make it more efficient inside the plant. Anything biological gets too hot, it’s gummy. It’s been out of shape and it can’t be used the right way anymore. It becomes a biologically dead sugar once again which we’ve talked about in our soil and our plant. Anything that is biological that can help us move things is better and is more efficient.
On top of that, sugar is a crystalline solid. You can think of it like sand. When you heat up sand, it turns the glass. When you heat up this sugar, it is forming more stable bonds. Your table sugar has to be heat processed since it’s for human consumption. If you think about it, you put it in your tea. You don’t just dump your sugar in it and it’d go into solution. You got to start that stuff up because those bonds have formed a more stable hookup. They’re harder to break down. You have to use some physical force to help dissolve them as opposed to a cold process. What they’re doing there, they’re centrifuging the water off. They heat it up a little bit but not enough to denature anything, and they sling the rest of the moisture off.
You’re leaving all that biological life intact. You’re leaving the bonds weaker so that they can dissolve a lot easier. It makes it an easier to use product. Our sugar is cold processed. I’ve tried to push the envelope on that and I had to go as high as 9, 10 pounds of sugar into a single gallon of cold water before I even had to start agitating it in any way, which is an obscene rate. You’re never going to go 10 pounds to a gallon of water. There are all things to consider. Sugar is of the new hot things and there’s a lot of misinformation out of that. There are people that are like, “I don’t know why it’s good, but that guy is using it and he’s doing good, so you should use it.” It’s always good to know where that’s coming from and what it’s doing.
Our readers and we as agriculturalists strive for higher-yielding corn, soybeans and other products. We got to understand the biology of those plants and try to help offset those pieces that will essentially be a yield-limiting event. Sometimes we have to think outside the box and go educate ourselves on new topics from the standpoint. Sugars might be the next big thing to be researching over the coming months and years for the next crop coming up. The last topic I want to throw at you guys is the acid standpoint, the fulvic and humic acids. Can you give us a real quick insight on that topic?
The humic acid is decomposed organic matter from hundreds of years ago. In humic acid, you have three different kinds of acids. You’ve got humate, fulvic and humic. Of those, humate is like a filler. It helps in the soil for structure. It’s the throwaway acid of those three. The humic acid is very good for soil structure and building the soil up and feed biological life. It is one of those that’s too big molecularly for the plant to take it up through foliar feeding or it can take it up barely in the roots, but not much further than the roots. The fulvic acid is the one I call the Cadillac acid out of that. The fulvic acid is the highest key lading agent of any kind of thing that a farmer can use that’s natural. It’s got a very small molecular size to it. What it does, it makes the membranes of the cells more permeable on a plant so that you can get nutrients more efficiently into the plant.
That’s what fulvic acid does for your soil. If you’re trying to build up soil fertility, biological life, that’s when you would want to use dry humates or liquid humates. If you’re wanting to get nutrients and things like that into the plant. If you’re planting and you’re doing in row starters, or you’re doing 2 x 2 x 2 or you’re doing foliar feeding, you want to look at more on the fulvic acid side because that’s what’s going to get it into the plant. The thing is there are many products coming out there. We’ve been doing this since 1979. Our company now is going on what would be 42 years or 43 years here and starting in 2021.
When we started this, there were 1 or 2 biological companies and 1 or 2 humic acid companies out there. Now, there are hundreds of each one of them. They are not all created equal as we’ve said on a lot of things. A lot of these guys will tell you, “We’ve got a humic, fulvic acid.” All they’re doing is taking dry humates, putting them in water, throwing a little potash in there to hold it in suspension and selling it to you. They are selling you humic and fulvic acid. They’re not lying about that. They’re telling you the truth on that. The problem is most of the time, those will have a pH of anywhere from 8 to 12. Remember, I told you the plants like things more on the neutral to acidic side to be able to take up to the plant.
When you’re looking at buying these kinds of products, you want to make sure what you’re looking at and what you’re buying, and what kind of pH does it has? What are they selling you? Is it humic acid? Is it fulvic acid? I don’t even get so hung up on the percentage of how much fulvic or humic acids in there because it’s all an extraction. To be able to make a fulvic acid, you have to take dry humates and extract out the fulvic acid out of it. Everybody that’s out there has different methods of doing that. Our method of doing it is going to be different than somebody else’s, but we feel the way that we’re doing it, we’re creating a neutral pH product so the plant can use it up better.
That’s the thing about using these humic and fulvic acids. They have their place, it’s like anything that even with sugars that Caleb was talking about and anything that we’ve talked about, none of them are silver bullets. They’re pieces of the puzzle and pieces to the pie that can make it one finger in the glove maybe to push you to that next level or whatever else out there. None of them are going to be the silver bullet that fixes every problem that we’ve got out there. Humic acid and fulvic acids are a good tool to use depending on what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. That would be the thing that I would look at. It’s the type that you’re using, how they’re making it, in what form it is, and the timing that you’re using it.
For the yields that we’re reaching for now, efficiency is the name of the game. That’s where things like fulvic can help with that because we’re getting more efficient nutrient uptake and transport. It’s not necessarily about putting more groceries out there. It’s about using what we have efficiently. That’s where this humate, humic, fulvic products can make a difference.
It still takes those groceries to grow 350-bushel corn like some of these guys are doing. Caleb’s right. If we can be more efficient with what we’re doing, you should be able to do it with less. You see that in nitrogen uses. We’re all getting much more efficient with our nitrogen per bushel than what we used to be.
I do appreciate you guys being on the show. A lot of information for growers. I do know you do have videos and other content on your website for growers to see some of the math and see some images associated with correcting soil pH. If you would maybe give a plug for your website.
Our website is www.TEVACorporation.com. You can go on there. Anything that we’ve talked about, we have videos on them. They’re much shorter than the windiness I gave. Most of our videos are only 5 to 10 minutes long. I’ve made this go a lot longer than I was supposed to. Our videos are much shorter and can give you go back through everything that we’ve talked about for sure.
Mark and Caleb, I do appreciate your time. As we move forward in search for higher opportunities for yields, to be successful in the ag industry or any skilled industry, we must learn, unlearn, relearn again. Some of these topics we talked about, maybe you already had a hard opinion on it. I challenge everybody to step back, re-evaluate some of these concepts, and go learn and keep relearning on all these topics. With that, thanks for joining us.
Thank you for the opportunity.
About Mark Coots
Mark is the CEO of TEVA Corp. TEVA Corp. was started in Essex, MO, in 1979, incorporated in 1990, and is now located in Benton, MO. They are a family owned business that has been on the cutting edge of the natural way of farming. TEVA Corp. sells its products directly to farmers, through distributors, and in retail locations.
About Caleb Coots
Caleb is a Plant Biologist for TEVA Corp and son of Mark Coots. His college major was Plant Biology with an emphasis in Plant Physiology and 2 minors in Chemistry and Plant & Soil Science. Caleb and Mark enjoy working together to help farmers most efficiently increase yields.
Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the Yield Masters Podcast Community today: