By Charles Walters and Esper K. Chandler
All any farmer really wants is the best uptake of plant nutrients for his or her crops. In order to make sure crops efficiently uptake all they need, crop expert Esper K. Chandler says, “We have to reestablish the humus function of the soil, the basis for natural/organic sustainable farming.” And this means putting water best practices into use.
The drip-irrigation system is a valued key to best watering practices. Not only does it make it possible to feed the plant vital nutrients – especially phosphates – on a cafeteria basis, it enables uptake of existing soil phosphates, thereby doubling the potential.
Then multiple products of humus, lignosulfates, enzymes, soil inoculants, hormones such as in seaweeds, cytokinins, auxins, and gibberellins bring on another synergistic effect, all of them answering the plant’s call for help.
Agronomists have had to reassess the role of nature’s unpaid workers, soil microorganisms, and their role in forcing a new look at the observed facts of the situation. Chandler is an agronomist who clearly achieved consensus between natural/organic, sustainable, and conventional farming.
Ask the plant
“Ask the Plant” is the title of a book written by Esper K. Chandler and Acres U.S.A. founder Charles Walters, about “reading” plants to understand their needs, and how to produce a better crop using fertilizers and soil-building ingredients only as needed.
Ever pragmatic, ever alert to the day-to-day stages of a plant’s life and production, Chandler has added to the usual scrutiny of cations and anions and the usual science of soil laboratories a norm all his own.
When Chandler’s “ask the plant” dictum is invoked, the objective is to predict future growth. A correct prediction allows remedial action in the soil and/or in the water — drip, center pivot, or flood — or foliar on the leaf. A reliable soil test of available nutrients is also beneficial.
“The plant drinks and eats every day, not once a season,” Chandler says. “It has only the capacity nature has provided. But we have been taught to put all of that phosphate on as well as most of our nitrogen. Then we side-dress more nitrogen. But when we use our CO2 soil test to see what is actually available to that plant, plus the petiole sap test, we find the phosphate in a decreasing availability mode with time.”
Does the plant have enough water?
A pioneer in helping to bring highly productive drip-irrigation to both the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of Texas and the South, Chandler was forced to observe that often dry land made just as much yield in terms of bales as irrigated acres. “The example,” says Chandler, “is peanuts. The yield can be superb, yet the crop can go to rot unharvested in the field.”
After making allowances for the mix of electrical impulses contained in natural light, Chandler says, “The first answer I ask the plant to furnish is: Have you got enough or too much water?” Iron levels in the plants are good indicators, but not absolute.
Water is the overriding factor, but then the most efficient use of water comes from having balanced nutrition.
Almost any good laboratory has shelves that are swaybacked with research proving that nitrogen and water will grow vegetative volume, but not quality. Under conditions of balanced nutrition, quality and yield become a given. In vegetable crops, quality means food value to the human consumer and shelf life for shippers and retailers.
Many factors affect the root’s ability to take up nutrients. Temperature is never a given, yet always affects chemical actions. Too cold, the plant struggles. Too hot, wilt asserts itself.
The stomata exist to regulate the respiration of the plant. They govern the amount of air and water taken in. If the plant gets the nutrients it needs from the roots, then it will not continue to pump water while on the hunt for more nutrients. Instead, the stomata close. When they close, water is used more efficiently. If nitrogen and other nutrients are deficient, the plant pump stays on duty until it finds enough food, then it closes down. The quality of nutrient balance will affect the chemistry and physiology of the plant.
Chandler assembled his observations starting with childhood. The old saying about mistreated plants screaming like a stuck hog takes him back to his Louisiana youth. “Cotton was planted right outside a box-type family home which had enough space between the one-board walls to allow wind to set up a whistle coming through. Grandmother would say, ‘Hush, kids. If you’ll be quiet you can hear that cotton grow with a pleasing sound.’ When the plant was in stress, she would say, ‘Hush, that plant is cryin’ for moisture.’”
The Value of Water
Cyclical rains can keep the reservoirs full and make former dry land outperform historically irrigated acres. In the main, it is regulated water that makes the Valley perform. West Texas on the High Plains is the locus of irrigated cotton, pumps usually handling the distribution chore. However, the high cost of energy is causing many growers to long for a gravity system and reduced costs. The cost of pumping and water reserves mandate drip irrigation, especially in the Valley, center pivots being relegated to the uplands.
Still and all, nothing cancels the reality that the soil is the most recognized of variables. “It all comes back to the load in the soil,” says Chandler, “the dynamics being to make the fertility available. Too often the industry has gone strictly chemical and that’s where cation exchange and soil testing relied on harsh chemicals to determine the availability of nutrients, but we left the plant out of the equation.”
Water and organic matter
It all starts with photosynthesis. Nature’s alchemy splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. Oxygen is set free to enable life on the planet. Hydrogen finds refuge in a carrier molecule in an instantaneous process. Hydrogen, with its own sidebar construct, converts carbon dioxide into sugar, glucose and starch.
Water and organic matter go together like ham and eggs, which illustrates the thesis in Ed Faulkner’s Plowman’s Folly and invites a new look at conservation-tillage farming, the epitome of which is grass and forage production.
Here, it is enough to point out that those billions of unpaid soil workers draw their energy from rich, decaying plant material. Water adsorption via the agency of organic matter, a carbon dioxide mix, and control of transpiration holds in escrow a greater potential for water control than most of the dams constructed for that purpose.
It has been touted that applying a half-inch of well-digested compost to grasslands and lawns cuts water requirements between 25 and 70 percent. An inch of mulch over the root zones of shrubs saves the same amount of water.
The mere presence of organic matter in the soil means an uninterrupted supply to leaves. The stomata entry valve intake mechanism closes when satisfied, and the water rescued from transpiration loss astonishes the mathematician.
An open plant will transpire 99 percent of water taken from the soil under normal conditions, meaning under conditions of low organic matter. When the carbon dioxide levels surrounding the leaf results in closed stomata, the transpiration is cut dramatically. The agronomist can make a calculation, but it is the carbon-water cycle that presides. That excitement rises to new heights about water-use efficiency as Chandler goes about the business of asking the plants.
Source: Ask the Plant