You learned about applying nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from your father and grandfather. You also know you need lime to raise soil pH to acceptable levels. Now farmers trying to improve soil health and raise higher yields are learning about gypsum.
Ron Chamberlin, head of Gypsoil, a company that sells the product, says it's not lime, and it doesn't raise or lower soil pH. However, it does add calcium and sulfur to the soil. Perhaps just as important, it works to help loosen up soils for improved water infiltration.
That only helps as long as there is a place for the water to go, says Rodney Rulon, part of Rulon Enterprises, a farming operation near Arcadia, Ind. He says you start building your soils system with tile drainage. His family believes in tiling so much that they own their own tiling rig and actually install for other people if time permits.
The Rulons are in a no-till system. Cover crops are another part of improving soil heath, Rodney sways. He likes the deep rooting action that he gets from cover crops like annual ryegrass. The rooting depth happens when the cover crop grows in the spring before it's burned down for planting.
Gypsum has helped Rulon bring calcium and magnesium into balance. Most of their soils are high in magnesium, and he believes the soil is healthier when the calcium to magnesium ration is different than what it was when he began measuring it in their soils. He samples intensively, working on one-acre grids so he can notice even small changes.
Since he began applying gypsum a few years ago, he has noticed that the magnesium level has gone down, meaning the calcium level has gone up. He believes that's desirable in their soils. He also believes the sulfur is an important addition for corn production today since power plants remove so much of the sulfur that was once allowed to escape into the atmosphere.