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Published November 26, 2012, 10:37 AM

Northern Ag Expo fixture returns

Dave Franzen says he made his first “big” appearance 18 years ago at the Northern Ag Expo. His topic was “All About Ammonia.”

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Dave Franzen says he made his first “big” appearance 18 years ago at the Northern Ag Expo. His topic was “All About Ammonia.”

“I’d spoken at smaller field days around the area, but that (the 1994 Ag Expo) was my first big presentation,” says Franzen, the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s soil specialist who joined NDSU in June 1994.

If you’ve attended the Northern Ag Expo in the past, you’ve probably heard Franzen speak on some aspect of soil fertility. He’s given a presentation at the event every year since his 1994 debut.

The 42nd annual Northern Ag Expo will be held Nov. 27 and 28 at the Fargodome in Fargo, N.D. Franzen will speak at 2 p.m. Nov. 28

His topics this year include planting in dry soil, monitoring potassium levels and the development of mathematical formulas linking optical sensing devices and yield estimates early in the growing season.

Much of the Upper Midwest was gripped by a long wet cycle that ended this summer. So some area farmers are out of practice in planting in dry soil.

A common concern among farmers is whether fields are too dry to make use of anhydrous ammonia, a widely used source of nitrogen, or “N” as it’s often called. Nitrogen is crucial to plant growth.

“It never gets too dry to use it (anhydrous ammonia). There’s always some water (in the soil). Don’t worry about that,” Franzen says.

But when anhydrous ammonia isn’t applied properly, “There’s a serious danger of it being lost to the air,” he says. “If you see or smell anhydrous after it’s covered (by soil), it’s a problem.”

In that case, farmers should dig at a deeper depth or come back when soil conditions are more conducive, he says.

Area farmers also should monitor potassium levels in their fields, as it is an essential nutrient for plant growth.

Historically, most fields in the area haven’t been short on potassium.

“The rate of normal release from soil was pretty close to what small grains required,” Franzen says.

Today, however, many farmers have switched from small grains to corn and soybeans, and the latter two require more potassium than small grains, he says.

Potassium typically is supplied to fields in the form of potash fertilizer.

Area farmers “generally don’t put any (potash) on. But now they’re going to have to look at it a lot closer, he says.

Franzen also will talk about his work involving optical sensing equipment and yield estimates. His goal is helping farmers apply the right amount of fertilizer during the growing season.

“It’s not completely futuristic. We’re not the first to do it. But we’re developing it for North Dakota. This will be ours,” he says of his research.

As technology improves, farmers in North Dakota and elsewhere can fine-tune the amount of fertilizer applied on every square foot of a field. That way, they improve yields on good chunks of the field and don’t waste fertilizer on poor parts of the field that can’t utilize it.