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The Goldilocks Principle and crop production
Dr. Victor Martin

The Drought Monitor report is indicating the effects of the warm windy weather and lack of rainfall over the last two weeks. Moderate drought is creeping eastward as is the abnormally dry area. Abnormally dry conditions are creeping northward and are now as close as southern Stafford and Pawnee County. The six to ten-day outlook (May 5 to 9) indicates above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation which will aid corn planting. The eight to 14 day outlook (May 7 to 13) indicates more of the same. This means areas of abnormally dry and drought conditions will likely be moving further east. For wheat, most of the soil in our area, except for sand are in adequate shape unless temperatures are well above normal and wheat development should advance fairly rapidly. This will also help corn emerge fairly quickly. The average soil seven day soil temperature at two inches in Stafford County was 57 degrees and with continued warm weather and sunshine should average well into the sixties for this week.

There is something regarding life and habitation termed the Goldilocks Principle after the fairy tale we are all familiar with. Briefly, “the Goldilocks Principle states that something must be “just right,” meaning that it must be contained within certain margins and not reach extremes.” So today, how does this apply to crop production?

• This principle is applied to many things, not just conditions for life to exist. It is used extensively in describing why life exists on Earth. If the planet was further away, we would be too cold. If the Earth were closer, too hot. You probably get the idea.

• In biology, there is a concept termed “the cardinal.” It describes the zone for various factors where a species, for us a crop or livestock, can exist. There are cardinal minimums below which a species can’t survive and the same for a cardinal maximum. There is also a cardinal optimum where the organism can thrive. For crops, what are these factors that determine whether a crop can be successfully grown?

• Primary cardinal climate/weather factors include: air and soil temperature; precipitation; length of growing season; and even wind speed and humidity.

• In the soil, there are cardinal ranges for water content, air-filled porosity, pH (acidity), nutrient levels, and even structure.

• How do we use these in crop production? First, they determine what crops are adapted to a region. Secondly, within a given crop species, it determines things like yield potential, crop quality, maturity level of the crop, when to plant, etc.

• The actual weather within the broad climate actually determines crop yield, survival. So we must look at the “average” cardinal factors, the climate and then for a given year we examine the actual cardinal factors and that determines yield for that season.

• The cardinal factors producers have the most control over here are pH, soil nutrient levels, soil structure, and to a lesser extent soil temperature and soil moisture. 

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.