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Agronomic Services — News Release


Contact: Catherine Stokes, Information & Communication Specialist
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(919) 733-2655

Myers Dairy — innovation and agronomic stewardship

Dairyman Barry Myers and NCDA&CS regional agronomist J. Ben Knox discuss soil fertility and nutrient management.
Dairyman Barry Myers and NCDA&CS regional agronomist J. Ben Knox discuss soil fertility and nutrient management.

UNION GROVE—No matter how good things are, Barry Myers knows they can be better, and his dairy operation reflects that attitude. Myers Farms boasts a sophisticated, three-tiered waste storage system and is the only dairy in the state with a machine to clean and recycle the sand used for animal bedding. Although he has a penchant for improvement, there is one thing Myers wouldn't change—his working relationship with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Myers has relied on NCDA&CS services for 21 years—ever since the Agronomic Division created its field services program in 1985. That year, the division hired a team of regional agronomists to advise N.C. farmers on soil fertility and plant nutrient issues. When Myers inquired about the new service, agronomist J. Ben Knox showed up at his door.

"Myers was the first client I visited when I began working for the Agronomic Division," said Knox, who still covers Iredell County. "Although he took soil samples regularly and sent them to a private lab, he wasn't sure what to do with the results. I took a look at his reports and saw that even though he was putting out lime, his crops were low in magnesium. I suggested that he switch from using calcitic lime, which doesn't contain magnesium, to dolomitic lime, which does. I've worked with him ever since."

As Myers began using the state's soil testing lab, he became aware of other agronomic testing services. In addition to soil samples, he was soon collecting waste samples. Waste analysis measures the plant nutrient content of animal manure to be used as fertilizer—a very useful tool for a dairy operation. By knowing the nitrogen content, Myers found he could minimize his purchases of commercial fertilizer and manage the nutrient needs of his forage crops more precisely. In 1995, when the state's new animal waste regulations went into effect and required this testing, waste analysis was already an integral part of Myers' operation.

Another agronomic tool that Myers uses to fine-tune his nitrogen applications is plant tissue analysis. Laboratory analysis of leaves and petioles can reveal whether a crop is taking up sufficient amounts of essential nutrients. This test is especially appropriate for crops like small grains and corn whose yield potential can be determined by supplemental applications of fertilizer early in the season. Now that the amount of fertilizer that can be applied to a crop is limited by the crop's realistic yield expectation, Myers wants to know precisely how much fertilizer is needed and when.

"Sometimes I use tissue testing to see if an additional application of fertilizer is really necessary," said Myers. "It usually turns out that corn needs additional nitrogen, whereas barley and small grain often do not. Whatever the case, I know I can discuss it with Ben and make a good decision."

"Myers and I have had a good working relationship over the years," Knox said. "It's gratifying to advise someone who wants to be on the cutting edge. Myers wants to find the best way to do things, and he's always ready to try something new—whether it be no-till; hard-hose waste application, the sand separator; or agronomic tests. This fall, he even hosted a training event for certified waste operators on his farm. He goes all out."

All North Carolina farmers have access to the same testing and advisory services that Myers uses. The NCDA&CS Agronomic Division performs soil tests; measures nutrient levels in plant tissue, animal wastes and composted materials; assays soil for plant-parasitic nematodes; and tests water for its suitability for a variety of agricultural purposes. To support these testing services, 13 regional agronomists are available to visit growers; evaluate problems; give advice on sampling, liming and fertilization; and help identify and manage nematode problems. To find contact information for the NCDA&CS regional agronomist assigned to your area, visit the Agronomic Division's Field Services Section online at

Agronomist J. Ben Knox is available to provide advice on fertilization, nutrient management or nematode problems in Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Iredell, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, Surry, Union and Yadkin counties. He can be reached by phone at (704) 278-9414 or by e-mail at


Last Update December 19, 2008


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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