Showing posts from March, 2020

Making No-Till Corn Succeed

Record no-till corn yields (616 bushel/acre, Dave Hula, Virginia) have been achieved by understanding what it takes to make no-till corn succeed! Nationally, no-till corn acres are less than 10% (average 5-7%). Corn needs nitrogen (N) and other nutrients at critical times to produce high yields. Scientist estimate that corn could potentially produce 1100 bushel/acre, but averages 200 bushels or less. The first 10-14 days after corn planting determines most corn yield. Factors that harm the corn seedling at this time may reduce the corn harvested. Traditionally, tillage warmed the soil and created good seed-to-soil contact. Each tillage operation reduces soil moisture 0.5 to 1.0 inch. Water holds 10X the cold/heat as air, so reducing cold water improves corn germination. Spring tillage also aerates and stimulates microbes to release carbon and nutrients while killing some early germinating weed seed. Corn generally benefits from tillage, giving corn an extra boost during that critical 1

Controlling Voles: Field Mice

Voles or field mice populations are increasing due to a mild winter. Vole populations crash every 2-5 years, due to cold weather and a lack of food and shelter. This year, vole populations are rebounding and may cause significant crop damage. Voles are 3-7 inches long with small eyes, ears, and tail. They predominate in no-till and/or cover crop fields but are also common in tilled fields. Vole control depends upon understanding vole biology, scouting, natural predators, and effective cultural practices.  Biology: There are over 60 vole species, but meadow and prairie voles are the main crop pests. Meadow voles are loners with many mates, live 2-18 months, and may have multiple litters (4-8 litters, up to 11 pups) and 40-50 young/year. They have a high mortality rate (>80%) due to predation (keystone mammal food source for all carnivores) but their young start breeding in 21 days! Nests are either above ground or below ground in burrows. Prairie voles live up to 24 months, mate for

Adapting to Wet Spring Planting

Wet springs and planting in June have almost become a “normal” occurrence. The last three decades, rainfall precipitation averaged 32 -36 inches for most of the Midwest (not counting Lake effect precipitation) but averaged over 50 inches the last four years and may be heading towards 60 inches long-term. Good soil structure, well drained soils, and timely planting are critical for getting goods yields. Here are some changes that may improve spring planting. First, structural soil stability is a key to good planting conditions in wet years. Dr. Sjoerd Duiker, Penn State University conducted a simple soil structural experiment. He filled a grain truck and ran across four fields. The first field was conventionally tilled, and the truck make 6-12 inches ruts. The second field was a 1-year no-till field resulting in 3-6 inch ruts, then a 2-year no-till field (1-2 inch ruts) and finally a long-term no-till field where you could barely see the tracks. No-till farms have structural stability t

Soil Microbes

Soil microbes are abundant, making nutrients available to plants. There are more soil microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth. Most soil microbes exist under starvation conditions and are dormant, especially in tilled soils. There are 1,000-2,000 times more microbes near active live roots than tilled soil, and each microbe is a soluble bag of plant available fertilizer. Active roots supply 25-45% of their total root carbohydrates to feed the microbes. The plants feed the soil microbes sugars and the microbes supply the plant with amino acids, soil nutrients, and water. Bacteria, actinomycetes, and protozoa tolerate soil disturbance and dominate in tilled soils. Fungi and nematode populations tend to dominate no-till soils with live plants. Recent research shows that humus originates mainly from the dead bodies of microbes stacked up in the soil. Good soil is just a graveyard for dead microbes! Long-term no-tilled soils or soil with continuous live plants have sign

Strip-Till Advantages

Tilling the soil has become a farming tradition, especially with growing corn. Spring tillage warms the soil because each tillage pass reduces soil moisture by 0.5 to1.0-acre inch. It takes 10X more energy to warm up cold wet soil then air, so a tilled warmer, moist, well aerated corn seed may germinate faster. Tillage create good seed-to-soil contact for even and consistent corn stands and also kills early weeds which may reduce yields 10%. Tillage also burns up carbon and mineralizes soluble nutrients (50 PPM nitrates) for faster early corn growth. These early tillage benefits are the main reason why farmers do annual tillage.  The downside risks though are also a problem. Tillage causes higher soil erosion, soils start to seal as the soil organic matter is mineralized (40-60% loss in SOM in last 75 years), soils become tighter, harder to farm, less water infiltration, ponding water, and higher water and nutrient runoff. Weeds and other pests (insects and diseases) thrive on tilled s