University of Illinois: Final Report

As prepared by Dr. Laura Gentry and Dr. Fred Below, and summarized by Mike Petersen – an executive report from the University of Illinois for crop year 2013 (CY13).

SUSTAINABLE CORN PRODUCTION IN INTENSIVELY MANAGED SYSTEMS: 2013 FINAL REPORT

Stover accumulation has been shown to reduce corn grain yields in continuous corn production systems leading to suggestions that high corn prices, which result in more continuous corn production, will also could result in widespread implementation of stover removal practices. However, effects of stover removal on soil fertility requirements and soil organic matter levels is an on-going concern and must be considered when growers decide to remove stover from continuous corn fields. In this project, we (Fred Below, Laura Gentry and associates) assessed the effectiveness of stover removal for increasing corn yields in high-yielding and conventional environments as well as nutrient management consequences of stover removal. High yielding environments consisted of higher plant populations, increased nutrient fertilizer application, insect protection traits, and application of fungicides. Conventional environments consisted of more common planting populations, less intense fertilizer applications, no insect protection traits (a granular soil insecticide was applied at planting in both environments), and no fungicide application. Additionally, three residue management treatments (crop rotation, partial stover removal, and tillage) were applied at two levels (9th-year continuous corn vs. long-term corn-soybean rotation, stover retained vs. 50% stover removed, and conventional tillage vs. strip tillage) to assess their individual and combined effects on the input treatments (plant population, nutrients, traits, and fungicide) and corn yields. In this summary we are reporting the results from 2013. Click table to view larger:

2013 corn yield results

Yellow: Corn/Soybean rotation with all practices employed
Orange: Same, without P-K-S fertility added
Blue: Better hybrid taken out, standard hybrid selected

 

Strip tillage is a relatively new reduced tillage system in the Central Corn Belt that protects soil from erosion, retains plant-available water, maintains soil structure and retains soil organic matter, and allows banding of fertilizers for more efficient plant uptake.  Strip tillage can substantially reduce soil compaction associated with multiple seedbed field operations; this also represents cost savings as a result of eliminating fuel use, labor, and equipment wear.  These three agricultural management practices – crop rotation, residue management, and reduced tillage – were tested for their individual and cumulative effects on agricultural sustainability parameters and corn yields in combination with the omission treatment design previously employed to investigate high yield management factors for corn production.

(Above Executive Summary provided by Laura Gentry, PhD.)

 

Comments/Observations by Orthman Soil Science Agronomist, Michael Petersen:

As we observe and evaluate this data set that Gentry and Below studied several key points that come up before growers minds as they evaluate the validity of Strip-Tillage, rotational changes, hybrids, fertility programs even in a year like 2013 when the spring was wet and planting was delayed.  Please note in the supplied table the colored cells; yellow highlighted cells depict in the Corn-Soybean rotation portion of the Gentry-Below studies in the High Tech plots in which all practices are employed, incl: P-K-S etc fertilizer added precisely, high-sustainable N rates employed, best hybrids (with insect, herbicide resistant, day length, etc), higher seeding populations, and fungicides applied at premium time.  In orange cells the additional P-K-S etc fertility is subtracted.  In the blue cells the better hybrid selection is taken out and standard hybrid selected.  Much the same as what we have observed at the Orthman Research Farm near Lexington, Nebraska – precision tillage offers a slightly better yield advantage, which along with savings in fuel, time, and other costs – IMPROVES PROFIT MARGINS.

Lastly, in the last line of the table, precision tillage results in the averages Continuous Corn/Retained with Strip-Tillage compared to Conventional Tillage (second left column) an advantage leans to Strip-Till.  We are pleased that Dr. Gentry supplied us these data and will continue the studies in 2014 with the use of Strip-Tillage using the Orthman 1tRIPr and dry fertilizer application system by Valmar.

Winter time is the time for your planter tune-up!

Planting via the Precision Tillage System method at the Orthman Manufacturing Research Proving Grounds.

Here at Orthman Manufacturing, we know this time of the year is a great time to check out the planter and its functionality to get the seeds in the ground like you want come April. Read the one page article that has some thoughtful words on being a precision farmer.  Click on the following link (Orthman Planter) to read what Randy Haarberg says; Orthman_Planter article2014.

With Better Precise Fertility Placement in Strip-till, Can we enhance Plant health and avoid Poor Stalk Conditions?

Our Lead Agronomist, Mike Petersen has been up to or should we say getting down to it, finding more out about the issue of potassium (K) having a role in the issue across parts of the Corn belt of corn going down bad. His talks with other wise Agro’s across the U.S., delving into research, reading texts has come to him writing a two page article. Look it over. Click on the hyperlink (text in orange color) Better precise K and S fertility_StripTill and enjoy!

Strip-Till and No-Till Root Systems are not the same! See what Orthman Mfg agronomy team observed.

In the News and Articles section you can read some of the latest news of a study we completed at the Orthman Research Farm this summer (2013).  Click on the following title – Orthman NTvsST root article2013  We wanted to offer a look at what did happen below ground this year and gain an appreciation for a more full rooting system in what we promote here at Orthman Manufacturing – that being “Gain an optimal root system with a 1tRIPr and sound hybrid selections”.

Spring time pore studies on Orthman Research Farm – Results!

Mike Petersen compares soil pores in Strip-Till after four years of continuous corn as well as 4 years of continuous corn in No-Till.

Coming back to the Benefits of Strip-Till and Pores in the Near Surface
Sept. 17, 2013    By: Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist-Orthman Manufacturing

Early in the growing season we presented a blog regarding that pores were being looked at closely in the Strip-Tilled (ST) ground and No-Tilled (NT) ground at the Orthman Research Farm.  We have looked at this and 101 other details throughout the season and feel it is the right time to offer you some thoughts and conclusions.  My intern and I dug more soil pits than he cares to remember as he is deep into his college studies now, some of them when the temps were touching 100°F by 2:00 in the afternoon.

Developing the 10cm x 10cm block

During my stint of 34 years with USDA as a soil scientist we described pores, pore numbers, size, shape and continuity as we conducted soil surveys.  Pore research is intricate work and quite informative once the process and methodology is explained.  Let me be brief; pores are pretty much categorized by size – less than 1mm in diameter, 1 to 2 mm, 2 to 5mm and then greater than 5mm.  Get above that size and we are into void or holes.  Then we determine an actual count within a square decimeter (10cm x 10cm) and the pores shape.  The shape indicates whether they are old insect burrows, old root channels, solution channels, earthworm burrows and/or interstitial crevices.  All of these pores assist in the soil breathing and allowing water to move downward into the soil profile.  An observer may count several hundred pores of all sizes in native grassland soils or in soils that have suffered the fate of abundant tillage passes and heavy traffic to see less than one dozen in the square decimeter.  Essentially like concrete and impervious to water.

Our study at the Orthman Research Farm was fairly complete in that we looked at 27 in-field locations within the ST and 21 sites for the NT practice.  We made these observations after 4 years of continuous corn of NT and ST and moving the location of planting corn over 15 inches each year then digging out our blocks between the existing corn right after planting as corn was emerging.

Method:

Excavate a 30cm x 30cm block of soil from between the rows of emerging corn, shave off the upper two inches where all the residue was on top and the loose soil from winters freeze-thaw repeated and fluffed the soil surface.  Next we cut out with a sharp knife a 10cm x 10cm block that essentially allowed us to observe the 2 to 6 inch portion of the soil profile. Shaved the four surfaces flat when moist and with the point of the knife picked each face to be expressing a raw face.  Used the blades point to etch a quadrat on the face so we could count four smaller squares and begin counting the three sizes I mentioned above in the second paragraph (not the >5mm).

We would each count until our eyes crossed (well maybe not literally but we did run out of fingers and toes numerous times!) The observations are completed with a 10 magnification geologists hand lens and recorded.

Our results of the Pore Counts:
Table 1.  Data from the Strip-Tilled and No-Tilled sites at Orthman Farm, continuous corn from 2009-2014 and tillage practices remained in same rows all 4 years. Pores counted on 10cm x 10cm soil blocks from the 2 to 6 inch depth.

Location ST <1mm ST 1-2mm ST 2-5mm ST Total NT <1mm NT 1-2mm NT 2-5mm NT Total
Site 1 295 26 7 328 97 4 4 105
Site 2 218 20 9 328 82 8 3 93
Site 3 211 13 2 328 203 29 12 244
Site 4
Site 5 200 42 8 328 98 12 2 112
Site 6 188 59 14 328 74 6 11 91
Site 7 80 18 11 328 86 9 2 97
Site 8 96 25 5 328 142 8 7 157
Site 9 144 18 6 328 178 15 8 201
Site 10 113 12 4 328 147 11 3 161
Site 11 179 28 4 328 144 20 8 110
Site 12 149 22 7 328 81 21 8 90
Site 13 211 22 11 328 69 15 6 153
Site 14 242 32 20 328 135 15 3 131
Site 15 288 41 22 328 115 14 2 180
Site 16 326 39 30 328 155 17 8 204
Site 17 279 23 13 328 181 15 8 105
Site 18 176 18 13 328 99 4 4 107
Site 19 139 10 4 328 184 3 3 190
Site 20 135 21 14 328 89 9 2 100
Site 21 149 14 6 328 97 12 7 116
Site 22 106 12 9 328 100 12 5 117
Site 23 142 13 6 328
Site 24 137 14 8 328
Site 25 97 17 8 328
Site 26 113 12 7 328
Site 27 251 9 7 328
Mean 178.4 21.8 9.2 218 122 12.73 5.45 140.18
Median 154 18 8 98 12 6 124

Table 2. The range in pore counts for all sites at Orthman Research Farm

Pore Sizes ST-hi NT-hi ST-mean NT-mean ST-low NT-low
1mm 326 203 178.4 140.2 80 69
1-2mm 41 29 21.8 12.7 9 2
2-5mm 29 11 9.2 5.5 2 2

As you contemplate all the numbers there is definitely a trend that strip till has some higher counts in all three pore sizes, even as we look at the lowest counts on the right side of Table 2 for ST-low and NT-low. I will provide some clues and observations as to what I believe has occurred here over the four years of the side-by-side tillage comparisons.

Discussion and Conclusions:
As we made these observations we also excavated 30cm x 30cm blocks and pulled them apart and counted earthworms at the same time of the pore counts. Think about it, earthworms burrow and leave nice round tunnels – PORES. Who is helping out both tillage systems, certainly the “Tunnel Kings of the Earth”. Our worm counts ranged from 8 to 36 earthworms per square foot in mid-May.
Because we at the Orthman Farm alternate each year where we run the 1tRIPr tool between the previous year’s corn row we allow the old corn crown to remain and disintegrate slowly where worms are very active and those root channels/holes are routes and places for earthworms to live, breed and eat. Our tillage from what we have seen encourages worms to move in and out of the till zone (soil density is generally less than where it is easier to burrow and leave tunnels and burrows. I have been observing this now for 32 years. During this four year side-by-side study and digging during the growing season I have seen and pointed out to whoever is with me that in the NT surface compaction becomes problematic with row crop systems with tractor, combine and grain cart traffic. This has broken down soil pores in this 2 to 6 inch zone where we carry out the soil pore counts. With strip-till we can alleviate this in the spring and see more pores in the spring months.

Figure 1: Pore counts in comparing high counts and mean values between Strip-Till (ST) and No-Till(NT), 2013

In this graphic we compare the ST high counts of pores to the NT high numbers along with what the mean values of the counts. In the green text box you can read that the Strip-Till numbers are slightly fewer than the highest counts made in the No-Till

Figure 2: Total pore counts, mean values compared as Strip-Till and No-Till and the lowest number of pores for each tillage type

In the above chart (Fig 2) I offer a different look at the mean pore count numbers and the lowest numbers of pores counted to demonstrate the differences.
Conclusions:
As I consider all what is here and the 1300+ root pits I have engaged into and then thousands of holes when I was involved in the National Soil Survey Program in 4 different states as a soil scientist, it is my opinion we see consistently more of all three major pore sizes in a Strip-Tillage System. Will it always be 25 to 40% more in numbers? No. If any conservation tillage farmer really makes a serious program to control all season traffic in and out and across of their fields the pore counts will be pretty close to the same. At the Orthman Farm we carry out harvest operations with grain carts moving all about to load and unload the combine to keep the harvest smooth and quick, similar to large corn growers in the Great Plains. We are confident that our tillage efforts will take care of 98% of all issues.
So as I conclude that as we advocate Strip-tillage, we will see more pores (three sizes We have observed that earthworms like to burrow deep in the tilled zones deep into the non-till zone of the strip-till and feed on the surface and then return. The diminished effort they have to make in the strip-till allows them quicker access to the previous crops residue. As they return to their burrows they stabilize the burrows due to their skin secretions making for larger conduits for water to enter the soil subsoil’s and substratum or underlying layers. Roots follow these tunnels with ease and I have observed 2 to 5 roots going on down one burrow frequently in the thousands of pits I have dug. Yes it sounds weird but folks, this is what makes the soils so dynamic and helpful to support healthier crops, improve soil sustainability and ultimately better yields.
All of the above offers to the grower a better chance to improve output of each seed he/she plants. I ask then, sharing our evidence and facts that soil physical characteristics do respond positively in the strip-till system to make a difference, it begs the question: are you helping your soils?

Download a copy of the report here: Benefits of StripTill_pores2013.

Strip-Tillage in Australia

Courtesy Hardman Communication.

Equipment choice saves Toowoomba grower three weeks in busy planting season

(January 2013) –  Grower Wayne Ziesemer has been able to significantly improve his operation since moving to the new Orthman 1tRIPr strip till system which is built to place fertiliser and prepare the seed bed in the one pass.

Wayne runs a 1,500-hectare cropping operation spread across two properties at Bongeen, 55 km west of Toowoomba with his wife Leanne and parents, Peter and Daph Ziesemer. His summer cropping operation includes a rotation of 500 hectares of sorghum with either 500 hectares of corn or cotton depending on seasonal conditions.

His decision to move to the Orthman 1tRIPr six months ago was based on the machine’s ability to combine strip till and nutrient placement at two depths in the one pass.

20 row 36" 1tRIPr strip tillage machineThe Orthman 1tRIPr, distributed through Muddy River Agricultural, is built to perform in the heaviest of stubble, with its ability to cut the soil surface and subsurface residue, while ensuring consistent depth due to its parallel linkages. In comparison, conventional till systems can lead to soil compaction due to the increased number of passes required to plough or till the soil prior to fertiliser application.

“We were impressed by the fact that the machine has been tried and tested in the United States with operators finding it can deliver up to 15 to 20 per cent yield increases, which makes it an appealing choice for our operation” said Wayne.

Potential fuel savings were also appealing for Wayne. “Fewer passes translates to lower fuel costs which adds to our overall profitability.”

“Using the Orthman, we had a beautiful plant line to follow and we were exceptionally pleased with the consistency of the seed bed. A good seed bed means good yields so we’re looking forward to a promising season ahead.”

Wayne’s machine has been modified to ensure it can meet the varied fertiliser requirements for both his irrigated and non-irrigated land.

“We ordered the 18.28 m model but had it modified so that it can fold to 9.14 m when working on our irrigated property, which requires smaller equipment due to the heavier soil. Being able to space the machine accordingly gives us a lot of flexibility and saved us having to buy two pieces of equipment.”

Two one tonne Anhydrous fertiliser tanks are attached to either side of the tractor during fertilising operations along with a 6,000 litre Simplicity air cart which is towed by a John Deere 8360RT.

“We planted our corn crops in early January as we got the rains on time. We were pleased with the strike and emergence rate of our corn which we put down to the previous working of the Orthman 1 tRIPr,” said Wayne.

For more information on the Orthman 1tRIPr and Muddy River Agriculture’s range of equipment, go to www.muddyriver.com.au

See a video of this strip till machine here.

Moisture Collection vs Moisture Lost

Image

by Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist

Fall Strip-Tilled into Barley Stubble

Storms are advancing from the Southwest into the Central Corn Belt with blizzard-like conditions at times but are we getting enough moisture to provide replenishment? Further west in Western NE, KS, SD and into Colorado and Wyoming, we have much less snowfall – oh my pitifully dry.
One of the wonderful details about maintaining all last year’s stalks, leaves, shucks in the field is trapping all these snowfall events. Over across the road where the neighbor fall tilled or used his “vertical” tillage or disk tool the residue was sized, chopped and free to blow from here to the Gulf. Also simply put, the taller stalks left in corn to cause movement of lateral snow to drop and stay on the ground compared to the flattened soil surfaces. Many times snow blowing around can accumulate in the standing stalks and give you another 3 to 8 inches of snow, which means harvesting water.
Even if a grower strip-tills in the fall the surface profile of the soil/field is left very rough and allows for catchment areas to have snow stop and store-up in the field. Why all this? Every inch of these snows is priceless. We know that very few of us want to plant into dry soils, irrigate up if irrigation is possible, or just hope for the next rain to be plentiful to start the planted crop.
For the conventional tillage farmer each spring tillage operation has the potential for loss of moisture, and that could be up to 0.75 inch per tillage operation. As dry as it has been that is 8-10 inches of snowfall loss in one pass. Wow, consider that and we have had so little snow since December 1, 2012, I worry about the condition of the soil profile moisture even for the Strip-Tillers. So what growers may want to consider in the Western Corn Belt is waiting until the very last week to strip-till and then follow close behind with the planter. The Orthman 1tRIPr was designed way back in the late, late ‘90’s to be a connected set up of strip-till and planter attached. This year, 2013 there is a great deal of merit to give that a long look.

Strip tillage research results

Results are pouring in from strip tillage studies around the globe, and drought conditions worldwide are showing that strip-till works!

In the Snake River Plains of Idaho, the University of Idaho, USDA-ARS in sugar beets, and Orthman Manufacturing have teams up to determine beet quality, sugar content, soil Nitrogen, beet tonnage, and residue effects on stand and beet yield. Download the study results white paper here.

 

In central Nebraska, Petersen looked at continuous corn, comparing No-Till and Strip-Till methods on irrigated ground. Download the the study results white paper here.

Studies were also conducted at the Orthman Research farm testing precision fertilizer placement and effects of sidedress fertilizer using coulter-injection and RTK guidance. Download the study results whitepaper here.

A third test in central Nebraska looked at the effects of strip tillage and precision fertilization practices with soybeans. Download the study results whitepaper here.

Dr. Laura Gentry continued the University of Illinois Sustainable project and noted the benefits that strip tillage had in a tough year of drought. Download the study results whitepaper here.

 

 

Soil density and compaction was analyzed by Kip Balkom and the University of Georgia. This sustainable projects at Tifton, GA looked at strip tillage and its effects on peanut production. Download the study results white paper here.

 

 

In central Texas, Coufal-Prater conducted side-by-side studies in dryland corn plots, testing conventional tillage vs strip tillage. Download the study results white paper here.

 

 

In Mpumalanga, South Africa – JWL Enterprises are investigating strip tillage methods, looking at fuel savings, fertilizer placement, moisture loss, and all the other benefits that strip tilling can impact. Download the study results white paper here.