News & Articles

Evaluating the Agronomic Building Blocks of the 2012 Corn Crop

How many of you as you have sat in the combine driver’s seat controlling the speed and flow of the corn you are harvesting have thought about the specific segments that held yield at bay for you this year? Yes for sure we had a nasty, hot and intensely dry summer all across the Corn Belt from Indiana to the Front Range of the Rockies. Just saying that, climate conditions limited nearly everyone’s yield potentials to tweak that 250 bu/acre+. The heat was overwhelming, the lack of rain just about cooked many, many corn fields and enduring dry about broke our backs.
We, the Orthman Farms farm manager and I were weighing the weed control efforts and fertilization program when having a break as we loaded a semi-trailer couple of days ago and were asking what would have been the step in our management plan that could have helped out our corn yields. We are still very pleased with 196 – 230 bu/acre irrigated corn yields don’t get me wrong – but as we looked at the ears of corn rolling into the combine they are filled out to the very end, 16 to 18 rows and 33-37 kernels in length at a final stand of 29900 – 30950 plants per acre. Our corn is weighing in at 59 and 60lbs per bushel. We are scratching our heads with that as the dominance of the ears, but we see plants that are in the mix at 14 – 16 rows and 25 -28 kernels in length. Same hybrid and variety and the stand came up even with our strip-till methods of seedbed preparation and fertilization, and this variation just sort of boggles our minds. Our irrigation was taking care of the needs even at 108°F., so what gave us such wide variation was our question.
As some of you know at the Orthman Research Farm this year we carried out a late foliar application of slow release N and a dose of micronutrients and humic acid to see what the effects would be. Last year we did much the same when the anthers just started turning brown after pollination and the 18 varieties we carried this out on, showed a boost in yield from 2 to 11 bu/acre compared to where we did not apply. This year we believe it is much the same but waiting on the actual numbers? We also applied FBSciences Carbon Boost-S® product and saw a stimulated response of about 16 bu/acre over the control in our 8.0-8.2 pH soils. We did not apply the Carbon Boost over all our acres which could well be a big part in tapping the 220+ yield rung on the ladder. You can see there has to be a set of keys that when linked together we should peak yields and feel confident in maintaining those yields for years to come. But I know that above 100°F. conditions of stress in rain-fed and irrigated corn were incredible. We had a thick layer of remaining corn residue between the rows to help insulate from the heat that hammered us in June and decrease evaporation losses. We were judicious to spray with solid choices for weed control, weeds were well controlled even those late season nuisances like Black Nightshade and grasses.
Similar to the same head scratching you have been going through? We planted hybrids we felt were going to withstand heat of July and August, but from June 3rd to September 1st – yikes!! We even dug root pits and determined our corn rooted down to depths of 6.5 to 7 feet and filled the upper 36 inches of the soil profile. The “Heat Units” were 350 days above numerous years prior and should have had some marvelous yields. We did not scrimp much on N-P-K-Zn and S that’s for sure. Before the head scratching goes too deep and draws blood, the climatic conditions of low humidity levels, nights that rarely cooled down into the 60’s, hot winds and steady temperatures above 95°F. all had to have caused more internal stress on corn from tapping 250+ than we have considered in the last 6 years. Conditions were perplexing to say the least. As an agronomist I do believe we can place numerous management practices in play to help alleviate the stresses of heat and drought, but for 60+ days – wow we need help from the skies.
We invite any of you to wade into this discussion and interact as to what steps you thought was helpful to you maintaining a sustained high yield in corn or soybeans this year.

Deep fertilizer placement: Laurie & Jim Black Farms, Queensland Australia

Newspaper story

Story by Clarisa Collis

Deep fertiliser placement tackles subsoil constraints

Subsoil phosphorous deficiencies identified in long-term research across the northern grain-growing region have spurred a new approach in fertiliser application for the Black family at Brookstead in south-east Queensland.

The Blacks – brothers Laurie and Jim, along with Jim’s son Peter – have invested in an Orthman 1tRIPr strip tillage machine designed to cultivate the seedbed and place fertiliser down to a depth of 20 centimetres in the soil.

The aim is to address phosphorous deficiency in the the subsoil, as opposed to the topsoil, which research has revealed is limiting yields by between 10 and 20 percent on their 1618-hectare cotton and grain property.

GRDC funded research, ongoing since 2006, has found that the constraint is reducing yields by up to 20 percent on 25 farms, from Gunnedah, New South Wales, to Capella, Queensland, including the Blacks’ farm.

Leader of the collaborative search from the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation Dr Mike Bell says deep fertilizer applications involving strategic tillage are the key to eliminating the phosphorous deficiency as a production restraint.

This is because phosphorus is an immobile nutrient that tends to remain in the top 10cm of the soil profile where it is placed using conventional practices for applying fertilisers. This contrasts with mobile nutrients, such as nitrogen and sulfur, that move with moisture into the deeper soil layers where plant roots are the most active in removing nutrients.

Dr Bell says oats sim is another immobile nutrient likely to result in cropping losses in the future, particularly since the Blacks introduced cotton to their cropping program last year.

“Cotton has a higher Potassium requirement than grain crops, so it’s like a canary in a coal mine that warns when reserves of the nutrient are close to running out.”

Peter Black says the potassium deficiency has already shown itself in the cotton crop they harvested in April. The new machine is expected to help redress the issue and avoid further productivity losses.

Although the Orthman 1tRIPr is set to “compromise” their zero-till practices, Peter says the minimal soil disturbance in its wake is expected to improve water infiltration and reduce compaction in the seedbed.

He says other benefits of the investment include the residual effects of deep-banding fertilizer over several years and the ability to apply a mix of nutrients deep and shallow in a single pass.
– By Clarissa Collis

Strip tillage helps add a few precious days in drought and other poor conditions

Courtesy Brownfield Ag News:

Listen to Adam here. (2:47 mp3)

Orthman strip tillage 1tripr

“At the Orthman display at the Farm Progress Show, we talked to market development representative Adam Souder about the Orthman 1tRIPr (one-tripper) strip-till machine.

According to Souder, the 1tRIPr preplant tillage tool combines proven strip-till soil management, precision nutrient placement, and seedbed preparation in a single field pass to provide unprecedented field efficiency.

Souder says the 1tRIPr name is derived from combining multiple operations to meet preplant objectives while conserving moisture, soil, time, and money in one trip.”

Story by Ken Anderson

Assessing N levels in your soil

Interesting reading from the University of Minnesota by Daniel Kaiser and John Lamb! They discussed N levels back in March (click to read newsletter) and then revisited N and it’s relationship with rain last week (click to read).

Orthman Research Farm test plot near Lexington, Nebraska


Does it make a difference to use a starter fertilizer product in corn?

From the standpoint of economics this question befuddles me as an agronomist why any grower would not desire to give his/her corn crop the best opportunity to come out of the ground like a roaring lion.  With a year [2012] of looking at plus $5.50 potentially for December price, giving the seedling a chance at developing a large root system, and kicking into gear the photosynthetic factory at high speed in a soil environment that is ready surely makes sense.  In reality it does not take much to have nutrients very close to the seedling root and jump start this factory into action.  It is with a bit of caution though with starters that we use the best quality fertilizer material with as low of a salt index as what you can get.  The ole standby 10-34-0 is not a bad product, we have found many times over better products to use, however with its salt index as one of the highest on the market, and the tender corn root tissues – near this material could be problematic at rates above 5-8gpa (from my experiences) and cause seedling root damage.

We at the Orthman Research Farm encourage when considering a starter program especially with a Strip-Tillage program.  The remaining previous crop residue (corn on corn) will have big demands to balance the C:N ratio in the soil surface 6 to 8 inches.  When corn residue has a C:N ratio of 50:1 compared to wheat stubble at near 80:1, it is still important that for microbial action to release organic forms of N the ratio needs to be more near 20:1.  Having some nitrogen available and in the right form for the “baby” corn plant to utilize it and not have to compete with all of the microbes working to breakdown residues loaded with carbon has incredible merit to keep the plant from essentially starving.  We have put the corn plant in an environment with a great root zone with strip-till, a non-compacted soil medium, warmed up soils, ready to take on moisture, strategically placed nutrients, and soil tilth that has low enough soil density to not impede sound deep root penetration.  But all of this requires some N for that small photosysnthetic factory to roll ahead. Solution = starter fertilizer!

It is why growers have tilled soils for centuries, to reduce soil density to be below 1.25-1.30g/cm3 if possible when the root exertion of the baby corn plant is something like a child under three years of age.  A small V2-V3 plant exerts maybe 80-120psi of force at the most to push downward.  Can the corn plant exert more force than that? Yes but that takes energy/food — thus the need for N-P-K and micronutrients to have the power.  With strip-tillage such as the Orthman 1tRIPr completes, we have observed and measured 1.6 to 3X the seedling root extension length compared to No-Till even with nutrients placed right with the seed in both systems.  Compared to conventional full width tillage methods the strip-till still outperforms with roots extending 1.2 to 2.4X the root length in the soils at the Orthman Research Farm that are clay loam in texture.  We will say over and over again, “it is much to do about roots with strip-till”!

By: Mike Petersen, Lead Agronomist for Orthman Mfg.

Strip till increases soybean yield

Story by By Susan Jongeneel, University of Illinois

Research conducted by University of Illinois assistant professor of crop sciences Fabian Fernandez, professor of crop sciences Emerson Nafziger, and graduate student Bhupinder Farmaha looked at how tillage, and phosphorus and potassium placement and rates, affected the distribution of soybean roots and the levels of water and nutrients in the soil.

Click here to read the article at

Strip-Tilling Corn With Carbon Boost-S Increases Yield

Using Carbon Boost – a nutrient enhancement product – significantly increased corn yields in research plots

Strip-Tilling Corn With Carbon Boost-S Increases Yield By 53 Bushels
By Dan Zinkand

Using Carbon Boost-S — a nutrient enhancement product — increased irrigated corn yields by almost 54 bushels per acre in strip-till research at Orthman Mfg. Co.’s research farm at Lexington, Neb., in 2011, says Mike Petersen, Orthman’s precision tillage agronomist.

“With 16 ounces of Carbon Boost-S in the tank-mix of liquid fertilizer that was strip-tilled 30 days before planting, the Hoegemeyer 8228 hybrid yielded 253.15 bushels per acre,” Petersen says. That compares to the check of the hybrid without any Carbon Boost-S, which yielded 199.45 bushels per acre. “The bottom line is that using Carbon Boost-S increased the yield by 53.7 bushels,” Petersen says. “At $6.50 a bushel, that’s $349.05 of additional gross revenue per acre.”

Back-to-Back Yield Increases

Mike Petersen and others inspect results from a side-by-side field trialThese impressive results from the 2011 on-farm research build on the work Petersen did with Carbon Boost-S at the Orthman farm in 2010. “Corn yields increased by 26 and 30 bushels per acre, when Carbon Boost-S was applied pre-plant,” Petersen says. “When we used Carbon Boost and a 6 ounce per acre in-furrow treatment, corn yields rose by 15 and 24 bushels per acre. With these results in 2010, followed by those in 2011, we’re verifying that Carbon Boost-S delivers very respectable yield improvements two years in a row. In this case, it’s doing so on corn grown on high pH soils.”

Why Evaluate Carbon Boost-S

Evaluating Carbon Boost-S at Orthman’s Research Farm makes sense for several reasons, Petersen says. “From our research, as well as that at Oklahoma State, the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, as well as our on-farm research at the Irrigation Research Foundation in eastern Colorado, we know how important it is to precisely place fertilizer in a band and then plant on this band.” he says. “In fact, at the Orthman Research Farm, we have studied the yield impact of planting corn on top of that band, as well as 4 inches and 8 inches off of that band. Our research, that at these land grant universities and at the IRF, Yuma, Colorado, show yield losses of 11 to 30 bushels per acre when corn is not planted on top of that band.”

But Petersen says Orthman wants to know other factors that affect yield, including how close the plant is to the band of fertilizer. “We began on-farm trials with Carbon Boost-S in 2010, after hearing that the product could help the new roots of corn plants take up and use fertilizer better,” he says. “For two years running, we’ve seen the roots of corn grow faster and increase in greater number where Carbon Boost-S was used. Also the soil volume was explored and length of the roots are greater. There are more roots per plant and they are deeper. And the yield results are very eye opening.”

More 2010 Corn Yield Results

In 2010, with Carbon Boost-S and humic acid, Hoegemeyer 8228 yielded 215.26 bushels per acre, compared to the 199.45 bushels per acre in the check, Petersen says. “This 112-day relative maturity hybrid evidently likes Carbon Boost-S,” he says. “It’s a flex-ear hybrid, which flexes for the length and the girth of the ear. Using Carbon Boost-S and humic acid helped this hybrid a whole lot.”

Carbon Boost-S is a proprietary product of FBSciences, Collierville, Tenn.

Carbon Boost-S helps plants translocate nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients, and it can be used with dry and liquid fertilizer,” says Mark Seipel, regional sales manager, FBSciences. Rates in corn are 8 to 12 ounces per application.

Carbon Boost-S is a highly refined compound that FBSciences derived from a unique source that works inside the plant to help in plant growth and stress mitigation,” says Seipel, who spent 24 years working with strip-till equipment manufacturers before joining FBSciences in 2008.”Farmers can use Carbon Boost-S when strip-tilling in the spring, with in-furrow, sidedress and foliar applications and with herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.” Seipel says.

Petersen says using Carbon Boost-S and humic acid also increased yields for Hoegemeyer’s 7998 hybrid. It is a 109-day relative-maturity determinate or “fixed” ear hybrid. The check yielded 194.03 bushels per acre, while Carbon Boost-S with humic acid produced 206.24 bushels per acre. “The yield results with Hoegemeyer 7998 show we are getting about a 5% yield boost by using Carbon Boost-S and humic acid,” Petersen says. “That’s a pretty darned good yield response.” In 2011, the corn yields at Orthman’s research farm averaged 172 bushels per acre.

2011 Research Trials

Petersen started working with Carbon Boost-S in 2010. That year, the product increased yields of irrigated strip-tilled corn by 30 bushels per acre at Orthman’s Research Farm in Lexington, Neb. Strip tillage corn studyThe 2011 plots where Petersen tested Carbon Boost-S were 100 feet from the 2010 test plots. In 2011, Petersen tested the two Hoegemeyer hybrids in eight rows on 30-inch spacing. Each of the rows was strip-tilled and was 1,390 feet long.

Thirty days before planting the corn on May 4, 2011, Petersen applied 16 ounces per acre of liquid Carbon Boost-S. It was mixed in the liquid fertilizer he applied with an 8-row, 30-inch spacing Orthman 1tRIPr strip-till machine. The 1tRIPr banded 72 pounds per acre of nitrogen, along with 38 pounds per acre of phosphate, 12 pounds of potash, 5 pounds of sulfur and 1 pound of zinc.

“The liquid fertilizer was placed at a depth of 4 and 9 inches in the strip made by the Orthman 1tRIPr,” Petersen says. “Thirty percent of the fertilizer was applied at a depth of 4 inches and 70% of the fertilizer was placed 9 inches deep. We split the application from the same tank mix with two pumps and two sets of tubes to deliver the products right behind the mole shank at the two depths.” Petersen planted the plots on May 4 with an 8-row, 30-inch spacing planter. The 1770 John Deere 3-point-hitch planter has plate-type Max Emerge row units on an Orthman 910NT folding toolbar. “We placed starter fertilizer in the furrow,” Petersen says. “We used Kugler’s KQ15-15. It’s a specialty product, which is comprised of 15% nitrogen, 15% phosphorus and 2% potash. We used 4 gallons per acre. This works out to 6 pounds each of nitrogen and phosphate and 1 pound of potash per acre.”

Apply Early

In his work with Dr. John Bradley, FBSciences’ Vice President of Technical Sales Support, and Mark Seipel, FBSciences’ regional sales manager, Petersen has learned that Carbon Boost-S seems to work best in pH levels below 6.2 or soils with pH above 7.6. “The soil where we planted these two hybrids for the 2011 Carbon Boost-S research has a pH of 8.2,” Petersen says. “That’s fairly alkaline because neutral is 7.0. Based on what Dr. Bradley and Mark Seipel have shared with me, we were using Carbon Boost-S in a soil where the high pH creates more stress on a young corn plant, especially in phosphorus uptake.” Low or high pH and salinity can have many detrimental effects on the early life of the corn plant, Petersen says. “In a more hostile environment — high pH and low pH — Carbon Boost-S makes a significant difference early on in the life of the corn plant,” he says. “It helps the plant deal with this stress early on its life and it gives the corn a boost. This helps the development of the roots. That, in turn, improves the health of the corn plant and its yield.”

Common Questions About Carbon Boost-S

After testing Carbon Boost-S for two growing seasons, Petersen says he’s accustomed to farmers asking him about the value of using Carbon Boost-S, when to use it and how much to apply. Here are some of the frequently asked questions.

Q. Is Carbon Boost-S Too Good To Be True?
“First of all, farmers ask me if Carbon Boost-S is too good to be true,” Petersen says. “I’ve worked with many adjuvant products since the 1990s when I was a soil scientist for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. There are a lot of naysayers who just say that Carbon Boost-S is ‘snake oil.’ That’s just not the case.”

Q. How much will corn yields increase with Carbon Boost-S?
When used in strip-tilled corn at the Orthman research farm in western Nebraska, yields increased by as much as 53.7 bushels per acre in 2011 and by as much as 30 bushels per acre in 2010. The results varied in 2010 based on when and how Carbon Boost-S was applied. “Using Carbon Boost-S pre-plant, corn yields increased by 26 and 30 bushels per acre,” Petersen says. “When we used Carbon Boost-S and a 6 ounce per acre in-furrow treatment, corn yields rose by 15 and 24 bushels per acre in 2010.” In the research that FBSciences has done, they conservatively estimate increases will average 8 bushels per acre, says Bradley, FBSciences’ Vice-President of Technical Sales Support.

“First of all, at our Nebraska site we are starting the corn plants in a very friendly soil environment with strip-till,” Petersen says. “Secondly, we are placing nutrients near the actively growing root system to feed this hungry plant. Thirdly, minimizing early stress during the 40-50 day period when corn sets its row count on the cob allows a hybrid to reach its highest potential yield.”

Q. Why Try Carbon Boost-S?
“I was willing to give Carbon Boost-S a try because I’ve known Dr. Bradley for many years and I knew he wouldn’t get involved with something that was baloney,” Petersen says. “When dealing with cooler soil environments, saline soils — which have higher pH — and 7 tons per acre of residue left over from the previous year’s corn crop, I wanted something that will help the roots thrive even more in the strip-till system. And when I talked to John Bradley he told me, ‘You won’t regret it.'”

Q. What Rates And Timing Should Be Used?
“In 2010, we tried Carbon Boost-S both in furrow and with strip-till,” Petersen says. “After harvesting the plots in the fall of 2010, we learned that the biggest bang for the buck came where we used Carbon Boost-S when we strip-tilled in the spring.” It’s important to apply Carbon Boost-S before seeds germinate,” he says. “Get it on as early as possible in order to set the plant up to develop a better root system.”

FBSciences also stresses the importance of applying Carbon Boost-S after corn emerges. After the 2010 growing season and on-farm tests, Petersen told Dr. Bradley that he thought they should increase the rate of Carbon Boost-S from 10 ounces per acre in 2010 to 16 ounces per acre in 2011. By increasing the amount of Carbon Boost-S, Petersen said he thought they would see more consistent results. By raising the amount of Carbon Boost-S to 16 ounces per acre applied when strip-tilling, Petersen figured that there would be no need to put on any with the planter. He also thought adding humic acid with the Carbon Boost-S would help on higher pH soils.

In 2010, using Carbon Boost-S in furrow only yielded another 2 bushels per acre. “I don’t think that paid for itself,” Petersen says. “So in 2011, we applied 16 ounces of Carbon Boost-S per acre when strip-tilling, but we did not put on any at planting in the furrow as we did in 2010.”

Q. Should We Use Carbon Boost-S Only At Planting?
“You can choose to apply Carbon Boost-S only at planting,” Petersen says. “But Dr. Bradley tells me that the best results come when it is applied so that it is available when the seed germinates and the plant starts growing and developing its roots. I felt it was important to have Carbon Boost-S on the soil complex as the roots grew downward.”

Q. What About Solubility And Center Pivots?
“Strip-tillers also ask me whether Carbon Boost-S is soluble in all forms and whether they can put it on through a center pivot,” Petersen says. “The answer to both questions is ‘yes.'”

Q. How Much Does It Cost?
“Farmers always want to know what the product costs and it’s reasonable,” Petersen says. Carbon Boost-S costs $1.10 per ounce, according to FBSciences.

Q. How Deep Should Carbon Boost-S Be Banded?
“Strip-tillers also ask me how deep they should place Carbon Boost-S,” Petersen says. “I recommend placing it at the depths of 4 inches and 9 inches in the strip created by Orthman’s 1tRIPr strip-till machine. Our approach with the 1tRIPr offers precision tillage and that includes precision placement of fertilizer.”

Q. Is More Carbon Boost-S Better Than Recommended Rates?
Of course, many farmers want to know if some of a product is good, will more of it be better. “Strip-tillers have asked me if there are advantages of 24 ounces per acre or more of Carbon Boost-S vs. the rates we tried in 2010 and 2011,” Petersen says. “I don’t know yet, although I’ve said that more product will cost more money. Dr. Bradley has explained to me that there’s an incremental benefit from increasing the rate of Carbon Boost-S,” as well as multiple applications. “There is a benefit to increasing the rate, depending on the method of application,” says Dr. Bradley. “We also know there is an incremental benefit from multiple applications of Carbon Boost-S. For example, in strip-tilling and in sidedressing, we have seen positive yield responses to multiple applications of Carbon Boost-S throughout the growing season.”

Q. What’s Next For The 2012 Growing Season?
In 2012, Petersen plans on trying Carbon Boost-S in research trials with soybeans to see if it will increase yields. He will also continue his work with Carbon Boost-S in irrigated strip-tilled corn. Petersen plans on applying 8 to 10 ounces per acre of Carbon Boost-S through a center pivot as a foliar application as they apply 32% nitrogen through the pivot. Petersen says that using Carbon Boost-S with Orthman’s 1tRIPr shows the benefits of precision tillage. “I believe that placing Carbon Boost-S prior to planting with the 1tRIPr gives the crop and the farmer an advantage,” he says. “And for strip-till and precision placement of fertilizer to succeed, RTK GPS is a must. Using implement guidance would be frosting on the cake.”

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Carbon sequestration and strip till

Strip tillage can increase carbon storage

Click here to download a PDF of this article.

Starting back in first decade of this century the buzz words of carbon sequestration has been seen in articles, has become frequently spoken in the government FSA and USDA-NRCS offices to growers and espoused it is one of the methods to reduce carbon emissions or offset them. During this same period some of the Farm Bureau folks got quite involved and brokered deals to monitor soil organic matter (SOM) and for growers to involve these better conservation practices on the farm, they could store carbon by leaving the previous crop aftermath on the surface throughout the year. Zero tillage, direct seeding, No-Till, mulch till, and Strip-Till all somewhat differing practices on the tillage side of things prior to seeding offer the return of residues to the soil for slowed breakdown and slow release to the soil complex.

With these methods of returning and storing soil carbon, the potential to offset the losses across the globe due to burning carbon based fossil fuels at a ever advancing rate and carbon based gases being released into the atmosphere is becoming a reality. This we understand. Slash and burn methods in South America and parts of Africa have been a long time traditional way to clear forest for cropland wastes very valuable carbon material into the atmosphere. Scientists have announced quite loudly that these wasteful practices and preponderance of full width tillage in the countries that are coming of age are all negative. So much gloom and doom verbiage, I wonder if everyone that farms in the U.S. knows they are at times branded as the worst people on earth? As said back some time ago — NOT!

Here in the States we have adopted better and wiser conservation measures to simplify and drastically reduce the types of pre-plant tillage which was inverting and burying prior year residues but exposing years and years of prior stored carbon and much of it was oxidizing away and above. Modelers and scientists have calculated that with practices such as Strip-Till and Direct Seeding growers can store tons of carbon in the surface 2 to 5 centimeters with the return and slow breakdown of crop aftermath. But what about all those roots, root exudates, lignin and cellulosic materials from 0 to 6 or 7 feet in places?

Here at Orthman Manufacturing, Inc we have observed rooting magnified with the conservation tillage strategy of Strip-Tillage due to a quicker start in the spring to maximize the number of roots expressed below ground. We have followed that up with observed soil pits to measure corn roots in a continual strip-till program that allows deeper expansion into the soil due to roots propensity to follow the cooler soil temperatures as the season heats deep into the soil profile. We know from studies accomplished at the University of Georgia (1999-2001) that corn is known to extend vertically at specific soil temperatures as well as its lateral root development. Gaining more root dimension in linear length we know that corn plants can accumulate more grams of dry matter below ground to depths mentioned above.

We have measured in eastern Colorado in loam and silt loam textured very deep soils under corn; 38,100+ linear inches of corn roots with deeper rooted corn hybrids, other not quite as prolific rooted hybrids we have measured 9,500 to 20,000 linear inches. The estimate for the grams of carbon materials is far and above the grams of material remaining after the ear of corn is harvested. It is our contention as we have exposed nearly a quarter mile of roots under one corn plant that was planted into a strip-tilled environment and precision fertilized we are gaining loads more soil carbon material than what is possible with full width (inversion) tillage systems every year. To give you for example, when we first started the strip-till methodology at Lexington, Nebraska in 2007 our soil samples from the first four inches was 2.1 to 2.3%. This spring when we sampled again, in very near proximity we had 2.7-3.1% SOM. We do not graze the corn stalks with cattle which can reduce corn residues by 50% on the soil surface. We leave our standing stalks 13 to 20 inches tall and we do not shred come spring. It is our contention that the longer and taller stalks keep winter winds from blowing residues away and off into the adjoining fields or barrow ditches. We have estimated tonnage of corn residues after harvest of 5.5T/acre to 7.8T/acre and very little of it leaving the property. Maintaining this quantity of aftermath has its concerns but we have more water stored, more carbon returning into the surface, increased population of microbes, and we have old roots decomposing slowly to become humus – the treats for those burrowing insects and soil microbes.

In our studies at the Irrigation Research Foundation which lies just north of Yuma, Colorado, we observed from 2001 to 2008 a change in SOM from 1.51% to 2.66% in 7 years with strip-tillage. Now remember that is only being measured in the upper 10 cm (4 inches) of the soil profile. It is also important to note the elevation at Yuma is 4100+ ft compared to Lexington at approximately 2300 ft above sea level. As observed in the high plains of Colorado the residues are reduced by UV during the winter months due to the non-cloudy winter days and lack of snow cover. Oxidation of the carbon materials remaining is evident. Scientist Hulugalle in New South Wales, Australia made some sound measurements and reported this in Agriculture Today, April 2010 regarding what returns of carbon came from roots in two cropping systems. “We measured corn root growth in back-to-back corn and a cotton-corn rotation sown on one metre beds during the summers of 2007-08 and 2008-09”. “Total carbon added from corn roots averaged five tonnes per hectare per year with cotton-corn and 9.3t/ha/year with back-to-back corn.” Other measurements Hulugalle determined that corn on corn accumulated 770 g C m-2 yr-1 or for those of us here in the States that is 1.7lbs of carbon per 10.7 square feet per year or 0.16lb C/sq.ft. per year. This was published in a Short Report on the Plant Root website 2010.

Much of the research and determined rates of carbon storage here in the U.S. has looked at the surface layers of the soil. Some limited research has gone into determining how much soil carbon is stored with switchgrass, a near-permanent crop and the rate is quite high. These studies are part of the biofuels industry look at how the cellulosic material can be beneficial to ethanol production and as an ecologically sound system.


At Orthman and as agronomists digging holes, we are measuring root dimensions, calculating root mass to determine how much of the soil volume has roots to absorb water and nutrients and believing that proper attention to growing crops such as corn with the strip-till methodology we can increase soil carbon storage each year. It has been our observations and measurements that as growers plant better hybrids that explore more of the soil profile they are storing carbon and not losing it to the atmosphere at any kind of an alarming rate. The same scientist in New South Wales said that carbon losses could be as much as 11% of the total in a corn on corn system and we do not know what the tillage type was in these trials. Our contention is, we are not inverting the soil even in the strip that is tilled which exposes old carbon sources to oxidation. Yes we do disturb the soil in a more vertical fashion; we leave 75% of the soil area undisturbed and move the other portion (of carbon based residues) where the strip is tilled to the middles to slowly breakdown. We acknowledge all the carbon material is vital to maintain soil life, return N-P-K-S and other nutrients and store carbon. I have observed in the near 1300 soil pits I have excavated across the United States, old root material in pores and root channels from previous years that appears as near microscopic granules at depths of 4 to 5 feet down. Especially in old alfalfa roots and sunflower roots at those kinds of depth, this stuff has to be good as gold to roots that may follow. We also suggest with the strip-till system, growers improve the total carbon stored because of deeper roots, more number of roots which we have measured successfully for over 11 years now in Eastern Colorado and South Central Nebraska for 5 years. Farmers employing the strip-till approach to farming their ground can be sure they are doing their part to minimize CO2 emissions, sequester carbon, improve the soil-life system, and improve the health and vigor of their soils to produce crops for many, many years to come. All of us at Orthman Manufacturing are proud of the fact that we are doing what works and what is right for the country as well as making farmers more prosperous and conservation savvy.

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University of Illinois & Orthman Working Together – 2011 Results for First Year Study are Promising

NEW in February 2012: First reporting from a cooperative study at Univ. of Illinois

After a nasty year of watching the fields start off wet and cool in 2011 then turning off unseasonably dry and hot in the summer, Dr. Laura Gentry has offered a report pared down for all to read as to how it went. This study is fairly complex but looks at crop rotation, tillage, fertilizer, hybrids, fungicides, plant population, residue remaining or baled off at 50% left. Please read what we saw happen in 2011. This study will be continued on into 2012 and beyond to observe what factors will help the Eastern Corn Belt farmers to sustain high corn yields as the demand for more corn production calls on American farmers. Download the Illinois Omissions study results.

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Orthman & Nat’l Soils Dynamic Laboratories Start Trials in 2012

Three Year Study in the Southeast U.S. will assist growers make better informed tillage decisions!

A three year study at the National Soils Dynamics Laboratories (NSDL) is about to get started with Orthman Manufacturing, Inc spring of 2012 to evaluate the conservation tillage system of Strip-Till with the Orthman 1tRIPr. This study will compare tillage systems such as direct seeding, conventional tillage, and strip tillage and there are plans to mix in cover crops. Cotton and soybeans are the dominant crops that will be studied in depth in the trials managed by NSDL.

The NSDL are under the leadership of USDA-Agricultural Research Service and Auburn University. They are one of the premier research groups in the world and have over seventy five years of research history.

Orthman Manufacturing is joining hands for the study of soil quality/health changes. Dr. Kip Balkcom, research agronomist will be the lead researcher along with a staff of other fine scientists.

The agronomic staff at Orthman Manufacturing is thrilled to enter in this study agreement to continue to advocate one of the best tillage management programs that assist growers improve their bottom line, help with water management of the soil, and reduce erosion concerns. If you have any questions about this three year study please contact Dennis W Neffendorf, Regional Agronomist at or Michael Petersen, Lead Agronomist at The above image is from the NSDL on the campus of Auburn in Alabama.