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.

More roots = happier plants!

A New Look at How Strip-Tillage Gives an Advantage Due to Larger Root Length to Soil Volume – This Affects Plants to Tolerate Stress Better

by Michael Petersen, Lead Agronomist
For 8 years now we at Orthman have been honing our skills to better understand what happens with strip-tillage and corn rooting. How is this all happening so corn plants can tolerate heat and drought stress better?

Figure 1: A top-notch seedbed to plant into - Courtesy Greenfield Ag, Ohio

It is our agronomic opinion that we are first accomplishing with the Strip-till implement a "better seedbed" to establish an environment where the germinating plant can extend a longer and more profuse seedling root. We have seen this in corn, cotton, grain sorghum and soybeans with strip-till compared to conventional tillage and direct seeding. Our observations have been at 15 days after emergence (DAE) and 25 DAE with the monocots (corn and grain sorghum), and 25DAE with the dicots (soybeans and cotton). What are those factors? First, we are seeing warmer soils in the upper 4 inches (10cm) of the soil profile in the strip-till zone-- from 1 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer. With cotton, grain sorghum and soybeans (which all germinate closer to 58 – 60° F), those few degrees of temperature are vital to good germination and stand establishment. I'm not saying it is not important for corn, but corn does tolerate a few degrees cooler. A critical point - the soil density for the seedling root in the zone that is strip-tilled is very conducive to root elongation and early lateral root development off the seedling root with Strip-Till. All of this early root development feeds the plant, gets the plant off on the right foot so to speak when the inevitable chill of May comes and then heat of the summer. We all know the wind will blow hard at some point in the first 25-30 days of growth after emergence. Having a well established root system will not only anchor the plant but help it sustain life. Secondly, as farmers are placing nutrients with more precision these days (which we highly recommend with the Orthman 1tRIPr) the roots are in direct contact with the nutrient source and will continue to thrive going into the critical stages of the life cycle. It is well known that crop roots are the dominant site (>98%) where nutrients are absorbed and taken into the plant for photosynthesis and carbohydrate storage – yield. This second pillar, “Precision placement of fertility” is talked about often here at Orthman as being vital to higher sustained yields. For instance in corn; near the time of 45 DAE the corn genetic road map has determined the number of kernel rows around the cob. Having a rich environment of nutrients (whether organic or inorganic) around the roots can influence the switches to be turned on across the gene map to expand from 12 to 14 to 16 to 18 or even 20 rows. More availability to the nutrients and roots accessing those products invigorates the plant to establish a larger ear, offering that multiplier effect. Having a larger root length density (RLD) which we will expand upon here shortly in this article is critical for the grower to reach higher yield potentials. The 3rd pillar of the Precision Tillage concept is having an optimal root zone to facilitate an environment for more water and nutrient uptake for the planted crop. This underground environment is unseen by most and really needs to be considered, whether you are a grower, fertilizer dealer, or even agronomist in the field. I have spent 40+ years digging to understand the “ways” of the soil system as a soil scientist and it is important that all understand this message. The physical distribution of roots in the soil profile is dominated and affected by several factors:
  1. Gravity
  2. Soil temperature
  3. Soil moisture
  4. Chemistry of the soil solution
  5. Soil density
  6. Crop root architecture [crop genetics]
Of those six, gravity, soil chemistry and the wet/dryness are not changeable without irrigation. Soil temperature in the spring can be altered slightly as mentioned earlier. Maintaining residues on the soil surface can help hold moisture, add to soil foodstuffs for microbes and critters in the soil as well as mycorrhizal fungi helping nearly all crops. Soil density is something tillage can alter (either for good or it can be detrimental). Crop rooting architecture is a given but can be facilitated to reach all of its potential with Strip-Tillage. Let us consider the root-zone from a Strip-Tillage perspective: first, early soil warm-up. Getting that germination started with good seed-to-soil contact, warmer for the early root system, right in the presence of readily available nutrients – like feeding a toddler on into the teen years when food is inhaled and kids shoot up. Feed them properly and they perform whether kids or corn and soybeans. For instance, proper nutrition and a soil environment is conducive to root expansion without limitations. By the time it is 75 days old, a corn plant can have a root system over 750 feet in total length and longer – precise placement of nutrients with Strip-Till is a big part of that success. We have actually measured over 1,326 feet of total root length under one corn variety that was strip-tilled in Eastern Colorado studies. Growers across the United States can tell you that amount of roots will be way bigger than they can imagine in a strip-till system, especially when we consider that rootworm pressure, nematodes, root rots, compaction, early water logging, and cold soils all take away from a crops root proliferation.

Figure 2: Robust corn root system at 25DAE with strip till

That brings us to how much of a root system is important to making the plant a “big crop”, especially in a year when rainfall is considerably limited? So think on this; Root Length Density (RLD) is defined as root length per unit volume of soil [cm root/cm3 soil]. If RLD averages above 0.35cm/cm3 below the 80cm (36 inches) depth, the corn plant will be able to pump water from depth to the upper portion of the root system and sustain life much longer than plants with lower RLD. When we can help promote an even larger RLD for the entire rooting profile with Strip-Tillage (such as measured in Nebraska and Colorado in 2013 over 3.95 cm/cm3 at two different study sites!), the concept is onto something! Those same studies show a full-width tillage rooting system of just 2.35 cm/cm3. It is our goal with Precision Tillage and placement of fertilizer products to encourage plants of corn to grow deeper, expand into more segments of the soil profile so to absorb more water and nutrients which in turn leads to better yields and dry matter. Other researchers have measured in natural rainfed agriculture root systems that had RLD’s of 0.7 to 1.25 cm/cm3. Here in at Orthman we have seen the value of establishing a strong and dynamic root system making yield differences every year at the Orthman Research Center near Lexington, Nebraska. Getting you an ideal seedbed, placing fertility in the root pathway and making sure you have an optimal root zone is what strip-till growers benefit from. M Do not hesitate to call or e-mail amy of us on the agronomy team . We want to be a resource for you, as strip-till is the fastest growing smart and sensible tillage method on the planet.

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.

Numbers of Growers are expresing concern over fall stalk issues – Is K at the bottom of this?

 

 

Our lead Agronomist has been digging as usual but this time into research papers, talking with fellow agro’s, reading and then wrote this to offer some suggestions as to why we across segments of the Corn Belt are experiencing weak stalks in corn. Is it strip-till has been a question to us? Take a look and spend a few moments reading what Mike offers.
The posting is in News and Articles – Titled: ” With Better Precise Fertility Placement in Strip-till, Can we enhance Plant health and avoid Poor Stalk Conditions? October 2013″

Fall Shows with Orthman Manufacturing – Strip-Till Is a Three Pillared Approach

As an agronomic team we are wanting to share our focus for Strip-Tillage across North America and abroad. Catch up with us at the fall Farm Shows and Demos we are carrying out across the country. Creating the premium seedbed, offering you the grower the highest quality, precise placement of your pre-plant fertilizers and last, the optimum root zone for season long results in the soil. Check us out or call!

Mike Petersen, Agronomist for Orthman has written an article (click here to read) just this month that discusses the real stuff about soil pores in Strip Tillage compared to pores in No-Till that has been studied now for 4 years at the Orthman Research and Demonstration Farm near Lexington, Nebraska.

 

20 row 36" 1tRIPr strip tillage machine

Strip-till water effects

Agronomist Mike Petersen documents soil pores in strip-till corn.

Orthman researchers are constantly looking for ways to help producers. Here, agronomist Mike Petersen and agronomy intern Logan Brown are studying “soil pores,” the tiny holes in soil that allow water to ‘infiltrate’ (soak into) the soil, getting this precious supply to the roots rather than letting it run-off or evaporate.

Mike is within one inch (“near surface”), using a 10X magnifying lens to determine how many and what size of pores there are in the soil. Look for details of this soil characteristic study in upcoming weeks.

Spring Strip-Till Excites Worms

Finished the strip-till operation couple of weeks before we got the corn and soybeans planted which ended just yesterday (5/21/13). We were smiling real big as we walked behind the 1tRIPr to see the great biological side of this method of preparing a seedbed. As you look in the photo glance at those wonderful tunnelers that were everywhere this year. Large numbers of worms busy chewing and tunneling to get leaves and pieces of corn residue. This was not staged, worms were like this behind 7 out of 8 rows, it was phenomenal folks. To me as a soil scientist and agronomist I am pleased as a kid with a new pair of special Nike shoes.
Between rain showers, couple of farmers nemesis such a wires that ground out and blow fuses in the most remote spots on a tractor, a wiring harnesses smoked, we got the planting accomplished and now corn is emerging in the strip till in 7 days. We at the Orthman Farm placed seed in some nice soil conditions, always in decent moisture with awaiting high quality fertilizer in th root zone placed in two locations below the seed. How can it not grow now?

Newer Nitrogen Tools for We Strip-Tillers – Options to Consider!

For many of you, and for us at Orthman Research Farm near Lexington, Nebraska we are planning the pre-plant tillage operations of the spring 2013 to be underway very soon. Tillage via strip-till methods will be our way, but how about many of you as you consider the fertilization part of the puzzle? How will that be happening for you?
Just recently we attended a good set of meetings in Reno at the Western Fertility Conference to hear recent findings and interact with industry and research scientists about some gains in fertility management for row crops, small grains, and orchard/fruit crops. The issues of ground water contamination, overland flow issues getting into the major water course of the Mississippi River and major river systems of the West are challenging the way we growers must consider our operations. You all have heard about well waters reaching levels of nitrate in the water that surpass drinking standards not only for human infants but even livestock due to leaching and other contamination processes. Being good stewards now is very wise, but we are coming against issues of the past 65+ years of intensive farming with nitrogen sources.  After WWII and thoughts that “if a little is good than a whole bunch is that much more better.” Yeah bad grammar but it was an addage that numerous growers thought and employed. Now we pay for it and have to be that much more on top of our game.
The good folks I met, listened too and spoke with in Reno, NV are saying there are Nitrogen products on the market that will give better and sustained release to the crops root system over a longer period of time and resist the change from first introduction into the soil profile to convert to Nitrate and leach away before the roots have a chance to access to it in the soil solution. Products such as ESN™ being a granular urea coated with micro thin polymer, yes it is a dry product. This method of release can aid in slowed access to the urea-N product so it does not leach away, gobbled by the microbes or become mineralized so quickly that the plant root starves for N when called for by the growing above ground plant.
ESN™ is an Agrium product which responds to soil temperature and soil water content. Another product out on the market is Nutrisphere-N™ by SFP that works a bit differently than ESN™ but offers another management alternative for growers on how N releases into the soil environment. For the strip-till grower these products offer advanced ways to accomplish higher management of your N-fertility and feed the plant incrementally. Agrotain™ by Koch Industries, then there is Instinct™ by Dow are other products out there that all should be aware of so N management is not a willy-nilly part of how we furnish the corn, wheat, grain sorghum, dry edibles, cotton, peanuts, etc what is needed. As we learn more about these products from trials in each of our regions or even on a neighbors ground – we can better feed the crops we grow with the Nitrogen.
It was in the conference that we learned that especially with veggie crops N is in big demand for a short period and timing is everything. Consider maize/corn, we know it has three major calls if you will when N is in demand. Dump a hugeload prior to planting like 300 pounds per acre 30-90 days ahead of planting, do you really think it is going to sit still and not move deep or get fixed in the organic colloids or onto the clay complex or move off the surface if surface applied? Here is when these slowed release agents/products come into play to offer new solutions to our old loss problem. A little further study can really help you gain when and which product can work in your soils environment whether you have dry, wet, cold or what ever conditions.
In the strip-till system where the soils off to either side of where we strip-till 10 inches deep can be 2 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit colder, more moist if not wet and cause issues of root N-uptake and maybe even yield reductions early because the availability is just not there. You pour on N via anhydrous ammonia and expect because it is cooler that it will be there when the roots get to it, wow that could be an issue. It is a cheaper form of lots of N but is it the right one when any of it volitalizes or gets converted too soon? Cavities in the soil, shanked in and you may see it escaping, warmer than 50 degrees, dry soils – all issues and 20+% is poof, gone and that price differential just evaporated. Placing a charge of 250-300lbs/acre and then a couple-three inches of rain and the stuff will move even in clay loam soils 10-25 inches deeper than where you placed it. In some environments folks, the roots may never reach that and it is lost to never be had. Yes the same can happen to high rates of N via liquid products.

This day and age we are called to be better managers and come out of the shell the old way Daddy did it and move to spending time to educate how we can do better and wiser. Allocate time to have products be within reach of the roots when the demand for N is there will take new skills when we place it with the strip-till tool that we make called the 1tRIPr or another tool is very important. We, Mark and I at Orthman Farms are using some of the above products and getting positive responses that these products yield good results in grain and healthier crops. Check back with us or go to your agronomist or fertilizer dealer and learn about these products.

In California the watchers and monitoring agencies are clamping down on how fertility is managed, in Delaware and Maryland the environmental agencies by law demand fine-toothed control of N-P fertilization. In segments of the Central and Eastern Corn Belt states fall applications of N products are restricted and certain watersheds are being monitored and evaluated to stating growers may only apply 70lbs/acre (as an example) of N for a 200 bushel/acre corn crop. That is quite restrictive – yes? Other environments we can still be applying high amounts of N but to what cost? As a soil scientist and agronomist for Orthman Manufacturing I am going the route of top flight management with better products that will feed the plant incrementally. It has paid off and we encourage the same with the checking into the use of these good products that I named as a few of them to start with.
We will one day maybe feeding the corn we plant only half of what we have conventionally tilled into the soils and still yield 300 bushel/acre corn regularly. It has been done in the past three years in the Western Corn Belt under intensively managed irrigated corn. Instead of 300-350lbs N/acre researchers applied 140-150lbs/acre. Consider the dollars savings alone folks.

All of us who grow crops to reac a production goal know it takes fertilizers, either commercial or with use of manures.  We know our dollars stretch only so far and our water is stretching us to be better about how we grow crops.  We encourage you to place those nutrients in the soil precisely, with the understanding how much will the plant need and when.  Using the Strip-Tillage tools manufactured at Orthman is a great choice to put this all in motion.  Please contact any of us on the Sales, Marketing and/or Agronomy Team here at Orthman.

Strip-Tilling with Liquid Fertilizers for Early to Mid-Season Growth