Experience is the best teacher, and winter is an ideal time for reflection. So, before your memory of 2006 grows hazy, take a few minutes to think about what you learned from last year's corn crop. Then, decide how you can put that knowledge to work in 2007. Here is a list of items to consider.
Apply fertilizer only where it's needed. "Dealers tell me some farmers are saying they're going to apply more ‘insurance' nitrogen [N], phosphorus and potassium because corn prices are high,” says Richard Vanden Heuvel of VH Consulting in Hudson, Wis. "They figure they can afford the additional fertilizer, and they don't want to sacrifice bushels. But, that is not the way to make an agronomic decision. A corn plant doesn't know whether corn is selling for $2 a bushel or $4.”
Have a backup plan for strip-till. Wet weather in parts of the Midwest last harvest was a reminder that if you strip-till, you must have a plan B ready in case you make ruts through the field or can't get strip-till completed.
"Sometimes it's just a matter of being patient at harvest, letting the soil dry, keeping the combine light and keeping your grain cart on the ends,” says Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist. "But, if 35% or 40% of a field is down, you can't delay harvest any longer because you may lose the rest.”
If you put ruts and compaction in the field, give up strip-till for that season and chisel the field, he advises.
Sometimes you get the crop out without problems, but then the soil is too wet to build a good strip. In that case, Ferrie recommends doing your strip-till in the spring. Use N solution instead of anhydrous ammonia or just pull the bar and apply N later. You will need a rain between spring strip-till and planting to settle the soil for optimal field conditions.
Scout for pests before planting. In parts of the Corn Belt, corn populations were cut by an unusually high population of white grubs and Japanese beetle grubs.
"Those are not really aggressive insects,” says Tim Smith of Cropsmith Inc. in Monticello, Ill. "But, high populations of the two—combined with cool soil conditions that slowed seedling growth and gave the grubs more time to feed—led to reduced plant populations in some fields.
"The solution is to scout fields ahead of planting. If you have high populations of those insects, you can change your insect control plans.”
"There are various options, depending on the insect,” Ferrie adds.
Be patient—then roll when the sun shines. "Because of cool, wet planting conditions and insect pressure, some farmers did not get the stand they anticipated,” Smith says.
Wet springs emphasize the need to wait for soil to dry, and then be ready to cover lots of acres when planting conditions are right. Dig down and examine the area beneath the tillage layer. Even if the surface is dry, if that lower area is wet, any field operations will cause compaction.
- February 2007