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October 2011 Archive for Ask an Agronomist

RSS By: Farm Journal Agronomists, Farm Journal

Have your agronomic questions answered by a Farm Journal agronomist. E-mail us directly at, and we’ll respond on this blog to provide an interactive dialogue.

What N Source Is Best For Sidedress Applications?

Oct 31, 2011

Question: What N Source Is Best For Sidedress Applications?

Answer: For sidedress application, farmers have a choice in what nitrogen product to apply. Many ask if there is an agronomic difference between 28% and anhydrous ammonia. At sidedress, as far as the plant’s uptake of the nitrogen, these products will both convert to nitrate for its uptake. The difference between these two is their timing for availability. If you had yellow corn, and you were to sidedress the corn to make it green, 28% has nitrate, and that turns corn back green. So you’ll see a quicker response to 28%. Anhydrous ammonia is different. With anhydrous, you create a core, and it could be 14 days for nitrogen to be released from that core. If you are sidedressing green corn, it’ll mineralize back slower and be more stable. Beyond that if you have enough nitrogen to keep corn green at sidedress, it won’t make a difference which product you use.
Use these online tools and information to help maximize your nitrogen. The following information is a Web Extra from the pages of Farm Journal.

What Advantages Are There To Deep Tillage Or Vertical Tillage?

Oct 27, 2011

Question: Do you feel that deep tillage has any advantage? What advantage is vertical tillage?

Answer: In a conventional farming set up, tillage can certainly help set the stage for your next corn crop. If you’re using a chisel plow you need good cross shatter from shank to shank, and be careful of creating a “W” bottom, whichcan cause problems with plantability and even emergence. No matter what tillage practices you use, ear count is always the priority. If primary tillage isn’t done properly, you’ll go backwards. The depth of your chisel plow will depend on your soil and your chisel. The deeper you go the better it should look up top. Plus, roots should have an easier time penetrating the soil and following available moisture—you don’t want to create soil density layers that can cause those roots to turn and grow sideways. As for vertical tillage, there can be advantages in some farming scenarios butswitching your tillage system can be a challenge. I caution people that the transition’s risk can outweigh the reward if not done properly. I see some of the bigger hits to yield when farmers are moving from one tillage program to another without knowing that they need to be thinking about the entire system they use. For example, when farmers go from a horizontal system to a vertical system, they need to pair primary tillage with the pass in the spring to set the entire profile. With a vertical tillage system, we are using primary tillage in the fall to set the soil with complete shatter. You have to have complete shatter. Once you’ve done that you can bring vertical tillage harrows through in the spring. A common misstep in vertical tillage is that farmers don’t realize that vertical tillage harrows are limited in how much leveling they can achieve. The No. 1 priority with primary vertical tillage is achieving that full width shatter. You need to check the depth at which you are running the primary tillage tool to know if you are achieving your goal. It may be just 2” to 3” that make the difference between getting full width shatter or running too shallow.
There can be advantages in some farming scenarios butswitching your tillage system properly can be a challenge.
Use this Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, courtesy of Indiana farmer Ken Rulon, to plug in your costs to compare conventional tillage and no-till.

How Do I Handle Moldy Corn?

Oct 26, 2011

Question: I’ve got a number of acres with moldy corn this year. What’s that going to mean for my fields next year? 

Answer: If you’re in continuous corn, your fields have a higher risk of having mold or fungus if they’ve been infected before. If that’s your situation, you need to evaluate the susceptibility of the hybrids you plant to ear molds. Talk with your seed dealer about that as you evaluate hybrids for next spring. If you’re using minimum tillage or no-till practices, the residue also can increase your risk of mold. If you can, rotate crops and consider using tillage, which can lower the risk from the disease inoculum. Tillage won’t eliminate the problem, though. Temperature, moisture and humidity also impact mold growth or the lack of it. I would encourage you to have a sample of your corn tested by your university Extension service to determine the specific type of mold or fungus your corn has. Knowing that will also help you figure out what practices to implement next season.
Here are several resources that can help you address moldy corn and/or fungal growth in corn.

Can Chopping Cornstalks Reduce Toxins Before I Plant Wheat?

Oct 20, 2011

Question:  My question is have you heard anything about chopping corn stalks before planting fall wheat to help with toxins? 

Answer:  You’ve asked an interesting question, and I want to address it in some detail. Toxins given off by corn residue are present as long as the residue is in the field. Once the corn stalks are decomposed, the toxins disappear. I realize that by chopping the stalks you’re trying to speed up the decomposition. There are two basic reasons, in my opinion, to shed stalks: One is improve flowability of the stalks through a chisel plow. Narrow-row and twin-row corn growers commonly do this as the residue will flow through the planter better next spring when they plant, particularly for those farmers planting corn-on-corn. The second reason is to speed up decomposition. If you can speed it up, the faster you will get rid of the stalks and thereby the toxins. There is a hitch, though. In no-till wheat one of the bigger challenges, depending on where you live, is stalks drifting from the wind blowing over the field. I’ve seen chopped stalks fill up ditches and cover up the wheat and create stand problems and also harvest issues—not to mention that stalks blowing onto your neighbors’ fields won’t make them very happy. So, just shredding the stalks can be a bit risky. Crimping the stalks with your combine will help keep them in the field. If you use a chopping head and keep it high so the stalks don’t blow away, that might help. In a no-till scenario, in particular, you need to be careful with loose fodder. To get back to your specific question, my gut feeling is that it won’t make a positive difference if you shred those stalks, because your wheat crop has to start growing right now. Whether you shred the stalks or not, given the essence of time, there may not be a lot of difference in the level of toxins in the field. Also, decomposition slows down as temperatures drop, so the decomposition shifts more to the spring. I’m worried you’ll spend money on chopping the stalks now and not gain much if any advantage. Now, if you’re going to chop and bale the stalks for cattle fodder, that’s another matter. Also, if your crop rotation is corn followed by beans and then wheat, then shredding those stalks before you plant soybeans might be useful. You’ll have time then to get rid of that corn residue long before you plant wheat. 

The big question surrounding cellulosic ethanol is how we're going to harvest.

Which Tillage Tool Breaks Up Compaction Best?

Oct 17, 2011

Question:  I'm thinking about buying an implement for fall soybean stubble tillage and was wondering what you guys thought would do the best job breaking up compaction and giving me the best seedbed for next year’s corn. I have mostly heavy soils with a few hilltops and sand streaks. Any input you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Answer:  For a corn-soybean rotation, we typically are not real concerned about burying a lot of residue, as we are in the case for corn-on-corn. We often use more aggressive tillage in corn-on-corn to rip up root balls and bury residue. The disk ripper type tools are helpful for that. In the corn-soybean rotation, we are trying to create a uniform soil density and prepare an adequate seedbed. We can often accomplish this with less aggressive tools with closer shank spacing. You want to make sure the tool you are using has uniform fracture of the soil in between the shanks, so as not to leave "columns" in between the shanks. We can typically get good shatter with 15" or less shank spacing. The point on the shank will also contribute to good shatter in between. You would need to evaluate this in your own soil types. In some cases, a narrow 2" point can accomplish this; in other cases, you may need a narrow wing point to help with the shatter. Always keep in mind what your options are for leveling after your primary tillage. The smoother the surface after primary tillage, the easier it will be to level with a vertical tillage leveling tool. There are several primary tillage tools with leveling devices attached on the back that can set you up for a harrow type (vertical tillage) tool to prepare the final seedbed.
Combine operators often are so focused on combine adjustments related to threshing and separating grain that they overlook the importance of adjusting their combine’s residue chopping and distribution system.

Does Farm Tile Affect Nitrate Loss in Soils?

Oct 11, 2011

Question: Does farm tile affect nitrate loss in the soils below?

Answer: Where water goes, nitrate goes. You can look at the tile line, and there will be nitrate. The more water you move out of the field, the more nitrate you move. With proper nutrient management, you can better manage your nitrate loss. Tile depth and spacing are factors in nitrate loss. Listen to Ken Ferrie's full answer in "Corn College TV," Season 2. Click here for Episode 1
2011 provides a great opportunity for either an operating farmer or landlord to put in new tile and deduct 100% of the cost under the bonus depreciation rules.

How Does Tillage Help Water Be More Useful to Plants?

Oct 07, 2011

Question: How does tillage help keep water moving so it’s useful to plants?

Answer: Tillage helps you manage water. For successful crop production, water must move up and down through the soil in a vertical format. If you fail to view tillage as a way to enhance water movement, your tillage tool can actually build a barrier to maximum yield (If you no-till or strip-till, we’re talking about the tillage that occurs before transitioning from conventional tillage or to fix problems afterward.). Water works its magic by moving upward from the soil through the plant, where most of it eventually transpires into the atmosphere, starting the entire cycle over again. Tillage is critical to this process because it lifts water upward through the soil to the plant roots. 
To learn more about how water moves in various types of soil, go to


What Can I Use This Fall to Control Winter Annuals?

Oct 05, 2011

Question: I am looking to plant wheat this fall after soybeans. What can I use this fall to control winter annuals? Little barley has become a BIG problem, and with a wet spring I can’t always get it sprayed in time.

Answer: On the acres I work with, I try to spray all winter annuals (broadleaves and grasses) in the fall. Waiting until spring frequently means the weeds have gotten too big and already reduced the yield. Chickweed, peppergrass and most broadleaf weeds most likely emerge in the fall and can easily be controlled with a fall-applied product such as Harmony Extra. If you have garlic, it will likely require an additional spring application of Harmony Extra.
Little barley is best controlled with Maverick (see label and SIU research link below). Be sure to follow the instructions on the label regarding rotational restrictions going back to soybeans; it will require an STS bean for spring applications, due to carryover of the AI. Maverick will also control most of the broadleaf weeds, especially if the product is fall-applied.
Osprey is rated as good on little barley (see the link below). Be sure to follow the label recommendations with regard to waiting 21 days after the Osprey application before nitrogen is applied. Osprey is fairly good on most broadleaf weeds too.
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