From the Field: Moving On From 2008

04:09PM Aug 27, 2008
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Q I am an avid no-till farmer, but 2008 tested my
commitment when the extremely wet spring was relentless in keeping me out of the fields. How can I handle another season like this?
 —Southeastern Iowa
A Of course you want to wait for ideal conditions to take the planter to the field. Unfortunately, this year ideal never happened in many areas across the Corn Belt.
For no-till farmers, and even some strip-till, a widespread planting window was the furthest thing from reality this year. Four days without rain wasn't long enough to dry out many no-till fields until the next rain came. These farmers planted fields from April into mid-June.
It may be time to take stock in how you no-till. Outfit your planter with depth wheel scrapers. These are a simple way to add two to three hours of planting in a day. Another solution may be upsizing your planter. That way, when those time windows open, you can get across more acres faster.
In wet conditions, lighten up on your downpressure settings. Keep the planter in the ground—you can walk a fine line before causing sidewall smearing. 
If you can't size up equipment or incorporate tilled acres, keep your herbicide options open.
Q In our corn-on-corn fields, the crop was yellow early in the season. It responded to sidedressing, but with these high input prices, how should I be managing my nitrogen?
—Central Illinois
A Nitrogen (N) management is all about timing and placement. Keep this in mind when you are managing corn-on-corn fields. Every spring when cornstalks are decomposing it immobilizes N. For every 18° the soil temperature rises, the microbe population in the soil doubles. So, as soil temperatures go up, nitrogen levels move down in the soil.
But this year, many areas didn't go into heavy immobilization until the end of May. When this happens to corn that is already three to six collars, the plant is forced into living on its own. There was limited N uptake, which caused the yellowing. 
If the corn has a yellow cast from being in saturated ground, the discoloration will go away. Leached or de-nitrified N won't bounce back the same way and needs to be sidedressed.
Now, it's not as simple as putting on more N. I've always recommended a three-pronged approach to N applications: surface NH4 ammonium incorporated with the residue in the fall; spring surface application, such as a Weed and Feed; and then sidedressing the rest.
If your program works best with putting N on in the fall, wait until the temperatures drop and use an inhibitor. But you'll still want to save some of your N budget for a spring application to be broadcast to help deal with the immobilization.

Mail your questions to Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal, P.O. Box 958, Mexico, MO 65265. Your questions will be answered on this page. Individual personal replies are not possible. The information provided here is not considered a replacement for receiving personalized agronomic consulting.