Ask An Agronomist

01:48AM Aug 27, 2014
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What are the impacts of chicken litter and crooked cornstalks?

Find answers to a variety of crop pro­duc­tion questions on Farm Journal’s "Ask an Agronomist" blog. The Farm Journal agronomists and other experts respond to questions sent to [email protected] based on their inde­pendent experiences and in-the-field insight. Here are two recent questions and answers from the blog.

Q: What harmful effects might injecting chicken litter into fields in January have on soil fertility and/or soil structure?

A: If you’re injecting chicken litter, think about the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in the litter. Straight chicken manure with no bedding will have about a 10-to-1 carbon-nitrogen ratio. That’s not a problem. But if the litter contains bedding, the carbon ratio could go up, which could create a nitrogen deficit for the crop. 

For example, in corn, instead of getting a speedy nitrogen return from the manure it could take six months to a year, which could create a nitrogen deficiency. 

From a soil structure standpoint, you have to consider the salt load. Depending on the soil type, it can hold from 300 to 600 units of salt without too much damage. But if you’re injecting upwards of 600 lb. of salt per acre you could destroy the soil structure. That’s broadcasting it. If you took that 600 lb. of salt and banded it, you would destroy the structure in the band. You can check salt index when you run a manure analysis. 

Also, in regard to soil structure, the application timing matters if you have to deal with wheel track compaction. The more time you have ahead of planting for the litter to break down the lower the carbon penalty.

Q: What could be the problem when corn grows crooked in several fields in various locations? The corn was irrigated with circles and rills. 

A: I’m going to assume the corn has a crook at the crown, meaning it was growing one direction and then turned and straightened out. 

I have encountered two reasons for crooking at the crown. One is severe rootworm pruning early in the season. If it’s a rootworm problem, it’ll bend multiple directions. To identify, look at the crown and brace roots for rootworm damage. 

If rootworm is the culprit, you need to change your insecticide program and maybe your traits—and do so as quickly as possible.

Crooked corn can also result when soil is saturated, a high wind pushes over the corn and then it straightens back up but is scarred with the crook. If all the plants have the same crook and are leaning the same way, it’s probably a function of high winds and saturated/loose soils. 

You can’t do anything about a high-wind situation, unless you go to no-till or reduced tillage.

Past questions and answers can be found at