When Mike Starkey prepared to share his thoughts about the 2016 season, he pulled out an Indiana Prairie Farmer article from a couple of years ago. Reading "Lessons learned from 2014," he soon found many similarities to what he learned or reaffirmed in 2016.
“We just set 2015 aside,” says Starkey, Brownsburg. “We had so much rain that it wasn’t a good year to tell which practices worked.”
Here are six lessons that could be gleaned from both the 2014 and 2016 seasons.
1. When in doubt, plant deeper. “It worked to plant corn deeper in 2014, and it definitely was the right thing to do in 2016,” Starkey says. He planted corn about 2.25 inches deep or deeper. Even though he does his best to plant when conditions are right, the no-tiller finds that in some spots, it’s still tough to close the slot. By planting deeper, germination doesn’t seem to be affected.
2. Patience pays off. Starkey prefers planting in late April if conditions are right, but he tries to hold off if soils aren’t ready. He didn’t plant most corn acres until late May in 2016, but he still harvested a very good crop.
3. Adjust ryegrass seeding rates. In 2014, Starkey felt he sprayed annual ryegrass a bit too late ahead of corn. It’s still his cover crop of choice, although he may include crimson clover or use cereal rye in some situations. “What I did for ’16 was cut back my seeding rate of annual ryegrass from about 12 to 14 pounds to 8 pounds per acre,” he says. “I cut back because I didn’t want the cover crop stand scavenging quite as much nitrogen ahead of corn. I didn’t cut back because it was hard to terminate. It was all about making sure we didn’t tie up too much N ahead of corn.”
4. Starter nitrogen on the planter is a must. Especially if you’re following annual ryegrass, starter fertilizer with nitrogen is a must for corn, Starkey says. He saw it in 2014, and it was obvious that N starter helped get corn started again in 2016.
5. Mow the yard twice before terminating annual ryegrass. This was a lesson Starkey learned in 2014 and continues to follow. Sometimes you may wait until you’ve mowed more than twice, he says. The correlation is all about waiting until grass is actively growing. “Early April is usually too early to terminate annual ryegrass here,” he says.
Mark Anson and family, Vincennes, typically begin spraying in late March. Starkey notes, however, that from Vincennes to Brownsburg is roughly a 150-mile spread, which often makes a big difference in spring growth.
6. Control traffic when possible. Starkey noted after 2014 that one of his goals was to move toward more controlled traffic, running in the same tram-line patterns as much as possible. Sidedressing with Y-Drops off his sprayer and eliminating his anhydrous applicator helped him move in that direction, he says.