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End of harvest marks bad dream for some farmers

End of harvest marks bad dream for some farmers
Farmers pummeled with too much rain on heavy soils saw corn yields fall.

The harvest season ended last week for Mike Starkey, Brownsburg, and it wasn't a day too soon. While his soybeans surprised him and yielded relatively well, his corn crop as a whole was disappointing.

Related: See cover crops' impact on soil health with your own eyes

"We just had too many heavy rains in this area," he says. Most of the soils in his area are naturally poorly or somewhat poorly drained.

"The soil handled the first couple of onslaughts OK, but after a while, it was saturated and it couldn't keep up. It showed up in smaller ears at harvest in fields that were hit the worst."

Year to forget: Hans Kok, a soil conservation consultant, snaps pictures as Mike Starkey and his partner, Jeff Starkey, wind up harvest. It was not a banner year for corn on their farm.

Only 2012 stands out as a poorer year for corn in his farming career, and he averaged better yields than many folks during that drought year. He no-tills with cover crops, and it helped him during the drought. The only thing that really helped this year was tile, Starkey says.

"You could certainly see where the tile lines were," he notes. "Where the tile lines ran, the corn was OK, but when you got between tile lines it just really suffered."

Some of his fields are well-tiled, and they did better, he adds. Some fields are waiting to get tile, and where there was no tile, it was evident this year.

Related: Take a walk through cover crops, see what you can learn

Starkey is already thinking about next year. He hired annual ryegrass seeded aerially in early September, and despite dry conditions, he has a good stand in most locations. He no-tilled a five-way mix after soybeans in some fields, and it is up and growing as well. It would be bigger if it had been a fall with more moisture, but he is confident that the cover crops that are supposed to overwinter will do so.

Some crops in the mix, including radishes, don't overwinter. The first frost showed an effect on those plants, but they survived. It typically takes a killing freeze to stop them.

TAGS: Soybeans
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