Planting no-till soybeans for a friend this spring, the issue of how profitable it is to invest time, seed and fertilizer, while increasing the risk of damaging equipment, reared its head again. By farming as close as possible to tree lines, how much do you get back for your effort? One hidden dead branch you don't see that falls out in front of the planter, or one gully partially hidden near the tree line, may be all ti takes to turn the idea of squeezing in every row possible into a costly decision.
Especially with 8-row wide equipment and larger, and irregular borders around fields created by woods, common in parts of central and southern Indiana, it's difficult to focus on just how far you should stay from the edge of the field and look out for low hanging limbs or other hazards up ahead at the same time.
And what happens if you do leave a couple of blank rows near the edge? Based on experiences in Corn Illustrated plot work over the past two seasons, you might actually save money by cutting input costs where you have little if any realistic chance of reaping positive returns. The Corn Illustrated project was sponsored by Farm Progress Companies, and involved a series of both replicated and demonstration-style plots. The plots aren't being continued this season, but articles about corn production are still posted on this Website under the Corn Illustrated head. You can also look for the Corn Illustrated logo on stories appearing in Indiana Prairie Farmer periodically throughout the summer.
In 2007, during a very dry summer and on droughty soils, the first 12 rows near a tree-lined fence row yielded less than 20 bushels per acre. The entire field averaged about 85 bushels per acre. Even last year, with plenty of water, rows near a tree-lined field yielded about half what the rest of the field yielded.
The problem the first year was competition from the trees. And it was simply a single line of trees in a fence row, not an entire woods. But last year, the culprit was damage by wildlife, such as deer and/or raccoons. Stalks were broken over and ears eaten or destroyed in the first six or more roes nearest a fence row.
On fields that you still have to plant, you might think twice before deciding whether to squeeze in just one more row up against the tree line or fence row, especially if the fence row is comprised of brush or tall trees.