A program just kicked off in the last two weeks got a trial run in Jasper County this past growing season. Farmers who participated will be able to hear a discussion of the results in a network session of cooperating farmers coming up soon.
The On-Farm Network concept, originated in Iowa, moves to Indiana for real this year with major grants obtained by ISDA from USDA, with local matching help from the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and the Indiana Soybean Alliance. It was piloted quietly last summer with farmers in Jasper County in northwest Indiana who volunteered to participate.
Aerial photography helped pick up how various fields farmed by the farmers performed, with the goal to tie it back to nitrogen management programs, notes Roz Leeck, director of the program for ISDA. The Iowa network, over the 10-year period, has gone on to examine other issues that farmers there are interested in, such as seeding rates and many other crop production practices.
The other tool that was used was stalk nitrate testing. Basically, late in the season, either farmers or consultants cut a section of stalk from random plants and have it tested in a lab. "The idea is to get a report card on that particular season," says Dan Towery, a consultant who will work with the On-Farm Testing program.
Protocol describes which section of the stalk should be cut, how it should be handled until sent to a testing lab, and then what the results mean.
"Would I recommend someone change their nitrogen practices based on one year's of stalk test results?" notes Leeck of ISDA. "Absolutely not! Yet we feel like it's an important report card to look at."
Some consultants, such as Greg Kneubuhler of G & K Concepts, Harlan, in northeastern Indiana, do an extensive amount of stalk testing each year. He's been involved with a grant to help water quality in his area of the state.
What he learns, he notes, is if the stalk ended up short on N, which means either too much was lost or enough wasn't put on, if it's about right, or if there's way too much N left in the stalk. If that's the case, then it's possible that luxury N was applied. It's an indication that the farmer might want to start backing of on N rate, or fine-tuning their N-management program to better take advantage of N that is applied, Towery notes.
Leeck says stalk nitrate testing will be an important tool used by groups of farmers who participate in the Indiana on-farm network program.