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No-till corn know-how

No-till corn know-how
South Dakota farmer has figured out how to manage the his soil, residue and planter so he can plant corn on time.

Al Miron, Crooks, S.D., is bucking the tillage trend in eastern South Dakota. He's no-tilling corn and soybeans in region of the state where no-till acres have declined in recent years.

One reason for abandoning no-till – despite lower equipment, fuel and labor costs -- is that corn planting sometimes has to be delayed due to cool, wet soils.

"There are some problems with no-till," Miron says. "But they are manageable."

Related: 7 tips for growing better no-till soybeans

Miron tiles problem areas of the fields so that he doesn't have to till to dry them out in the spring.

"You have to follow the rules about wetlands," Miron cautions. "I don't tile wetlands."

Al Miron finds earthworm holes in his no-till fields.

Staying in compliance isn't hard, he says. It can be as simple as running a solid pipe instead of perforated pipe through protected areas.

After several years of no-tilling, an undisturbed soil absorbs more water than one that has been tilled. Decaying plant roots leave behind channels that carry water into the soil. Earthworm populations increase and create more worm holes that water flows through. Tillage destroys these natural channels. Organic matter content increases when you no-till and the higher the organic matter content, the more water can be absorbed. His farm's organic levels have risen from about 2.5% to 4.7% over the past 25 years.

Related: Yield Impacts of No-till Farming Depend on Location, Analysis Suggests

The Natural Resources Conservation Service did a water infiltration test his farm. It took two minutes for 1 inch of water to move through a no-till soil sample compared to 11 minutes through a conventional-till soil across the road. When 2 inches of water were applied, the infiltration rate was nine minutes for the no-till and 41 minutes for the conventional till.

The longer it takes water to soak into the soil, the more water runs off to low areas where it ponds or floods.

Manages residue
Miron also carefully manages crop residue to increase the seedbed temperature

That starts at harvest. He doesn't chop corn stalks. He also adjusts the combine chaff spreader to distribute the residue that goes through the combine as evenly across the whole width of the header as possible. Those things prevent thick mats of residue from forming that reduce soil temperatures in the spring.

Miron rotates corn and soybeans. Soybeans aren't hurt by higher levels of corn residue at planting. In fact, sometimes he wishes he had more residue to feed the growing population of soil organisms in his soils. The soil microbial life is so high after 25 years of no-till that residue on the soil surface is consumed very rapidly, he says.

Related: Better Stands with Less Seed Under No-till

Miron is now planting a cover crop after harvesting corn, partly in an effort to increase the amount of residue that will be available to protect the soil and feed soil organisms.

Planter attachments and adjustment
Finally, Miron makes sure the planter is set up and is operating properly for soil conditions. The John Deere 1770 NT planter is equipped with row cleaners that move residue off the row and rubber spiked closing wheels that cover and firm the seed row. Both attachments need to be monitored to make sure they are working effectively as soil conditions and residue levels change, he says. Down pressure is key, too. Too much down pressure will place seed too deep, especially when the soil is moist and soft.

Thinking about a cover crop? Start with developing a plan. Download the FREE Cover Crops: Best Management Practices report today, and get the information you need to tailor a cover crop program to your needs.

TAGS: Soybeans
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