As weather extremes become more common, the Alversons, who farm in South Dakota, have taken steps to protect their farm’s productive capacity. They’ve added drainage tile, plus irrigation on fields with lighter soils. They’ve also retooled their equipment lineup for quicker planting.
Tillage, at one time a go-to solution for loosening compacted soils, also creates poor soil structure and hardpan soils. “There is a downward spiral with tillage. The more you till the soil, the more you destroy its structure," says Jim Hoorman, Ohio State University. While deep ripping or vertical tillage offer a short-term solution, the long-term answer to soil compaction is to rebuild soil structure, says Hoorman.
The combination of weather extremes and disease and insect pressure have been especially hard on continuous corn, which took a 40-bushel per acre yield hit in 2010, 2011 and 2012 compared to rotated corn. “For me the answer was to go back to a 50:50 corn-bean rotation,” says Gary Niemeyer. “It had been 85:15.”
Evaluating your farm’s sustainability and seeing how it stacks up against similar operations can be an eye-opener that helps improve a farm’s economic and environmental sustainability, says Shawn Conley, Extension soybean specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Steve Ford is one of about two dozen Corn Belt farmers with similar Stine-sponsored test plots. He was more than a little curious about how high-population corn planted in 12-inch rows would stand up – and how it would yield.
Every winter, as he finalizes seed, fertility and pest management programs for the following spring, David Wolfskill takes to his shop to perform a task that’s equally critical for top corn yields. He strips his planter down to the frame and rebuilds it.
Jeff Heepke knew he was part of the next wave of precision agriculture when his cellphone rang as he planted corn with his new 16-row planter last spring. “Do you know that row 15 is plugged?” asked the caller.
After more than 30 years of no-till, constructing 1,000 terraces and untold grass waterways and turn areas, Ray Gaesser decided to up his soil-protection game after an 8-inch overnight rainfall washed out a 20-acre field that spring.
Jim Goss isn’t ready to declare tissue tests obsolete. But if field trials of a new resin-based technology continue to pan out, he thinks he may have found a new early warning system to detect unexpected nutrient deficiencies early enough to prevent yield losses.