Successful strip-till, like any new practice, takes experience, say three Minnesota farmers who have sustained crop yields in high-residue environments. “It can be a big learning curve, but it will be worth it,” says Dustin Frieler, a strip-tiller from Greenwald, Minn.
Old stream channels are helping to clean up farm drainage water in north central Iowa. Restored oxbows in the Boone River Watershed reduced nitrate concentrations in tile water by about 50%, according to water monitoring data gathered by the Iowa Soybean Association.
Farm improvements grew out of a voluntary environmental self-assessment, which helped Nathan Collins and his brother Sean judge the effects of their farming practices on water and soil quality. The self-assessment, called Green Star Farms Initiative, is a free, Web-based tool that asks farmers to rate their stewardship practices for crops, livestock and farmstead management.
Managing corn rootworm beetles is much more complex than managing larvae, says Lance Meinke, University of Nebraska entomologist. Adult control is greatly complicated by such factors as extended beetle emergence, insect migration, treatment timing, a limited arsenal of foliar insecticides and even the proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds.
Are your tillage practices justified by real crop responses? “Individual farmer decisions about tillage system choice are often more motivated by traditions, prior experiences and what the neighbors are doing than by reliable research,” says Tony Vyn, Purdue University Extension agronomist and cropping systems specialist.
The spread of multi-resistant waterhemp has led to increasing use of Group 14 herbicides, the protoporphyrinogen oxidase (PPO) inhibitors that include Cobra, Flexstar, Ultra Blazer and others. Repeated use is exerting intense pressure on this diverse group of chemicals, weed experts warn.
A big challenge – nitrogen management – could have a small solution. Rowbot Systems, a Minneapolis startup company, has developed an multi-platform robot that, among other things, can side-dress nitrogen in tall corn.
Three years of tillage and residue field and laboratory trials at Ames, Iowa, found no differences in corn residue breakdown due to tillage or type of residue, says research leader Mahdi Al-Kaisi, ISU Extension soil scientist.
Andy Thompson kept a photo journal of residue breakdown in his cornfield near Niota, in west-central Illinois. The field has been in continuous corn since 2012. This series of photos shows how, in a single season, microbes in healthy soil break down large amounts of corn residue left on the surface.
Compared to putting all the nitrogen down in the fall, “we picked up at least 7-10 bushels per acre,” says Chuck Trainor, who grows corn and soybeans and raises cattle with his father, Charles, near Tower Hill. They also dropped their total nitrogen rate.
Midwest farmers are deploying many techniques for planting cover crops: broadcasting with fertilizer spreaders, flying on the cover crop and modifying high-clearance sprayers. Others are pairing cover crop seeding with another field operation, such as vertical tillage, manure application or even combining.