2009. A year to remember on the farm. Challenging but rewarding.
Looking back, I feel very fortunate for being a true no-tiller. Not only was 2009 a record year for yields, but a record year for knowledge to obtain those yields. With continuous rainfall in April and May, it was a challenge just to get the crop planted. The first kernel of corn was not planted until May 25 and we finished June 6. I will briefly explain why I feel 2009 was a bin buster.
1. Superior corn hybrids. I stayed with the plan of no-tilling my full-season hybrids even though the planting date was late. The hybrids that are available today are so much better with the added traits. The good news is that they are getting better! I am really excited about reducing my refuge in the future.
2. Soil Structure. The tremendous early rains we had percolated in the soil because of our no-till practices. Air and water constantly moving through the soil was a huge advantage compared to my conventional-till neighbors.
3. Precise Planter Setup. We purchased a new John Deere 1770 planter. The first thing we did was strip it down and set it up for a no-till setup that had worked successfully in the past. An added benefit was the automatic Air-force system by Precision Planting. Our stand was perfect. With our population variable-rated based on soil type and management zones, we had the added benefit to maximize the yield potential of hybrids. Without that picket-fence stand, you’re behind the 8 ball from the beginning.
4. Nitrogen Management. Spoon feeding the corn crop as soon as that kernel is dropped out of the planter is a must to achieve maximum yields. I also feel that we are getting a huge amount of nitrogen released from our soil. By no-tilling the past 10 years, we have reduced our amount of actual nitrogen to just 0.6 pounds per bushel. By doing variable-strip tests for nitrogen, we have found that the optimum level for our soils are from 140 to 160 pounds of actual nitrogen. Our return on investment decreases if amounts increase. We have found out that it’s critical to have thiosul (sulfur) blended with 28% nitrogen. I have seen yields reduced by 8 to 10 bushels per acre without the sulfur mix.
5. Application of Nitrogen. I made the switch this year to not only apply 28% nitrogen with the planter but with my sidedress application. I have always sidedressed nitrogen with anhydrous ammonia but was not satisfied with the compaction, variability between rows and safety of using anhydrous. By purchasing a Blu-Jet 4010 applicator, I satisfied my concerns. Not only was I able to add the convenience of changing rates based on management zones with the Apex software I had with Deere, but had the confidence that every row was receiving the same amount of nitrogen. The safety and speed of applying was an added plus. And, every time I apply 28%, I was getting my thiosul mixed and applied properly.
Of course, rain makes grain, so having the proper rainfall throughout the growing season was a must. The cool temperatures did not hurt, either. Harvest-time was so long because we had to dry every single kernel of corn. With limited bin space and a very wet October (thankful we had a decent November), I never thought we would ever finish.
We kept the cart off the field when conditions got sloppy, but fortunately we did not rut any fields up like I saw with conventional-till fields. The fall spraying got done in the middle of harvest, so I am ready to go plant this spring. But first, let’s take a rest and be thankful for 2009.
I can’t believe 2010 is already here! See you at Des Moines.