Wide-Row Corn Study in South Dakota Yields Variable Results for No-Tillers

Sixty-inch corn rows with cover crops didn’t produce the hoped-for yield production, but offered no-tillers a chance to diversify corn management and get covers into the mix.

Pictured Above: CLEAR OUTCOME. In the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition wide-row corn plot trials, corn raised in 30-inch rows without cover crops averaged higher yields than 60-inch corn interseeded with covers across the three on-farm plots

Click to enlarge

No-tillers across the Corn Belt have been experimenting with wider corn rows to diversify their corn management and add cover crop options to their operation, including grazing of covers as an added income and soil health option. 

The Pierre, S.D.-based South Dakota Soil Health Coalition organized a study of this system last year. It compared corn production management options of 60-inch corn rows with cover crops seeded in the wide rows to standard 30-inch corn rows without cover crops between the rows. 

Farmers in states like South Dakota face challenges to incorporating cover crops in corn/soybean rotations due to the short window of opportunity to establish covers before or after the main cash crop. Some farmers and researchers report that seeding covers between 30-inch rows generally delivers inconsistent results for many reasons, most of which correlate to the amount of sunlight the covers get between the corn rows. 

Advocates of the wide-row system say it lets more sunlight reach the cover crop seedlings and surface area of the corn plant, while the 30-inch-or-narrower corn rows limit sunlight that reaches the bottom two-thirds of the plant.

In this study, corn grain yield, moisture, and protein content were compared between the two options. Researchers and farmers in this project wanted to find…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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