Mike Starkey doesn’t have a problem investing dollars in fertilizer to push up yields. But the trained accountant and veteran no-tiller from Brownsburg, Ind., certainly expects a favorable return on his nutrient investment.
Starkey, his brother Dave and their two sons Nick and Jeff understand that saving just a few dollars per acre is critical with 3,400 acres of no-tilled corn and soybeans.
To do so, they rely on 100% no-till, improved soil structure, reduced nutrient needs, cover crops, soil amendments and are taking a new look at fertilizer application timing.
The family has followed a continuous no-till corn and soybean rotation for 8 years. They have gradually added 200 acres of annual ryegrass as a cover crop over the past 3 years.
While not getting fertilizer down last fall may be a major concern for some no-tillers (see pages 46 to 54), it isn’t a problem for the Starkeys. They don’t apply any nitrogen in the fall and avoid pre-plant applications.
Because of improved water infiltration and nutrient usage, the Starkeys have backed off considerably on nitrogen rates. That’s because no-till leads to better soil structure and higher organic matter.
Seven years ago, the Starkeys were applying 200 to 225 pounds of nitrogen per acre based on university recommendations of 1.1 pounds of nitrogen for every expected bushel.
Since then, they’ve been able to produce a bushel of corn with only 0.75 pounds of nitrogen and expect this to drop even further in the future…