While rising commodity prices may have led to recent changes in this spring’s cropping plans, a No-Till Farmer survey of growers last fall supported a significant increase in continuous corn acres this year.

Back in November, 35% of the surveyed no-tillers expected to add continuous corn acres. Another 53% said they would stay with their 2007 acreage, while 12% weren’t sure what they intended to do.

Among these nearly 700 no-tillers, one-third expected to grow continuous corn on up to 25% of their corn acres. Another one-third expected to have one-fourth to one-half of their corn acres in continuous corn. Plus, 13% of the growers expected to have 51% to 75% of their corn acres in continuous corn, while roughly one-fifth anticipated planting 76% to 100% of their corn ground to continuous corn.

These growers were also asked what tillage system they expected to use with continuous corn this year:

  • 43% will use no-till.

  • 5% expect to strip-till.

  • 35% will use a minimum-tillage system.

  • 17% will use a conventional-tillage system to manage residue.

Major Worries

These no-tillers were also asked to list what they believe are the major problems that can occur with continuous corn. The leading concerns were a lack of rotation, increased insect concerns, more disease worries, a need for improved residue management and more effective weed control.

Other problems included planting concerns, effective fertilization, a lack of water, higher input costs compared with no-tilling soybeans or wheat and harvesting worries due to larger amounts of residue.

They were especially concerned about the use of higher rates of nitrogen fertilizer that could cause nutrient runoff and more intensive tillage practices that could result in costly soil erosion.

Peter Thomison, an Ohio State University agronomist, believes the biggest issue with continuous corn is dealing with the larger amounts of residue. He says this can lead to cooler, wetter soils during and after planting that can delay germination and emergence, slow plant growth, extend the exposure to disease and insects, lead to higher nitrogen losses, increase stand establishment problems and boost compaction worries at harvest. Thomison is also concerned about increased western corn rootworm damage and dealing with a longer harvesting season.

“The risk and magnitude of yield drag and other problems associated with continuous corn is greatest with no-till on poorly drained soils,” says Thomison.

Continuous No-Till Corn Works

Yet despite these concerns, many no-tillers have been producing continuous corn successfully for a number of years. In fact, most successful no-tillers pour cold water on the theory that continuous corn requires more tillage for effective residue management. Instead, they’ve found that continuous no-till corn can be extremely successful with proper management.

 The fact that 52% of the surveyed no-tillers believe that more tillage will be needed with continuous corn is disturbing. We hope they’ll seek out more effective ways to utilize no-till under high-residue situations before tearing up their fields this spring.