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Stalk strategies

Agriculture.com Staff 10/03/2007 @ 1:07pm

Thanks to Bt corn and ever-higher populations, corn residue is tougher than ever.

There are basically two ways to deal with that heavy corn residue. You can cut it up and bury it with tillage, or you can leave the stalks anchored and devise a way to slip through them.

Tim Goodenough of West Salem, Wisconsin, chose the latter. He's been no-tilling for several years and the only tillage implement he has is a subsoiler he sometimes uses on new farms or end rows.

He typically follows a corn/soybean rotation. But, like many growers, he wanted to plant more corn this year. Consequently, he no-tilled corn into the residue from last year's corn crop on some of his fields.

The residue was heavy. His final stand in 2006 was around 37,000 plants per acre, and the corn was grown in 15-inch rows. Nevertheless, Goodenough didn't see the residue as his biggest challenge. It wasn't much different than planting beans into cornstalks, and he'd been doing that for several years. (Granted, corn requires a more uniform stand). He had also no-tilled corn after corn with a 22-inch planter a few years ago.

The biggest challenge, as he sees it, is being able to follow the old rows. "I could not see the planter's mechanical markers after dark," he says. A lightbar helps, but what he'd really like is an RTK guidance system.

Goodenough uses Yetter Residue Managers with SharkTooth wheels ahead of the row units. He doen't use no-till coulters. Through a mix-up, he ran the planter with spiked residue wheels on a few acres in 2006. "If it was really dry, they worked good," he says. "But when it was damp, they would ball up with residue."

When fields are damp early in the season or after a rain, Goodenough often runs over them with a Phoenix harrow. He runs it wide, which makes it less aggressive. "I don't want to pull the root-balls out," he says. "Then we'd have a real problem.

"It lifts the residue up," says Goodenough. "In cornstalks, I may have to let the field set a day. In bean stubble, I can often go in with the planter after 45 minutes or so."

In cornstalks, the harrow barely scratches the soil surface, says Goodenough. In bean stubble, it goes down 3/4 inch or so. "I plant 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches deep. That way, the top part of the seed slot will close, but I'm still planting into moisture."

He uses one rubber press wheel and one Dawn CurveTine press wheel on each row. "In wet conditions, the curved tine rides over the ground and crumbles the dirt but doesn't compact it," he says.

Thanks to Bt corn and ever-higher populations, corn residue is tougher than ever.

Two years ago, Ed Neesen planted corn into standing cornstalks to bring his crop rotation closer to half corn and half soybeans. This year, he planted corn into standing cornstalks because the market was calling for more corn.

With no-till, you have one chance to move residue out of the way. With strip-till, you have two chances.

When Kevin Semke started no-tilling corn into cornstalks four years ago, he applied some of the techniques he had learned no-tilling soybeans into cornstalks over the previous 10 years.

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