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Tips to keep in mind when no-tilling continuous corn

Agriculture.com Staff 03/19/2007 @ 9:26am

With the current corn prices, many producers are considering no-till planting corn on corn; however, crop rotation is one of the best management practices to reduce many of the problems in monoculture farming and a key component for successful no-till.

Many of the problems that Nebraskan farmers have faced for years -- such as nitrate leaching to the groundwater, atrazine in runoff, corn rootworm management, nitrogen response for corn and generally lower yields in mono-crop systems -- are greatly reduced with properly managed crop rotations. In addition, using continuous no-till with a systems approach greatly reduces many other problems often typical of tilled soils such as crusting, poor infiltration, runoff, erosion, compaction and poor soil health.

Even considering all the benefits of rotation, there will be producers no-tilling corn on corn. Producers know that tillage can be a great equalizer to reduce many of the problems with mono-crops and that no-till corn on corn can be challenging, if not properly managed. Rather than give up the benefits of no-till, these producers can improve their management to make no-till corn on corn less risky.

A few general things to consider

  • Realize that crop rotation reduced many pest and disease problems, increased soil biological activity and diversity, spread the workload and production risks and generally improved yields. When no-tilling in a mono-crop system, the residue increases some problems and a few new problems will appear without rotation to keep them in check.
  • Do a careful market and production analysis. Are the prices worth the higher production expenses, increased risks, and lower yields inherent with a monoculture? When increasing your corn on corn acres, be sure to include any timeliness costs incurred as your workload gets more concentrated and operations may be conducted later than they should be. Will the concentration change your seasonal labor demands?
  • Determine whether you have adequate machinery and labor capacity for more corn acres. Do you have enough sprayer and planter capacity to grow the crop and enough combine and storage capacity to harvest the crop properly? Likewise, if you irrigate, do you have enough irrigation water available at the right time for the increased water needs of corn? Rotations allow smaller equipment and fewer people to be cover more acres, using the equipment and people over a longer period of time.
  • To aid soil drying and warming, consider strip-till on poorly drained soils. However, to be successful, strip-tilling should be done in the fall and this may not be an option for this season. Tillage does dry the soil, allowing warming for quicker early growth but water will be lost. Ask yourself if the investment in strip-till equipment for continuous corn and the stripping operation itself is justified if you can get equal returns with continuous no-till and more diverse rotations. Also, will the current high corn prices continue long enough to justify the purchase of strip-till equipment and the horsepower to pull it or should you hire the stripping done?

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