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It’s Happening in The Dakotas

  • It’s Happening in The Dakotas

    I go to my share of fancy pants meetings, where major agricultural companies show off their latest technology. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and it’s a good thing they do.
    Still, a couple of my favorite research centers are anchored in the tall-grass prairies of the Dakotas. They are the Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, South Dakota, and the Conservation Cropping System Project (CCSP) farm by Forman, North Dakota.

  • Population Study

    Kelly Cooper, CCSP farm manager, is always doing something interesting. One study he had going on last year examined several corn fertilizer and population rates. They include:
    * A half-rate of fertilizer at 32,000 plants per acre (ppa).
    * A full-rate of fertilizer at 32,000 ppa.
    * A full-rate of fertilizer at 64,000 ppa.
    Surprisingly, the 64,000 ppa didn’t fare that badly. “There were some thin stalks and some N deficiency, but it wasn’t that bad,” says Cooper.

  • Early Canopy

    Granted, you wouldn’t want to plant at a 64,000 ppa rate. However, as genetics improve accompanied by adequate fertility, there may be room to bump populations. Other advantages include an early canopy for better weed control. However, more research is needed.

  • Planting Depth

    The CCSP also conducted a planter depth study. Cooper planted corn from 1 to 3.75 inch depths.
    Last year, the 2-inch depth seemed to work best, as conditions were conducive to excellent germination and emergence.

  • Hinges on the Year

    Still, this can vary between years. Under no-till in wet years, it’s been hard to close the seed furrow. “If you go deeper, you can get seed into the soils on both sides and on top of it,” he says. “If you’re cutting through residue and the planter lifts out of the ground, you’re still getting seed in the soil. So, it can cover up some bad conditions.”

  • Prevented Planting

    Unfortunately, 2014 hasn’t been one of those years with good conditions for germination and emergence. The southeastern corner of North Dakota where the CCSP farm is located has been hammered by excessive rainfall. It’s put some farmers in the unenviable position of having prevented planting acres.

  • Get Some Green

    What do to? If soils dry—and that’s not a sure bet if rains continue to fall--get something green on them, says Cooper. Any cover crop will do. “Even weeds are better than nothing,” he says. “Black prevented planting soils are not good because it halts microorganism growth in the soil.” Lack of soil microbes make it difficult for these areas to bounce back the next year.

  • Fun With Flax

    You don’t see much flax any more, but it’s a crop grown on the CCSP farm. “It works better on no-till, because it doesn’t crust as much (at emergence,” he says.

  • Soil Pit

    One of the neat features of the farm is its soil pit. It points out that all that separates productive topsoil from less productive soils are just a few thin inches.
    “It takes 500 years on average to form an inch of topsoil,” says Cooper. A bad windstorm on certain soils can wipe out this inch in one swipe. That’s why it’s important to take steps to protect soil via no-till and cover crops.

  • Native know-how

    Kelly is the one who first tuned me in to the book by David Montgomery called Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Not all is hopeless in the book. It told how natives in the Amazon basin built an amazing soil which farmers today can emulate through tools like cover crops.

  • Field Day July 17

    For more information on these and other topics, come to the farm’s annual field day on July 17. For more information, go to notillfarm.org.

Corn population studies, planting depth research, and a soil pit at CCSP Farm near Forman, North Dakota.

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