In the strip
Every field has a story. For Dale Launstein, experimenting with strips on his Holland, Iowa, soils will help him tell the tale of each acre to define the variability and to push yields to new levels.
“Farming is one big experiment. If I can keep learning from the experiments on the soil, I'll become better,” he says. “I want to figure out how to become better to where I can reach 300-bushel yields, but I want to be able to do it responsibly. I want to figure out how to do it without hurting the environment or the ground.”
Reaching that level — while being mindful of the surroundings and soils —means investing in technology that will optimize every input applied to his more than 2,800 acres. Incorporating that technology involves testing his theories in strips using variable-rate technology.
“In the field just west of the shop, I had corn yielding 280 bushels and corn that was doing 85 bushels,” says Launstein. “The 85 caught some wind and got destroyed. The spot that yielded 280 was protected a little more. But even in the higher-yielding area, the ground was significantly variable. It was running anywhere from 185 up to that 280.”
If he can define the highly variable areas, would he be able to produce a few more bushels with a little more effort?
“Can I take advantage of those areas if I feed more nutrients?” he questions. “In the spots that will only do 180, I'll keep the nutrients down and spoon-feed to see where it takes me.”
Using GPS, he shoots blocks at different points on different soil types to see what he can and can't do.
“Blocks are 100 feet by 60 feet and are in random bursts throughout the field,” he says. “I then go back and correlate through GPS what happened in those spots.”
While current seeds per acre are around 35,000 to 36,000, he believes those rates will change in the future.
“I'm seeing phenomenal yields in areas off of the 35,000- to 36,000-seeds-per-acre populations,” notes Launstein.
However, he is dropping population bursts in each field he evaluated this winter and will continue doing that to experiment with seeding rates.
“I want to use those population blocks and give it the fertility so it's not just about the seed; it's also about providing the nutrients it needs to try and see what I could produce doing that,” he says.
Noodling nitrogen rates
When it comes to nutrients, he's been applying (depending on the field) anywhere from 200 pounds up to 240 pounds of nitrogen.
“I'm going to play with those rates — up to 300 pounds in areas where I think I can do that,” he says. “I think I'm also going to have areas where I can apply less than that and still be able to come close to higher yields, because I've got spots where I'm seeing that right now. I'm hitting an area that's 290 with spots that are doing zero this year. That higher-yielding area got nitrogen from somewhere.”
He'll be studying those sections closely to try to determine how much organic nitrogen factored in and how that correlates to everything else.
While Launstein knows pursuing 300 bushels per acre will come at a cost, he anticipates it will eventually pay off. “It's going to take my nitrogen bill and basically increase it by 50%,” he explains.
He's also putting together a starter program for next year, which he estimates will run about $50 per acre.
“I'm going to apply it with the planter, and it's going to have some liquid P and K, nitrogen, and micronutrients,” he says.
With corn prices hovering around $7 per bushel, increasing yields definitely has its advantages.
“There's money to be made at this level,” says Launstein. “I'll learn what's economically viable yet environmentally friendly.”