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Three Farmers Experiment with Cover Crops, Reduced Tillage, and VR Fertilizer

Sometimes it takes youth to try something new, as well as the experience to recognize the benefit that new technology can provide. Such is the case near Nevada, Missouri, where tech-savvy farming partners Justin Ogle and Brad Majors farm in partnership with long-time producer Robert Cubbage. 

“Brad and I each farm around 300 acres of our own, plus we farm another 300 acres together,” says Ogle. “We also farm around 2,000 acres that Robert owns, even though he still helps out on occasion. Plus, we’ve been able to rent some more ground between us, which now puts us close to 4,000 acres total.”

All three are involved with Record Harvest, a technology company owned and managed by Robert’s son, Steve (hence, the access to new tools and trends). For example, Ogle and Majors were among the first in southwest Missouri to adopt a strip-till program. They were also one of the first in Missouri to use an OptRx color sensor system to control a variable-rate sidedress 
nitrogen application. The innovative system uses an optical sensing system that measures crop status and variably applies the crop’s nitrogen requirements.

Refining new practices

One of the most recent adoptions, though, has been the use of cover crops to maintain vegetation on the fields through the winter. However, they’ve since switched from strip-till to a total no-till program. 

“As much as we liked strip-till, we were seeing too much erosion in the strips over the past couple of years due to heavy rains in the spring,” Ogle explains. “So we’re moving as much as we can to no-till.”

Ogle and Majors have also changed the way they seed cover crops. When they first began the process three years ago, they had an airplane drop seed into standing corn and soybeans in mid-September with the idea that by harvesttime there would be a nice stand of rye and radishes that would have time to break up the soil and build organic matter. Last year, they altered the program – due to the fact that the plane was also dropping annual ryegrass seed on the neighbors’ fields – and broadcast the seed behind the combine header during harvest. 

This year, they plan to try something different again with the hope of developing a better seedbed. The strategy now is to use a vertical tillage machine with a Gandy spreader mounted on it to loosen the soil, cut up and size cornstalks, and seed a Cover Crops Solutions blend of rye, crimson clover, and tillage radishes following harvest. 

Variable-rate fertilizer

Come spring, they’ll make three separate broadcast applications of dry fertilizer on corn ground, as before, which is variable-rate applied based on yield maps and soil types. The first consists of an 18-46-0 DAP blend. The second consists primarily of potash and phosphate. The third is primarily urea. 

About two weeks before planting, they kill the cover crop and follow with about 5 gallons per acre of a 3-18-18
blend of liquid nitrogen applied with the planter. 
   Both corn and soybeans are planted in 30-inch rows with a 24-row planter that has been modified with row cleaners and automatic downforce adjustment. 

“We’ve had our best luck no-tilling right on top of the old corn row,” Majors says, noting that corn is variable-rate seeded at settings that range from around 27,000 to 34,000 seeds per acre. 

“We certainly haven’t seen any reduction in seed costs with variable-rate seeding,” Ogle adds. “The main benefit is the ability to put more seed in areas that can support higher plant populations and to cut down the rate in poorer soils.” 

In the meantime, Ogle and Majors continue to use color sensor technology to control variable-rate sidedress nitro- gen applications during the growing season. As a general rule, they put on approximately 60 units average during the final application for a total of around 160 pounds.

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