Sunday, May 31, 2015

Planting 2015 and a Small Victory for Strip-Till

This year's planting season was great and with the craziness of spring field work over, I finally have some time to sit down and write this blog post.  My apologies in advance, as this post is fairly technical and full of farmer jargon.  Planting is my second favorite thing to do on the farm behind combining corn, and I had been anxiously anticipating it all winter.  We were able to get in the field early and finished before the rains became fairly consistent and heavy.  We strip-tilled all of our corn ground this spring and planting onto the strips was awesome.  The berm made from the strip-tiller provided a great seedbed and seemed to almost suck the planter into the strip, which kept the rows straight, even on hillsides.  Following the strips didn't require us to use the markers on the planter either, which was also a big plus.  My biggest win of the spring was convincing my dad to strip-till and plant corn directly into his alfalfa stand instead of plowing it up.  He was, and still is, skeptical.  I hope it turns out well, or I will never hear the end of it.  I'm pretty confident because I planted corn directly into an alfalfa stand 2 years ago in 2013 with good results.  The following is a comparison of the 2013 spring and this spring:

2013 Corn into Alfalfa

This was an alfalfa field planted to corn  in 2013.
In 2013 we planted corn into a field of four year old alfalfa with no tillage.  It should be said that we had a good corn stand in 2013 of 32k plants per acre.  However, it was absolutely annihilated by hail at about the V5-V6 growth stage.  Looking at the field right after the hail I thought we were wiped out.  It was heartbreaking.  We gave it a few weeks and were amazed by how well a corn plant can recover from that degree of damage.  The stand had been reduced down to about 23k plants per acre, but still yielded about 120 bushels per acre (BPA).  We were very surprised and happy with that result despite the circumstances.  We had a beginning yield goal of 170 BPA.  We broadcasted 260 pounds per acre (lb/A) of nitrogen/N (urea), 150 lb/A of phosphorous/P (diammonium phosphate [DAP]), and 100 lb/A of potassium/K (potash).  We also allowed for an N credit of 50 pounds from the alfalfa.  I do not like to broadcast fertilizer, but we didn't have banding equipment or a strip-tiller.  Plus, our mind was made up not to do tillage.  We set the the row cleaners on the planter down to make about a one half inch deep trench and clear out the alfalfa ahead of the seed opener.  We also set the down-force on the planter as high as it would go.  Our row cleaners have shark tooth blades and I think they worked much better than a finger style would have.  There was a slight problem ensuring the seed trench was closed 100 percent of the time.  However, we did not have a spiked closing wheel, which I think that would have eliminated the issue.  The planter pulled fairly hard, but the setup worked very well.  Our planter is set up for in-furrow pop-up fertilizer but we didn't use it.  I think it would have provided some benefit in the no-till ground.  We planted on May 8th and terminated the alfalfa with glyphosate three days later.  Overall I think it worked well. I've also noticed, two years later, that the soil in this particular field has better aggregation than all of our other fields.  This better soil aggregation is likely due to the fact it has not been tilled in 8 years.  It also has the steepest slope on our farm and has no erosion whatsoever.  Honestly, I felt a little guilty strip-tilling it this spring.

2015 Corn into Alfalfa

Planting corn directly into alfalfa. 2015
My dad had some alfalfa ground he wanted to plant corn into for silage.  I worked on him all winter long to convince him to just plant directly into it. He's a little old school and was stuck on the idea of plowing it up.  I think the fact that we sold all of our tillage equipment helped persuade him, since there was nothing he could readily borrow from me to plow up the alfalfa.  I would have preferred to get a pass of glyphosate on it last fall, but his mind still wasn't made up, so it didn't happen.  It turned out to be quite a different process than what I had done it 2013.  I strip-tilled on May 4th and planted on May 8th (I'll explain why in a bit).  We put all the fertilizer down (460 lb/A total) with the strip-tiller.  We used 260 lb/A of urea, 130 lb/A of DAP, and 70 lb/A of potash.  We allowed for an N credit of 50 pounds from the alfalfa.  I ran a little slower to avoid plugging the machine; 3.5-4 MPH.  Since the alfalfa was still growing the strip-tiller cut more of a slot rather than building a berm, and the closing disks didn't do much of anything.  It pulled much harder than in soybean stubble, which was to be expected with alfalfa's extensive root system.  I ran it about 6 inches deep and we could actually open up the slot by hand and see the band of fertilizer underneath (wish I had taken a picture).  I was nervous to plant right after the strip-tiller for fear that the seed openers would directly follow the cut of the fertilizer knife and drop the seed right into all that fertilizer.  It was supposed to rain, and it did, so we waited a few days for the fertilizer slot to mellow, grow back together, and close itself.  It worked great and we planted on May 8th. Ideally, I would have liked to terminate the alfalfa 5-7 days after planting, but certain events dictated otherwise.
4840 was retired by an electrical fire.
Termination with glyphosate was delayed until May 22nd by rain and an electrical fire, which claimed the 4840 and left us without a tractor to pull the sprayer.  Luckily no one was hurt and we were able to get the fire out before it took the entire tractor.  Thankfully we were already done planting and the tractor was being used by a neighbor.  We put a lot of work and money into that tractor and had planned to keep it around for good.  Like any reliable piece of equipment, we will be a little sad watching it go.  Overall, planting 2015 went great until the very end and we are thankful and excited to see the corn coming up and being one step closer to harvest.  Hopefully we can start side-dressing nitrogen in the next week or two if the rain holds off for a few days.  Thanks for reading and have a safe and enjoyable summer.