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Corn-on-Corn Strip-Till

Growing continuous corn can be challenging, but with high corn prices in recent years, it’s been a good option for Koosmann Farms in Appleton, Minnesota. Even more challenging is strip-tilling in corn-on-corn acres, but Tim Koosmann has made it work.

Koosmann appreciates how the conservation tillage protects soil on his gently rolling farmland without reducing yields – averaging 140 to 200 bushels per acre depending on soil type. Since he switched from ridge-till to strip-till in 2008, he has made adjustments to improve efficiency and production on the land that he, his son, and employees farm.

Drainage makes a difference
Over the years, Koosmann and his crew have used their own equipment to random-tile, usually in soybeans in July and early August. More recently, they started pattern-tiling every 75 to 80 feet to more effectively drain water that collects in low spots.

“Drainage is very important,” he says. “We have some naturally well-drained fields, but 90% or more has tile. It seems like we continue to get wetter years, and with the price of inputs and the price of land, economics justify spending more money to protect those investments. If we didn’t have drainage tile, I don’t think we would want to leave a lot of residue on the surface, because there would be too much moisture, and we couldn’t get in the fields.”

With good drainage, he has successfully grown continuous corn on some acres since 2008. He rotated corn, soybeans, and kidney beans on the other acres. In 2013 and 2014, Koosmann planted all corn.

Equipment upgrade
Despite 2014’s wet spring, Koosmann and his son, Mitch, managed to get corn in with the help of a new piece of equipment. The fields had been prepped in the fall with a John Deere 1910 air cart with a 2510 strip-till bar. Anhydrous ammonia was variable-rate applied to the 30-inch rows.

“In the springtime – ideally, a day before we plant – we use an old Lilliston rolling cultivator with gangs of four or five spiders,” Koosmann says. “We modified it so one of those gangs would run over each of our 12 strips, and it tills the strips 1½ to 2 inches deep. This dries it out and makes the field more uniform for planting.”

He still had to wait for the soils to be dry enough for tillage. The cultivator helped dry the soil for good seed contact when he followed up with his 24-row planter.

“This was our first year using the cultivator, and we felt it was a major improvement for improving stands and emergence,” he says.

The Koosmanns made other equipment changes, including trading up for a 535-hp. John Deere 9630T tractor for more power to pull the strip-till equipment faster.

“We switched to RTK guidance, which is pretty much essential for strip-till farming,” says Koosmann.

Conservation benefits
In wet, cool springs, Koosmann says less residue would have helped the soil dry faster, but less residue goes against conservation farming.

“Strip-till controls erosion well; it improves soil structure and water infiltration,” he says. “I hope we’re building up organic matter.”

He says he faces the same challenges as conventional farmers growing corn-on-corn.

Fortunately, rootworms haven’t been an issue, but some corn has been yellow and slow growing because of wet, cool springs.

Next year, Koosmann plans to add edible beans and soybeans back into the rotation on some of his heavier soils. With the right equipment and vigilant management, he knows he can successfully grow continuous corn using strip-till farming.

(Source – http://www.agriculture.com/crops/corn/production/cnoncn-striptill_137-ar50691)

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