May 21, 2024

Corn strip trials garner top returns

Jason Webster (right), lead agronomist and Precision Technology Institute director, answers questions during a break in a recent Inside PTI event. Webster gave insights into the results of the field trials conducted at the site in 2023 in Pontiac, Illinois.

PONTIAC, Ill. — A high management corn strip cropping study had the top return on investment for 2023 among Precision Planting’s agronomic trials.

The trial hit a $379 per acre return on investment and marked the first time the Precision Technology Institute was able to surpass the 400-bushel mark at 403.7 bushels per acre.

“Soybean to corn rotation, irrigated and strip-tilled, and cover crops are part of this top ROI rotation,” Jason Webster, lead agronomist and PTI director, said at a recent winter tour.

“In trying to get cover crops to work for me, I can’t get cover crops to do the things I want them to do if I plant it at the end of the season because the season is over. I can’t get enough heat units for this cover crop to do all the good things it’s supposed to do. So, I’m planting it during the growing season.”

The strip cropping includes alternating 10-foot-wide blocks of corn and soybeans/cover crops. Multiple hybrids were used in the trial. The outside rows had a seeding rate of 40,000 per acre and the inside rows were 38,000 per acre.

Here is the fertility program protocol under the high management corn strip cropping study:

At Plant

• 50 gallons 32% UAN applied with Conceal.

• 3 gallons per acre Nachurs KFuse (6-0-12-12) applied with Conceal.

• 8 gallons Marco QuickGrow LTE (6-20-4-.25Zn-2.7S) (FJ).

Irrigation/Fertigation

• 6 inches recycled rain fed by NETAFIM drip tape.

• 5 gallons per acre ammonium theosulfate (12-0-0-26S).

• 1 gallon per acre boron.

• 5 gallons QLF Agronomy BOOST (4-0-3-2S).

UAV Foliar Feed, Protection

• V10: 1 gallon Nachurs KFuel (0-0-24).

• V10: side-dress 2 gallons per acre Nachurs K-flex Max (0-0-19-6S).

• V10: 1 quart Nachurs FinishLine (8-4-6+Micros).

• VT: 2 pounds Marco Foliar Complete (8-12-40).

• R1: 4 gallons per acre QLF Amino 15 (15-0-1).

• V10, VT, R1, R3, R5 2 gallons per acre water conditioner.

Spoon-Feeding

“I cannot grow 400-bushel corn with DAP and potash. I’ve tried it for 36 years and it just won’t work. I’ve got to have something else to go along with it. That’s why we have those tanks on our planter to position nutrition,” Webster said.

“How many times do you eat during the day? How many times are you feeding your corn? Once? That’s what we did for the longest time.

“I can’t push yield by doing it that way. I’ve got to spoon feed this thing along just like I have to eat during the day. I’m not going to be real efficient and not real productive if I don’t do that.”

Webster noted during a recent Inside PTI meeting in Minnesota an attendee question about the strip cropping trials.

“There was someone who raised their hand and she said, ‘You grew 400-bushel corn by doing strip cropping?’ I said, ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and she said, ‘You’re cheating,’ he said.

“It’s a different style of management, but I do not think it’s cheating. It teaches us what a corn plant wants such as sunlight, and we’re giving it to it and it’s responding.

“We have 10-foot strips. We also have cover crops and soybeans surrounding it, so we’re looking at both scenarios. The cover crops were planted shortly after the corn was planted.

“The control yield, or what I call status quo Livingston County corn, was 245.1 bushels per acre. When we put the high management program on it, it reached 403.7 bushels per acre.

“All of the corn in this trial, some irrigation, some not, were high yield corn. All of the strips in the high yield management had higher ROIs than the control strip with a normal or low management program.”

Costs

The most expensive programs in the trials lost the most money, and the most affordable programs made the most money.

“We don’t have to throw the kitchen sink all the time to increase yield and increase profits. We just need to be smart about this thing. What do we need? What I’m looking for is to put a good nutrient management program together, put it along with a rock star corn hybrid and let them both run,” Webster said.

Irrigation

Webster has had PTI Farm visitors question the fact that irrigation is used on the trials, but isn’t an option for many farmers.

“In this area of Illinois, people will come to me and say, ‘Jason, you’re irrigated and I’m not. Your data doesn’t matter,’” he said. “I’m only irrigated on 30% of this farm. I’d love for it to be 100%, but I’m only 30%.

“I started going back and look at some of the numbers. Apparently, some people say I’m irrigated here and so I’m getting excessive yields and that’s why some of the treatments are making so much money. If we’re not irrigated, all of that goes away.

“So, I started sorting out the data from our trials. I took FurrowJet and Conceal that was irrigated and I’m running about a 10% ROI on this. Then I did the same treatments on dry land. Yes, it’s a little lower, but it’s still running a 7% ROI.

“The yield may be down, but the difference in the treatments we’re doing are making money whether it’s irrigated or dry land. For soybeans, there was no difference at all.”

Nitrogen Rates

Webster added a new trial this year in response to discussions he’s had with PTI Farm visitors. The trial focused on “irresponsible nitrogen rates.”

“I just don’t feel on this farm or my home farm that to grow 400-, 500-bushel corn, it’s responsible to put 400, 500 pounds of nitrogen on the farm. I don’t think it makes sense. I don’t think it’s going to pay the bills either,” Webster said.

“The last three years we’ve been out here with our high management trials and some are saying we’re not putting enough nitrogen on.”

For his high management trials, 299 pounds per acre of nitrogen is applied, while all other trials have a rate of 180 pounds for first year corn and either 225 or 240 pounds for corn after corn, depending on the soil productivity index.

“So, when folks say you’re only putting on 299 pounds of nitrogen and that’s why you’re not getting higher yields of 400, 500. I told them I’ve got a pond out here. I have to watch nitrate levels. I’m not interested in higher rates of nitrogen,” Webster said.

“I finally got tired of them saying this, so I did a high rate of nitrogen study this year to basically prove them all wrong.

“My increased nitrogen rate ended up costing $143 per acre. I went from my 299 pounds, and added another 100 pounds of nitrogen to the four hybrids in the trial. I picked up another 7.3 bushels of corn with that additional 100 pounds to 400. I then went up to 500 pounds of nitrogen and picked up 14.5 bushels per acre.

“I needed 16.6 extra bushels of corn for every additional 100 pounds of nitrogen I put on.

“All of them lost me money. So, no, nitrogen is not my yield-limiting hurdle.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor