We’re finally getting a week of warm weather.  Highs in the 60′s predominantly, but also some 70′s and even a day that hit 80.  Now the forecast for Sunday and Monday is back into the 40′s for highs.  Even so, the soil is drying out on top and the frost is slowly coming out of the ground.  We’ll be planting before you know it.

This year on the Blank Slate, we’re making some changes once again.  For the first time, we did some fall nitrogen.  Applying nutrients before they are needed has not been our strategy, but the sheer volume of nitrogen needed by a large corn crop dictates that at least two applications will be needed through the season and likely three applications.  In past seasons, nitrogen was applied with the pre-emerge herbicide applications (and it will be again this year).  The challenge with that is you must use a flat rate across the entire field and there are widely varying soils.  By doing the fall application with only nitrogen, we were able to use a variable rate of either 120 pounds of nitrogen or 170 pounds of nitrogen depending on what the soil could hold.  Now we can use a very low rate of nitrogen as a carrier for the pre-emerge herbicide this spring at a flat rate across the field.  If we get great weather and the crop looks fantastic at sidedress time, we can apply another little shot to carry out the season.

Variable Rate N – Fall 2013

We’ve also put together a variable rate planting map again this year.  I’ll share more about that down the road.

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My fourth crop has now emerged from the Blank Slate. My how the years are flying by! If you’re new to reading or hearing about the Blank Slate, here’s a quick recap. I purchased a 60 acre field in the fall of 2009. It had been cash rented on a yearly basis for as long as anyone could remember. The fertility levels, organic matter levels, and biological activity in the soil was the worst I’d ever seen in crop production in our area. The nutrient levels on the soil tests we pulled were so low, I made the claim that the best thing about this field was that EVERYTHING was lacking. It was a blank slate. I could work hard to build it up from here because it couldn’t get much worse. All kidding aside, I was fired up for the challenge to raise a great crop consistently on this farm. Here’s how 2013, my fourth year planting continuous corn, is taking shape.

I’m trying a new hybrid we haven’t used before: Stine 9533. It’s a SmartStax with Refuge in the Bag, which based on being my 4th straight year of corn, should come in handy. I also applied a full rate of Force 3G (4.3 pounds per acre) in a T-Band. I’ll likely go into more detail on the rootworms in the future. One other thing we did at planting was to use variable rate seeding across the field. We’ve gathered enough data over the first few years to feel comfortable knowing exactly how to do this. I’ll share a map at some point here as well.

Lots more to come in future posts.

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May 232012
 

Planting the Blank Slate on May 9th 2012

BACKGROUND AND A LITTLE RANT

When you say the word “fertilizer” people who aren’t familiar with agriculture often think it means something dangerous or unnatural.  For that reason, I like to refer to fertilizer as what it really is: plant food.  On my farm, my long-term goal is to leave the land in better condition for the next generation than it was when I started farming.  This should be easy on the Blank Slate because the land was in terrible condition to begin with (erosion, low fertility, low organic matter, I’d better stop the list before I get too depressed).

One of the big things I’m trying to learn this year is the correlation between plant population (how many seeds per acre I plant) and plant fertility needs.  When I talk to other farmers about how much fertilizer to apply to their fields it all comes back to what kind of yield level they anticipate being at.  If you’re raising 200 bushel corn, the USDA estimates your crop will remove from the soil 180 pounds of nitrogen, 76 pounds of Phosphorus, and 60 pounds of Potassium, along with smaller amounts of all the other essential nutrients.  Those numbers are just for the nutrients that leave the field when you haul away the grain.  The crop actually needs to take in even more nutrients to grow a healthy root system and stalk that will stand until harvest and support and develop the ears of corn.

In my case, I applied fertility for a 170 bushel yield goal last year and raised only 150 bushels of corn (thanks to being blessed with two shots of hail in July).  Farmers never really have any idea of what yield will be other than guessing by previous history of that field and the knowledge of what management practices they intend to apply this year.  In year three of the Blank Slate project, I’m planning for 180 bushels per acre and will feed the crop accordingly.

THE EXPERIMENT – Please try this at home

1. I’m trying a couple different plant populations trying to learn what the optimum plant density per acre is for maximum yield on the Blank Slate.

2. With those plant populations I’m also trying to learn how to feed the crop just right.  If you don’t add more plant food when you add more plants, you end up with spindly little stalks that tend to fall over in the wind when there’s a great big ear of corn hanging 5 feet off the ground on each stalk.

3. I’m trying higher rates of nitrogen fertilizer on some of the plots to better evaluate my other nutrient applications.  I’ve experimented with higher rates of phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients in the past.  High rates of those nutrients didn’t always help me much because I ran out of something else first.

Corn Emergence on Blank Slate May 16th

I’m really excited about the potential of this year’s crop.  I’m also working on getting my kids a little more involved this summer which should be interesting and fun.  Stay tuned.

 

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Hail is one of the most devastating challenges a farmer can face.  My 2011 crop was hailed on in July . . . TWICE!  It broke my spirit and stole my high hopes for a time (it had a shot to be 190 to 200 bushel corn) and I quit blogging.  Year 1 on the Blank Slate I ended up with a very successful 150 bushel corn crop.  Year 2 closed with a very surprising 150 bushel corn crop.  Some would say that I didn’t progress at all from year 1 to year 2.  They would be wrong.  Here are some successess.

1. Soil test levels of fertility are up.  How can that be with the low-rate Liquid program I’m using?

2. Crop health throughout the season (even through the hail) was very good – that wasn’t the case on this piece of ground for a long time.

3. I couldn’t see over the top of my corn in July (before the hail) – where in year 1 my corn got 5 to 6 feet tall, last year it was about 9 feet tall even on the hillsides.

This year, we got the field planted May 9th.  We’re using Stine 9207 as the lead hybrid with Stine 9206 as our refuge corn.  More details and pictures to follow.

 

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Jul 052011
 

Seeing some differences between fertilizer rates on the Blank Slate. You can see taller corn in one treatment in this picture. We’ll see if it shows up in yield AND justifies the extra expense.

Corn is now thigh high in this field. Our tallest corn on another field is 6 feet tall.

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