The 2017 Growing Season

Apologies for not posting recently. With spring 2018 coming up it seems as if a review of 2017 is in order.

This was a difficult spring in Central Indiana. We first terminated the cover crops in mid-April and then it turned cold and wet so we made an additional herbicide application in late May. We were finally able to plant corn on June 2, 2017. The growing season got off to an OK start with decent rains and fairly warm temperatures. Later it turned dry with very little rain in August. The rains returned in early September.

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Corn on June 21.

I went out and looked at the field in late July and there were some things worth mentioning. Keep in mind that for this project we plant cover crops in 40-foot wide strips. I wouldn’t say that corn looked better or worse in a strip but it did look like some strips were further along. We planted the entire field the same day, using the same equipment and the same settings however on July 31 some strips were well along in silking while the Oats and tillage radish strip in particular had just started to tassel and plants were about a foot shorter.

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July 31, 2017. Note the strip of shorter corn starting at about the center of the picture and to the left. This is a strip planted to oats and tillage radish.
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A closer view showing the difference in height and maturity between strips. In this case oats and tillage radish on the left, straight no-till on the right.

This continued through the growing season. I went into the field on August 31 to look at maturity and black layer formation (maturity) was just starting in two strips while in the no-till and Oats/Tillage Radish strips the corn was in early dent – just leaving dough stage. If I’d had no other information to go on I’d have said those strips were planted 10-14 days later than the others. Again, the corn didn’t look better or worse, just at different maturity stages. I can’t begin to reach any conclusions about that.

The plots were harvested on October 17. There were some yield differences between strips, much more significant than we saw the previous year with soybeans. Our thoughts are that because some corn matured later it was able to take advantage of September rains after a very dry August. The overall yield was 171.4 bushels which we were fairly happy with. It is also interesting that one of the cereal rye strips had a lower yield which is not surprising – planting corn into cereal rye can be a problem due to Nitrogen availability. However the other one did not.

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2017 strip yields for corn. Notice the differences in both yield and moisture level between strips.

This continues to be a learning experience for us and while field observations were interesting it’s hard to see anything that could be considered actionable. As with 2016, yields were comparable in the strips planted to cover crops compared with those in straight no-till, with the exception of the two northernmost strips.

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2016 Harvest

We harvested the plot on Tuesday, October 11. Total yield was 60 bushels per acre, not bad considering it was planted on June 1.

SWCD Supervisor Chris Branaman volunteered to harvest the plot for us.
SWCD Supervisor Chris Branaman volunteered to harvest the plot for us.

Even though harvested acreage was only a little over 7 acres, there were a couple of interesting items. First, as can be seen from the table at the bottom of the page, the presence of cover crops made little difference in yield. As this was the first year for cover crops, this was not a surprise. Check back in a few years to see if this changes.

We had weed issues on the southern side of the field. We don’t know why but the two southern strips, planted to cereal rye and annual ryegrass last fall, had significantly more weeds. However the northern strips using those two cover crops did not. We’re not sure if there was a problem spraying or what however yields for those two strips were lower.

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The weeds – mostly grass – on the right covered two strip treatments. The rest of the field was relatively weed-free.

We had volunteer oilseed radish. The two oats/radish strips had some very lush plants. This also appears to have affected yields though not as severely as the weeds did. We don’t know why this happened. We planted last fall about two weeks after the recommended time but radish did germinate and emerge. This may have been from seeds which did not germinate last fall. It may also have been plants that did not winter kill. Last winter was extremely warm and even though oilseed radish typically winter kills, some may have survived. 1 Whatever the cause, it shows how a cover crop can become a weed.

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Oilseed radish “infestation.”
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Our Purdue Extension intern holding a radish we “harvested” before cutting soybeans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most of the field looked good. We harvested by running a combine with a 20′ bean head down the center of each 40′ strip and stopped to measure from the yield monitor. This is not terribly scientific but we were looking for differences between strips, not absolute yield numbers.

Harvest in progress. We ran the combine down the center of each cover crop
Harvest in progress. We ran the combine down the center of each cover crop “treatment” to measure yield.

The following table shows the yields for the cover crop strips.

Click for a larger image to see yields.
Click for a larger image to see yields.
Map showing the cover crop strips planted in fall, 2016.
Map showing the cover crop strips planted in fall, 2016.

Our next step is to plant our 2016 cover crops. We also plan on soil testing the field. We do not expect to see much change in soil characteristics after just one year but plan to monitor this on a regular basis going forward.

1 Between December 1, 2015 and April 1, 2016 the lowest temperature in Whitestown, about 2 miles south of this field, was 19.7 degrees according to the National Weather Service. In fact, temperatures fell below freezing only in January and February. This is extremely warm for this area.