2017 No-till wheat after corn

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2017 No-till wheat after corn

Post by Bio Farmer on Tue Mar 28, 2017 10:00 pm

Well, I jumped in and took a bit of a risk on this year's wheat crop by trying to no-till it after my combine corn. So a bit of field history: I decided to try this technique on 65 acres of winter wheat (80% of our crop). Both fields had basically the same history. In the fall of 2015 they came out of their previous crops and had our normal tillage program (offset disk, ripper, offset disk, bedder). Then in the spring of 2016, we knocked the beds and planted field corn. Both fields were combined around the 7th of October, 2016 then drilled to wheat around the 20th of October. The only major difference between the fields is one is under a sprinkler and the other is gravity irrigated.

We rented the drill from the Ada County Soil and Water Conservation District (please visit https://adaswcd.org/ for rental information) and a scheduling delay caused the 2 week span between harvest and seeding. Despite the deviation from our plan we hitched up and went to work. We seeded around 150 lbs of wheat per acre instead of our normal 125 lbs to try and compensate for seeds landing in unfavorable conditions (in residue). At first, we tried pulling the drill with our 120 hp 2wd tractor, which had enough power but lacked traction in the loose, moist fields. After the first 20 acres with some major wheel slippage, we changed ideas and put our 225 hp track machine (JD 8400T) on the job. We should have done that in the first place; a track tractor and a no-till drill are a magnificent combination to improve compaction and traction.

Never having seen one of these drill work in person had me extremely nervous as we began this project. Within the first acre my fears had vanished, I was smiling ear to ear, and I was claiming victory. The design of this drill is clearly suited to the task and far different than anything in my 40 year old lineup. The disks had no trouble penetrating the residue thanks to hydraulic down-pressure generated from the drills massive construction. Even on the ends where the combine and trucks had packed it down substantially we were able to slice through stalks and get our seed into 1" of soil. I can see using a drill like this in many of my future plans. One detail that probably hurt us on this project was our soil was too soft on the edge of the beds to let the drill cut everywhere; a firmer seedbed would probably give the drill a better surface to cut against.



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Spring Update

Post by Bio Farmer on Tue May 16, 2017 10:15 pm

There wasn't much growth on the wheat before winter set in - if you looked carefully in November there were green shoots popping out of the soil but that was about all. With the record snow we had, I was very nervous about what may remain come spring. Much to my relief, the wheat looks pretty good when I stop and walk around. Driving by on the road, the field looks like a disaster since the wheat is still largely hidden by the corn residue. I am still optimistic on the potential for these fields.

The photo shows the gravity-irrigated field and spring is setting in. So far, the most prevalent question I am bombarded with is "how do you plan to clean the corrugates to run water." The short answer is that I really don't know yet. In part, I am hoping the soil microbes will help break down some of that residue to make life easier. Also, unlike a tilled field where all the residue is loose and able to float with the water, I anticipate this residue will be held in place by it's attachment to the corn stalks and by the wheat plants. However, given these two bonuses to our plan, I am still envisioning some type of corrugator with coulters mounted ahead.


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Corrugating

Post by Bio Farmer on Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:30 pm

Well, the time has finally come to pull the corrugates on our gravity-irrigated field. After browsing through our equipment lineup, I settled on this unit. In essence, we ran a coulter approximately 1.5" deep to slice the corn residue then a small wyoming-style shovel to open the corrugate. The fertilizer knives were not being used in this situation, they were already on the bar from a previous job. I have learned for wheat, even on conventional fields that running water every other corrugate on a 30" pattern is sufficient, so here our shovels are 60" apart.



Overall, the results were not very impressive. The coulters did a fair job of slicing through the material but the shovels tended to drag a pile and dump it every 5' or so. I have concluded this before but I need to remember my own advice: "If it doesn't roll, don't use it in a no-till field." A static shovel like these is not suited for the residue, I should have used some form of disk corrugator. We concluded very quickly all we needed to reform was the borders of the field since the corrugates in the field still had good shape from last year (though still full of corn residue) and our little piles from the shovels would only make irrigation tougher. As you can see, the wheat was getting fairly tall by this point. I am a little concerned about the damage we may be doing to the crop with this much disturbance.


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Post-Harvest Evaluation

Post by Bio Farmer on Thu Sep 07, 2017 9:46 pm

To call this project a raging success is an overstatement but I still consider it a positive experiment.

My wheat yields were all below the typical farm average this year but so was nearly everyone else's in the neighborhood. On a positive note, my 3 fields (conventional-till gravity irrigation, no-till gravity irrigation, and no-till sprinkler irrigation) all yielded within 5 bushel/acre of each other so I don't think the no-till hurt us at all.

As noted in my previous update, we were far too late corrugating. The tracks from the tractor were still visible at harvest time and a clear negative impact on yield. I am very glad we limited our efforts to just the ends on that operation. I think the proper time to recorrugate will be in the fall immediately after planting. To maximize our results, we will need to corrugate the same direction the combine traveled in the corn and use some type of disk corrugator.

The stand of wheat, even in the low-yield spots of the field, was good so I have to say the no-till drill did it's job. Our yield suffered after the crop was growing because we failed to supply it with the proper nutrients to get the plants to tiller and grow vigorously. In part this was due to our unusually wet winter leaching nitrogen out of the root zone. My next task is finding opportunities and proper products to keep our nutrient level in an optimum range.

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