Tim Smith is an incredibly sharp fellow, and it’s safe to assume he’s ahead of the learning curve. Despite his relaxed manner, he doesn’t just give lip service when talking about improving his cropping systems. With agriculture, he’s meticulous with research and voracious in his reading and studying. On Martin Farms, which he manages, Smith’s commitment is obvious.
Corn into wheat
This year, Smith’s corn crop looks exceptional and there are reasons for that.
“I’ve noticed that by planting the corn on stale beds with a wheat cover crop, the corn is holding up much longer between waterings,” he says. “On one field, we have fresh beds with corn and it’s been hard to stay ahead of it and keep the corn from wilting from lack of water. But, so far, on the stale beds, we haven’t had any wilting or twisting of the plants.”
In preparing for this year’s crop, everything was ripped last fall using a DMI ripper at 12 inches deep (Smith’s hardpan is at about 11 inches). Smith then field cultivated and ran fertilizer – some potash and zinc -- on with 90 pounds of cover crop wheat. A bedder/roller was then used and 60-inch beds were formed. Smith then called it a year and waited.
“Normally, I go in and burn those beds down in the spring. But this year, the rains kept hitting us, and I wasn’t able to do that and had to burn down behind the planter instead.
On some of my corn acreage, I used a pint of Dual broadcast and 24 ounces of Roundup to get the wheat burned down.”
Some of the wheat was over knee-high and Smith still planted corn straight into it. It’s a little harder to burndown and plant into wheat that tall, but a “perfect” stand of corn was the result. Oddly, the corn seems to be doing better in the taller cover wheat than the shorter, he says.
“On other cover wheat, I put Roundup on and came back with Basis Gold spiked with a little atrazine post.”
Corn into clover
Smith also had 140 acres of crimson clover as a cover. He burned the clover down with Clarity and Roundup. As with some of the wheat, the clover was knee-high and starting to bloom when burndown time arrived.
Smith planted clover because it holds moisture better than wheat and also provides nitrogen. “At planting, we figured we were getting anywhere from 35 to 40 units of nitrogen out of the clover. It’s a little harder to plant into, but we got a perfect stand of corn out of it. The clover corn looks even better than corn planted into wheat.”
On all Smith’s corn he put out Capture in-furrow with a pop-up fertilizer. In the clover, he did have to come back and make a cutworm application about 30 days after planting. There were 5 to 6 cutworms per foot that needed a pyrethroid.
The jury is still out on the clover as cover, says Smith. “I’ll see what the corn yields are and if the clover doesn’t do significantly better than wheat, I’ll go back to wheat. It’s just much easier to plant into.”
Why corn into clover?
“I came up with this idea just from reading. In Georgia, they’re doing a lot of work with cover crops. They’re using a ryegrass there, some clover and I wanted something on my fields that would give some nitrogen and hold moisture. So far, so good.”
Timelier spring planting
Because of fall field prep work, Smith is able to get spring planting done quickly.
“This year, I planted 750 acres of corn by myself on one tank of diesel. Other folks were doing prep work on bean ground and by the time I had the corn planted, the bean ground was ready. I started on April 5 and finished on the 13th. Now that I have beds set up, I’ll run on them for 3 years.”
Obviously, there’s more diesel in the crop than one tank, but spring planting is really easy in his system, says Smith. And he’s doing a lot more than just planting with that one trip across the field.
Smith is very particular about not having too much acreage in any one variety of corn. “I’m heavier in Pioneer 31G98, but I’ve got 7 varieties total. Our corn is 40 percent Bt. I’ve also got several plots – a Pioneer with 22 varieties and a Terral Norris plot with 9 varieties. I like looking at different varieties and the Terral plot has some Gaucho-treated corn in it.”
Soybeans into corn
Smith also planted 160 acres of soybeans straight into 3-foot-tall corn stubble.
“We planted 90 acres of that with a grain drill at about 180,000 seeds per acre. That’s produced a pretty stand on those beds. I planted the rest in 30-inch rows at about 160,000 seeds per acre. I planted those in rows on top of old rows using trash cleaners and coulters. Right now, I like that best – it’s just beautiful.”
Smith likes planting beans into corn. Several weeks ago, Martin Farms got almost 2 inches of rain. In checking fields following the deluge, two fields caught his eye: a freshly bedded soybean field and a field where beans had been planted into corn stubble. “In the freshly-bedded field there was water standing from end to end. But in the field where I planted into corn stubble, there wasn’t any water standing at all. The corn trash just soaks up moisture and holds it for a long time.”
Low cotton prices, boll weevil eradication costs and increased insect pressures have made farmers look for alternatives to cotton. As a result, Monroe County – where Holly Grove is situated in eastern Arkansas -- has made a big move to corn. And while corn is expensive to raise, it’s still a lot more economical than cotton, says Smith.
Corn is also a good rotation crop. “Right now, corn is just a fitting crop for what we’re doing on our land. It’s helped us get a handle on morning glories, sicklepod and cockleburs by using atrazine in a rotation. Then, when it’s in a rotation with soybeans, it builds organic matter in the soil to the benefit of soybean yields.”
Last year, counting double-crop beans behind wheat, Smith harvested a 50-plus bushel soybean average. He’s jumped Martin Farms’ soybean yield average from 32 bushels four years ago to over 50 bushels now.
Any changes for next year?
“The only change I’m making with my wheat planting on beds is in drill placement. I’m going to place the drills on top of the beds and leave the middles empty. This year, my wheat yields have been best when the middles were empty and air and sunlight were able to move down the middles. I also noticed disease pressure was lessened. Wheat will compensate better for no wheat in the middles then it will for puny wheat in the middles.”