Rotation is key for healthy fields, says Tim Smith of Arkansas Last year, up the road from Holly Grove, Ark., a farmer planted some corn behind wheat. Martin Farms manager Tim Smith was impressed with the results.
"As neighbors do, we talked about it. Later, William Johnson (Arkansas Extension wheat and corn specialist) and I were talking, and we thought it would be a good idea to try something similar. William got the varieties and we put them in," says Smith.
Rotation Smith, solidly in the "rotation" camp of farming, plants only grains. To keep his fields healthy, rotation is key.
"This system isn't common at all around here. It's a system I've read about coming out of Georgia. The Bt technology allows us to double-crop corn behind wheat.
"Tim harvested the wheat and then no-tilled corn on the beds. All of the corn is Bt. About three weeks after planting, it was above the wheat straw. It was phenomenal how quickly it grew off," says Johnson.
The plan called for Smith to harvest the test field around the first week of October. Then he can come back with wheat again. With corn it's a little quicker turnaround than with a double-cropped soybean field, says Johnson.
Running a population of about 27,000, Smith planted the field right into the wheat stubble. That night, the field got 2.5 inches of rain. "Other than that, we've gotten 0.6 inch of rain since. So any moisture it's gotten has been irrigation. We furrow-irrigated seven times. I run three days, wait seven, and then go back in with some more water," says Smith.
Inputs Smith broadcast 200 pounds of urea and 100 pounds of ammonium sulfate when the plants were a foot tall. "Then at tassel I flew another 150 pounds of urea over the top. Other than the P, K and zinc I put down with the wheat last fall, that's all the fertilizing it's had."
Will Smith plant fields like this again? "I'd like to. When we get the yield results next week, I'll be better able to tell. As far as the numbers, when planting I put out two quarts of atrazine and a quart of Roundup because I had some johnsongrass. I was concerned that so much atrazine would be antagonistic on the Roundup. But the Roundup did a great job on the grass. That's all the chemical I put on it."
Smith doesn't have nearly the economic inputs in the test field as in his early-planted corn.
"On my other corn, I've got two side-dress applications, flew urea on it, put some starter on it - just much more money is in the early corn."
Of course, yield-wise, the late corn won't cut as good as the early. Smith's early corn averaged 180 bushels. He figures to get 120 to 130 bushels on the late corn.
"If the late-planted corn does well in the situation it's been through this year - when we've had 100-plus degree temperatures right in the middle of pollination - then that's extremely positive. We also had 80-plus degree temperatures at night. And it's hung in there the whole while, so it bodes well for the future. If it does well, I'll bump my acreage up doing this without a doubt."
Garnering interest Are other farmers asking about the system? "Oh yeah, there's a lot of interest. We've had farmers from Des Arc and Pine Bluff down here looking," says Smith.
Johnson thinks Arkansas will see a few more fields done like this next year. The farmers most interested seem to be those wanting to plant behind rice, he says.
"They want to plant wheat behind the rice and corn behind the wheat," says Johnson.
"We farm right at 3,000 acres. Counting the test field, we had about 450 acres of corn. We had a small amount of grain sorghum - maybe 40 acres. We've made a move to more corn," says Smith.
Smith has corn in the rotation because it works so well on the area's land. "My rotation once was rice, then soybeans, then wheat, then back into beans, then back to rice. Corn makes me more flexible in some of the harder-to-water fields."
Smith can put corn on fields that row-water. On fields that don't row-water well, Smith puts in rice. An exception this year was a couple of corn fields that he levee-watered.
"We've got a good farm water-wise. We're able to water all but 125 acres of our land. You've just got to have water to raise anything now."
Soybeans Smith did make a move to more Group IV soybeans this year to get a crop out early. "We really like to get our fields ready during early fall. Group IVs also saved us water. We irrigated only twice instead of four and five times like we do with Group Vs and early VIs. I'm increasing Group IVs even more next year."
From Group IV, Smith planted Pioneer 9492RR and some 4702 Asgrow. This year, the farm was about 40 percent Roundup Ready and 60 percent conventional. Those numbers will probably be reversed next year.
"It's so much easier to maintain the crop and the (Group IV) varieties seem to be much more consistent alongside conventionals then they once were. The Group IVs we cut so far have averaged 45 bushels. We had one field that cut 51 bushels - that's with two waterings."
Some of Smith's Group Vs should be around 50 bushels per acre. He believes some of the soybeans behind corn will cut 60 bushels.
Pests, disease? "On the Bt corn we've seen very few insects and pressure. You do see some more fungus on the later-planted corn - especially on the row ends," says Smith.
Bedding wheat While planting the corn test, Smith used a setup that "just cut right through the wheat trash. It worked up an area about 3 inches wide. I've got seed-firmers on the rig and they press the seed right into the trench. Those firmers were a great investment."
Smith's bedding equipment has a cultivator with rollers on the back of it. Smith also has spray tips rigged up as he does a lot of post-directing on corn.
The planter Smith uses has coulters and trash wheels that cut through the residue and splits it apart.
"That gives me a good area to plant the seed in. I put the seed-firmers on it and the fertilizer goes on from the back. None of the stuff is new, I just incorporate things that have already worked for others."
The field was tasseling at 40 days. Smith was amazed. Plants had ears at 42 and 43 days.
The year before last, Smith started playing with bedding wheat. He was really impressed with the system because his highest yields were on beds.
"So last year I doubled my acreage of wheat on beds. It won the yield contest on this farm again. So I'm doing even more."
Smith plans to run a 60-inch bed to make it easier on the surveyor. When you run beds on a levee-watered field, it will help you pick a tenth or two-tenths on your surveying, he says. When you've got a high spot, it'll let the water creep up.
"I've had a tendency to stay away from the beds in fields where I levee-water, but I'm going to go ahead and try it."
Cotton? "I have no cotton now. I've had experience with it, but the expense of it just doesn't work well. I can do better with grains out here," says Smith.
He also likes corn because of the organic matter it offers. Fields once running 0.7 and 0.8 in organic matter have jumped to 1.6 or higher after being planted in corn.
"Every year, I'm learning more. This year, I'm bush-hogging my corn stalks and then coming in with my seed and drill right on top of the beds and residue. That should work well. When you've got $1-plus farm diesel, you have no choice but to come up with new ideas."
Smith isn't in corn to make a killing financially. Corn is just a good way to switch things up and make fields healthier, he says.
"Our corn yields are up, which I think is attributable to starter fertilizer and fertilizing at tasseling. Before starting to farm in earnest about 10 years ago, I was on the ag sales end of the business. I think that has helped me out in the field. I'm more aware of where to put my money. I'm a big believer in starter fertilizer (10-20-10) in corn."