Results of Third Crops from Cardinal Farms Research

Reprinted from Practical Farmer

Adding a third crop is not only better for the environment, on-farm research indicates it is beneficial to the pocketbook as well.  Bringing a third cop into the standard corn-soybean rotation has been shown to increase corn and soybean yields while simultaneously reducing input costs, since less herbicide and fertilizer are required for the three-year rotation.  Longer, diverse rotations reduce weed and disease pressures and, depending on the additional crop, enable farmers to grow their own nitrogen.

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Craig_in_Field

Bigger Yields with Fewer Inputs

Reprinted from FarmProgress.com by Drake Larsen

Farm research indicates that adding a third crop is better not only for the environment, but also for   the pocketbook. Bringing a third crop into the standard corn-soybean rotation has shown to increase corn and soybean yields while reducing input costs, since less herbicide and fertilizer are required for the three- year rotation. Longer, diverse rotations reduce weed and disease pressures and, depending on the additional crop, enable farmers to grow their own nitrogen.

Research from USDA, Iowa State University and University of Minnesota, recently published in the journal PLOS One in October, found a three-year rotation of corn-soybean-oats/red clover to be the most profitable. ISU agronomist Matt Liebman and colleagues saw increased soybean yields from 51 bushels per acre in a two-year rotation to nearly 55 bushels per acre where a third crop was added. Similarly, corn yields averaged 11 bushels per acre higher for the longer rotations.

Identical weed control was achieved using six to 10 times fewer chemicals in the longer rotations compared to the corn-soybean rotation. The research demonstrates that longer rotations that can reduce input costs and maintain or increase yields can have an edge in profitability.

Central Iowa farmer Craig Fleishman is conducting on-farm research to study the effect of a third crop on his farm. The prospects for profits and additional long- term benefits that come from improved soil health speak to his bottom line and his passion for soil stewardship. Practical Farmers of Iowa supports the on-farm research through their Cooperator’s  Program.

 

Finding the balance

Fleishman, of Minburn, is always fine-tuning his soil stewardship practices in what he calls a continuous search to find the “balance between steel and chemicals.” When making management deci- sions, he first considers the motivation for a given practice. He’s found that many practices good for the crops and soil re- quire a bigger time commitment. Driven by childhood memories of dust storms in the neighborhood, he doesn’t mind the time.

Fleishman says he isn’t trying anything new, merely relearning practices his parents and grandparents were doing before. Like many, his family farm shortened its traditionally diverse crop rotation when soybeans were adopted. Soybeans effectively displaced traditional third crops across the Midwest in the 1960s and 1970s. A challenger to small grains in the past, the story of the soybean is an important reminder that it is possible for alternative crops to break onto the scene in a big way. Recognizing that corn and soybeans will still be his dominant crops, Fleishman completed the first year in 2012 of a three- year trial that brings another crop into his farming system. His interest in adding a third crop has grown from his experiences with strip cropping and intercropping.

His experiment consists of four replications of a three-year crop rotation (corn- soybean-oats/red clover) for a total of 12 strips. Strips are 30 feet wide by three- eighths of a mile long. Corn and soybeans were managed with ridge tillage, as on the rest of the farm. Oats and red clover were planted with a Brillion seeder at 2 bushels per acre for oats, plus 14 pounds red clover.

Measure return over time

The idea is to track the results across a full cycle of the three-year rotation. To understand profit over time, economic return is measured  over three  years instead  of one year. Comparing year to year can be misleading, Fleishman points out, and expanding the economic timeline is es- sential to account for benefits gained from reduced weeds and homegrown nitrogen. Fleishman doesn’t claim to have any magic combination. He admits he is just learning,   and   sometimes   the learning curve in agriculture can be steep.

Though the first-year results are not yet tallied, it’s already been a learning experience. Looking back, Fleishman says his third crop seedings should have been planted earlier. The oats were baled as hay because the stand was uneven; a new seeder may be in order. Roundup on corn and soybeans hurt the oats a bit, though this would have less impact in larger blocks. The clover performed well despite the drought, and biological nitrogen fixation continued long after harvest.

Until there are big changes in the available markets, Fleishman doesn’t see a third crop taking over all his acres. There are markets if you seek them out, he says, but at this point it would be saturated fast if third crops catch on. The Fleishman farm doesn’t have livestock; however, having livestock to feed or graze third crops in- creases the potential value to a farmer, es- pecially in times of high feed prices.

Fleishman knows he has fields that are a natural fit for a longer rotation. After perfecting his techniques, he’s thinking about some headlands and highly erodible land that will be next as he scales up. In the search for a balance between steel and chemicals, a third crop seems like a prac- tical piece of the puzzle.

Larsen is a communications and policy associate with Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Strip Cropping Reduces Soil Erosion, Increases Corn Yields

Reprinted from No-Till Farmer – By Dan Zinkland posted on June 1, 2010

Herbicide-tolerant crops make managing strips easier, but the system works best for no-tillers with smaller farms and planters

No-tillers who strip intercrop often do so to increase corn yields — the result of exposing more outside rows of corn to the sun.

But Minburn, Iowa, no-tiller and ridge-tiller Craig Fleishman strip intercrops primarily to reduce erosion from water moving down the gently rolling hills on two of his farms.

“The strips break up the wind and the rain and the erosion that create gullies,” Fleishman says. “The 12 rows of corn slow the flow of water moving down between the hills.”

Reducing Soil Erosion

Fleishman divides the two farms into three blocks. He strips two of the blocks and no-tills the entire third block to corn. He moves the block of corn each year

“Neither farm is classified as highly erodible,” Fleishman says. “But we tend to get some gully washouts.

“It’s not practical to put a grass waterway in every spot where that could happen. The corn stalks in the strips break up the drainage pattern of the land.”

He started strip intercropping in 2000 and he alternates 12 rows of corn with 12 rows of soybeans. Fleishman plants the strips of corn first without GPS.

“I know where everything is,” Fleishman says. “You just go out there and plant. I go down the old rows.”

Herbicide Tolerance Helps

Roundup Ready and LibertyLink corn and soybeans make strip intercropping easier, but Fleishman has strip intercropped with conventional soybeans.

“You just have to be on your toes with conventional soybeans,” he says. “Roundup Ready, GPS and auto-steer make it a lot easier to strip intercrop than for those guys who were doing it back in the 1980s.

“It’s not really widely practiced now. With larger planters, guys want to get over the rows faster. If you have 24-row-wide strips in corn, you are probably going to lose out on the edge-effect benefit.”

Ideally, four rows of corn alternating with four rows of soybeans would provide the maximum number of edges in a field, Fleishman says. But he says 12-row-wide strips work well on his farm.

Strips Take Time

If a no-tiller wants to strip intercrop, start with one field, Fleishman suggests.

“It’s a good system, but it’s not for everybody,” he says. “If you don’t have much patience, it’s probably not for you.

“In my area, the trend is toward larger planters. Unless you can plant two crops at the same time, it’s going to be hard to sell strip intercropping.”

Long-time no-tiller Jim House says the system worked well on his farm.

“Strip intercropping has dual benefits of high yields and preventing erosion,” says the Port Stanley, Ont., Canada, no-tiller, who began strip intercropping corn, soybeans and winter wheat 17 years ago.

Wheat lowered the yield of soybeans, House says, so he stripped corn and soybeans. He used three 21-inch rows for corn in strips 7.5 feet wide. He planted the outside rows to twin rows spaced 7.5 inches apart.

The soybeans were planted on 15-inch rows in strips 15 feet wide. Because the wider strips of soybeans flanked the corn, House ended up with soybeans on soybeans on half of his beans.

House planted 32,000 kernels of corn per acre in the center row and 50,000 per acre in the outside rows to maximize exposure to the sun.

Planting just three 21-inch corn rows exposed more corn to the sunlight than wider strips to get the “edge effect.”

Higher Corn Yields

“The corn in the strips consistently yielded 100 bushels per acre more than my neighbor’s corn planted in whole fields,” says House, adding corn yields ran as high as 400 bushels per acre. “From 1999 to 2008, the corn in strips averaged 275 to 300 bushels per acre.”

He attributes higher yields to more exposure to sun and higher plant populations.

“We never changed our fertilizer program much from that of our neighbors,” he says. “We ran a good 200 pounds of nitrogen per acre.”

When he started strip intercropping, it was tough to find compatible herbicides for corn, soybeans and wheat.

“Then Roundup Ready corn came on the market,” he says.

House harvested soybeans first and then combined corn with a head he built. Because outside rows of corn shaded the soybeans, soybean yields were a little lower than seen in a full field of soybeans, he says.

House believes in strip intercropping, but he says it’s not for everyone, particularly no-tillers with thousands of acres.

“Big farmers like to get in the fields and go,” House says.