Field Crops Webinar Series - Field Crops Webinar Corn Management -Nafziger Kelley

February 21, 2022

Video Transcript

- All right, I've got seven o'clock, so welcome everyone, to the MSU Extension Field Crops webinar series. If you've joined us for the last two, we've had the bar set high for us the first two sessions. We were really well done on a couple different important topics, and we're gonna hit a third topic to see, talking about corn management. So we've got just a couple things we wanna do to kick things off. First of all, just wanted you to know... Our team wants you to know that everything that we do with Extension is freely available to the general public. We wanna keep it open to the entire community. So tonight's topic, again, following this theme of two for one, we've got two corn production experts with us today. First up is Emerson Nafziger, professor emeritus down at University of Illinois, my alma mater, is gonna be paired up with Kyle Kelley, who is owner and agronomist of CropWatch, which is a consulting firm kind of in the Southern tier of counties in Michigan and the upper tier in Indiana. And the topic we're gonna be hitting here is corn production kind of how it's changed over time, what's important now. And then we'll finish up with some feedback from you all as to what you'd like to hear in addition to the topics that we've kind of been talking about and preparing. So with that, I'm gonna stop sharing and kinda have Emerson, he's got a few slides prepared to sort of help us navigate through this topic. So Emerson, you can go ahead and share your screen. - That look right? - I don't have your screen shared yet. - I guess I have to actually share it first. - Yep, and we're seeing a slide that says yield is the leading challenge. - Perfect. And so-- - What we're really what we're gonna do here tonight, folks, is Emerson is gonna talk through a few topics that again, he's been in this base now for a few decades. And so I specifically asked Emerson to kind of talk through some things from his perspective, what used to be important, what has changed over time, what are the current best management practices? And then Kyle's kind of the new kid on the block, so to speak, compared to Emerson anyway, and so we're just gonna dialogue on different perspectives on just what things look like in agronomy in general, not just in Michigan. And so Emerson is gonna bring us that, the I state's perspective from that. So Emerson talk a little bit about yield. - Okay, we'll do that. And glad to be with you this evening, everyone. Just by way of introduction, I grew up in Northwestern Ohio, very flat country. I had a motorcycle and Sundays I'd sometimes drive up into Southern Michigan. So I know a little bit about Michigan. I drove up there to see rocks in the fields. We didn't have many rocks in the fields where I grew up, and it was very flat. So I've been to hell and back a few times, and I always enjoyed doing that just to see the diversity. And it's pretty different. The place where there's sandy soil and rocks. So the big thing that I wanna start out talking about, and I think it directs everything we think about in corn management today, and that has been the steady yield increase that we've seen. When I started at the University of Illinois, we had just crossed 100 bushels as our trendline yield, corn yield. And we used to think 100 bushels was sort of a decent yield. And even in the early eighties, I started 40 years ago today, I believe actually, but we were happy with statewide yields of 110 and 120, and they've almost doubled since then. So that's just a huge increase. So I don't think back then, anybody would've predicted that sort of thing. We knew that we could do better than we had been doing in the forties and fifties, as we yields rows from the twenties to the thirties, to the forties, to the seventies and eighties. But getting the yield to where they are today has meant a big difference. The biggest difference by far is in the genetics. So I put here, South Central Crop Reporting district, just as a way of contrasting year-end increase, has been a 1.8 bushels per acre, per year, over the last 30 years. And then, then I put in Illinois just because there are states that are sort of comparable to yours, and you can see where we're at. Illinois has been going up at about 2.4 bushels per acre per year, since then, Indiana at about 2.1. Big drops there in 2012 with a widespread drought. But we ended up just over 200 bushel for this, for our statewide average yield this last year. And in 2018, our best year we've had, we were at 210. So what does it mean when we get yields like that and are they gonna continue to go up? I use this one on the left. I just took a yield, one of our hybrid trials that we run in Illinois, and it's got a, sort of a random selection of hybrids from seed companies. And I took one of the, I took the best location each year and took the top, the average of the top 10 hybrids, and that's the upper line that you see there on the left, and that's what I'm calling genetic progress. In other words, it's sort of the best weather, soil conditions we had for, among our dozen locations or so that year, and we just, I just chose that one to say, if we had good conditions, what would we expect yields to be? And you can see there were just about 300 bushels on that. The line below it is the progress, state yield progress, and you can see there, the difference between those. The genetic progress shows us a little bit faster than the yield progress. I give genetic progress the majority of the credit for bringing our yields to what they are. I'm not nominate for sainthood any of the corn breeders, but this relentless pressure that they've put on the crop to produce higher yields and selecting for that has brought some real changes in the hybrid. And my message tonight is that this change has made it, has sort of taken the pressure off of management, I guess, is maybe one way you'd say it. I have to be careful here because I don't want to talk myself out of usefulness by the end of the hour. But I think that the hybrids are changed in every possible way for the better, and I think that's going to have an effect. I did have to put a little note on there, I've done a little tinkering around with global warming as it's projected to be over the next 50 years. And at least in this part of the Corn Belt, I project just a very small drop in that rate of upward increase. People have been projecting that are yields by the middle of this century are gonna drop to below what they are today, and that just doesn't make any sense at all. Even though the area is warming to some extent, the warming in Illinois and Michigan and Wisconsin is gonna be less than it is other places and not expected to be very harmful, especially in the Northern Corn Belt where it could actually be helpful. I think that some additional warm days, as long as they aren't accompanied by stretches of drought or really high temperatures, could be a positive for us. So that's one that we're not gonna talk anymore about. I just thought I'd put that in because we're hearing some very unrealistic things coming out. And my prediction is by 2050, which is only less than 30 years away, we're gonna be harvesting really good yields everywhere. (overlapping discussion) - [Eric] Question that I've got for you, Emerson, and actually for both you and Kyle: Is this genetic improvement that we're seeing, how much is that tied to management? So are the genetics improving because the assumption is that, for example, we're gonna be planting it at higher populations or with a different fertility regime. So how much of it is really still dependent on management decisions? - It's a good question. I think our management has to move with the genetics. but if I look over the last 10 years, we haven't appreciably changed these things, the way we manage. Some of you're gonna be yelling about that. But the real sense, the talk we heard 10 years ago that we're gonna be doing everything different, pouring more nitrogen on, putting more population out there, we've just been finding that that's not the case. And I think we're probably going to continue to move of these up, the big challenges in management may well be in weed and pest control, some of these kinds of things, rather than in getting the crop in and getting a good stand and putting enough nutrients on it. - Yeah, so I think a lot of the, to kind of hit on what Emerson said, the changes in genetics, I think, are more geared towards to prevent our major fallouts. You know, you look at 2012 in the drought, and we won't go into it too much this year, but tar spot, and over towards Emerson's area, some of those I states with derecho, there's all kinds of different things that I think in the genetic pool that they're trying to just prevent the major fallouts or the things that we can't control. Obviously some of our management practices are gonna maybe change that yield a little bit. But the majority of it is just to help our things that we can control. - I just listed out here, some of those things that genetic improvements have been, and it's not big, big time stuff here, but they grow faster, crop grows faster, both tops and roots and takes up nutrients and water better. The root systems are better, not necessarily bigger because it takes effort, energy to grow big roots, but they're just more competent and they last better. Crop has better ability to withstand most stresses including from late planting, periods of dryness, and so on. Our big panic about getting planted late at one time was that in the middle of the summer, there'd be a drought in the crop would amount to nothing. And we don't worry about that anymore. We get good yields from late planting. We get better ones from earlier planting. But some of these things that we've considered, ways to end this crop before it's filled much grain, just aren't operative anymore. There may be some, I put here, there may be some greater early season sensitivities, and that's with regard to nitrogen and possibly with temperature. We're not gonna talk much more about that. It's just that we know that we can plant crop, get a cold and wet on it afterwards, and it looks like in some cases, yields might be hurt right there. And it's one that we're gonna have to learn to manage around. I just think when you make, when you change the genetics the way we have, that you might have changed some other things, mostly for the positive, but there may be some sensitivities we've brought in. The final point there is they should respond less to things like plant population and soil fertility, both at the lower and higher rates of such inputs. So the answer to your question, Eric, about management, it's probably kind of a truism that, if breeders are selecting under management, the good management that producers are using today, that we're probably maximizing the yield potential sort of in that range of management, and talking about population and nitrogen. And I think that's really what's happened. I think that it's just showing up that a good population that intercepts the sunlight by mid-season and keeps it filling during the second half of the season is a critical thing, and these hybrids are very good at doing that. - [Eric] So with regards to the genetics, we've got one question that came in talking about some of the newer technologies like CRISPR. So the genetic advances that you've seen over the past 10, 20, 30 years, how much of that has been due to what we'll say is traditional breeding and how much more do you think we're gonna see with these newer technologies like CRISPR, CRISPR Cas, things like that? - Well, I do think that most of the genetic yield improvement has been just regular breeding. Bringing in the BTs and so on was, some people think sort of an interruption of that process, in fact. That we may not have made as fast a genetic gain during that time because of bringing those in. I don't have an opinion on that because I'm not a breeder. I don't know. It's interesting to ponder, but I guess each of us could sort of answer, ask us fellows the question, what, if you could do anything you wanted to the corn plant, what would you do? And one of their latest things that we're seeing is these short hybrids. Some of you have heard about those, they're out there in the market, coming onto the market now, and we'll see how those do. Apparently they have an equivalent leaf area, but if they're short, they stand better in the derecho, which hit Iowa, and didn't really hurt us very much. I don't think you can give up very many bushels per year to have something that it's derecho-proof. Derechos are too rare. But I think there may be some possibilities we haven't even seen yet. But corn, which I've loved my whole life, is already a very efficient and highly productive crop, one of the most highly productive in the world. And I think where it's been brought so far by human selection and by natural forces is at a pretty high level. And I'm not sure we're gonna make any sudden shifts and raise the rate of genetic gain or double it. - [Eric] So you're talking about this intersection between genetics and management. Talk a little bit about seeding rate. How has that changed? - That has, it has changed. And as you see on the left here, for some odd reason, Michigan doesn't report ear numbers. but I took the Illinois and Indiana ones down there, and you can see, I drew a circle around the last 10 years, or seven or eight years anyway, and show that they really haven't been increasing very much. And that's after a pretty steady increase from the nineties up to 2015 or so, and it's kind of leveled off. We look at those and say, well, 30,000, that's not very many. Surely they must be finding more than that. And I have a few questions whether those are accurate. But at least the trend is there. And the good years tend to have higher ear numbers, which kind of makes sense, although, barrenness is a thing, almost a thing of the past in most fields today. But I think that that the seeding rates have, at least the increase has moderated. And I heard people 10 years ago saying, man, we're gonna be at 45,000 and everybody's gonna be there. They're gonna make the plants smaller, and some even claimed that soybeans and corn would be planted at the same population. That doesn't seem to be happening. I put on the right there 17 sites of data, population data from Illinois. These are sites over three years. Each one of them has three or four or more, five or six hybrids included. So I'm not trying to look at a hybrid thing here because that won't get us anywhere. The yellow triangle is where each of those, where they sort of, they call it the optimum, they kind of produce, the last little bit of seed produces just enough yield to pay for itself, is the way I put it. If you look at those yellow triangles there, you see that one that's low. Well, that was a dry year at a Illinois location, a Southern Illinois location. But the thing you notice about it is that even though it sort of peaked there at about 30,000, it didn't drop off. This has been a huge improvement in hybrids. At one time, we'd have said, you know, if your best population is 30,000 and you started at 18, and you went up to 48, by 48, you're not gonna be yielding anything. And today they do. So one of these big improvements has been in this ability to set seed. And the fact that those optimum numbers there, they cluster in the thirties, in the mid-thirties, tells me that that's, and it doesn't matter what their yield level is. You can see there are yield levels here, go from, 270 down to that low one at about 170, and it didn't make much difference what the yield level was. The best populations tend to be about the same. And I think this is true in fields as well. So we don't hear much talk about being in the 40,000s anymore. You can see in some of these cases, we've lost yield going, at least from 42 to 48. You can make population trials fall apart out at the end. Just put 'em at 60,000 or some ridiculous number and they won't do well. But in that working range of the 30,000s, you can move around in there and think you're doing better, but it's not making very much difference in yield. - [Eric] So Kyle, is that pretty much what you're seeing up here? Do you see anyone trying to push the envelope or do you feel like all your clients have pretty well settled into that, you know, 35,000, give or take. - Yeah, sorry, cut out there a little bit at the end, Emerson, at least on my end, but yeah, I think in general, obviously our area is unique. We have sandy soils, lots of rocks like Emerson had said, and we have irrigation and dry land. That's how we classify it. So you go to, I guess, what we call the less productive acres, definitely a lot of guys, 30 or somewhat even below, but in that irrigation range, seen plenty of people push it up to that 40 or past that. But in general, the yields are following this chart. So I think most people pretty well settle in that mid-30 range, and I think this kind of goes back to what we were talking about before with genetics. The genetics have improved and they've supported planting, 30, 35, maybe to 40,000 yields there. I think in the future, that's maybe something that may change. Maybe we will be planting, but the genetics have to change in order to do that. I know one thing with the short corn that you're talking about, they were talking about higher density population. But whether it'll come or not, I don't know, but we're seeing excellent yields in this 30 to 35,000 range, and certain varieties respond one way or another, but in general, if you stick in that range, I don't think you can go wrong. - I saw a company, a seed company agronomist quoted just this morning. He said, The goal with seeding rate is to get the maximum number of ears per acre. And I thought, well, I'll talk about this tonight. That's absolutely not the goal. If it did, we'd plant more than 50,000, because every one of those at 48,000, there pretty much has an ear on it. It's just a really small one. And when the year size is going down faster than the ear, when the ear size goes down faster than the, anything else, the kernel numbers per acre is what we're really interested in. And that does start down at some point. So that's just a sideline to that. but that kind of thinking, and he also went on to say, well, narrow rows, that's where you can, then you have to raise your population to see the advantage of narrow rows. And that's been the downfall of some of the narrow rows. They're already at a high population. They go to narrow rows and raise it even further and they find that they're actually planting too many. So too many is mostly an economic question now, not an agronomic one. As you can see here, mostly they sort of hold up fine to the mid-forties. but you just, you're putting out a lot of extra seed there, 10,000 seeds is not cheap, and you're not getting much return for it, or none. So I just put in some comments about variable rate seeding. We won't stop on it very long. But what I just showed you there pretty much tells you if we get flat yield responses from the upper twenties to the lower forties, that already tells you that, you know, what it is in any particular part of the field is not gonna change the yield very much. If you go from, if you decide that one part of the field needs 36 and another part needs 33 and another part needs 37, you're not looking at very much difference in yield. We've done some simulations and we really haven't been able to find at least in relatively productive conditions, not just great conditions, but just, decent conditions and yield levels, we really can't find much benefit at all to variable rate seeding. And by what I mean is variable rate seeding is, after the fact, you say, well, we know that the population in this study that maximized return to seed was 36,000. And so if we put exactly there what we know was supposed to be there and make up a field that way, you can then say, what does this do compared to a uniform rate across the whole field? The thing we often forget with variable rate seeding is that the control is a uniform seeding at a good population, not at a substandard population. So I put in there, we can't predict where these are going to be, they do move around in the field, and we've seen returns when you actually know this. And of course we never know for a part of the field, what the best population is. And I have no objection to people just sort of saying, well, we always get higher yields in this area, so we'll put a couple thousand more seeds there. But we've had cases where the slopes of a field that's highly productive did better than the flat part because it rained too much, and the slopes are exactly where they would've put fewer seeds. And so these things just have a way of not cooperating. I do did put on there though that there's some common sense variable rate seeding, I call it, and that's things like non-irrigated corners, and some of this kind of thing. And Kyle, you might have some additional to add in on that. - Yeah, I mean, I'm right with you. I've been out in the field and seen where people have done this and talked to people and looked at their yield maps, and you may see a small change, but in general, it hasn't made sense to do a big scale. I think it was a big push by companies, not saying it's right or wrong, but a way for their salesmen to work with growers to produce a map and hopefully help them. I agree, common sense, dry corners, things like that. All these people know where those areas in their field after they've farmed them long enough, and in general, I think they're changing the rate if they feel it's necessary without any special technology. - Let's talk about planning date. If that's okay, Eric, we'll get started on that. We put together data from some of our studies, and I imagine other states have these too. This is a fairly recent set, and in each of these planning dates, we had 39 trials here, there's 39 times four circles up there, and we took and set each date at the best planning date for yield at each location was given 100%. Everything else was up percentage of that. So a couple of things here that I'll point out. One is we can plant too early. These were not stand issues. You see four circles here that are way down in the 80-85% range from planting in early April. And in Illinois, first week of April, central Illinois and southern Illinois, for sure, first week of April is open season. They won't go if it's real muddy most of the time, unless they got a lot of acres, but they'll certainly go if it's fit and not pay too much attention to what the soil temperature is. Sometimes that's probably overdone a little bit. So then, but putting the line across the rest of it, these are from different, cool conditions, unfavorable conditions I think after plants emerge. There's not, the stands aren't good. It's that they encounter some thing then in may that says, well, your yield potential is reduced because it got down in the upper thirties and it's not going to go as well. So we can lose some yield potential that we can't get back. But most people are in Northern Illinois. They will tend to more start the middle of April. And you can see here, we don't get very much yield decline until we get into about the second week of May, and then the yield is coming down. But it's late May. By late May, we're still at 90% of our potential, and then things scatter out all over the place. And we can still get really good yields in the first week, first of June, and we can get really poor yields the first week of June. It just depends on how things go. In a general sense, if I contrast this with data from 25 years ago, the penalty to late planning is considerably less than it was back then, and I think it goes to the hybrid improvements that I talked about. Warmer soils planting are a bonus. They're one that most people here may not wait for, but other than that I think that, and people are over-equipped in many cases. They love to get done in April and about half of the Illinois crop is usually planted by the end of April. But that does not guarantee, our earliest planting ever was 2012. It didn't rain for two months after that and it was a terrible crop. So that taught us that early planning isn't everything. - [Eric] So Emerson, all those dots on there, those are across the entire state. Obviously you're seeing a differentiation between like a, you know, your DeKalb research station versus what used to be Dixon Springs. So what can you say about, because I'm guessing, and Kyle, you can correct me if I'm wrong here, but Northern Illinois would be somewhat similar to mid-Michigan, and here down in Southern part of the state, it was actually closer to mid-Illinois. So what can you say about timing of the planting, what we would see up here in Michigan? - Yeah, so I mean, you know, Michigan's a pretty variable state, but timing-wise, I think that it's the same everywhere when the weather seems right, you guys start going. The big thing that I push for and I know we've talked about before, is paying attention to the next seven days. The first thing the seed does when we put it in the ground is takes in water. So pay attention to what's coming up next. I agree that the, it's not as big of a priority planting earlier and I think genetics, like Emerson said, are playing a big role. Back before my time, obviously your genetic pool is limited, but a lot of companies were focused very, hyper focused on region. And now all these companies, their region might be three or four states. So they have to create something that's adaptable to mid-Michigan where you might be planting 100 day or shorter variety. And then meanwhile, you're going down to Southern Michigan or Indiana and you might be planting 112 days. So they've just become so adaptable to all kinds of conditions and environments. That planting date, as long as you pay attention to all the things that you're used to, then it really goes pretty well. - These sites are actually in central and Northern Illinois. We don't have Southern Illinois in this. It's too hard to do these trials down there. One thing I'd mentioned, just in terms of genetics, things that struggle to get up out of cold soils probably aren't on the market, or aren't on the market anymore. It just can't afford to be because those visual comparisons, when your neighbor planted and you planted the same day and his comes up two days earlier, it may not yield as well as yours, but you don't like that when it comes up two days earlier. So that's the thing. - Yeah, the companies have had to adapt to all different kinds of farmers and they don't, they can't choose what it's going to. So yeah, it goes back to same adaptability. - I just had to throw this one in. we had a planting date by fungicide by hybrid study, and I don't think we should spend much time on it. But this is one where, this was just this last year over at Western Illinois at Monmouth, and a very high yield potential and good yields if we put fungicide on even at the latest date, but both hybrids kind of fell apart a little bit, and one of 'em particularly if it wasn't sprayed with fungicide. And so, late tar spot is not something we had ever seen at that location before, and that's gonna be true for everybody. I said, the only predictable part of this was if you scouted for disease and controlled it fast, you would've been fine. But it's just one of those instances where, this hybrid that ended up, they had both ended up yielding about the same out here these three dates. But the early date, the pioneer one was not as good as the DeKalb one. So early planting may actually help limit tar spot damage, but that's a topic for another day. If it's warm and fit, but a cold front is expected soon, this is one question that I threw in, with heavy rain and cold spell coming, should we stop planting, or not plant? That's a question that we never even considered, you know, five years ago or 10 years ago. But every season now, it seems like after every season, farmers will say, well, there was a window in there of a few days that, boy, I wish we wouldn't have planted then. And if you look at that, it's usually those times when it gets cold and wet right after they planted, it doesn't necessarily mean that the stand's bad and they have to replant, but they just see a crop that's slow to come up and kind of scraggly, they've been told over and over again that crops that, the plants that don't come up all in the same, within the same 48 hours are weeds or don't amount to anything, which isn't true by the way. But that's what sort of takes hold, and as I said, I think there is some yield limitation that comes in sometimes on those. In terms of telling farmers, it's first, it's the last week of May and it's fit to plant, and yeah, it's gonna rain in a few days, but you know, they aren't even gonna stop the tractor to listen to you. They're just gonna keep driving. For the most part, we had one seed company a few years ago that told farmers they probably oughta stop planting, and I kind of appreciated their doing that. But I think, I don't know how many of their customers listened to 'em. - [Eric] Well, I think we've done a really good job of covering a couple of what I'll say are the core topics. And maybe if we could hit one more core topic, maybe planting depth, and then we'll kinda switch up and we'll get some feedback from the audience here. - I just threw in a little data here, but this planting depth question keeps coming around and round and, you know, somebody needs just issue a decree that says you shall plant 1.8 inches deep and no deeper and no shallower. I think we'd all be better off. I keep seeing the engineer from Nebraska saying that you should plant three and a half inches deep, and I kind of object to that. This was a study on the left, is one I did way back a few years, and we found that there wasn't very much difference between an inch and two inches, and as you went deeper, you lost yield. The guys over at Monmouth did one a few years ago and they found that an inch and a half, two and a half, and three and a half, averaged over everything, an inch and a half was the best, and two and a half was next best, and three and a half was no good basically. And I think that's what we ought to think about. If it seems unreasonably too deep, it is. Two and a half inches, and I'm not talking about, you know, sandy soils in Michigan here. But I just think that we ought to, this ought to be common sense to us by this point, that an inch and a half to two and a quarter is probably where we wanna be. I think I just put that on this slide and said, planting to moisture and sandy soils might be a reason to plant corn outside of that range, and I have no problem with that. We don't have enough of those here to really talk about. Depth uniformity is the goal, but I said, seed placement is good seed soil contact with an open path to the surface, which we get with these side wheel, press wheel placement now. And I think most planters can be set to work really well to get that. Soil moisture-senses planting depth or variable down pressure need to be used carefully, if at all. Everybody that uses these need to ask themselves if they're solving a problem that they actually have. And it's a little bit of a concern to me because company, I had a company guy that makes this equipment tell me, I said, would you actually plant to three inches if that's where moisture is? That's kind of a trick question in Illinois because there's always moisture shallower than that. We don't till it six times like we did when I was growing up, so there's always moisture there, on the 1st of May. But I just worry that you put it in at three inches because that's where the moisture was and then it rains two inches and then the seed doesn't get oxygen and just dies there. That's a danger that everybody needs to keep in mind. Outside of weather surprises, almost every field has a good stand almost every year with decent uniformity. Notice I say outside of weather surprises. That suggests that we keep doing what we're doing pretty well, and I know that it's cool to have, be able to set down pressures from the automatically with hydraulics and this kind of stuff, but it's cool engineering. I'm not sure how cool agronomy it really is. - [Eric] So from a perspective of the soil porosity, or how loose the soil is, Kyle, you're particularly experienced with the sandier soils, Emerson out west, you got sandier soils. So if you're looking for that ideal depth, how much are we taking into consideration to how light the soil is? - I really, I mean the one point that Emerson had was planting deeper to find moisture. But there's an issue with that. This spring, it was very dry. There was a lot of guys that I think were doing it. And the issue that we had is when it's that dry, your soil does vary. So your moisture depth is going to vary. So we had a lot of fields where, you know, you're planting deep three inches or whatever, and you get a spot where there is moisture at three inches, but then you get another spot where there isn't. So our corn was coming out of the ground extremely variable. And then we got some pretty heavy rains, and we may be drained all right because we have sandy soils, but it packs down that loose soil that we planted into and it creates some real issues for that corn coming out of the ground. So in general, I don't recommend anything much deeper than an inch and a half. I know some people have planted deeper earlier because they're thinking it for protects it. And looking at some of those results that Emerson had, a couple of 'em wind up. So maybe that's what happened there, was plant a little deeper, took a little longer to get out of the ground, but in general, around that inch and a half to two inches is where you should be, even in our soils. - Remember that the press wheels, the seed soil contact is designed to help water move across soil particles to the seed and into the seed. So if those are made from the side, sometimes obviously if it's blow sand and so dry, it just runs through your fingers, it's not got enough moisture in it. but we can get moisture into some of these seeds where it doesn't obviously look like we will. I agree that, you know it, if your question is, should I plant it two inches deep, or should I plant at three inches deep and have some come up and some not come up, or plant two inches deep and have none of it come up until it rains, that may be the choice in some cases, that the uniformity of emergence is probably a good thing in that case. - [Eric] So those of you who have put questions into the Q&A all dealing with fertility, I'm not blowing those questions off. We're actually gonna keep track of those questions, because in a couple weeks, we're going to have a couple of experts in fertility and they're gonna focus all on that. So I'm gonna actually gonna hold your questions for a couple weeks if that's okay, and I'm gonna try something different. We haven't done this yet in this series, but I'm just gonna try it. So Emerson and Kyle and I, we got together last week and we talked through a bunch of different topic and we've got enough, these guys have enough experience and expertise to talk for probably the whole rest of the night. So instead of just going an inch deep and a mile wide, what we're gonna do is we're gonna let you guys decide which topics we talk about for the rest of our time tonight. So I'm gonna launch a poll here and you should be seeing that on your screen now. And what I want you to do is just pick like the top one, maybe two topics that you would like to see us talk about for the rest of our time. We're probably only gonna get to talk about, well again, probably one or two of these. So just pick one or two, and then we'll see where we come out. Might need to dance around the slides a little bit to get to some of these topics. That's okay. So we'll let this poll go for another 10 seconds or so. Again, you're picking your top one, maybe two topics that you'd like us to hit before we're done for the evening. Of course we're gonna die if they're all about the same number. So then we'll just have to pick what we wanna talk about. Okay, so take another about five seconds and then we'll end this poll. All right, so let's see how we did here. I'm gonna end the poll and then we'll share the results with you all. And that's pretty much what I was thinking, it's pretty well split. So we've got rotation, we've got tillage, cover crops, biologicals. So out of those four, I guess, Emerson and Kyle, I'm gonna let you guys decide, why don't you each pick your top out of those four, and those are the two that we'll cover. - I'll talk about rotations. - [Eric] All right, Kyle, what would you wanna focus on? - We do a lot of cover cropping down here, so that's been a hot topic lately, so we can look at that. - [Eric] Okay, perfect. All right, so Emerson, you can go ahead and find the slides talking about tillage, and I'm not sure if we have any that are focusing on the cover crop, but we can definitely hit that topic anyway. So thanks everyone for giving us your feedback. - It was rotation, right? Yeah, so I did have a couple slides on this. It's something we've done some work with here, and I was surprised, I saw this is your Michigan acreage here on the left, and it looks very much, the pattern's almost identical to what it is in Illinois with about equal amounts of corn and soybeans. We have about four times as many acres, but the trends are exactly the same. And then you have about the same amount of wheat as we do in Illinois. So the proportion of wheat we have is much smaller. And for the most part, our wheat grows in a few smaller areas, but our rotation, what I point this out for is that, today our rotations are sort of locked in. We have almost equal acreage of corn and soybeans, some wheat, and not much else. And so I don't have clear alternatives to existing crops on a lot of acres, and some people think we're gonna return to forage and ruminant-based rotations, so I guess we're just gonna skip over that part. So here's a study, a 20 year study we did in Western Illinois, looked at continuous corn, corn-soybean rotation, soy-wheat-corn, and wheat-soy-corn. We put those two in the same, in the two orders, they could be the three year rotations. And this was in a productive prairie soil. The continuous corn yield at this site was relatively poor compared to what we normally expect. We expect about 10% lower yield from corn. It's not a lot lower than that, but it's not what we would expect, and we're not quite sure why. Adding wheat into the corn soybean rotation increased corn yield by about at 5%. We also did profitability on these systems. We had continuous soybean, and I obviously didn't show you that. But the profitability at our current prices, and I just put these in today, is the soy-corn rotation had more profitable than continuous soybean, was more profitable than the soy-wheat-corn or soy-corn-wheat, however you wanna do it, was more profitable than continuous corn. And I won't talk about tillage too much, except we had tillage as part of this, till then no tills, split in each pot. The yield added by tillage only covered the cost of the tillage. It did not, tillage did not increase profitability. Now this is in prairie soil. I know you have data, something like this from Kellogg and some places in Michigan, but this is sort of what we've seen in Illinois. And the first thing most people think about here is that they'd go to a three crop rotation, and you know, the problem is we have a big comparative advantage in corn and soybeans, and we really don't have much of one in wheat compared to other places in the world. So we'll just leave it. That's the only slide I had in. We have a lot of people thinking about rotations, but as we think about rotations, we're 11 million acres of corn and almost that much of soybean in Illinois, and that's not gonna change real fast. It bounces a little bit year by year, but people love corn and they love getting 250 bushel corn yields, and they love soybeans, and they love getting 90 bushel soybeans. But so there's not the discrimination of soybeans there was at one time, but there's an appreciation of both crops and what they bring. I'd also add that corn and soybeans have been extremely well bred to match the rotation that they're in the corn belt in the United States. - [Eric] So have either of you, I guess, Kyle, I'll pitch this to you, have you seen any rotations that, that seem to be more productive? I mean, Emerson's pointing out adding wheat to it. I know we've got some wheat in our area, and since most of our audience is probably not irrigated, maybe focus on the dry land. - Yeah, I mean, I think in general, the data here pretty well translates over to Michigan as well. As for profitability, I would think it's probably fairly close there as well, and the one issue that I know specifically in Southwest Michigan, not a problem pertaining to corn, but rotation-wise, our nematode issue. So it it's definitely favorable for that. But the one thing that I discuss with growers, I guess you can look at your jump from continuous corn to the rest, is basically, anytime you're changing your crop, you're giving it a chance for those fungus that's on the ground and all your other issues, over-wintering there, you give 'em a break. So in general, I'd say Michigan pretty well translates about the same data. - [Eric] So I do wanna point out I've had a handful of folks saying that for whatever reason, a poll did not come up for you on your Zoom. Sorry about that. I'm definitely not a Zoom expert to try to troubleshoot why that was, but so sorry you guys didn't get to take part in the poll. The second topic that we're gonna take is sort of our augment topic before we bust into Q&A, is cover crops. So Kyle, talk a little bit about what role you see cover crops playing in corn production. - Yeah, so anybody feel free to pitch in some questions since we don't have a slide, if you want. But I guess the one, couple things in this area, they've gotten quite popular. I know we're far enough south, and depending on some of our specialty crops, we've been able to integrate some of them. But the one thing I'd like to discuss mainly is termination. The one issue I've seen a lot of is not being able to get the cover crops terminated well or on time. You gotta think about it as it's essentially a weed when it's unwanted, stealing nutrients, stealing water. We had a big issue this year where planting into cover crops and there wasn't any moisture there, so there was even less moisture in those cover crop fields. So nothing specific. I just guess what I wanted to touch on, a few things be cautioned for. I will say, boots on the ground out there. I've seen a lot of benefits from it, especially in soil tilth. We do a lot of soil sampling and stuff, and we get to see that ground in the fall. So definitely a lot of benefits to it. But termination is the biggest thing I wanted to cover. - [Eric] So because we have already heard from our weed specialist and they didn't really talk a whole lot about cover crop termination, can you just give us a little bit of a sense as to what we're facing coming up in the next couple months with limited supply on some of our prime herbicides? What do you see around the corner for us? - Yeah, I mean, I think in general, most people are gonna get what you want or not necessarily what you want, but an alternative that'll work. Tillage is gonna be key this spring, terminating one of those cover crops, not that the guys weren't using those already. But I think we're gonna get the product. It's just you're gonna have to wait for it. But that might be something to keep in mind as, you know, shortages come up focusing on cover crops that may be winter kill or aren't as competitive with corn. - I'll just add that the one thing that cereal rye is really good at is stripping nitrogen out of the soil, and it takes water too, but it takes nitrogen even if it doesn't take all the water, and corn really suffers if it's nitrogen deprived when it's small and coming up. So planter applications are getting nitrogen near that seed or side of the seed is really critical if you have cover crops, especially if they grow long. We like to terminate cover crops 1st of April if we can. And there's not much growth there and people aren't very happy about it, but somebody talking about planting corn green into cereal rye just makes me quake. I can't quite figure out, you're already torturing the poor corn crop by putting it in weeds, and now you're gonna put it in big weeds, and if the corn seeds could vote, they'd be screaming as you could drive out there to plant into a green cereal rye crop. - Yeah, and I think it's important to point out too that this cover crop, it steals nitrogen while it's there, specifically, cereal rye. But if you have a lot of foliage out there, it steals nitrogen even after. Go back to talking about how wheat straw, it takes nitrogen to break that down. So that's something you have to factor in if you do have a big cover crop stand. It's gonna take some extra fertilizer to help break that down. In a year like this where we're already having a lot of discussions about fertilizer costs and where can we cut it, that's something that we may need to look at. - Is strictly mechanical control a possibility or not? - From mine, you know, from what I see, it all depends on, cereal rye, you could do a pretty good job, but I wouldn't say it's 100% controllable. But yeah, a pretty good job, but there's a lot of people that are also trying to shift towards a no-till system. So that kind of throws a wrench in the idea. - Could you chop it off and use it as animal feed before you plant? - Yeah, I mean, there's definitely a lot of guys that are doing that. Hopefully you have a source, but there are definitely a lot of guys that are doing that just depending on, I know in Michigan, depending on where you're at, the hardest part is getting early establishment. So a lot of times it's not necessarily that far along or an issue. - [Eric] Well, Kyle and Emerson, I really appreciate your guys' perspective on each of these different topics that we've hit tonight, and I do wanna take some time for Q&A. But before we do that, what I'd like to do is, because I know that some folks have really just budgeted a certain amount of time for the webinar. We say it ends at eight. So what I wanna do is wrap up with a couple different things. Number one, just a reminder of this is the schedule that we've got for the rest of this series. So for those of you who are thinking about some questions that you would like to ask these two during our Q&A time, just keep in mind some of the topics that are coming up, for example, like I was mentioning with the fertility topics, maybe we'll hit those topics when we've got our fertility specialists (speaking faintly) towards the end of this. But these are the topics that we'll be hitting later on in the series. And for those of you who are going to be looking for either CCA or RUP credits, again, if this is your first time on the series, how we're handling that is through this post-meeting survey that we do, and I'm gonna be putting this link to the survey into the chat box. And so if you haven't navigated yet to the chat box, what you'll wanna do is towards the bottom of your slide of your Zoom window, hover over that and you'll see the chat, and you'll click on that, and your will pop up that'll have a hot link in it. It'll take me a couple seconds here to get that in, but that will take you to the survey that'll ask you just a few questions about, you know, how you thought things went this evening, what was the value to you? And then at the end of that survey is where you'll have the chance to request those CCA and RUP credits. All right, well, I'm gonna go ahead and stop sharing so that I can get that into the chat box for you. And to tee off our Q&A time here, I had one question come in earlier, it was about genetics, and I guess either of you could answer it. It was kinda interesting. I'll just read it word for word: Can the manipulation of corn genetically affect the beneficial nutrients of human consumption, and if so, what are the pros and cons of doing that? Do either of you know of any projects going on right now where they're looking at doing that with corn, similar to like they've done with rice and so forth? - There's quite a bit going on, not through genetic, well, just through regular breeding, and it's been going on for decades. You remember hearing about higher protein corn, and they tried to improve the protein content. One of the efforts that's been partly here at the University of Illinois is to increase the vitamin E content. Some of the yellow dyes or vitamins that are in it has that as one of their goals as well... Types too, as dyes and some of this kind of things. So yeah, corn is reasonably good for that sort of thing. There are always other crops that compete with it. Corn, not enough of corn is consumed by humans in the US, certainly, to make this a big issue here, but around the world, a lot of corn is eaten by humans, and it's an interesting topic and one that's ongoing and active research going on. I don't hear about breakthroughs, and it may be one of those things that CRISPR Cas could be used to improve. But remember that corn is mostly a starch grain, and that's where its productivity is, that's what its energy source is, a foodstuff. And so it may not be high priority in terms of say oil quality or something like that. They'd probably be looking at soybeans instead. - Yeah, in general I've heard a few projects, but I really can't speak too much on, in depth on those. - [Eric] I've got a question on termination of rye. If you terminate your rye early, are you not hurting your nitrogen, and also does it release nutrients for your crop? - Yeah, I mean, obviously early is different for everybody, but in general, if it doesn't reach mass vegetative growth, then you aren't going to be consuming your nitrogen in the soil, you know? But at the same time, when you talk about, does it release new nutrients, you gotta have warm weather, because essentially, your microorganisms are what breaks that down and that's where we get a lot of those nutrients from the soil. So later in the season, you'll start to see those, maybe not actually see them, but the earlier termination, the better, but at the same time you do lose out on some of the benefits. So you kind of have to answer for yourself what, you know, what's my goal? What benefit do I want out of this? Am I just looking for, you know, something to prevent some soil erosion, or am I looking for, just try to feed all the microorganisms as long as I can, et cetera? But to answer the question, in short, yeah, terminating it early will limit the amount of nutrient uptake that's already in your soil? - Cereal rye is more of a carbon cycler than a nitrogen cycler. Its nitrogen cycling doesn't sync very well with corn. In fact, we've found in some studies we're doing that, if you use cereal rye, you generally need more nitrogen for the corn crop that follows compared to not having cereal rye there. That's because cereal rye may release some of its nitrogen, but it doesn't do it in time, and you're sitting there the middle end of June hoping that you get some. And so if it's dry weather and some of these kinds of things. It's not a very reliable source of recycled nitrogen. Then main reason to have cereal rye out there is to produce dry matter and to take up soil nitrogen so it doesn't end up in the water supply. But it's not, it's kind of a crude hammer, I guess you would say, because it will take it all up that it can find, and if it has 80 pounds of nitrogen by the time you end it, by the time you kill it, there's a pretty good chance that, you know, less than a third of that is gonna end up in the next crop. - [Eric] So one of the issues that we talk about with cover crop, crop termination timing is moisture and how much moisture it's pulling out of the ground. And last spring was kind of a good example of that. We had in elongated, dry period during spring, and we were telling folks that you may wanna consider terminating early just to manage water. What would you guys have to say about that? - Yeah, I mean, it can work in both ways. Definitely saw that this spring where the early termination would've been best, if you didn't, but on the flip side, you've got some wet springs that sometimes that helps. So it's just like everything else, kind of gotta play by ear. - One of the possibilities that people have been looking at is using something like strip till with the cereal rye cover crop so that you don't have that weed in the row quite as much. It would leave more nitrogen and water available to the crop in the planted row if you strip out the, or either don't plant into those strips with the cereal rye in the fall or just destroy what you planted when you make the strip. If it's a really dry spring, you're gonna have a problem either way because those rye roots get everywhere and they suck up water no matter where they are. So yeah, it's early termination. If you knew it wasn't gonna rain, would probably be in order. The other issue is if residue is there and it's heavy and it stays wet underneath and it can be cooler underneath. And it's all in all, I think cover crops are something that need to be managed. And I, as a corn agronomist, I always look at, I suppose, look at cereal rye as more of a potential enemy than as a potential friend, and that's partly because the costs of it, the rewards for cereal rye aren't as visible, certainly, in our prairie soils as they would be in a lighter soil, say, in Southern Illinois or in Southern Michigan. The farther north you go, the more problematic it is to manage a cover crop between main crops. And so I don't think too many in Northern Minnesota, or central Minnesota growing continuous corn are looking to try to get a cereal rye crop in between there. - [Eric] So since we're on the topic of cover crops, somebody's asking, what about wheat? What have you guys, either your experience with it or your take on it. Less early growth, seed availability could be a driving factor. What are your pros and cons with wheat versus cereal rye? - Well, in general, it's a lot easier to kill, and I've had a lot of guys that, not that you can't harvest the rye, but there's an obvious market for wheat. One benefit is if you put it out there and in the spring, it looks really good, you can keep it. But yeah, in general, it's pretty similar to rye. Rye seems to be a little more aggressive with more growth. So that's why a lot of people choose it. It's actually, rye some years is becoming hard to find so wheat's becoming pretty good choice. But from what I've seen, it's definitely easier to terminate (speaking faintly) but in general, your seed cost is gonna be higher. - Higher with wheat than with rye? - It just depends, you know what I mean. It used to be rye, nobody wanted it. But now as the cover crop game is coming, it's become more of a hot commodity. - We did a study in what Northern Illinois and wheat produced, we terminated, we sampled and then terminated both wheat and rye at the same time, and wheat grows just about half as fast, almost exactly half as fast as rye in the spring, which means that it can be out there longer and not get as dangerous to corn. And our corn yield went down as a straight line, that the more cover crop biomass we had, the lower corn yield we took. And so wheat was a more benign crop, but the reason people grow rye is, as Kyle says, for that vigorous growth, and if you're gonna grow cover crop, you want to be proud of it. Although I always seem to think that rye oughta be more nitrogen deficient than it is. Maybe some guys are putting nitrogen on it, or maybe they're putting DAP on in the fall or something. In any case, wheat, I think is a good choice, but price of wheat is pretty good right now, so maybe not a great choice. Still a bushel of it is seven bucks or something like that. And most people can get it easier than they can get rye, at least down here. - [Eric] Well, Kyle and Emerson, really appreciate you guys both joining us here this evening, giving us your perspective. Everyone, if you have any leftover questions or something comes to you in the next few days, feel free to reach out to me and I will forward your questions onto these two, and they'll get your answers back to you. And for those of you who did put in those questions about the soil fertility, I'm gonna go ahead and feed those questions right to our speakers who are coming up in a couple weeks, and maybe they can kinda keep those in mind as they're planning for what to bring up in a couple weeks. So thanks again, both of you. Hope everyone has a good night. - Thank you. - Thanks.

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