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Try Something New This Spring
by LuAnn Rolling, NRCS District Conservationist

As crop input prices continue to skyrocket and soil health continues to deteriorate, perhaps this spring is the time to consider making some changes to your operation.  While moving away from a traditional corn/soybean rotation can be daunting, it is one way to start your journey to improving soil health and reducing commercial inputs on your operation.

Indiana no-tiller Rick Clark presented the following rotations as ways to “shake up” what you have been doing at the 2019 National No-Tillage Conference.

1. Corn - Wheat - Soybean
With wheat following corn, Rick says the nitrogen (N) program will need to be a little different, but it’s possible.

2. Corn - Wheat - Grazing - Corn - Soybeans
With this rotation, Rick is trying to spread the corn crops as far out from each other as possible, but for his area he’s limited on what crops can be grown.

3. Corn - Soybeans - Forages - Grazing - Wheat
This rotation will work for no-tillers who can supply their crops to local livestock operations. But Rick points out that growers need to be careful when following this rotation, because the livestock producers may want full removal of the forages. “We have to decide if the removal is worth what they’re going to pay us for that forage,” he says.

4. Corn - Soybeans - Idle/Cover Crops - Corn-Wheat
Rick no longer looks at fields as one-year returns on investment and instead thinks about the bottom line on the full rotation, which is why he feels comfortable having one year to just grow cover crops (idle) and no cash crops. While the idle year may not bring in any income, he says the corn yield the following year will be much higher than usual because of it.

“You’ve given the soil a break and you now have the opportunity to throw a massive cocktail at it,” he says, noting that for Midwest growers like himself, the chance of using a warm-season cocktail doesn’t happen often. “Just open your book up and tell your guy you want one of everything and throw it out there. Because what is going to happen is you’ll be blown away on the soil tilth and the way the field changed just in that one year.”

Clark is also turning to non-GMO crops and is being paid a premium to do it.  He says, “We don’t have to have all the traits all of the time.”  He says he’s seen better yields with hybrids that have had all the traits stripped out compared to stacked versions. He also notes that he pays much less for the non-GMO seed. At the 2019 National No-Tillage Conference he shared four considerations to keep in mind when selecting their own non-GMO seed.

• Limited Selection. Rick says that major seed companies aren’t gearing up for new genetics in non-GMO hybrids like they are with their traited seed. In fact, his seed dealer told him the companies will usually introduce the traited version first before introducing them without the traits.
• Cold Germination. If a no-tiller intends to plant his soybeans green as Rick does, he recommends finding a variety that has good cold germination. “The ground is 6-7 degrees cooler, it’s damp, it’s moist. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got good seed.”
• Early Vigor, Excellent Health. When selecting corn hybrids, Rick looks for ones that have good early vigor and excellent plant health on their own. Because he doesn’t use fungicides, he tries to avoid those that respond to fungicides. “I don’t want to have a hybrid that, in my opinion, could be hindered if I don’t spray the fungicide,” he explains.
• Limit Racehorse Hybrids. Rick recommends no-tillers choose more workhorse hybrids than those that may promise higher yields. “Success will come with a bunch of singles,” he says. “Don’t try to swing for the fences every time or it’s not going to be good.”