Corn School: Measuring the impact of fertility and strip till timing

OMAFRA corn lead Ben Rosser.

When it comes to strip tilling, is it better to plant corn into fall strips or spring strips?

Ben Rosser, corn lead with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, has been working on this question for a while now, and in this Corn School episode, Bernard Tobin catches up with him in the field to find out what he’s learned.

In year one of Rosser’s trials, there was a lot larger, early season growth of corn in spring strips, compared to the fall strips. But more recently, there isn’t quite as big of a visual difference between fall strips plus fertility, versus the spring strips plus fertility.

“Comparing the same system, when we’re putting 60 pounds of P and 60 pounds of K down in those strips, either in a fall application in a strip, or into a spring strip, consistently we’ve seen a larger yield response for those spring strip and fertility applications,” says Rosser.

On average for the two years of data from the trial, Rosser says there’s a 5 bu/ac advantage for the spring strip and fertility treatment.

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Overall, Rosser thinks that benefit comes from time of tillage or perhaps a bit of nutrient tie-up in the fall applications. Another possibility is that fall applications would lose a bit of the ammonium or early P uptake from the MAP, that would normally help with the pop-up effect.

If applying fertilizer in the fall with the strip till is one of the inhibiting factors, Rosser suggests to splitting the fertilizer application between fall and spring, although his research didn’t find a significant yield response in doing this.

For growers who are converting from conventional tillage to strip till practices, the yield advantage isn’t a perfect apples to apples comparison because there are differences in fertilizer placement, says Rosser. However, he does say that in his trials the strip till, with a good fertilizer package, are out-yielding the conventional tillage which has had fertilizer broadcasted.

It’s important to note that the trials were done on low-fertility soils, so the response from the fertilizer package or benefit of having fertilizer in the strip could be a strong driver of the results.

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