Corn School: How rotation impacts yield and crop resilience

University of Guelph crop researcher Dr. David Hooker

Crop researchers can learn a lot in 28 years. That’s how long crop rotation trials have been on-going at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus.

On this episode of the RealAgriculture Corn School, host Bernard Tobin and University of Guelph crop researcher Dr. Dave Hooker look at the importance of crop rotation and key corn management insights gleaned from the trials over the years as well as new information that continues to emerge.

The rotational trials were first planted in 1995 and include two tillage systems, no-till and conventional; seven crop rotations; and four nitrogen rates for wheat and corn. “If you multiply all those numbers there’s 56 treatments and then each one is replicated four times. So we have close to 300 plots,” says Hooker.

One of the first management insights to emerge from these long-term trials was the impact adding wheat to the rotation can have on soybean and corn yield. When wheat is part of a three-crop rotation (corn/soy/wheat), growers will harvest more corn. “It varies between six and 17 bushel per acre, and usually in the hot dry years that’s where we see the biggest yield increases — but those are averages,” notes Hooker.

The long-term trials are also proving how rotation can make soil and crop yields more resilient to extreme weather events. Over a ten-year period (2009 – 2019) trial data shows that corn planted in the corn/soy/wheat rotation consistently delivers higher yields in both cool and hot/dry growing conditions.

Hooker also comments on tillage systems and what he’s observing in strip till plots that are now part of the long-term trials. As a researcher, and a farmer, he says growers should take a hard look at strip till and its ability to mitigate some of the environmental impacts when planting early into cool, wet soil conditions. (See the video below.)

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