Annual Crops

Corn

BC Corn Hybrid Trials 2012 Yield Results

For farmers and ranchers in BC, choosing the best performing corn varieties for silage can be a challenge.

Global seed companies develop hundreds of new hybrids every year, phasing out old varieties every four to seven years. New varieties, with better weed control and water retention, can have higher yields. Almost 30,000 acres of fodder corn are grown in BC every year, with an estimated value of $20 million.

“Over the last 20 years, dry matter target yields in corn silage have increased from five to seven tonnes per acre,” states Ted Osborne, semi-retired general manager at Coldstream Ranch in Coldstream, BC. “But because new corn hybrids cost more, the only way producers can ensure they will truly benefit from the new technology is to do local testing. “

With partial funding from IAF, the Pacific Field Corn Association undertook a project to evaluate silage corn hybrids for BC dairy and beef farmers. From 2009 to 2011, field trials of new hybrids were conducted on three different farm sites in both coastal and interior regions of BC. The research provided comprehensive data on yield, dry matter, grain and lodging percentages (results are posted on the Farmwest website: http://www.farmwest.com/variety_testing).

Having access to this data is highly valuable to producers, whose needs vary from farm to farm. Some may need a higher yield, while others need more energy content. Abbotsford dairy farmer Mike Dykshoorn was one of the volunteer hosts for the field trials. “I was extremely pleased with both the research methods and the results,” states Dykshoorn. “Over 40 different varieties were grown at this site and tested for the different attributes. I found the data very useful to determine the type of corn that would be best for my cows.”

With the list of hundreds of hybrids narrowed to ones that are best suited to BC conditions, BC farmers and ranchers will continue to benefit from the technological advances of corn hybrids.

Source: Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC  www.iafbc.ca

 

Corn - A New Pasture Grass?

While most farmers do everything possible to keep cows out of their corn, a few intrepid BC ranchers have been turning their beef cows into their corn fields in fall to graze.

Cattle producers are keenly interested in extending the grazing season into the autumn and winter. Grazing avoids the costs of harvesting, conserving, and feeding out forage and spreading manure. Because over-wintering beef cows do not require a high plane of nutrition or specialized housing, they are able to graze in winter. After all, the cow is efficient at both harvesting forage and spreading manure.

The main strategy for winter grazing is called stockpiling. The forage is grown in a normal way but left standing in the field after the growing season. Cold temperature helps to conserve the standing forage. While stockpiling grass is better known to farmers, stockpiling corn for winter grazing has some advantages. First, the whole season's dry matter production can be stockpiled. Second, corn sticks well out of the snow for cattle to easily access. Finally, the corn acts a windbreak for cattle standing downwind.

Unfortunately, growing corn for winter grazing can be challenging. Most cattle producers own neither a corn planter nor a herbicide sprayer, so establishing good stands of corn is difficult. Also, in many beef cattle areas there are insufficient heat units to grow a decent crop of corn. The corn may grow tall, but if cob development is poor, yield is low. Another problem in areas with a moist fall is that molds, such as Fusarium, that may develop on the leaves and cobs are a health hazard to cattle. If the ground is not frozen while cattle are grazing, utilization of the crop can be reduced due to mud on downed plants and soil compaction can become a problem.

Despite these challenges, winter grazing of corn has been successful in the interior valleys in Southern BC. Here, the summers have adequate heat units to grow corn, the falls are dry preventing molds, the winters are cold and dry so soils are frozen and snow cover is not excessive. Gus Fischer, a farmer at Hat Creek, has been successfully grazing corn for the past two winters.

Our Research Unit at Kamloops (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) conducted a study in December 2000 to compare the performance of pregnant cows grazing stockpiled corn with the performance of cows grazing stockpiled tall fescue or fed tall fescue hay (2nd cut) in the feedlot. The average daily gains were 0.4 kg (0.8 lb) on corn, 1.1 kg (2.4 lb) on stockpiled tall fescue pasture, and 0.6 kg (1.4 lb) on fescue hay. The corn averaged 9% protein compared to 12% for fescue pasture and 11% for fescue hay. The digestibility of corn was similar to the fescue hay (38% vs. 35% ADF) but much less than fescue pasture (28% ADF). The amount of stockpiled corn (15.5 t/ha or 7 tons/acre of dry matter) was much greater than stockpiled tall fescue (4.4 t/ha or 2 tons/acre). As a result, an acre of corn provided 530 actual grazing days compared to only 100 for the fescue pasture.

The behaviour of cattle grazing corn was very interesting. Cows first picked off the cobs and then the leaves. While seeking these choice parts, the cattle knocked down the stalks which, if not soiled, they later picked up. We used electric fence to control access to strips of corn. The animals gained rapidly when first turned into a new strip but their gains declined when left with only the less digestible stems.

We used a very late-maturing (3400 CHU) corn hybrid (Pioneer 34G81) as it is desirable that corn be much less mature for fall grazing than for silage. If the standing corn is too mature, the leaves break off in the wind. Last year we planted the corn at 15 cm (6 in) spacing in 75 cm (30 in) rows for a population of 86,000 plants/ha (35,000 pl./ac). This year we doubled the population by planting at 8 cm (3 in) spacing to get finer stems, which we expect to be grazed more readily.

Last summer, we compared the yield and quality of Pioneer 34G81 with another later-maturing variety called 'Amaizing Graze' (3500-3600 CHU) planted at three different dates. Amaizing Graze, a variety promoted for grazing, is much more variable in height and maturity than typical because it is an open pollinated variety and not a true hybrid. The Pioneer hybrid gave greater yield with slightly less protein (8% compared to 9% protein) than Amaizing Graze. We found that delaying planting to June 1 reduced yield but improved nutritional quality. The late plantings lost less dry matter through the winter probably because they retained more leaves.

Our conclusion is that farmers with the right temperament can maintain a large number of animals on a small piece of land by winter grazing corn, provided that they have the right climate, equipment and skill.

D. Thompson, AAFC, Kamloops

Previous Page: « Tips to Minimize Soil Nitrate Levels in Fall »

Next Page: « Relay Cropping a Big Hit in Whatcom County »

Grazing Corn in Winter

Two articles in Cattlemen’s Magazine last February about Alberta and Manitoba producers who reported good success with grazing corn resulted in a number of enquiries to our office from area ranchers looking for more information on this new use for corn. Corn has been grown for winter grazing in the US mid-west for several years, but few farmers have tried this in Canada, perhaps because of our shorter summers and severe winter conditions. Three projects conducted in Interior BC in 1999 will help answer farmers’ questions about the potential of corn as a grazing crop for BC cattle.

A field of grazing corn north of Cache Creek - July 30, 1999.

One trial was planted at the Chutter Ranch in Merritt on May 26. This trial comprised two-acre blocks of the grazing corn variety “Amaizing Graze” (approximately 2400 Corn Heat Units) and a standard silage corn hybrid, Pioneer 3936 (2550 CHU). Amaizing Graze refers to a group of multi-tillered varieties of corn from Baldridge Hybrids of Ohio which, according to the company, were developed specifically for grazing. The planting in Merritt was on an old alfalfa/grass stand that had been sprayed with Roundup the previous fall and then disced in the spring. No additional weed control was done at planting time. A number of alfalfa plants had survived, along with a fair amount of mustard. The plot was sprayed with 2,4-D at the end of June. Populations averaged 71,000 plants/ha (28,500 plants/ac) for Amaizing Graze and 87,000 plants/ha (35,000 plants/ac) for Pioneer 3936.

Gus Fischer, who ranches just north of Cache Creek, planted corn on a 31-ha (76-acre) field, half to Amaizing Graze and half to a typical silage variety (Hyland Brand). The corn was planted on May 19, using a grain drill with every other run blocked, for a planned population of 74,000 plants/ha (30,000 plants/acre). Primextra was used for weed control with good results. Actual population was 84,000 plants/ha (34,000 plants/acre).

Finally, a research trial was planted at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Centre in Kamloops to compare two varieties of grazing corn with a standard silage corn and to test the effects of different planting dates.

How well did the corn hybrids grow? On September 15, at Merritt, both varieties of corn averaged only about 1.8m (6 ft) in height, had poor cob formation and many brown leaves because of an early frost. No frost had occurred at Cache Creek, so the crop in mid-September was over 2.7m (9 ft) tall with some cobs starting to fill.

Final yield and quality samples were taken on both farms in mid-October, after growth had stopped. At Merrit there was little difference in yield and quality between the two hybrids. Amaizing Graze yielded about 9,000 kg/ha (8,200 lb/acre) of dry matter at 7% crude protein and 63% total digestible nutrients (TDN) while Pioneer 3936 yielded 9,600 kg/ha (8,700 lb/acre) at 7.6% crude protein and 64% TDN.

At Cache Creek, Amaizing Graze yielded 13,500 kg/ha (12,000 lb/acre) of dry matter at 9% crude protein and 64% TDN. The Hyland hybrid yielded about 13,500 kg/ha (12,000 lb/acre), at 7.75% protein and 64% TDN. The rancher plans to graze this 31-ha (76-acre) field in December. He has divided it up into eight pastures with electric fence and will graze with about 380 dry beef cows. We will monitor cow performance by weighing the cows first when they go onto the corn and again when they come out. Results of the grazing will be reported on next spring.

Ted Moore, BCMAF, Kamloops

Previous Page: « Just How Bad Was 1999 »

Next Page: « Relay Cropping for Forage Corn - A System in Demand! »

New Herbicide for Field Corn

Converge® 75 WDG can now be used by field corn producers in BC thanks to a minor use label expansion. This pre-emerge herbicide offers season-long control of many weeds resistant to Atrazine. Converge® can be used safely on crops treated with Counter® insecticide (for wireworms). However, a big caution from Roy Cranston, weed specialist with BCMAFF. Converge® may cause damage to corn under stress from cool, wet, and cloudy weather. Therefore, farmers are advised to try the herbicide on a small area to see how it performs under their conditions, before they make it part of their whole management package!

Weeds controlled by Converge® include lamb's quarter, red-root pigweed, common ragweed, eastern black nightshade, dandelion seedlings, smooth and large crabgrass, velvetleaf, plantain seedlings, witchgrass, wild and wormseed mustard, barnyard grass, and green foxtail. Converge® can be tank mixed with Atrazine for control of lady's thumb.

Do not use Converge® on sweet corn or seed corn and do not graze corn for 60 days after application. Converge® can be used on all soil types except for sands, loamy sands and soils with less than 2% OM.

The electronic version of the label can be found on: http://64.26.129.82/label/26000%2D26999/26142.pdf

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 1995 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 1994 Silage Trials - Early (Abbotsford & Saanich)
  • 1994 Silage Trials - Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack)
  • The Pacific Field Corn Association - The Pacific Field Corn Association is a non-profit society registered under the B.C. Society Act.  Its mandate is to evaluate new corn hybrids for B.C., to support registration of new hybrids and to promote research and education related to field corn production.  The hybrid evaluation program is funded on a fee-for-service basis to private companies wishing to use impartial, scientific data to market corn hybrids and to support new registrations.
  • Procedure for Hybrid Evaluation

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 1996 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 1995 Silage Trials - Early (Abbotsford & Saanich)
  • 1995 Silage Trials - Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack) 
  • Italian Ryegrass - Two crops where one has grown before
  • Banding Herbicides Saves Money
  • High Moisture Ear Corn
  • The Pre-Sidedress Soil Nitrate Test (PSNT) Saves Cash

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 1997 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 1996 Silage Trials - Early (Abbotsford & Saanich) 
  • 1996 Silage Trials - Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack)
  • Processing Corn Silage
  • Why poor weed control in 1996?
  • Update on relay cropping
  • Before next spring: Tune-up your corn planter
  • Mechanical weed control makes a comeback in corn

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 1998 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 1997 Silage Trials - Early (Abbotsford & Saanich)
  • 1997 Silage Trials - Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack)
  • Fall Nitrogen Test - good report card for Agassiz corn producers
  • Ten tips for managing nitrogen efficiently
  • New herbicide for grass control in corn
  • PFCA Activities in 1997
  • Harvest corn silage by moisture content, not just milkline
  • Microwave method for determination of moisture content of silage corn

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 1999 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 1998 Silage Trials - Early (Abbotsford & Saanich)
  • 1998 Silage Trials - Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack)
  • Record yield and early harvest - near perfect corn year in BC in 1998
  • Herbicide ACCENT zaps grassy weeds in BC corn fields, but ...
  • Genetically Engineered Corn
  • Pamper Soil Bugs and Avoid Purple Corn

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 2000 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 1999 Silage Trials - Early (Abbotsford & Saanich), Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack), Southern Interior (Coldstream)
  • Cold spring, late planting, but mild autumn
  • ONe in ten year event - September wind storm causes lodging
  • Advanced Forage Management - Book by PFCA
  • Just how bad was 1999?
  • New Research in Interior BC - Grazing Corn in Winter
  • Relay Cropping for Forage Corn - A system in demand
  • Advantages of realy cropping
  • Know how much you harvest .. the easy weigh!
  • The importance of farmland to shorebirds wintering in the Fraser River Delta

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 2001 Edition

PDF version of report

CONTENTS

  • 2000 Silage Trials - Coast Early (Abbotsford & Saanich), Coast Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack), Southern Interior (Coldstream)
  • 2000 - The Corn Year in Review
  • Agassiz Corn Competition - Top Corn Growers Use Nitrogen Efficiently
  • What are Corn Heat Units?
  • Southern Interior - Winter Grazing Corn
  • Central Interior - Winter Grazing Corn
  • Winter temperatures on Farmwest.com
  • T-sum Calculation on Farmwest.com
  • Can Reduced Tillage Help Corn Production in BC?
  • Corn Production Technology Update

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 2002 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 2001 Silage Trials - Coast Early (Abbotsford & Saanich), Coast Late (Agassiz & Chilliwack), Southern Interior Early (Coldstream), Southern Interior Late (Armstrong)
  • Reduced Tillage in the Fraser Valley
  • Agassiz Corn Competition - Nitrogen Report Card 2001
    • Do Agassiz Corn Kings use more nitrogen?
  • Procedure for Corn Hybrid Evaluation
  • Year in Review - South Coast
  • Year in Review - North Okanangan
  • Schedule Irritation with Farmwest.com
  • New Herbicide for Field Corn
  • Tips to Minimize Soil Nitrate Levels in the Fall
  • Corn - A new pasture grass?
  • Relay Cropping - A big hit in Whatcom County

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 2003 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS

  • 2002 Silage Trials - Coast Early, Coast Late, Southern Interior Early
  • 2001 Corn Quality - Coast Early, Coast Late, Southern Interior Early & Late
  • Nutritional Qulaity of Silage Corn
  • Reduced Tillage for Silage Corn
  • How to use information on stover fiber concentrations
  • Explaining fiber
  • Fraser Valley Relay Cropping takes off in 2002

 

PFCA Corn Hybrid Performance Report 2004 Edition

PDF Version of Report

CONTENTS:

  • 2003 Silage Trials - Coast Early, Coast Late, Souther Interior Early
  • 2002 Corn Quality - Coast Early, Coast Late, Southern Interior Early
  • Relay Crop Report for 2003
  • What is T-Sum
  • T-Sum Date Arriving Earlier
  • Explaning Fiber
  • How to Calculate Whole Plant ADF & NDF

Reduced Tillage in the Fraser Valley

For the first time, several Fraser Valley corn producers attempted to grow corn with reduced tillage this year . The fields varied in soil type, amount of tillage used and previous crop and so did the results.

In preparation for corn planting, most farmers plough, disc and harrow their fields, working the field 3-6 times. The intention of this ‘conventional’ tillage is to eliminate weeds, prepare a good seed bed, loosen the soil to help corn roots grow, eliminate compacted areas and level the surface. Loosening soil can also help it dry faster and a drier soil warms up more quickly.

The effect of tillage on seed bed deserves some consideration. Corn seed is large and requires a planting depth of 2.5-6 cm (1-2.5 in) with good soil contact all around the seed. Corn planters are designed to cut a groove into the soil, deposit seed into the groove, then cover the groove. These planting operations are more easily accomplished in a cultivated field with loose soil.

In un-tilled fields, a cutting disc mounted in front of the openers assists penetration into the soil and cuts through trash on the soil surface. However, even more difficult than opening the furrow is closing it. Corn seed in an open furrow is exposed to birds and rodents and will not absorb water rapidly.

At Agassiz, we have found that the solution to closing the furrow is to cultivate a narrow (7 cm or 3 in) band of soil prior to creating the furrow. This is accomplished with special concave and fluted disks, mounted in front of the openers (see photo). The depths of the disks must be set to match seeding depth, so that the seed furrow can be easily closed by the packing wheels. Because of this cultivation, we prefer the term ‘minimum-till’ to ‘zero-till’. Overall, seeding must be done more slowly in un-tilled than in tilled soil.

On the coarse-textured soils at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre at Agassiz, minimum-till corn has consistently yielded as well as, or slightly better than, tilled corn. Also, the minimum-till corn matured earlier and contained more grain. In other regions, performance of minimum tillage has improved over years .

How well did reduced tillage work on Fraser Valley farms in 2001? In two side-by-side comparisons by a farmer near Rosedale, yield, maturity and grain yield were somewhat better for reduced-tilled corn than conventionally tilled corn. This farmer had a bumper crop of 20 t/ha of dry matter (9 T/ac) with over 27% dry matter content. ‘Reduced tillage’ in these fields meant reducing the number of cultivations rather than ‘minimum-tillage’.

On a nearby farm, corn grown with no tillage yielded 30% less than with conventional tillage (11.7 vs 17.4 t dry matter /ha or 5.2 vs 7.7 T/ac). This fine-textured field was planted with a planter that did not have the ‘cultivating’ disk (see photo), so the furrows were left partially opened. The same type of planter was used in south Rosedale to plant corn directly into winter wheat stubble sprayed with Roundup. Uneven germination in this field caused the farmer to cultivate and replant. This farmer planted corn directly into winter wheat in another field that ranged in texture from heavy to light. A side-by-side comparison of no-till and conventional tillage on the lighter part of the field produced almost identical yield, dry matter and grain for the two management systems (15.4 t dry matter/ha or 6.9 T/ac with 26% dry matter content).

A sandy field near Chilliwack emerged well, had few weeds and produced a respectable yield of 15.9 t/ha (7.1 T/ac) at 28.0% dry matter and just under 40% grain. The farmer states that he is pleased with the overall results but suggests that headlands should be tilled to reduce compaction.

What are the lessons learned from the 2001 experience? Planting corn with reduced tillage seems advantageous. Planting minimum-till must be done carefully with the right tools so that seed placement is uniform and seed furrows are well covered. More testing needs to be done under different soil and cover crop conditions.

S. Bittman, AAFC, Agassiz.

Next Page: « Nitrogen Report Card 2001 »

Fenugreek & Forage Beets - (2011)

by Curt Gesch, Telkwa, B.C., 2011

FENUGREEK

  • I had enough seeds left over from last year to try a small patch. This time I did NOT do any pre-emergent spray or tillage: just a few passes with a rototiller and then I planted according to directions. The seedlings germinated well, but grew slowly. They do not seem bothered by early frosts. By June they were being depressed by weeds, volunteer clovers, etc. I’ve sent a couple pictures. In one you can see a lone fenugreek stem and leaf. In the other the jungle of the competition.
  • I would say that—based on two years of tiny trials—that a clean seedbed is the only way to grow this plant. I am not in favour of routine herbicide treatment as a matter of course, but it might be the way to prepare for a seeding. I suspect that a number of pre-plant and pre-emergent tillings would achieve the same thing.
  • Also, I know it is a rhizobia-associated plant, but I wonder if some high-N wouldn’t be the thing really get this stuff going so it can shade out competition instead of the other way around.

FORAGE BEETS

  • This time I was a little more scientific.  I planted relatively long rows of three varieties (see below) and added various sources of calcium cross-row.   I had one plot using lumber-mill “wet-ash” and another using “dry-ash” (both from the kilns at a mill) and one plot using calcium carbonate.  A fourth plot received no lime and was intended as a control.
  • The weather tends to really affect these amateur experiments, and in our case the long, cool, wet summer probably caused skewed results.  Also, I did not have replications, bad scientifist that I am.  The wettest spots germinated and then nearly drowned, and never did really catch up with their neighbouring plants, even within the same plots.  There was not much doubt, however, that forage beets, like regular garden beets, respond positively to calcium/lime in nearly any form.  The CaC03  plots did best, and then one of the mill ash plots.  I based my results solely on visual observation, but there was not much doubt about it.  The control plot was lower in productivity. (By the way, my pH is about 6.7.)

 

FORAGE BEETVARIETIES

A.     Mammoth Red - This type is probably the easiest to find.  If the cows could talk, they’d tell me these are the most palatable (sweetest?) of the varieties I tried.  I got them from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, but Jung’s (USA) and a few other companies carry these, too.  You can see from the photos that these did not get to the bragging range of 10-20 pounds.  I don’t think they could ever get to that size in our cool summer climate.  They also had many roots hairs and branches.  The ones I grew did not push up out of the ground enough.  I had to dig them.

B.     Golden Eckendorf - I got these from Jung’s Seeds.  They did the best in our climate (see photos for average size) with half the root or more out of the ground.  I could pick these without digging.  I suspect that anyone with a welding torch and some steel could devise an easy-lifting device for these.  

C.     Bucklunch - also from Jung’s.  It is being advertised for white-tail deer hunters who maintain food plots.  It is white and looks like some winter radishes I’ve seen.  In spite of the claim, it did not grow half out of the ground in my tests.  

The seed packages all say “110 days” to maturity, but I think that shorter seasons or fewer heat units means simply smaller roots, not that one shouldn’t try growing them.   Certainly our climate (Telkwa) often has a light frost every month and I’m sure the plants will live through those without too much trouble.

It would be great if someone could make a connection with the German company that I found looking under the words “Startseite » Nutz- & Heimtierbedarf » Futtermittelbereitung » Pressen, Quetschen & Stampfer” who produce relatively cheap hand-cranked slicer/choppers.  It would be a good demonstration project for our forage people, 4-H clubs, and so on.  I’m sure I could find people in our area who’d jump at the chance to try out a new crop and the chopper.

 

CONCLUSIONS - I will grow the Mammoth Red and Golden Eckendorf again next year.  I will add Ca to the soil to all seedings and may experiment with ways to make a temporary storage “pit” above ground with soil, straw, etc. 

Tillage radishes – a new option for improved soil health

New-to-Canada cover crop salvages nutrients, improves water and air movement in soil, protects from pests and increases crop yields

by Madeleine Baerg
Link to posted article:  Tillage Radishes

Very aggressive when rooting, tillage radishes can exert 290 pounds per square inch of pressure as they drill down, which allows them to punch their way through compacted soil and hardpan.

Photo by Kevin Elmy.

Cover crops are not yet grown much in Canadian fields. However, tillage radish, a fast-growing, all-natural cover crop from Pennsylvania-based Cover Crop Solutions, may just change that.

According to Patrick Fabian, tillage radishes do everything from increasing nutrient availability for subsequent crops, to suppressing pests and supporting healthy saoil organisms, to improving water and air movement through soil. That, combined with the fact that studies now show yield increases of up to 10 and 11 percent respectively in soybeans and corn planted into decomposing tillage radishes, means this cover crop is making significant waves south of the border.

While still brand new to Canada – 2013 will be just their second year available in this country – expect to hear much more about tillage radishes in the near future.

“Tillage radishes are an important new tool in producers’ toolboxes,” says Fabian, a certified seed producer in Tilley, Alta., and the Alberta/B.C. territory rep for tillage radishes.  “There’s no question that they are going to be part of the western Canadian landscape in a big way. Down in the States, they’ve caught on like wildfire.”

Tillage radishes are daikon radishes with a thick white tuber that can grow up to 18 inches in length, and a single long taproot that can easily bring the plant’s total rooting depth to four feet or more. Very aggressive when rooting, tillage radishes can exert 290 pounds per square inch of pressure as they drill down, which allows them to punch their way through compacted soil and hardpan. When they decompose in the soil, the natural pores left behind serve as ideal water and air movement channels, greatly increasing the surrounding soil’s health. The long taproot also allows the plant to access nitrogen and other nutrients that are deeply buried and inaccessible to shallower growing crops.

So long as the radishes are left to decompose naturally in the spring, the salvaged nutrients brought up from depth and stored in the radish tubers will be slowly released to the roots of subsequent crops.

“If you start with 40 pounds of nitrogen in the top foot of your soil in the fall, tillage radishes will leave you with 60 to 80 pounds of nitrogen stored in the tubers by the next spring,” says Kevin Elmy, a western Canadian distributor for tillage radish and co-owner of Friendly Acres Seed Farm in Saltcoats, Sask. “Calculating based on a cost of $0.70 per pound for nitrogen, that 20-pound increase in nitrogen is a $14 per acre benefit.”

Tillage radishes are the result of a dozen years of selective breeding. The original forage radish genetics from Quebec interested researchers because they hoped its natural bio-fumigant properties would suppress nematodes in soybeans. In fact, it turns out that the tillage radish’s combination of natural heat, fast growth and nutrient capturing capabilities helps manage multiple pests.

“If you take a crop off in the fall and for six weeks before freeze-up there is nothing growing, all the microbes in the soil are basically starving,” explains Elmy. “If you can grow a quick crop like tillage radishes, it’ll feed the good microbes so that the bad microbes don’t have an opportunity to take over.”

In the spring, decomposing tillage radishes release a very pungent natural gas smell. The chemicals released through decomposition help rebalance soil microbes, supporting beneficial microbes that encourage plant health.

On the weed front, tillage radishes offer excellent winter annual weed control. Because their foliage grows so quickly, they can be planted as late as three weeks before a first frost and will effectively outcompete weed species. Additional pest management benefits are currently being studied. Early evidence from the American northeast suggests they may effectively ward off wireworms in potatoes.

And, Elmy says, they may also help protect canola from clubroot. “Because tillage radishes and canola are both part of the brassica family, there was some concern at first especially about clubroot,” he notes. “But three trials have been done in different areas in southern Alberta, and they’ve found that in fields with 70 percent infection in the canola, there’s only a three percent infection on the tillage radishes. In fact, tillage radishes might actually help control clubroot. Clubroot is a problem in really high nitrogen soils. But tillage radishes tie up nitrogen and slowly release it, so they may decrease the clubroot in the canola they’re planted into.”

From a management perspective, tillage radishes’ quick growth offers benefits. Their dense foliage provides erosion protection both to sparsely leaved crops such as potatoes and beans during the growing season, and to otherwise empty fields through the winter. And, like the original forage radish from which they descend, tillage radishes offer a fast way of creating very palatable forage for cattle and sheep.

For best results, err on the side of planting later rather than too early. Daylight sensitive, if these radishes are planted too early, they will not produce much root because they will focus their energy on bolting and seed production. But planted after summer solstice, they will respond to the decreasing hours of daylight by putting energy into developing a root tuber that in warmer climates would survive the winter.

“If you seed them May 5, they will look like a canola plant – they’ll be four feet tall and after 85 days, the root will be three inches long. But when they were planted Aug. 15, 28 days later the root was 12 inches long,” says Fabian.

With a seed size similar to canola, tillage radishes should be planted at between one and four pounds per acre for grazing, and between six and 10 pounds per acre for breaking apart hardpan or smothering weeds. “It’s a very versatile crop that can be seeded virtually any way you like, and they are very user-friendly,” says Fabian. “They do not require any additional fertility to get them going, so you can basically seed them and forget them.”

This past year, Elmy and Fabian expected to bring in enough seed for 15,000 to 20,000 acres. Fabian expects that number to grow easily to half a million acres in the next couple of years.

“Tillage radishes are a tool just like any other tool in a farmers’ toolbox,” he notes. “It’s just like GPS for your tractor. Can you get by without it? Definitely. Did we get by without it for many years? For sure. But, is it something that will make farms more efficient and more profitable? Absolutely.” Elmy agrees. “Cover crops add sustainability. On our farm, what I’m looking at is reducing risk and increasing profitability by keeping my net farm income the same with half the inputs,” he says. “Tillage radishes suit anyone who wants to use biological processes to help improve productivity.”

SOURCE:  Ag Annex

Yield Isn't Everything (2005)

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Yield is an important aspect of a crop variety's merit, but not the only one. In tough years it's less important than you might think.

As you're choosing this season's varieties, try thinking and reading outside the (yield) box. Granted, yield is an important aspect of a crop, but choosing the best variety for your farm has more to do with the overall merits of a variety than simply how many bushels per acre it yields.

When evaluating new varieties for recommendation, crop industry experts look at three categories:

  • Disease and pest resistance
  • Agronomic traits (i.e. yield, maturity, straw strength)
  • Quality

The same principles apply when choosing a variety for your farm. Bryan Harvey, Advisor to the Vice-President of Agricultural Research and Malting Barley Breeder at the University of Saskatchewan, says that all three categories are evaluated independently and as a total package before being recommended. "Farmers need to do the same. If variety A yields 10% more than variety B, but is susceptible to lodging or a major pest in the area, which would you choose?"

After a year like 2004, when early frosts and snow made harvesting a real nightmare, Phil Thomas wants to drive home the importance of agronomic traits - beyond yield. As Senior AgriCoach with Agri-Trend Agrology Ltd., Thomas stresses looking at maturity, straw strength, and the genetic pest resistance when choosing a variety. "I always suggest looking at days to maturity in an average year, and sticking with only those varieties that are going to ripen in that time frame. Some learned a hard lesson last year when late crops got caught by frost," he says. Thomas also says that knowledge of what pests were a problem last year, or could be this year in your area, should dictate which varieties to grow. "Whenever genetic resistance to insects or diseases common to your area is available, take advantage. A small increase in yield potential isn't worth downgrading disease resistance," he cautions.

Moving beyond agronomic traits, Harvey highlights the importance of quality in the final crop. Whether for malting, canola oil, or the feedlot, end-users have specific criteria for what they want and if a high-yielding variety can't deliver on quality, the extra bushels aren't going to help you market your crop. Harvey explains that malting varieties like Harrington, or the first canola varieties, had lower yields to begin with, but the industry could see the potential in the quality gains. "Could you imagine what Western Canada would look like if we hadn't recommended the first canola varieties because of low yield potential?" he asks.

Harvey highlights two points that drive home the message that merit is more than yield. "It's no good to have high yield if you can't harvest the crop. For example, a high yielding variety that lodges because of weak straw, sprouts in the swath, matures too late and is at risk to frost damage, or is covered in disease is going to lose any yield advantage it started out with. Also, if no one wants to buy your crop, all the yield in the world isn't going to help you sell it. A maltster won't want our high-yielding, low-quality barley. They, or any end-user, demand quality."

A variety's merits are found in the total package, not just in the promise of greater yields.

This article is reprinted with permission from Seed.ab.ca, Alberta's Seed Guide - Winter 2005 Issue. To view the entire seed guide online or to order a hard copy, please visit www.seed.ab.ca.

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