USDA scientists are studying soil-moisture levels and other field dynamics to help Pacific Northwest farmers maximize the production of corn, a relatively new regional crop that helps support Idaho's growing dairy industry.

ARS scientists David Tarkalson and David Bjorneberg conducted a 2-year study to see if farmers who use conventional tillage and fertilizer application methods could increase corn yields by banding fertilizer with strip tillage instead.

Tarkalson and Bjorneberg studied corn yields from two fields for 2 years. In both years, one of the study areas was located at the top of an eroded slope, and the other was located at the bottom of a slope where the soils eroded from higher elevation had accumulated.

The scientists used either strip-till or conventional tillage to plant corn, and fertilized the fields either with broadcast applications of nitrogen and phosphorus or by using the strip-till shank to add subsurface bands of phosphorus and nitrogen when the seeds were planted.

The scientists found that using strip-till and placing fertilizers 6 to 8 inches directly below the seed increased corn grain yields on the higher elevations —where severely eroded soils were largely devoid of crop nutrients — by 12% the first year and 26% the second year. This translated into yield increases between 11 and 26 bushels per acre.

Read more about this research, released in 2011, by clicking here.