During a recent presentation at the 21st annual Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference held at Ohio Northern University in Ada, a Purdue University professor addressed farmers on improving drought tolerance for crops.
Tony Vyn, who specializes in agronomy at Purdue University, along with a group of other researchers, recently were awarded a $5 million grant to conduct research on developing drought-resistant crops in the United States.
Vyn’s part in the research has been primarily to evaluate drought-tolerant corn hybrids developed in the private sector with conventional hybrids and to compare their ability in different stress situations. In 2012, he had the opportunity to go further with his research as the Indiana drought was the worst in more than a century.
“Indiana was 38 percent under the average yield,” Vyn said. “It was the worst drought in more than 150 years.”
One of the highlighted points in the research is that strip-tilled or chisel-tilled corn seemed to be taller than the no-till corn. No-till is a popular conservation practice in the United States.
However, Vyn said the research may point out that the timing of the drought may have led to that finding after comparing last year’s drought with another recent drought in 1998.
“It was unlike the 1998 drought since it began May 5,” Vyn said.
With the drought starting during planting time for many, the ground was more compacted, requiring a greater degree of saturation or more pressure to get moisture into the ground prior to the crop flowering. When the rain did come at a test facility in West Lafayette, Ind., in came well after the flowering period.
As a result, the strip-till corn was taller and flowered earlier than the no-till.
“We need to think of a way to keep the soil loose and reduce compaction even though there is no tilling,” Vyn said.
Vyn said plant density showed an effect with density affecting the water transportation rate.
Vyn said the term drought is highly subjective and that a decision to till should be based on history rather than the fact that a drought occurred during the previous crop year.
While researchers continue to work on producing drought-tolerant seeds, he said there are other steps farmers can take.
Among those steps, he said research shows that crop rotation, limited compaction, reaching an optimum plant density in the field, spreading flowering dates, and fertility and pest management can all have an affect on yield per acre.
He said excessive nitrogen can be a negative on crop yield depending on the rate and placement of nutrients and higher plant density can cause water transporation rates to be lower.
Event Chair Randall Reeder said the conference was attended by 914 people, marking the ninth year in a row the conference has attracted at least 900. He said it shows that farmers are aware that conservation practices are needed, especially with recent problems to water quality in bodies of water such as Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys.
“Some say the answer is to plow it under,” Reeder said. “While that may help temporarily, it creates more problems.“
Reeder said strides have been made to improve phosphorus runoff, such as the use of cover crops and injecting nutrients when strip-tilling.