Here in southeastern Wisconsin, we recently received our first substantial snowfall of the season, which served as a reminder of the cold, long winter ahead.
But at least Midwest farmers know what they’re in store for each winter, and that a white blanket of moisture in December helps promote a green crop come July.
In other parts of the country, this time of year is far more erratic from a precipitation standpoint. Talking with Braden Gruhlkey, a strip-tiller in the Texas Panhandle last week, he was bracing for the ice storm that targeted parts of the state and other areas in the southern U.S.
Coming off a stretch of sunny, 80-degree days, the climate shift was an abrupt change, but in typically arid parts of the country, every drop of moisture helps. Gruhlkey farms 5,000 acres of corn, wheat, cotton, sorghum for silage, and seed milo with brothers Brittan and Cameron, and their father Bill, near Wilderado, Texas.
For them, “irrigation is everything,” Braden says. The Gruhlkeys draw water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which at current use rates could be 70% depleted by 2060, says a recent study by Kansas State University. They’ve drastically reduced the amount of water they pump, and the amount of acres they’re able to irrigate, which includes 1,000 acres of strip-tilled corn under center-pivot irrigation ranging from 120-acre to 500-acre circles.
In many respects, the Gruhlkeys strip-till methods mirror those in any other part of the country. They typically build strips in fall and apply 75% of their phosphorous and a third of their nitrogen needs with a 12-row Kuhn Krause Gladiator unit.
But one of the big differences and even and advantage, says Gruhlkey, is being able to apply in-crop nitrogen with the center pivots.
“We can split-apply our nitrogen and have had excellent luck going that route,” he says. “It’s just as good a sidedressing anhydrous, and if anything, it’s saving me from having to spend $30,000 on that equipment.
“I like not having to make that trip through the field with the tractor and haven’t seen any yield loss with this method.”
In fact, Gruhlkey is eyeing up 260 to 270 bushels per acre of strip-tilled corn under irrigation. To reach that goal, he’s projecting 300 units per acre of nitrogen applied through the center pivots.
“We’ve seen increased success with running those pivots and putting on as much as two-thirds of our nitrogen, rather than having to sidedress, which we did up until about 2 years ago,” Gruhlkey says.
We’ll be taking a closer look at the Gruhlkeys’ and other strip-tiller’s irrigation operation and practices in the February 2014 issue of No-Till Farmer’s Conservation Tillage Guide.
Until then, share with us how you’ve adapted fertilizer application strategies to accommodate your climate. Call me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.