With the arrival of harvest many Iowa farmers are not anticipating high yields due to hail and wind damage during the 2011 growing season. But they are considering how to best manage those crops damaged by the summer storm events.
"These farmers are questioning how to handle planting next spring and they have concerns about volunteer corn," says Marty Adkins, state resource conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Des Moines. "These farmers are also faced with the challenge of maintaining compliance with their conservation plans."
According to Adkins, many producers are inquiring about variances that might allow them to till ground with damaged corn or soybeans that can't be harvested. No variances have been granted, he says
If your conservation compliance plan allows tillage, do it in spring
"NRCS recommends that if your conservation compliance plan calls for no-till, you should look for other ways to manage the crop residue that does not disturb the soil," says Atkins. "No-till, and especially long term no-till, offers excellent protection from soil erosion next year. Tillage will set back the protection. If your conservation compliance plan allows tillage, you should consider waiting until spring to do the tillage. Keeping the ground covered with crop residue throughout the fall and winter will help reduce erosion risks. It will also allow time for decomposition."
Experts at Iowa State University agree. "One of my recommendations is to just leave the stalks on the soil surface over the winter. They will likely begin to break down, although how much depends on the weather," says Mark Hanna, ISU Extension agricultural engineer.
Other alternatives are to use a stalk chopper or graze the cornstalks
Other options would include using a stalk chopper to help with decomposition or grazing the cornstalk ground with cattle. "As long as you manage the hoof traffic in mud to avoid soil compaction," says Hanna, "grazing cornstalks is generally a good management practice."
Overall, conservationists agree it's best to just sit tight. "Sit back for a while. With the right soil temperatures and rainfall much of the corn that's fallen on the ground will germinate before the hard frost this fall, helping to eliminate the concern about volunteer corn next year," says Hanna.
Atkins adds, "The best advice is before you do anything that conflicts with your conservation compliance plan, you should visit with a conservationist at your local NRCS office. Ask them for management suggestions and recommendations. They can help you stay in compliance."