Smart-Till: Manure Management Implement

By Dr. Daniel Davidson

Dave Kronlage, who farms just outside Dyersville, IA, and near the “Field of Dreams” movie site, had his own dreams come true this year when he harvested a better than expected crop. The summer started out dry in June and July. When I made a visit there in late June, the grass in all the yards was beginning to brown, and it felt hot and dry to me. The Kronlage family was heading to the Mississippi River that weekend to cool off. Then it turned wet in August and remained that way through the fall, and that helped local growers produce an above average yield.

“My early beans in Maturity Groups 2.5 and 2.6 hit 70 bushels,” said Kronlage. “However, my later 2.8, 3.0, and 3.1 beans dropped to 50 bushels, just the opposite of what I expected.” He attributes this difference to an early killing frost that hit the later maturing varieties that did not have the time to fill out.

His corn yield response was just the opposite. “My early season corn yielded the lowest, while the longer corn yielded the highest,” Kronlage said. He explained that the early varieties were more affected by the dry weather in early July and did not have enough time to properly fill out in the fall. His yield ranged from below 170 bushels to more than 200 bushels per acre as field averages. In his own on-farm corn variety test, he had one 110-day number that yielded 249 bushels per acre based on a scaled weight.

“This was a no-till field planted after soybeans and did not get any extra practices applied and it really shows the importance of choosing the right number,” he said.

He pointed out that he has one sandy field planted to continuous corn because it requires the constant addition of organic matter that only corn can provide. “This field was planted to an early-season variety and still yielded 170 bushels per acre, and we made no extra investment in this field. I do think we would have gotten an extra 20 to 30 bushels of yield if we had rotated from soybeans. We have seen yields of 200 bushels from that field on occasion,” Kronlage said. He attributes his good corn yields to the wet weather they had in the late summer and the cool, moderate weather in the fall, which helped fill kernels. “Our test weights averaged 58 to 59 lbs., a pound or two higher than average,” he said. However Kronlage never benefitted from complete dry-down in the field like most Corn Belt farmers did.

“While we harvested an early number at 16%, most of the corn came out at 19, 20, 21, and even 22% moisture,” he said.

Much of Kronlage’s fertility comes from hog manure. He applies hog manure to each field once every two years, and the one sandy corn-after-corn gets applied each year. He does no fall tillage but runs Smart-Till in select situations to create slots for manure to pool into and help tie down cornstalks in a corn-on-corn rotation. Come spring, the use of the Smart-Till rig is determined in part by spring soil conditions. A wet, cool, and late spring means he will use the Smart-Till to prep the soil and prepare a better seedbed, because nature did not do that for him.

After soybeans are harvested, he will inject hog manure in fields and then come back and run the Smart-Till in the spring to smooth out the field. If a soybean field doesn’t get manured after harvest, he may or may not run the Smart-Till in the spring, depending on spring weather and soil conditions. “When I run the Smart-Till in the spring, I wait for the soil to be in condition and then wait a day afterwards to plant,” he said.

Kronlage has learned that by running the Smart-Till in the spring under the right soil conditions and then waiting a day or two for the soil to dry, he greatly reduces his risk of getting Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) in soybeans. Reducing the risk of SDS is one of the unheralded benefits of running the Smart-Till in the spring before planting soybeans.

After corn harvest, in his one continuous corn field he shreds the stalks, and then he runs the Smart-Till to tie the stalks down and create slots for hog manure. Come spring, he runs the Smart-Till again to close the slots and smooth the seedbed. For those corn fields going back to soybeans he will either no-till directly or run the Smart-Till if spring weather conditions warrant it to improve seedbed conditions.