Mapleton, Illinois – A Garden Spot

Dr. Daniel Davidson, Agronomist

Smart-Till owner Charles Rice who farms west of Peoria, Illinois considers himself lucky in that he dodged a bullet so far this year. Planting was delayed until May but then he got all of his corn and most of his soybeans planted before the weather turned wet again towards the end of May.

He started planting corn on May 7th and finished on the 17th and then started planting soybeans on May 20th but due to rain the last week of May and early June, he wasn't able to finish beans until June 7th. A lot of beans, Corn Belt wide, weren't planted until June. Since he finished planting he has benefitted from intermittent rains throughout the month of June - thus becoming, in his words "the Garden Spot of Illinois."

In retrospect, things worked out. His corn has a great stand with even emergence and good population and was near tasseling. His soybeans, while being 7 to 10 days behind, looked great and were beginning to close the canopy between his 30-inch rows.

With the hot weather plaguing the Corn Belt, Rice considers himself lucky to be a no-tiller who gets some of the benefits of processing residue with his Smart-Till while creating divots to break compaction and collect and bank rainfall. In the beginning he was not so optimistic with the delays and threat of another wet spring. As he told me last spring "these pecker tracks, while ugly, translate into more infiltration and less runoff." In the end, that is his big payday.

Rice has another motto "plant ugly, harvest clean." His fields look dirty when he plants beans into cornstalks in the spring with the residue, stalks, and rootballs, and first flush of weeds encroaching. But his Smart-Till creates a good seedbed, his burndown knocks out the weeds and by the time he harvests, nature's natural critters have consumed much of the cornstalk residue leaving him a clean field at harvest. When I visited in April I could see what he meant, however I also visited him again in May, June and July and could see the process of decay unfolding before my eyes.

Rice follows a corn soybean rotation. When going to corn he runs his Smart-Till with a rotary hoe attachment in the spring to fluff up the bean residue when the fields are weed-free. However if the fields are weedy, he uses his McFarland spiral stalk chopper to take out the weeds. When going to soybeans he runs the Smart-Till with the same spiral stalk chopper once in the fall and again in the spring. His goal is to dislodge rootballs and get the residue to decay by throwing soil over it.

While Rice doesn't plant corn after corn, he had one new field that he was bringing into production contiguous with another field that was in beans in 2010. Planting no-till corn is a challenge when dealing with residue and rootballs and you often end up with uneven emergence and stands and some stalks will be spindly. But running the Smart-Till with the McFarlane spiral stalk chopper in the fall and again in the spring created seedbed conditions similar to chiseling once in the fall and cultivating once in the spring to cut and incorporate the residue. The corn stand in that field, planted into processed cornstalks was perfect with even emergence, near perfect stand and similar stalk girth. You couldn't ask for more!

Rice's crop is off to a great start but like everyone else, has experienced an extended spell of excessive heat with some showers. Creating divots with the Smart Till ensured that water was banked in the soil to help the crop withstand the heat wave that naturally drives man indoors.