New York Corn Production During the Last 25 Years

Bill Cox, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University

Grain corn in NY from 2009-2013 had an average annual value of $440M, greater than the entire annual value of all fresh market vegetables or the total fruit crop in NY during this same period.
Grain corn in NY from 2009-2013 had an average annual value of $440M, greater than the entire annual value of all fresh market vegetables or the total fruit crop in NY during this same period.

Corn is by far the most important crop produced in the USA in both acreage and value. NY growers typically plant ~1,150,000 acres annually, making NY the 17th leading state in the USA in corn acres. NY is unique, however, in that planted corn acreage fluctuates between an approximate 50:50 ratio of grain corn and corn silage. Consequently, NY has historically been a leading corn silage producing state. Indeed, NY dairy producers planted approximately 500,000 acres in 2012 and 2013, making NY the 2nd leading state in the USA in corn silage acres. The NY Crop Reporting Service typically focuses on how NY agricultural commodities rank nationally so the importance of corn silage is highlighted but the importance of corn grain is often overlooked. This article will focus on the acreage and value of corn produced for grain and for silage over the last 25 years to emphasize the importance of both to the NY agricultural economy.

Total annual NY corn acreage averaged ~1,150,000 during the 1989-1993 and 1994-1998 time periods (Fig.1). Total NY corn acreage, however, dipped ~1% during the 1999-2003 and 2004-2008 time periods, averaging ~1,050,000 annually. The lower total corn acreage from 1999-2008 can be attributed mostly to the marked decline in corn grain acres during that 10-year period. Annual corn grain acreage averaged ~600,000 from 1989-1998 but dipped to ~510,000 from 1999-2008. The decrease in corn acres from 1994-1998 to 1999-2003 corresponded, as expected, with the decreased market price for grain corn (~$3.00/bushel to ~$2.55/bushel, respectively in NY).

Fig.1. 5-year averages of annual total and grain corn acres and corn silage acres planted in NY over the last 25 years.

Annual NY corn silage acreage, however, remained steady from 1989-2003 averaging ~540,000 during this period. In fact, annual corn silage acreage actually exceeded corn grain acres during the 1999-2003 period (~535,000 vs.495,000 acres, respectively). Milk prices remained similar during the 1994-1998 and 1999-2003 periods (~$14/ and ~$13.85/cwt, respectively), which probably contributed to stable corn silage acreage during this period.  Annual corn grain acreage (~525,000), however, once again exceeded corn silage acreage (~480,000) during the 2004-2008 time period.

Planting grain corn with a new 20” corn planter in 2013, one of the many new planters purchased in the last few years by corn growers, greatly stimulating the agricultural equipment industry in upstate NY.
Planting grain corn with a new 20” corn planter in 2013, one of the many new planters purchased in the last few years by corn growers, greatly stimulating the agricultural equipment industry in upstate NY.

Corn grain prices rebounded during this period (~$3.50/bushel), especially in 2007, prompting more growers, even dairy producers, to plant corn for grain, which partially explains the ~10% decrease in annual NY corn silage acres during 2004-2008. The decrease in corn silage acres during the 2004-2008 period, however, is somewhat surprising because milk prices increased to $17/cwt during this 5-year period.

The annual value of corn silage produced in NY was consistently greater than that of grain corn from 1989 through 2008 (Fig.2). Annual corn silage value in NY showed a strong linear increase during this period, an average increased value of ~$20M during each 5-year period (~$185M during 1989-1993 to ~$260M during 2004-2008). In contrast, the annual value of grain corn in NY fluctuated during this 20-year period (an average value of ~$150M from 1989-1993, to ~$190M from 1994-1998, decreased to only $~130M from 1999-2003, but rebounded to ~$250M from 2004-2008).

Fig.2. 5-year averages of the annual value of the total corn crop, grain corn, and corn silage crop in NY over the last 25 years.

The ratio of acreage and value of both crops, however, have changed dramatically in the last 5 years (Fig. 1 and 2). Annual corn grain acres increased greatly in NY (and in the USA) to an average of ~635,000 during 2009-2013. Obviously, the market price for corn (~$5.75/bushel) was the overwhelming factor in increased NY corn grain acreage during this period. The increase in acres and prices, coupled with relatively high yields, resulted in a dramatic increase in the annual grain corn value in this recent 5-year period (~$440M from 2009-2013). Corn silage acreage remained steady (~475,000) during the 2009-2013 period, despite the increase in average milk prices from ~$17 to ~$18.50/cwt. Nevertheless, the annual value of corn silage, driven by the increase in grain corn and subsequently corn silage prices, increased the annual value of corn silage to ~$375M during the most recent 5-year period.

Milk prices are close to record highs (but will probably fluctuate over the next 5 years); whereas corn prices are at their lowest since 2009. So it will be interesting to see how the ratio of corn silage to grain corn acreage will play out over the next 5 years in NY. In the meantime, let us celebrate the positive impact that grain corn has had on the NY agricultural economy in the last 5 years. Indeed, the average value of grain corn exceeded the average value of the entire fresh market vegetable industry or the total fruit industry from 2009-2013 (Fig.3).

Fig.3. 5-year averages of the annual value of the all fresh market vegetables, all fruit (includes apples, grapes, tart and sweet cherries, peaches, pears, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries), grain corn, and corn silage crop in NY over the last 25 years.

Not only has the crop value increased dramatically, but the increased acreage and value has spurred new industries (ethanol and grain storage industries) and stimulated other upstate NY industries (trucking, increased sales of seed and other agricultural inputs, increased sales of agricultural equipment including the purchase of hundreds  of new planters and corn combines, etc.). Obviously, the grain corn industry has had a tremendous, yet unacknowledged, value-added effect on the upstate NY economy. In conclusion, isn’t it time to report the value of our crops on a NY state basis instead of on a national basis? Instead of highlighting that NY is the 5th leading tart cherry state ($2.85M value), 4th leading pear state ($2.35M value), 8th leading strawberry state ($6.88M value), 4th leading sweet corn state ($68.4M), 4th leading fresh market snap bean state ($33.4M) but 21st corn grain state ($688M) in 2012, wouldn’t it be far more informative to say that NY grain corn was the 2nd leading agricultural commodity in NY in 2012?

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Transformation of Soybean from a Minor to a Major NY Crop

Bill Cox, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University

Cox-SoybeanCrop Image
Soybeans prior to harvest. Photo Credit: Bill Cox

Most politicians and urbanites in New York are familiar with the dramatic rise of the wine industry in upstate New York, especially in the Finger Lakes region, over the last 25 years. Indeed, nary a week passes without a press release on the growth of the booming wine industry. Likewise, politicians and urbanites are familiar with the increase in organic agriculture over the last 10 years, the dramatic increase in Greek yoghurt production and consumption in New York over the last 5 years, and the potential growth of hops and barley production in support of the developing micro-brewery industry in New York in the next 5 years. What most, if not all of these individuals are unaware of, is that soybean is the agricultural commodity in New York that has increased the most in both acreage and value over the last 25 years. The $195M value of soybean in 2012 ranked the crop as the 6th leading agricultural commodity in New York.  Based on acreage and value, soybean is no longer a minor crop but clearly a major NY agricultural commodity.

Fig. 1. Soybean acreage in New York from 1988 through 2012.

Soybean acreage in New York approximated 40,000 in the late 1980s and increased to ~300,000 acres in 2012 (Fig.1). This 7.5 fold increase in acreage is only exceeded by its 20-fold increase in value since the late 1980s. The annual soybean value approximated $5M in the late 1980s, soaring to almost $200M in 2012 (Fig.2).

Fig. 2. Soybean value in New York from 1988-2012.

Preliminary estimates indicate that soybean value in New York approximated $170M in 2013 (probably will be revised upward because USDA-NASS estimated the market price of the 2013 NY soybean crop at $12.50, much lower than the price that some NY growers have sold their old 2013 crop at over the last two months).  To place the value of soybean in perspective, Fig. 3 compares the value of soybean with the value of all fresh market and all fruits produced in New York since 1988.

Fig. 3. Value of fresh market vegetables, all fruit, and soybean in New York from 1988-2013 (excluding the unreported 2013 fruit crop).

Soybean value averaged less than 4% of the entire fresh market vegetable industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Incredibly, the average value of the NY soybean crop approximated 40% of the entire fresh market vegetable value in 2012 and 2013! Obviously, soybean is no longer a minor crop but a major New York agricultural commodity.

March planting intentions indicate that New York growers will plant 330,000 acres in 2014
. If planting intentions are realized, New York growers will plant record acreage in 2013. New York soybeans averaged 48 bushels/acre in 2013, tied for the highest State average yield on record. Clearly, the crop is thriving in New York. It is time for politicians, administrators at agricultural colleges, and urbanites to recognize and welcome the fact that soybean is a major New York agricultural commodity.

National Agricultural Statistics Service. 2013. 2013 New York Annual Statistics Bulletin.

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Alfalfa Fall Harvest Guidelines in NY – Should They Change?

J.H. Cherney, D.J.R. Cherney, and P.R. Peterson, Cornell University

Fall harvest management is one of the factors affecting the ability of alfalfa to overwinter successfully. Other factors include the age of the stand, the winter hardiness and disease ratings of the cultivar, the length of cutting intervals throughout the season, soil pH, soil K level, soil drainage, and whether growth is left to catch snow. Once we have planted a stand of alfalfa or alfalfa-grass, the primary two persistence factors we can control are soil K level and fall cutting management.

Good Old Days
For a number of decades, the policy for alfalfa fall harvest was to insist on a no-cut fall rest period of 4-6 weeks before the first killing frost. This critical fall period allowed root reserves to be replenished and minimized the chances that cutting management would negatively impact overwintering. Adequate time to replenish root reserves was considered 10% bloom by some researchers, while others assumed that 8-10” of top growth in the fall assured maximum root reserve storage, prior to the first killing frost. It also left significant alfalfa residue to facilitate insulating snow catch.

What is a “Killing Frost”?
The temperature at which alfalfa essentially stops all growth is somewhere between 24 and 28o F. Sheaffer (MN) suggested the first killing frost was 28o F, Tesar (MI) considered it 26.6o F (-3o C), while Undersander (WI) considered a killing frost as 4 or more hours at 24o F. Other studies have used 25o F as the definition of first killing frost. This can greatly impact the date of “first killing frost”. In Ithaca, NY for example, the latest “first killing frost” date for 30 years of weather data occurred Nov. 5 at 28o F vs. Dec. 10 at 25o F. When accumulating Growing Degree Days (GDD) until first killing frost, a low temperature such as 25o F is not reasonable, as all alfalfa varieties with appropriate winter hardiness ratings for the region would have gone dormant well before Dec. 10.

Fall Alfalfa Harvest Management, 1980’s
During the 1980’s, numerous studies in Canada and the northern USA investigated alfalfa fall harvest management. Research in southern Saskatchewan found that a third cut between Aug. 25 and Sep. 20 reduced spring yields, compared to an Oct. 1 cut. McKenzie et al. (1980) determined that a second cut from Aug. to mid-Sep. consistently reduced future yields in central Alberta, but not in northern Alberta. In Minnesota, Marten (1980) concluded that a third harvest anytime in September would not reduce persistence, assuming it was a winter hardy variety on well-drained soils high in K, and there was consistent snow cover. In Michigan, Tesar (1981) also concluded that a third cut in September or early October was not harmful.

Tesar and Yager (1985) suggested that a third cut in September in the northern USA was not harmful as long as there was adequate time for replenishment of carbohydrate reserves between the second and third cuttings. Sheaffer et al. (1986) concluded that fall cutting does increase the risk of long-term stand loss, but that fall cutting will provide short-term higher yields and high quality. They also concluded that length of harvest interval and number of harvests during the growing season were as important as the final harvest date.

Root Reserves Assessed with GDD
The first attempt to quantify carbohydrate reserves between second and third cuttings of alfalfa based on GDD occurred in Canada. Research in Quebec by Belanger et al. showed that it may be acceptable to cut during the critical fall rest period in September, as long as there was an interval of approximately 500 GDD (base 5o C) between the fall harvest and the previous harvest. For forage crops in the USA, GDD are calculated using base41, with heat units accumulated above a daily average of 41o F (5o C). These do not generate the same number of GDD units, 500 GDD base5 C is equal to 900 GDD base41 F.

Current NY Guidelines
The sum of the above research results caused NY fall alfalfa harvest recommendations to change about 20 years ago to “Allow a rest period of 6 to 7 weeks between the last two cuts”. A similar recommendation in PA of “At least 45 days between the last two cuts” was also adopted. This recommendation has not changed in NY for the past 20 years. Keep in mind that any cutting management options during the critical fall rest period must involve healthy stands of better adapted winter hardy varieties with multiple pest resistance.

Application of the 500 GDD Criteria
A comparison of the Quebec 500 GDD base5 C rest period can be made with the currently recommended “6-7 week rest period”. By selecting the years with the least and most GDD accumulated during August and September, a range in days for the rest period can be calculated, based on a 500 GDD interval between the last two cuts (Fig. 1 & 2). If cutting on Sep. 1, the 500 GDD interval prior to Sep. 1 is about 5 weeks (Table 1). If cutting Sep. 30, the 500 GDD interval prior to Sep. 30 is 6 to 7 weeks. The rate of decline in GDD units per day in the fall is similar for central and northern NY (Fig. 3 & 4; Table 1).

All X- and Y-axis date combinations below the shaded boxes in Fig. 1 and 2 identify the rest period interval that will result in 500 GDD before the September cut with high confidence. These date combinations resulted in 500 GDD for all 30 years of weather data. All X- and Y-axis date combinations above the shaded box in Fig. 1 and 2 will be very unlikely to accumulate 500 GDD, as this never happened in 30 years. For example, in Ithaca (Fig. 1) if alfalfa is cut on Aug. 2, it is Sept. 12 before you are out of the rest period shaded zone. Using the 500 GDD concept, our current 6-7 week rest period is appropriate for cutting at the end of September, but could be reduced to approximately a 5 week rest period if cutting Sep. 1. For rest periods based on GDD, the later it is in the season, the longer it will take to accumulate 500 GDD (Fig. 3 & 4).

Applying the 500 GDD Interval to the Critical Fall Rest Period before 1st Frost
It has been suggested to apply the Quebec research to the period preceding 1st frost, and help define a “no-cut” time interval prior to 1st frost. The assumptions are that we need 500 GDD (base5 C) for alfalfa to build up root reserves. A second assumption is that it is safe to cut alfalfa if there are less than 200 GDD (base5 C) remaining before the first killing frost, as there would be insufficient regrowth to use up enough storage carbohydrates to negatively affect alfalfa persistence. We are presenting this system as an example, even though we were not able to find any evidence in the scientific literature concerning the 200 GDD assumption. A similar example of this concept can be found in Michigan literature (, although GDD base41 were used for this example incorrectly. Using the 500/200 GDD criteria, we can approximate the odds that fall mowing will not cause winter injury.

Approximate probabilities of either accumulating over 500 GDD (base5 C) or accumulating less than 200 GDD (base5 C), with long-term weather data (30 consecutive years) can be calculated if alfalfa is cut on a particular date in the fall at a particular site (Fig. 5 & 6). Four dates can be determined to approximate 0 and 100% chances of either more than 500 GDD after fall cutting, or less than 200 GDD after fall cutting. For this exercise, we are assuming that the first occurrence of 28o F is a “killing frost”. A killing frost in Watertown occurs on average 9 days earlier than in Ithaca (Table 1).

Four dates, (a,b,c,d, Fig. 5 & 6) are identified by calculating the following:
a. Year with earliest killing frost date: subtract 500 GDD base5 C (from Sep. 20, 1993).
b. Year with latest killing frost date: subtract 200 GDD base5 C (from Oct. 28, 2001).
c. Year with latest killing frost date: subtract 500 GDD base5 C (from Oct. 28, 2001).
d. Year with earliest killing frost date: subtract 200 GDD base5 C (from Sep. 20, 1993).

For long term weather data, these dates correspond to:
a. Latest calendar date resulting in >500 GDD base5 C after fall cutting.
b. Earliest calendar date resulting in <200 GDD base5 C after fall cutting.
c. Earliest calendar date resulting in <500 GDD base5 C after fall cutting.
d. Latest calendar date resulting in >200 GDD base5 C after fall cutting.

To simplify the display, we then assume a linear relationship between 0% and 100% chances that fall cutting will not cause winter injury. Statistical probabilities could be calculated individually for each day, but the results would not provide clear guidelines. The rate of GDD accumulation into the fall gradually decreases and is not perfectly linear (Fig. 3 & 4), but for practical purposes a linear display suffices. Cutting on Aug. 31, Sep. 1, or Sep. 2, the odds of either accumulating >500 GDD or accumulating <200 GDD in Watertown, NY are approximately zero. Using this system, the date that would maximize the chances of winter injury due to cutting is Sep. 1 in Watertown, and Sep. 6 in Ithaca.

Comparing the Systems
Compare Fig. 4 (interval to 1st frost) to Fig. 2 (interval between last two cuts). If alfalfa was mowed on July 25, and then mowed again on Sep. 1 in Watertown, the chances of winter injury due to cutting are near zero for Fig. 2 (with 500 GDD accumulated between the last two cuts all 30 years). So under one system (Fig. 4), Sep. 1 would be the worst date to cut alfalfa in Watertown, while under the other system (Fig. 2), Sep. 1 can be a very safe date to cut alfalfa.

It is possible that both systems are reasonable. Allowing a 500 GDD interval before a Sep. 1 cut would make a Sep. 1 cut relatively safe. On the other hand, not allowing 500 GDD before a Sep. 1 cut might make this the worst possible time to cut an alfalfa stand. Keep in mind that winter damage to alfalfa is an accumulation of insults. A weakened stand will be considerably more susceptible to damage from intensive harvest management, as well as mowing during the critical fall rest period.

Reasons to be more Conservative in NY vs. the Midwest
There are several issues more specific to the Northeast/New England, which will likely have an impact on the chances of fall cutting affecting long-term alfalfa persistence. The basic requirement for any cutting of alfalfa during the critical fall period is that near ideal conditions exist. That is, you have a healthy, very winter hardy variety with high soil K, good soil drainage, and good snow cover over the winter. Good soil drainage in NY is often not the case, and consistent snow cover is never guaranteed. In northern NY there is also the possibility of alfalfa snout beetle and/or brown root rot damage, which could greatly affect the consequences of cutting during the fall period.

Reasons to be less Conservative in NY vs. the Midwest
Another NY-specific issue is that of species mixtures. Most alfalfa in the Midwest is sown in pure stands, over 85% of alfalfa sown in NY is in mixture with perennial grasses. For mixed stands with alfalfa, growers may be somewhat less risk averse than with pure stands, when it comes to the chances that fall cutting will result in shortened persistence of the alfalfa component. Loosing alfalfa more quickly from a mixed stand is not quite as catastrophic as loosing alfalfa in a pure stand. With the availability of Round-up Ready alfalfa, the frequency of pure alfalfa stands in the Midwest is likely to increase. Because NY has few prime alfalfa soils, it is less likely that RR-alfalfa will greatly increase the proportion of pure alfalfa stands in NY.

Our historical understanding of alfalfa root reserves provides evidence for maintaining a Critical Fall Rest Period for alfalfa. Applying the 500 GDD criteria to the Critical Fall Rest Period, however, results in an average rest period before 1st killing frost exceeding 7 weeks. Past research data provide evidence that a sufficient rest interval between the last two cuts allows us to take the last cut during the critical rest period. There does not appear to be evidence to change our basic logic for fall harvest of alfalfa. Some fine tuning of the rest interval between the last two cuts can be made using Fig. 1 and 2. The above suggestions are for healthy stands. If a stand is not healthy, a more conservative harvest management may increase the chances of stand survival.

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Corn Emergence When Planting in April a Few Days Before a Snow Storm

Bill Cox, Phil Atkins and Geoff Reeves, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Cornell University

March 2012 was the warmest March on record across much of the USA (13 degrees above normal for most of NY). Surprisingly, a couple of growers in NY planted limited corn acreage during the week of March 19th when daytime temperatures averaged about 75 degrees. Farmer testimony indicated satisfactory emergence for the March-planted corn. Many other growers, however, elected to wait until the next warm spell, which occurred during the week of April 15th when daytime temperatures averaged about 70 degrees. Farmer testimonies, however, were somewhat mixed for the corn planted during this week with some replanting reported, especially in poorly drained areas of a field. We planted two studies that week: our corn silage hybrid trial with 82 entries on April 20th at the Aurora Research Farm in Cayuga County and a 10-acre seeding rate study on April 18th just northwest of Auburn in Cayuga County.

Table 1. Weather conditions at the Aurora Research Farm and the Auburn airport from April 15-April 30th in 2012. Emboldened date indicates the weather conditions on the day of planting for studies discussed in this article.

Weather conditions (daily weather is recorded the morning after at 8:00 AM so the April 20th data at Aurora is recorded as April 21st data when the high temperature was 78) for the first 10 days after planting at Aurora changed drastically (Table 1).  At Aurora, the high temperature the day after planting was 54 and then only 2 days above 50 degrees were recorded over the next 8 days (64 on April 26th, reported as April 27th data, and 53 on April 29th, reported as April 30th data). More importantly, only 24 hours after planting, Aurora received a cold 0.6 inches of rain followed by 0.86 inches of precipitation in the form of a 5-inch snow storm 48 hours after planting. Another 0.20 inches of precipitation occurred the following day, 72 days after planting, when the high temperature was only 36 degrees. Also, note that low temperatures dipped down to 26 degrees for two nights about a week after planting. Obviously, weather conditions were conducive for imibitional chilling damage during the initiation of the emergence process, cold stress during the emergence process, and drowning out of corn seeds shortly after planting in poorly-drained areas of a field.

When averaged across the 82 hybrids entered in the study, the stand establishment rate (number of established plants in 2 rows of the 20 foot plot length at the V4 stage/86 seeds in each seed packet planted) averaged 85.4% (Table 2). Stand establishment averaged from about 84 to about 89% for the 12 seed companies that entered hybrids.  Of the 82 hybrids entered in the study, only six hybrids had stand establishment rates of less than 80% on this drained Lima silt loam soil. Obviously, most modern hybrids can withstand the rigors of cold and wet weather conditions, even 5 inches of snow, shortly after planting (Fig.1 and 2).

Table 2. Stand establishment rates of 82 hybrids from 12 seed companies planted on April 20th, 2012, 2 days before a 5-inch snow storm.

At the field-scale study where soil conditions are more variable, we counted the number of established corn plants at the V5 stage along the entire length of one row (~800 feet) at each seeding rate for the two hybrids (9807HR from Pioneer and DKC49-94 from DEKALB) evaluated in this study. When averaged across hybrids and seeding rates, stand establishment rate averaged 84.6%. Stand establishment varied from about 83 to 87% between hybrids and from about 84 to 87% across seeding rates (Table 3). This site did experience two warm days (highs of 74 and 76, Table 1) 2 days after planting so conditions were not quite as harsh. On the other hand, low temperatures dipped down to 24 degrees for two nights and 26 degrees another night about 10 days after planting. In addition, this site received about 4 inches of snow a few days after planting. So the 84% stand establishment rate on this production field was quite satisfactory given the conditions. I will add that in a 50 by 100 foot low spot in the third replication of the study no corn emerged (not accounted for in the data because it was a seeding rate study ) so certainly the excessively wet conditions after planting had a major impact on stand establishment rates.

Table 3. Plant populations at the fifth leaf stage (V5) of a DEKALB and a Pioneer hybrid at four seeding rates in a field-scale study planted on April, 18th, 2012 a few miles northwest of Auburn, NY in Cayuga County.

So, what does the stand establishment data from 2012 tell us? First, most if not all modern hybrids have excellent cold tolerance and perhaps tolerance to imbitional chilling (an elusive phenomenon that I am not sure that I have ever observed). On the other hand, modern hybrids have limited tolerance to flooded soil conditions shortly after planting as observed in the field-scale study. So obviously, soil drainage conditions should be a major factor when considering early planting dates (an early planting date lengthens the time that corn is in the vulnerable period to flooded soil conditions, from planting to about the V5 stage). Another factor to consider is planting depth. We only plant at about a 1.5 inch depth in April, especially when cool and wet conditions are forecasted for the immediate future. Many growers mentioned that their planting depth was at the 2-inch soil depth when planting the week of April 15th, which may have contributed to poor stand establishment reported by some farmers in some poorly drained areas of a field or on heavy soils.

Fig.1. Aurora corn silage hybrid trial on May 11th, 2012, planted on April 20th.

What happens if soil conditions are dry in mid-April next year and soil conditions are once again ideal for planting? I will again recommend to begin planting anytime after April 10-15, provided your location does not experience late spring killing frosts (< 28 degrees after May 15th or so) and your soils are well-drained and do not readily flood. In other words, I recommend to plant fields with good drainage that are not in frost pockets anytime after April 10-15that a soil depth of about 1.5-1.75 inches. I wouldn’t plant much deeper in April unless you are looking for moisture.

Fig.2. Counting emerged corn plants at the V4 stage in the Aurora corn silage hybrid trial on May 31, 2012.
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Field-Scale Row Spacing by Seeding Rate Studies in Soybeans

Bill Cox, John Orlowski, and Phil Atkins, Department of Crop & Soil Sciences, Cornell University

Soybean acreage continues to expand in New York with many first-time growers now planting the crop. Many new growers plant soybeans with a corn planter instead of a grain drill, which has been the almost exclusive planter for soybeans in NY over the last 30 years. Also, some experienced soybean growers, who no longer plant wheat, have switched to a corn planter to save on equipment costs. In addition, some growers are purchasing new row crop planters with inter-units allowing for corn planting in 30-inch rows and soybean planting in 15-inch rows. With that in mind, we conducted field-scale row spacing by seeding rate studies in 2010 and 2011 on farms in Cayuga and Livingston Counties to evaluate soybeans planted with a drill in 7.5 inch rows vs. planting with a row crop planter in 30-inch or 15-inch rows. The Cayuga County farm was a no-till site and the Livingston County farm was a chisel tillage site. The growers performed all management practices and we took numerous measurements, of which early stand counts and yield (with a Weigh Wagon) will be presented here.

Early stand establishment at Cayuga Co. averaged about 72% (107,287 plants/150,000 average seeding rate) for the drilled soybeans in 7.5 inch rows (Table 1). In contrast, early stand establishment averaged about 83% in 30-inch rows at Cayuga Co. Likewise, drilled soybean in 7.5 inch rows had much lower stand establishment at the Livingston Co. site.  Drilled soybeans in 7.5 inch rows averaged 69% early stand establishment (103,645/150,000) compared to about 81% in 30 inch rows at the chisel tillage site. Apparently, under actual grower practices, stand establishment is much better in 30-inch rows when planted with a corn planter compared with drilled beans in 7.5 inch rows.

Poorer stand establishment for drilled beans may partially explain the yield data from these field-scale studies. Previous small-plot research at the Aurora Research Farm in the mid-1990s and in the late 2000s indicated that drilled beans yielded anywhere from 7 to 15% greater than 30-inch beans planted with a corn planter. In these field-scale studies, however, row spacing did not affect soybeans at the no-till Aurora site. At the chisel tillage site, drilled beans yielded only about 4% greater than beans in 30-inch rows, if planted at 170,000 seeds/acre (Table 1). Some wheel traffic damage from post-emergence pesticide applications may also have damaged the drilled soybeans more than the 30-inch soybeans, which could have reduced any yield advantage for drilled or narrow row soybean.

Row spacing had much less of an impact on soybean yield than expected in these field-scale studies. At a no-till site, row spacing did not affect yield. At a chisel tillage site, drilled soybean planted at 170,000 seeds/acre yielded about 4% more than 30-inch soybean at 130,000 seeds/acre. Apparently, growers can plant soybeans in 30-inch rows without much of a yield loss, especially in years or fields where yields are in the 50-65 bushel/acre range. At sites or in years where growth is slow and yields are low, the yield advantage for drilled soybeans may be greater than reported in this study.

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Planting Soybeans….Should I Buy a Grain Drill?

John Orlowski, Bill Cox, Wayne Knoblauch, and Phil Atkins, Department of Crop & Soil Sciences, Cornell University

Soybean acreage has more than doubled in NY over the last decade. In 2000, NY growers planted about 135,000 acres of soybeans, but planted about 280,000 acres in both 2010 and 2011. More importantly, total annual value of soybeans has averaged about $145 million over the last 2 years, almost 40% of the value of all commercial vegetable crops in NY, indicating that soybeans are no longer a minor crop. Increased acreage comes from a combination of long-time growers planting more acres and new growers adding soybeans to their rotation.  Some new growers are from regions in NY where wheat is not in the rotation. Consequently, these new growers, who do not own a grain drill, are seeding soybeans with a standard row crop planter (30 inch rows).  An obvious question is should these new growers purchase a grain drill or continue to seed soybeans with a corn planter in 30-inch rows?

We conducted field scale studies in 2010 and 2011 on cooperator farms in Central (Cayuga County) and Western New York (Livingston County) in order to investigate the effect of row spacing on soybean yield using actual grower management practices.  The cooperating farmers performed all field operations including tillage, planting, chemical application and harvest. We used a Weigh Wagon to record yield and also took other measurements including stand counts, weed counts, lodging, plant height, disease incidence, and moisture at harvest.  The Cayuga Co. farm was planted no-till in both years while the Livingston Co. farm was chisel plowed in both 2010 and 2011.

Economic analysis was conducted for costs associated with purchasing a grain drill appropriate for planting 300 acres (15 ft. drill-list price $20,000), 600 acres (20 ft. drill-list price $25,500) and 1200 acres (30 ft. drill-list price $46,000) of soybeans.  The results are reported in real 2012 dollars, based on the average soybean price of $11.50/ bushel and seed cost of $52/ bag (150,000 seeds) in 2010 and 2011.

Cayuga Co.
As reported in the previous article, there were no differences in yield among the three row spacing’s. Consequently the grower at this location, who practices a corn-soybean-wheat rotation, can use either a no-till grain drill or row crop planter to plant soybean into high-residue corn conditions. If the grower switches to an exclusive corn-soybean rotation, the grower can continue to use the grain drill but not purchase a new drill once it requires replacement. Instead, the grower should only maintain a row crop planter without inter-units and plant corn and soybean in 30-inch rows.

Livingston Co.
At this location we did see differences in yield.  The drilled (7.5 in) soybeans at the recommended seeding rate of 170,000 seeds/acre showed a 2.4 bushel/acre or about a 4% yield advantage compared to 30-inch rows at a seeding rate of 130,000 seeds/acre (64.1 vs. 61.7 bushels/acre).  For this farm that already owns a grain drill, the relative profit of drilling soybeans in 7.5 inch rows at the higher seeding rate compared to planting in 30 inch rows at the lower seeding rate would be a function of the market price received for the harvested soybean crop minus the seed cost associated with the higher seeding rate.  So, if the grower paid an average price of $55/bag for seed and marketed the crop at $11.50/bushel in the 2010 and 2011 growing seasons, the farmer at this site would have realized an increase in net farm profitability of about $13.30/acre by planting with a grain drill (Table 1). If seed costs increase and prices received for the crop decrease in the future, profit will shrink (Table 1).

For farms that do not own a grain drill, should they purchase one if there is a 2.4 bushel/acre yield advantage?  We considered the annual fixed costs of owning a grain drill, including depreciation, interest, shelter and insurance. Likewise, we considered the annual variable costs of ownership, including repair costs, harvest and hauling costs and the cost of the extra seed (40,000/150,000 x $52/bag =$13.87/acre) needed to drill soybeans at 170,000 seeds/acre compared with 130,000 seeds/acre when planted with a corn planter.   The breakeven point for purchasing a grain drill to seed soybeans based on prices and costs in 2010 and 2011 and a 2.4 bushel/acre yield advantage is around 300 acres.  The grower would realize an increase in net farm profitability by purchasing a grain drill if planting 600 or 1200 acres of soybeans (Table 2). As expected the more soybean acres planted, the greater the increase in net farm profitability.

Our economic analyses indicate, given 2010 and 2011 seed costs and market prices and a 2.4 bushel/acre yield advantage for drilled beans, growers who own a grain drill would have reaped a profit of about $13-14/acre if seeding soybeans with a grain drill. For growers who don’t own a grain drill, buying a grain drill would be profitable at 2010 and 2011 prices, if planting more than 300 acres of soybeans.  On farms with less soybean acreage or no yield advantage, buying a grain drill does not provide an economic advantage. The net farm profitability, however, will vary significantly when the yield advantage for drilled soybeans, the price of soybean seed, and the price received by the farmer for their crop vary.

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