S. Sunoja, Dilip Kharela, Tulsi Kharela, Jason Choa, Karl J. Czymmeka,b, Quirine M. Ketteringsa
aNutrient Management Spear Program, bPRODAIRY, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University
Headland areas are defined as the outer edges of the field where farm equipment turns during field operations such as planting, sidedressing and harvest and where hedgerows or other physical features separate a field from adjacent fields or other land uses. The equipment traffic areas can be compacted which can cause considerable yield loss. Beyond compaction, yield loss in headland areas may also reflect edge-feeding of pests such as birds, rodents and deer, and competition for light, water, and nutrient resources with adjacent tree lines. Better decisions about headland management including investments to improve production potential, planting of other crops, or reductions in fertility or other crop inputs can be made when we know how much yield is given up on headlands. In the past several years, we have provided farm specific yield reports to farmers who have shared their corn silage and grain yield data with us. The reports included yield by field with and without headland areas included. Here we put all that information together, across farms, to evaluate how much corn grain and silage yield may be lost on headland areas across fields.
Corn Grain and Silage Yield Data
Corn yield data from 2648 fields representing ~49000 acres across 63 farms in New York were analyzed. This included 1281 corn grain fields and 1367 corn silage fields across two years (2017 & 2018). The yield data from each field were processed and cleaned using Yield Editor (free software from USDA-ARS) following the cleaning protocol developed by the Nutrient Management Spear Program at Cornell University (Kharel et al., 2020). Headland removal was performed in Yield Editor by manually selecting the outer edge passes and deleting the data points (Figure 1).
Average field size ranged from 18.5 acres per field for grain and 19.3 acres per field for silage. Corn grain yields averaged 181 ± 33 bu/acre versus 22 ± 5 tons/acre for corn silage. We calculated optimal production, defined as production that could be obtained if the headland portion had yielded the same as the non-headland portion. We calculated production gain as the percentage increase between the actual and optimal production.
Across all fields, the yield in the headland area was lower than the yield of the non-headland area (Figure 2A) for 94% of the grain fields and 91% of the silage fields. For some fields, the headland area yielded more than the non-headland area, possibly due to: (1) within-field features (e.g., trees, wet spots, alley ways), (2) irregular shapes of fields with short passes (as typically seen in New York agriculture), and (3) multiple directions of harvest within a field. The average yields were 188 bu/acre (non-headland area) and 161 bu/acre (headland areas) for corn grain. For silage, the average yields were 22.6 tons/acre (non-headland area) and 18.9 tons/acre (headland areas). Thus, headland yields were 14% (grain) and 16% (silage) lower than yields in the non-headland areas.
If the headlands yielded as much as the non-headland area, the production gain ranged from -8 to 32% for corn grain, and from -17 to 42% for corn silage (Figure 2B). The negative production gains reflected field that yielded more on the headland areas than the non-headland areas (points below the 1:1 line in Figure 2A). Averaging across all fields, the production gain amounted to about 4% for both corn grain and silage fields. However, 1% of the grain and silage fields had a potential production gain that exceeded 20%; 25% of the grain fields and 28% of the silage fields had gains between 5 and 20%, while for the rest of the fields (74% and 71%) potential yield gains were less than 5%. Production gains exceeding 20% were obtained on fields with the total field area was less than 25 acres, and with corn grain yields less than 143 bu/acre and silage yield less than 24 tons/acre. Such yield differences can, depending on the farm, reflect a considerable loss of yield and opportunity to improve total returns per cropland area.
Conclusions and Implications
Yield in headland areas was, on average, 14% (grain) and 16% (silage) lower than in the non-headland areas of the field. Taking into account the total percentage of a field in headland, at the field and farm levels, the potential yield gain amounted to 4%. The overall averages conceal the wide range of production gain values obtained in New York fields, from negative up to 32% for corn grain and up to 42% for some corn silage fields. Based on production gain for specific fields, farmers can either choose to ‘repair’ the headland with management (e.g., vertical tillage or subsoiling) to increase overall productivity and return on investment in seed and crop inputs, reduce crop inputs without further loss of yield in headlands, or ‘retire’ the headland from main crop farming and opt for perennial hay crop and conservation uses.
- Yield Editor: https://www.ars.usda.gov/research/software/download/?softwareid=370.
- Kharel, T.P., S.N. Swink, C. Youngerman, A. Maresma, K.J. Czymmek, and Q.M. Ketterings, 2020. Processing/Cleaning Corn Silage and Grain Yield Monitor Data for Standardized Yield Maps across Farms, Fields, and Years. Protocol released by NMSP, Cornell University.
- Swink, S.N., T.P. Kharel, D. Kharel, A. Maresma, E. Haas, R. Porter, K.J. Czymmek, and Q.M. Ketterings, 2019. Increase yield monitor data accuracy and reduce time involved in data cleaning. What’s Cropping Up? 29(1): 6-7.
This article is summarized from our peer-reviewed publication: Sunoj, S., D. Kharel, T.P. Kharel, J. Cho, K.J. Czymmek, and Q.M. Ketterings (2020). Impact of headland area on whole field and farm corn silage and grain yield. Agronomy Journal (in press). https://doi.org/10.1002/agj2.20489.
This research was funded with grants from the Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP), New York State Corn Growers Association (NYSCGA), and federal formula funds. We thank the farmers and crop consultants for sharing whole-farm corn silage and grain yield data. For questions about these results, contact Quirine M. Ketterings at 607-255-3061 or email@example.com, and/or visit the Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program website at: http://nmsp.cals.cornell.edu/.