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Current Research

Tactical use of cover crop biodiversity for increased profitability in corn production

‘Bio-strip’ in spring

Planting cover crops is perfectly sensible agronomy. But cover crop residues can complicate planting operations and reduce corn yields in the following year. Farmers also often wonder about the benefits (if any) complex cover crop mixtures have over simpler and cheaper mixes. In collaboration with Prof. Laura Van Eerd (PI), we are testing over a dozen cover crop mixtures and their effects on corn emergence, phenology and yield. In addition, we are looking at ‘tactical’ cover crop biodiversity: planting winter-kill cover crops in 10” strips where corn will be planted (bio-strips), and cover crops that overwinter outside of the planting strips. In this way, the seedbed will be relatively free of residue by planting, but farmers will still gain the multiple benefits of having some spring growth of cover crops. These ‘bio-strips’ are being compared to strip-till and no-till systems.

Co-PI: Laura Van Eerd

Sponsors: Grain Farmers of Ontario, OMAFRA-UG Alliance and in-kind from several cover crop seed companies.

Increasing lodging resistance in milling oat production

Plant growth regulator effect on oats
Plant growth regulator effect on oats

Oat is the largest cereal crop by acreage in northern Ontario, and is a major source of food-grade oats for domestic consumption. A major limitation on oat yield and quality is lodging, when the oat crop falls over due to stem or root failure, making harvest difficult, reducing quality (perhaps below food-grade) and yield. What can farmers do to increase the lodging resistance of their oat crop? We are testing out the efficacy of i) split-nitrogen applications, ii) row spacing, iii) seeding rate, iv) seeding depth and v) plant growth regulators, on root and stem lodging potential, yield and profitability.

Sponsors: OMAFRA-UG Alliance, PepsiCo, Grain Farmers of Ontario, Syngenta. *Note that PepsiCo funding is not supporting plant growth regulator research*

4R management for late nitrogen applications in tall corn

Bird-eye view of late N experiment (2017, Elora Research Station)

There is sustained farmer interest in ‘late’ or ‘delayed’ nitrogen (N) management strategies, where the bulk of fertilizer N is applied in the weeks prior to silking. Farmer interest in late N management is driven by both economic and environmental considerations: a) improved N recovery efficiency, b) reduced labour requirements during the busy planting season, and, c) improved ability to account for in-season weather/soil/crop conditions and adjust N rates. While proof-of-concept
studies have been carried out in Ontario, agronomists and farmers have questions about optimal 4R management for late N applications to minimize losses and maximize N recovery. There is also the need to ensure late N is protected from volatilization, a major loss pathway for N applied in-season. We are proposing to develop best management practices for, and quantify the risks of, fertilizer N management strategies based on late N applications. Aside from agronomic data, data generated from the study will allow for an economic analysis of the risk, costs and benefits of late N applications in Ontario.

Sponsors: Grain Farmers of Ontario, OMAFRA-UofG Alliance

Co-PIs: David Hooker, John Lauzon

Optimizing crop management decisions in early and late-planted soybean and corn

In Ontario, corn and soybean planting typically occurs during the first week or two of May, with an adapted hybrid or variety expected to mature before a killing frost. However, most years are not typical. There is a high probability of planting ultra late or ultra early in at least some regions of Ontario in every year. In either situation, farmers need to be better informed: for example, which crop should be prioritized in terms of economic returns – corn or soybean — and second, when does it make economic sense to move to a longer or shorter season hybrid or variety? At very early or late planting dates, there is evidence that seeding rates should change in soybean. Robust datasets relevant to Ontario are needed to help farmers and advisors make more confident and profitable decisions in early and late planting scenarios. We propose to develop Ontario datasets by conducting two paired experiments representing the major corn and soybean regions in Ontario (Ridgetown, Elora, Winchester) over 3 years. One experiment will test the effect of different planting dates, CHU maturity ratings, and seeding rates on yield (and related parameters) in corn and soybean. A paired experiment in soybean will evaluate, at the earliest and latest planting date, the effect of seeding density. Economic analyses of the data generated will enable a profitability analysis to crop selection, planting date and maturity rating.

Sponsors: Grain Farmers of Ontario and the OMAFRA-UoG Alliance

Co-PI: David Hooker

Intensive wheat management to reduce lodging

Wheat brings tremendous value to Ontario agriculture by increasing corn and soybean yields, increasing soil OM, facilitates the use of cover crops, reduces soil erosion, lowers GHG emissions and increases whole-farm profitability. Despite these benefits, the wheat enterprise needs to be economically competitive with other crops to maintain acreage in Ontario. Lodging reduces crop yield, quality and harvest efficiency. Moreover, with this fear, current N rates are likely not at their optimized economical response when the risk or fear of lodging is factored into the rate decision. From previous work in Ontario, we know that N rates are not optimized without the application of a fungicide, and that the economic N rates are environment and cultivar specific; a similar systems approach is needed to reduce lodging potential with a better understanding of input responses and how they interact with the environment. Thus, we are proposing to develop effective 4R-based strategies for managing lodging risk,
and to determine the fit of plant growth regulators (PGRs) within this approach, using combinations of cultivars, N rates, N timings (one vs. split) and N sources, with and without a PGR. We propose two experiments at multiple locations across the province: one with a PGR-variety focus and the other a more integrated focus with wheat variety, N source, N rate and split N application, with and without a PGR. Both experiments will be “linked” with common treatments. These strategies need a 4R approach to reduce the amount of N in the soil that may be susceptible to leaching or denitrification before crop uptake. Moreover, the second split timing of N (GS32 +/-mid May) may be used to adjust N rates given a better prediction of crop demand (compared to only one app of total N at greenup).

Co-PI: David Hooker

Sponsors: Grain Farmers of Ontario, OMAFRA-UoG Alliance, Belchim, BASF, Syngenta.