Why Dave Schwartz' corn stays healthy long after neighboring fields died

"Late-September cornfields on Dave Schwartz' farm in Guthrie County, IA are amazing to see. They all contain bright green stalks with browning husks. Compared to neighbors' fields, the difference is day versus night," says crop consultant Bob Streit.

Bob provided these photos from his Sept. 18 visit to Dave's fields. We interviewed Dave for details on his program. Bottom line: His exceptional corn, with hand-sample yields projecting well into the 200 to 300 bu. range, thrives on excellent soil biology and complete nutrition metered out through the season. Nutrition empowers the corn to naturally resist disease attacks. Now the details on the fields shown below:

First, the soil: "We're a real believer in soil health," says Dave. "We follow soil biology with the Haney Soil Test and use a range of biological products." Dave helps test and market several of those biological products within Verdesian Life Sciences, where he is executive vice president of sales in plant nutrition.

The soil on the field in these photos was in CRP for 25 years, then grew soybeans in 2014 and 2015. So there was good tilth, plus a wide array of microorganisms from the CRP cover mix, plus nitrogen credit from the soybeans to start the 2016 corn crop. Seed was a 113-CRM hybrid from Pioneer which Dave has found to be an excellent nitrogen user with disease resistance. "One of the best things we did was get the soil in good condition," says Dave.

After that, "I'm a huge believer in starter fertilizers," he says. Here are basics of his 2016 program:

Seed treatment:

Seed corn was treated with Tuxedo, with micronutrients, and Takeoff ST, a new biological product helping crops avoid early-season disease and gain a healthier start. Both of these products have a protective polymer coat. 

In-furrow fertiity and biologicals with planter:

Five gallons of low-salt 6-24-6 was the carrier for added micronutrients, including zinc, manganese and copper. This helps offset the chelating impact of foliar weedkillers later. The in-furrow blend also contains Avail, a phosphorus fertilizer enhancer which is also marketed by Verdesian. 

2x2 with planter:

10 gallons of 28% liquid nitrogen plus 10 gallons of 6-24-6, laced with 9 ounces per acre of the Verdesian product, "More than Manure," which stabilizes nitrogen and prevents phosphorus fixation. Thus, a total of about 30 units of N is applied at planting time.

Premerge broadcast:

30 gallons per acre of UAN, enhanced with Verdesian's NutriSphere-N HV, a nitrogen fertilizer stabilizer. Consultant Bob Streit theorizes that prolonging the effective release of ammoniacal N helps constrain pathogens, as ammonia has fungicidal and bactericidal characteristics.  

So, before corn emerges, there is a total of 110 units of nitrogen applied in-furrow, 2x2 and at the surface.

Broadcast dry between rows at V7 with a high-clearance spreader:

Dave's in-season program begins with 100 pounds of dry urea, which adds another 46 units of nitrogen for late-season nitrogen efficiency. This too is stabilized with Nutrisphere QDO.

Actual applied N totals 166 units, and much of it is in the ammonium form, which allows the plant to bypass having to convert nitrates to ammonium N. By taking up N in the stable ammonium form, the plant uses less energy. This avoids wasting energy in converting nitrates to the ammonium form. Less energy loss and stress empowers a healthier natural immune system in the corn. Dave and Bob Streit concur that this N stabilization— in combination with good micronutrient nutrition and a product like Bio Empruv — can bolster the plant's ability to mature normally and not succumb to bacterial diseases like Goss’s wilt.

Dave adds that stabilizing N, metering in through the season and keeping a much higher portion of your nitrogen in the ammonium form will also reduce nitrate runoff into our water systems.

(Dave considers good soil health extremely important soil stewardship. It's so important that he serves on the Iowa Water Alliance group described below.)

If average yields are 225 bushels, that's less than .75 units of purchased nitrogen per bushel of yield. This probably couldn't happen consistently without spoon-feeding sequential applications of N in various forms. Certainly the nitrogen carryover credit from two soybean crops is also helping.

Weed control:

Dave relies on his local agronomic consultants and distributors for diversity in modes of action. This season his supplier used Zidua, a pyroxasulfone from BASF. (This product is frequently recommended by consultant Streit.)

One test field under this program was also helicopter-sprayed in July with Bio-Empruv, which consultant Bob Streit has urged growers to use this season. "This treated field looked even more green, and showed lower levels of clavibacter," Dave reports. Clavibacter  michiganesis nebraskensis is the bacterial organism responsible for Goss's wilt — which is now endemic in the Midwest. "After what I saw this season, I am interested in including Bio Empruv in our program in 2017," says Dave.

Here are some of Bob Streit's photos, taken at the Schwartz farm Sept. 18:

First, Dave in person showing green stalks with white and brown husks. Corn was live and filling in late September. That's the way corn "used to" mature before the last few years brought on earlier and earlier die-down. AgriEnergy Resources founder Dave Larson always taught that the finish line for corn was a sturdy, green, disease-free stalk at black layer time, with a bright white husk hanging down. A live stalk allows mature kernel moisture moisture to move back into the stalk rather than being forced to air-dry more slowly. (Or forcing you to pay for more drying after harvest.)

Second, here's a more panoramic view of part of the field showing consistency. Stalks are still healthy, which will help reduce wind damage and ease harvesting.

 

Finally, for contrast, here's a shot of a representative field in the neighborhood. Stalks have died, and there's some top breakage.  Bob Streit found presence of rot in many of these stalks at the ear shank.

 

In addition to farming, Dave and two partners own a company called Independent Inputs based in Breda, IA which supplies soybean seed treatment products to Pioneer distributors and dealers from Maryland to Colorado. "We distribute these under contract with Pioneer," he says.  

Dave's dedication to soil stewardship is underscored by his service as his group brings together farmers, business firms and local governments to enhance soil and water quality. Secretary of the Iowa Agricultural Water Alliance Business Council. This is a conservation group has raised more than $50 million to bring farmers, business firms and all levels of government entities into a common forum for voluntary action plans.

Dave observes an example: "An on-farm tile drainage study this year at my farm showed that we reduced nitrates in the tile water after a 3.5-inch rain by 41.6% where we had Nutrisphere-N on the UAN, Urea, and NH3 test plots compared to a check that had the nitrogen applied with no stabilizers."

Dave spent 35 years in the ag supply business. So he's well-groounded in crop nutrition. His service included FS Services, Ciba-Geigy (before Syngenta), and Van Diest, an ag supply distributor based in Iowa. After that, he worked eight years with SFP before this firm was purchased by Verdesian Life Sciences. Part of Dave's farm is a "lab" for Verdesian product testing. He also conducts custom research with ACRES, a custom field research farm which happens to be about a mile from our own research fields.

Our company, Renewable Farming LLC, conducted yield trials on corn with Bio-Empruv in 2014 and 2015, showing definite yield benefits. Applications were post-silking. Adding WakeUP Summer enhanced yield response. Iowa grower Keith Schlapkohl also reported in fall 2015 that Bio Empruv helped keep a Goss's susceptible hybrid greener longer. We showed photos and the report at this link.

Published Sept. 17, 2016  by Jerry Carlson