At Kutz Farms LLC in Wisconsin, the Kutz family decided that planting corn on corn repeatedly may be good short-term economics, but it was bad long term for their soil’s health.
As a result, John Kutz, his father and father-in-law created a new system that gives them three crops in two years, but doesn’t include the usual double cropping of soybeans after wheat.
Instead, they figured out a system that lets them plant winter wheat after corn and then soybeans into the wheat crop the next spring.
There was no standard equipment that did what they were looking to do, so they innovated and engineered planters and found unique combine heads to make it happen.
Kutz told the recent Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario conference in London, Ont. that they farm about five miles from an ethanol plant, which makes shipping corn there profitable. They could not justify moving to a three-year rotation of corn, soybeans and wheat, so they improvised.
“It’s a whole system that works and is turning our ground around,” said Kutz who farms about 2,000 acres plus does custom work on a similar latitude to London.
Here’s how the system works.
Their system is entirely no till. Land going into corn is planted in the spring into the soybean-wheat stubble. Twin-row wheat on 30-inch rows is planted as soon as possible into the corn stubble. That’s been a challenge and the Kutzs engineered a coulter cart that fits on the front of the tractor pulling the wheat planter. It’s a lot of crop residue to fight through to get the wheat to the soil, but the 1790 John Deere planter converted to twin rows is working. The planter also has row cleaners on the back and the ability to put down starter fertilizer.
During the next spring, a modified IH 900 12-row planter is used to plant single-row soybeans at 30-inch rows, in between the rows of wheat. They offset the hitch and the rear wheels in order to avoid trampling the wheat. Nitrogen is put on through the planter, as well.
They do one herbicide application before the soybeans are planted.
“As we are going into this longer term, our weed pressure seems to be going down,” said Kutz. They also apply two to three fungicide applications in order to protect the wheat.
Harvesting the wheat has been a challenge. They started out using a flex head, but they weren’t happy with the amount of damage being done to the soybeans.
So they have gone to using a specialized John Deere row crop head, with cones, not reels. Gathering rolls pull the wheat into the combine and the cones push down the soybeans. It allows them to cut the wheat shorter to give the soybeans more light.
They are getting good corn and higher wheat yields, but the soybean yields have been variable, from 30 to 60 bushels, depending on how much rain they get in August.
The next step for the Kutzs is to try to get a cover crop planted once the wheat is off. They spread white clover and mustard last year after the wheat was harvested, but it didn’t take well. They plan to keep experimenting.
“Every day we’re trying to build a little better soil than we had before.”