Savings in the Sweet Corn
Today, Phil’s standard management practice for his 75-acres of sweet corn is to use a zone builder with CRNF. A zone builder is a reduced tillage implement that has a shank or subsoiler to disturb only the soil in the planting row, minimizing soil surface disruption and maintaining surface residues between rows. Switching from the traditional plow to zone building has allowed Phil to reduce the number of passes he makes each season for field preparation and planting from four to one, respectively.
Phil now saves roughly $8.00 per acre in fuel costs and more in tractor maintenance expenses and labor. Although his upfront purchasing costs for CRNF are higher, $175 compared to $160 for conventional nitrogen per acre, he no longer needs to make a second application of nitrogen to his sweet corn, eliminating another pass over the field and reducing fuel costs. Making fewer trips over the field helps Phil save time, labor, and money (Table 1), while minimizing losses to the environment.
Phil also has fewer issues with soil compaction after switching to reduced tillage. In just one year, he observed better infiltration and decreased runoff and erosion in his sweet corn fields following heavy rains. Quantifying all the monetary savings Phil receives from reduced soil erosion is difficult. However, by simulating the changes in management using USDA erosion models—which account for soil type, crop and weather—runoff and wind erosion rates on his farm decreased from 8.4 to 1.8 tons per acre per year. At the same time, Phil has observed no change in his sweet corn yield since switching to reduced tillage and CRNF.
“There’s definitely a learning curve,” Phil says. The switch to using a zone builder and CRNF has meant adjusting other practices on his farm, including the type and timing of his herbicide and fungicide program. Although he added an herbicide application that was not needed with plowing ($7 per acre), he has saved money through reducing tillage and using the CRNF. Comparing all of Phil’s expenses for plowing and nitrogen fertilizer to reduced tillage plus CRNF shows a total net return on the Schmitt Farm of $2,503, which equates to $33.37 per acre, based on 2018 prices (Table 1).
Like all farmers, Phil faces a suite of challenges from weather variability to economic pressures and he must make decisions that are both financially sound and sustain his soils. Through moderate changes over time, Phil has found the sweet spot for healthier soil by minimizing soil disturbance, increasing organic matter, and improving his nutrient management, all without sacrificing crop yields.
American Farmland Trust
New York State Office
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County
Agricultural Stewardship Program
This publication has been made possible with the generous support of Pritchard Charitable Trust and the members of American Farmland Trust.