Jasper County farmer Roger Zylstra has learned the crop can’t make up for what’s lost on the front end of a growing season. After years of adding 4R Plus practices to improve soil structure, he’s more confident about pushing the front end of the planting window.

4R Plus practices allowed Zylstra to push the front end of the planting window.

This spring he wrapped up planting on May 6. “Each year is unique, and another set of circumstances were thrown at us to show me I’m doing the right things. If you have good soil structure, you have a better chance of getting into and staying in the fields,” he said. “The 4R Plus practices I use, like no-till and cover crops, allowed me to push the front end of the planting window.”

Zylstra has been using no-till for more than 50 years on the ground he owns. “No-till has improved soil structure on even my more challenging acres,” he said. “I wish I had more years using cover crops, but since adding that practice, I see additional soil health benefits. I know it’s a long process, but we’re pleased with the progress we’ve made.”

Soybeans were planted by April 27, and as soon as he planted the last acre of corn in early May, the rains began to fall. Soils were saturated the next five weeks. “Well-drained fields look pretty good in this area,” he said. “We see some of the challenges where tile is not adequate, which is fairly common across tile-drained areas I’ve observed.”

Zylstra has learned through the years that drainage is one of the keys to building yields. “We will never be successful raising a good crop, building soil health, managing nutrient flows and controlling erosion if we don’t have proper drainage,” he said.

While his corn crop is about a week behind the previous three years’, he says development is closer to the longer-term average, as tassels were beginning to emerge the second week of July. According to his aerial maps, the last 200 acres that were planted are the most concerning and will likely lower the overall yield average.

“The corn planted in April is doing better than later-planted corn, providing more evidence that good drainage and soil structure helped me push the planting window,” he said. “No-till supports machinery to get into the fields and stay in the fields longer. You do damage when you plant in mucky conditions.”

At this point in the growing season, Zylstra is hopeful his corn yields will be 85% to 95% of trend. “Given all that Mother Nature has thrown at this crop so far, we’re thankful for the crop potential that’s out there,” he said.

Click here to ask Roger a question about his farming operation.