Improving Resource Use Efficiency Through Strip Tillage, Cover Cropping, and Deep Fertilizer Placement

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $9,915.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Daniel Brainard
Michigan State University
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Sieglinde Snapp
Michigan State University


  • Vegetables: sweet corn


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: green manures, nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    This project seeks to demonstrate improved agronomic nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and sweet corn yield per unit N applied through a combination of deep fertilizer banding, strip tillage, and cover cropping. Improved NUE will increase sweet corn profitability and reduce N losses to the environment. Short-term outcomes of this project include an increased awareness of strip tillage and deep N banding as a viable option for sweet corn production in the North Central region; intermediate-term outcomes include increased adoption of reduced tillage, cover cropping, and deep banding of N by sweet corn growers region-wide; reduced N and herbicide use; reduced tractor use and fuel purchases; increased profitability; and reduced N leaching and nitrous oxide (N2O) release. We will compare sweet corn yield, quality, and profitability, as well as N loss to the environment from leaching and N2O flux in two treatments: one with broadcast fertilizer incorporated with conventional, full-width tillage and the other with deep-banded fertilizer and strip tillage. Cover crops are used in both treatments. We hypothesize that deep-banded fertilizer, compared to broadcast applications, will be more accessible to sweet corn roots and less accessible to weeds emerging near the soil surface, increasing crop growth and yield and improving weed management. Increased uptake by the sweet corn plant will result in higher yields and in less N lost through leaching and as N2O. Trials on collaborators’ farms will allow us to examine these practices in production systems and analyze profitability by creating partial enterprise budgets with farmers’ input costs and revenues for their standard practice and with deep-banded N fertilizer and strip tillage. Profitability analysis and on-farm demonstrations will increase grower awareness of these practices and hopefully lead to increased adoption.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will assess the potential of deep-banded nitrogen fertilizer, along with strip tillage and cover cropping, to reduce nitrogen loss through two common pathways while maintaining or improving sweet corn yields. The primary short-term outcome will be an increased awareness among Michigan sweet corn growers of the agronomic, environmental, and economic benefits that can result from deep fertilizer banding in combination with strip tillage. Intermediate-term outcomes include 1) increased adoption of reduced tillage, cover cropping, and deep banding of N by sweet corn growers region-wide; 2) reduced N and herbicide use; 3) reductions in tractor use and fuel purchases; 4) increased profitability; and 5) reductions in N leaching and nitrous oxide (N2O) release. Long-term outcomes include improvements in human health and environmental quality as N pollution is mitigated; strengthening of rural communities as farm profitability improves; increases in the resilience of soils and crops to environmental stresses; and improved sustainability in cropping systems as resource use efficiency increases.

    Agronomic and economic results from this project will be published in peer-reviewed journal articles. We will also publish an extension bulletin that will be more accessible to farmers. Results will be shared with growers at the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable, and Farm Market EXPO and other regional meetings and field days. We also anticipate that the on-farm trials will act as demonstrations for farmers interested in adopting these practices and that results and information generated through these trials will spread through informal farmer networks.
    Evaluation Plan.

    We will use the number of publications produced (both peer-reviewed and extension bulletins) and number of attendees at talks, field days, and workshops to evaluate our progress. We will ask attendees at these events to complete evaluation forms; these will assess grower attitudes towards the usefulness of information we present and also get their input on future research. Intermediate-term outcomes will be evaluated by the extent of region-wide adoption of these practices.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.