Bringing a Farm Back To Life How Granular CSA Michael Delaney Applied Cutting-Edge Agronomy Management To a Former CRP Field

Is it possible to bring a lower quality, former Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) field back from the brink to where it is competing for top yields in the National Corn Growers Association contest?  Michael Delaney of LaMotte, Iowa did so using Granular digital agronomy tools, Pioneer seed, and Corteva crop protection.  Here’s the story about how bringing these tools and technology changed the productive landscape of one field. 

Aerial view of Michael’s field

Located in the Driftless region of Northeast Iowa, Michael and his father Mike farm and operate a Pioneer sales agency (Delaney Ag Services LLC) and a Granular CSA (certified service agency).  Michael is the 5th generation farmer of the Delaney family that has been in the area since the late 1880’s.  In 2015 Michael had an opportunity to purchase a field nearby his family’s farm that had been enrolled in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) for 20 years.  The 33 acre field has an Iowa CSR2 (Corn Suitability Rating) of 53, putting it in the lower-middle range of potential productivity based on the soil profile and has timber that runs through the middle of it, dissecting the farm into two fields. 

Already a Certified Service Agent at the time of the purchase, Michael established a baseline of fertility on the field by employing an intensive soil sampling protocol.  He found that the field was quite low on phosphorus and potassium, at 14 and 98 ppm on average, respectively.  Using Iowa State University’s soil test interpretations, these values were considered Low and Very Low.  The pH was 6.1 on average, also indicating that fertility remediation was needed. 

Correcting fertility levels with Granular’s help

Utilizing Granular’s fertility management software for guidance, Michael set out to correct the fertility levels immediately.  In spring 2016 he applied 300 lbs/ac of MAP (monoammonium phosphate) and 500 lbs/ac of potash to correct the phosphorus and potassium.  Planting a Pioneer hybrid adapted to the environment and spraying it with Corteva Aproach® Prima fungicide allowed his first corn crop to produce 266 bushels per acre – quite a respectable yield given the history of the field.

After that first harvest, Michael continued the intensive soil sampling protocol, taking 1 sample for every acre in the field both in the spring prior to planting and in the fall after harvest, using the same sampling machine and engaging the same soil analysis lab each time.  Doing so gave him up-to-date soil test levels to utilize for guidance.  After an initial tillage program the first year, Michael utilized no-till practices for most subsequent years, with vertical tillage utilized in 2019 and 2020.  This ensured that erosion was kept to a minimum in this highly sloping field. 

Michael continued to utilize the soil samples taken every 6 months for fertilizer application guidance.  High applications of MAP (200-311 lbs/ac), potash (200-570 lbs/ac) and pH correcting lime (1-3 tons/ac), primarily using Granular’s variable-rate technology guided by the soil sample points, allowed soil test levels to build year over year, even as higher yields were being taken off each year. 

Michael has set various targets for soil fertility for this field: 

  • Phosphorus: 25 to 36 ppm (Mehlich 3-ICP) 
  • Potassium: 200 to 240 ppm  
  • Potassium Base Saturation: 4 to 8% 
  • pH: 6.5 

Increasing yields

Due to the higher level of management Michael has engaged in this field, yields have been steadily increasing as well. 

Year Crop Average Yield 1.25 Ac Contest Weigh Check
2016 Corn 266 bu/ac  
2017 Soybeans 80 bu/ac 91 bu/ac
2018 Corn 281 bu/ac 291 bu/ac (NCGA)
2019 Soybeans 82 bu/ac 92.5 bu/ac
2020 Corn 270 bu/ac 303 bu/ac (NGCA)
2021 Soybeans 85 bu/ac 96.5 bu/ac

Each year Michael and his father pick out the best-suited Pioneer corn hybrid or soybean variety, treat it with appropriate seed protection, and utilize Corteva’s line of crop protection, including 3 applications of Aproach Prima, the last two applied via helicopter for more accurate placement.  Michael uses Granular Agronomy software to generate seeding, nitrogen, and fertility application recommendations and relies on Granular Insights after harvest to analyze results. 

While Michael admits that his fertilizer application rates have been aggressive and may not be economical in the short term, he sees the intensive sampling and fertilizer application as an investment strategy similar to tile drainage, and that the return on this investment will pay out for a much longer period of time.  Now that he’s achieved the fertility targets he set out for, utilizing a crop replacement strategy, utilizing on-the-go yield monitoring and monitored by twice-yearly sampling, will help him keep that investment in place. 

To learn more about what Michael did to improve this farm using Granular digital technology, Pioneer seed and Corteva crop protection, email him at [email protected].

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