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Bigger, Better, Bulkier: How to Deal with GMO Crop Challenges

Bigger Bulkier Crops Leave Bigger Bulkier Residues

Farmers have embraced genetically modified organism (GMO) crops as a way to better manage risk in their farming operations. GMO crops allow farmers to improve their yields, continue desirable crop traits, and decrease the susceptibility of crops to insects, disease, and other challenges. However, science’s efforts to build up these desirable traits have left farmers with a new set of challenges in dealing with the residues – stalks, fibers and root systems – left behind once a crop is harvested.

History of GMO Cropping

Manipulating genetics to improve corn and other crops has been going on for centuries. In fact, the father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a monk who worked to improve the production of the pea plants in his abbey’s garden though selective cross-pollination – the simple trait inheritance process by which plants (and people!) receive certain traits from older generations. Current hybridization practices involve taking corn with favorable traits like yield or maturation length and crossing them with other plants that exhibit traits for better roughage/silage production or disease resistance.

In the mid-90s, scientists began bypassing the pollination process and modifying plants for specific traits at the gene level. By introducing a bacillus thuringiensis (BT) strain, they were able to produce corn with higher levels of proteins. This made the plants poisonous to pests. Gene-level modification gave scientists more control over the modification process, and allowed for faster production, since they didn’t need to wait for the plant’s full life cycle to see results. The resulting corn was robust, allowing it to stand up to pests like the European corn borer and the corn root worm, and physically stronger than traditional varieties.

Corn borer destroys corn by burrowing into the stem, causing the plant to fall. This blocks the flow of nutrients to the developing ears and makes them easier prey for foraging animals and insects close to the ground. Prior to GMO technology, corn borers could knock down entire swathes of crops, moving from plant to plant and stalk to stalk seeking fresh food. GMO corn resists these attacks is by bulking up its stalk and roots. This is great for pest control and improves the standability of the stalk. However, it brings up the challenge of residue management and integrating heavy trash in our fields.

Keep Big Bulky Residues in Shape

For this reason, using a K-Line Ag Speedtiller in fields planted to BT corn or other GMO crops can produce better results for controlling surface residues and mixing those residues into the soil profile. The heavy duty discs break apart the remaining stalks and root balls. Disc gang positioning can also be adjusted laterally, which ensures effective cutting, sizing and incorporating of plant residues with a single pass.

Additionally, the down pressure of the machine allows the gangs to function like a vertical tillage machine. They knife down in to the soil to break up the heavier root balls of GMO crops. It also helps eliminate machine bounce, providing a uniform and well-integrated sub-soil profile without ridges and gaps.

The combination of these actions, followed by the Speedtiller’s finishing gang, produces an erosion-resistant seedbed that’s rich in incorporated organic matter, while also being optimized for seed-soil contact and germination of next year’s crop. You can read more about the Speedtiller’s farmer-driven features here.

The application and usefulness of GMO crops to modern farming is indisputable. They provide greater yields, better risk management, and enhanced pest protections, and replicate valuable crop traits for future generations. But they also require farmers to be more proactive in employing adequate tillage mechanisms to support seedbed preparation and maintain soil health.

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