Wet fall leads to spring tillage dilemmas
The seemingly endless rain of fall 2006 continues to impact Midwestern farmers as they begin looking ahead to the 2007 spring planting season.
Because wet weather delayed last season's harvest, corn and soybean producers had to scramble through soggy fields to harvest their crops before it was too late. This gave farmers little choice, but to forego some, if not all, of their fall tillage operations.
"It certainly was an incredibly wet fall and that prevented many of the planned tillage operations from being done," said Tony Vyn, Purdue University tillage Extension specialist. "That means that as we go into this spring there are a few options."
Based on the shape that fields are in and what was accomplished last fall, farmers will need to decide what crops will best suit their needs and what tillage practices will prove most beneficial.
"Probably the easiest scenario is when corn is intended to be planted following soybeans," Vyn said. "This represents a really excellent opportunity to consider no-till rather than doing any tillage at all."
However, there may be situations where a farmer is really insistent on doing some tillage where corn will be planted on soybean stubble, Vyn said. In those situations, he recommends a strip tillage operation.
"If there is an opportunity to do strip tillage three or four weeks ahead of planting, then that operation should be done to shallow depths, no deeper than 5 to 6 inches, and should be done with the intent to have a berm that's really finely aggregated and that will allow for faster warming and drying so that planting may proceed on a more timely basis," Vyn said.
"Another option that exists is fluffing harrows, or something that operates very shallowly simply to loosen up the residue that may have been matted down by all of the excessive rain that we've had since harvest."
With the ethanol boom taking place, crop forecasts indicate that corn will not only follow soybeans, but there will be more corn on corn grown in the upcoming year.
"In a sense, we don't go into that situation with a particularly well-prepared situation because usually corn after corn requires more tillage, especially on fine-textured soils that are poorly drained," Vyn said.
Under these conditions Vyn recommends planting no-till corn after corn on light, well-drained soils, 6 to 7 inches away from the old corn rows. When doing this, Vyn said he is very keen on applying at least 30 pounds per acre of nitrogen with the planter.
In a situation where a high-clay content soil is involved, a shallow tillage operation may be best, Vyn said.
"When we have corn after corn on these more finely textured soils that are slow to dry out on the surface, we recommend a shallow combination of tillage tools that are operated when the soil conditions in the top 3 to 4 inches are fit for doing something," he said.
Regardless of which tillage operations are the best for each farmer, most have the same associated concerns.
"There are always two primary concerns when we are talking about spring tillage," Vyn said. "One is moisture management. It is very important to manage for achieving uniform moisture conditions in the seed row area. Secondly, it is all about compaction avoidance, because if we smear the soil or compact the soil excessively, we will be much more vulnerable to root restrictions – especially if the later spring weather turns hot and dry."