Earthworms to the Rescue

October 27, 2012 02:09 AM
Earthworms to the Rescue

Have you ever walked through a soybean field at harvest and wondered about the small mounds of leaves you see scattered about on the ground? Chances are those mounded leaves were gathered as a winter food resource by the lowly but valuable earthworm, says Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer.

In Purdue University soil scientist Eileen Kladivko’s agronomy guide, Earthworms and Crop  Management, she notes that earthworms "can have significant impacts on soil properties and processes through their feeding, casting and burrowing activity. The worms create channels in the soil, which can aid water and air flow as well as root development. The shallow-dwelling worms create numerous small channels throughout the topsoil, which increases overall porosity and can help improve water and air relationships."

Next time you see those mounds of leaves in your fields, know that underneath, a small earthworm is doing its part to improve your soil’s structure and tilth. It might not be much, but after this tough production season, every little bit helps.

SCN Assessment

Few creatures like drought conditions, but the soybean cyst nematode (SCN) revels in dry, hot weather. Sampling fields for the pest now will provide a good estimate of SCN populations that will be present next spring, say Alison Colgrove, senior research specialist, and Suzanne Bissonnette,
plant diagnostic clinic coordinator, of the University of Illinois. It will also help farmers finalize soybean variety selections this fall.

pC12 SCN Assessment

Fans of hot, dry weather, soybean cyst nematode populations can be monitored with fall soil tests

Test every field where soybeans will be grown, Colgrove and Bissonnette say. Each sample should represent no more than 10 acres and comprise no more than 20 to 30 subsamples. Each subsample should be taken 8" to 10" deep. Mix the subsamples in a bucket, fill a 1-qt. plastic bag and mail it to a qualified laboratory for analysis. The results will report the number of cysts or, preferably, the number of eggs per 100 cc of soil.

Once SCN is detected in a field, regularly check egg counts to monitor population levels. If you rotate with a nonhost crop and SCN egg counts are well managed, sampling might be spaced to  every third year that soybeans are grown. However, if soybeans are grown back to back, SCN egg
counts have been high or SCN populations develop on resistant varieties, more frequent sampling might be needed.

When SCN egg counts are moderate to high or resistant variety rotations are not handling the pest, farmers can perform a greenhouse assay called the SCN type test (formerly the SCN race test) through the University of Illinois Plant Clinic. Learn more by calling the clinic at (217) 333-0519.

Soil Test Considerations

Preparing for the 2013 corn crop might be low on your list of priorities this fall, but consider soil sampling before you plant next spring. The combination of drought conditions, heavy irrigation and widely varying yields this year means the information you glean from soil testing will be more important than ever, according to University of Nebraska Extension soil specialists.

The big question is how the drought will affect corn nutrient requirements for next year. The  expectation is that soil nutrient values, particularly residual nitrate-nitrogen, will be more variable than usual this fall from field to field and even within fields.

Before you hike out to your fields in the next couple of weeks, it’s probably best to wait until next spring to pull soil samples. Testing soils then, once soil moisture levels rebuild, might result in a more accurate picture of nitrogen availability. If you do decide to soil test now, however, take samples at varying depths within each field to help ensure you capture the most accurate picture of the nutrients present.

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