Spring is taking its sweet time getting here and a lot of growers in the northern Corn Belt are anxious to get going. Extended cold temperatures and moderate to heavy rainfall across the Midwest over the last few weeks have created terrible conditions for fieldwork and while the moisture is essential, the mud is a pain.
Growers who jump the gun and head to the field before soil conditions are right risk nitrogen loss, soil compaction and yield loss.
- The time may seem right to get out and knife in some anhydrous, but muddy soils will not close up behind an applicator, leaving N subject to loss. Conditions are more favorable for spreading urea, which works best if surface-spread just before a rain event totaling at least 1/4 of rain.
- Clumpy and muddy soil can also be disastrous to yield potential. Seed-to-soil contact can be all but eliminated in clumpy soils. Some hold that tilling or disking wet soils helps dry the dirt, but this may actually do more harm than good. In some cases, a second or even third trip is necessary once mud has been tilled into clumps to break up the soil.
- The third reason to hold off until your soil is dry is compaction. This can impact your crop by creating a hardpan, stifling root development and inhibiting nutrient exchange. The more trips made over wet soil, the more that soil becomes compacted (read 'Combat Soil Compaction' from the Monitor archives).
Much of the Midwest is still too wet to support the open of spring planting right now, but the time will come. Keep a close eye on your plots and your local weather. It seems ridiculous to say, 'wait until your soil dries a little' after last year, but windows for fertilizer applications have been very narrow this year down south. We expect the same to be true in parts north.
To maximize production, make sure your soil is ready before you roll out. Fieldwork is best done on the soil's timetable so look for the right time and the right soil conditions to get after it.