Ken Ferrie: Hard Winter; Weak Freeze Creates Issues

Published on: 15:01PM Apr 14, 2010
Farmers across the Midwest expressed concerns throughout the winter that the abundant snow cover on their fields actually kept the ground from reaching a hard freeze. One of those ironies a blanket of snow creates.
One farmer asked me yesterday if that could mean his fall-applied nitrogen wouldn’t be around this spring as he was preparing to load his planter…another irony created by the unusually warm weather the past few weeks. I posed the question to Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie.
Ferrie says the concern shouldn’t be about loss of nitrogen so long as the soil temperatures didn’t rise above 50 degrees following the fall NH3 application.
This does create some seedbed challenges, though. The situation is different for no-till and conventional tillage.
In no-till, the lack of a hard freeze in many fields across much of the major corn-growing areas means the ground didn’t achieve the ever-critical freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw cycles soils need to mellow to be ready for spring planting. Ferrie says this means farmers might need to increase planter down pressure in no-till situations.

(You can get more on planter down pressure here.)
Farmers should pick what they think is the hardest spot in the field, he says. Leave the planter in the ground and turn off the tractor. Go to each of the rows and pull on the closing wheels. “You should be able to pull on them and get them to move without getting a hernia,” he says. “But at least one of the wheels needs to be firm and hard to move. If it’s not, you’ll probably need to consider increasing down pressure.”
In conventional tillage, the concern moves more to the lack of fall field work completed last year and hard soils this year. In many areas farmers are trying to complete tillage this spring. With no mellowing of the soil, the soils are prime for making clods. This makes a leveling pass following the primary tillage a must, he says. Just don’t dilly dally.
“If you’re chiseling in corn stubble or bean stubble, you need to level that field to keep clods from forming. And after the primary tillage, you need to get back in the field and level it within hours with the temperatures we’re seeing.”
If you chiseled last fall, you’ll likely need to make a pass with a finishing tool, he says. Again, timing is critical. The temperatures and wind conditions are prime for drying soils and he suggests having the soil finisher and the planter in the field at the same time to prevent the seed bed from getting too dry.
The soil is a lot firmer this year as a result and the water is not allowed to move up and down through the soil profile as easily, Ferrie says.