By Amanda Kautz
Fall harvest may run late this year, but there could still be time to attend to tasks besides harvesting that may set you up for a better crop in 2020. Everything from improving weed control to deciding if it’s time to install filter strips could start with planning this fall.
There may even still be time to plan for and seed cover crops if you haven’t already planned for them. Visit your local Natural Resources Conservation Service office, Farm Service Agency office or soil and water conservation district office to see if you may qualify for cost-share programs for planting cover crops or installing certain soil conservation and water quality practices, either now or next year.
Sign-up for Environmental Quality Incentives Program and continuous Conservation Reserve Program practices is ongoing. Funding decisions may be made at certain times of the year, and as funds are available, but you can sign up anytime for these programs in the appropriate office.
Here is a look at three key things you can do this fall to improve your chances for better crops in 2020.
1. Weed scouting. Note weed populations along field edges and in fields during harvest. Proper identification is key. This will give you a good idea of what you’ll face next year. Remember to plan a rotation of herbicides to help prevent herbicide resistance. Also think about cover crops to help with weed control. Nature hates bare soil and will fill the winter void with a plant you consider a weed.
By planting a cover crop, you keep a living plant in the soil and crowd out the competition. With the late harvest this year, cover crop choices will be limited; cereal rye, which produces a lot of biomass, has been shown to help reduce weed pressure — even into the following crop year — and can be planted late into the fall. Many crop advisers report cereal rye is particularly effective at limiting marestail growth.
2. Equipment maintenance. Remember to clean, repair and store equipment properly when harvest is over. It’s one of your biggest investments, so you want to make it last a long time! A little maintenance goes a long way, and cleaning can also prevent spread of weeds and other pests from field to field.
3. Planning ahead. Have you been thinking about putting in a cover crop, switching to reduced tillage, implementing a new crop rotation or finally establishing that filter strip but haven’t made the leap yet? Use the winter to plan and talk to your local USDA or SWCD office and other advisers to make the best strategy you can for the upcoming year.
Successful soil health and soil and water conservation take time and planning. The earlier you start planning, the more effective your strategies and final outcomes will be.
Kautz is a district conservationist with NRCS. She writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership. Tom J. Bechman contributed to this article.