Farm Progress

Salute Soil Health: Here are important things you can do this fall to help next year’s crops.

September 1, 2018

3 Min Read
MINIMIZE SOIL COMPACTION: Help next year’s crop by carefully planning where the grain cart runs this fall.

By Amanda Kautz

The 2018 harvest season is here. It’s eventful. Sometimes the to-do list seems endless. But considering these six key things can make your next cropping year go more smoothly and help make your soil healthier in the long run.

Here are six key items for your to-do list:

1. Residue spreading. Make sure crop residue spreads evenly and along the entire width of the header. If it’s only spreading in small areas or over part of the header width, it will make a thick blanket in some areas, causing issues with planting next spring — especially in no-till. The planter will have trouble cutting through heavy residue and placing seeds at the same depth. It could also cause uneven emergence. If you’re planting cover crops, uneven residue can cause the same issues. Keeping your residue evenly spread gives your crops the best chance of an even stand and maximizes your investment.

2. Soil compaction. Think about your traffic patterns over the field. If you can avoid it, try not to drive over the entire field. Confine traffic to one area or wheel track. The less compaction caused during harvest, the less water-ponding and root-stunting issues you’ll have next year. Check to see if any ruts or large areas of compaction were formed from equipment tires throughout the year. If so, plan to fix those. Planting a cover crop with deep roots, such as annual ryegrass, or a mix including groundbreaking cover crops such as oats and daikon radish, can help alleviate compaction caused during harvest. Plant the cover crop before harvest, and it will help build resilience in your soil structure to better stand up to the weight of heavy equipment.

3. Soil samples. After harvest is the ideal time to take soil samples. It will give you a good idea of what nutrients you’re banking for next year, and what you may need to add. It also gives you time to think about your nutrient application program for next year.

4. Weed scouting. Note your weed populations in field edges and your remaining weeds in the crop field during harvest. Proper identification is key. 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 void with a plant you consider a weed. By planting a cover crop, you keep a living plant in the soil and crowd out competition. High-biomass cover crops like cereal rye help reduce weed pressure into the following crop year.

5. Equipment maintenance. Clean, repair and store equipment properly when harvest is done. It’s one of your biggest investments, so make it last a long time! A little maintenance goes a long way, and cleaning out properly prevents the spread of weeds and other pests from field to field.

6. Planning for next year. Been thinking about putting in a cover crop, switching to a new cropping system or finally establishing that filter strip? Use winter to plan and talk to local contacts and advisers to make the best strategy you can for the upcoming year. Successful soil health and conservation take time and planning. The earlier you start the more effective your strategies will be!

Kautz is a district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. She writes on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.


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