Farm Progress

4 good reasons to dig into fall soil preparation

Fall is the time to test soil, apply fertilizer if needed and correct soil compaction issues.

September 27, 2016

3 Min Read

As this year’s crop comes out of the field, it’s time to begin soil preparations for next season. Whether your fields yielded bumper crops or had lower-than-average yields, taking the time to assess and replenish fertility levels and soil health will give your crops a head start for next season. Soil sampling is the first step in soil testing.


Jon Zuk is a regional agronomist for WinField. The following are some key steps he recommends to help farmers prepare fields to achieve optimum crop production next season. Soil sampling is the first step in soil testing and getting a good representative sample is important, he says. Soil sampling is the largest source of errors in the soil testing process.

1) Assess soil nutrient levels. Begin preparations for the 2017 growing season by pulling postharvest soil samples this fall and assessing this season’s yield maps. Soil samples will identify any phosphorus or potassium deficiencies, while yield maps will show the amount of nutrients removed by this season’s crop. Together, this information will help you plan crop nutrient amounts needed for next season based on actual numbers rather than estimations.

2) Consider making a fall base nitrogen application. If postharvest conditions allow, a number of farmers are turning to partial (or base) nitrogen applications in the fall, then testing soil nitrate levels in the spring to determine the additional amount needed to meet next season’s crop performance goals. Doing this assures that nitrogen will be available in the soil at planting as well as throughout the rest of the growing season. If weather delays spring applications, this N management strategy provides farmers with more time to assess fertility needs based on early-season crop and soil conditions.

If fall applications are made, be sure to consider the effects of soil texture, soil moisture levels and soil temperature to avoid leaching and denitrification issues. Fall nitrogen applications should not be made until soil cools to 50 degrees F or lower, when soil bacteria begin to go dormant. Fall-applied nitrogen must be applied with a stabilizer, such as N-Serve for anhydrous ammonia, to prevent the nitrogen from converting into a mobile nitrate form that can move off target.

3) Amend phosphorus and potassium levels. If fall soil samples identify any phosphorus or potassium deficiencies, farmers can apply these nutrients at any time after harvest. To ease spring workloads, broadcast applications may be made in the fall and incorporated into the soil. If a spring application works better, phosphorus and potassium can also be applied in the spring before planting.

4) Correct compaction issues. Another important issue to assess in the fall is soil compaction. Before doing any fall tillage, check compaction depth to help determine the proper tillage tool to use, the accurate tillage depth and the tillage speed needed to loosen soil and get ready for next season. The prep work for your 2017 seedbed begins now.

For more information about fall soil preparation, contact your local WinField retailer.

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