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Prepare soil for 2023 planting now

Salute Soil Health: Set yourself up for a successful planting season with decisions made today.

September 23, 2022

3 Min Read
residue spread across field
SEEDBED PREP: This farmer spreads residue evenly in the fall because he’s preparing his no-till seedbed for next spring. Tom J. Bechman

Fall is a critical time to consider how what you do now will affect your fields and crops next year and beyond. Many actions you take this fall can have long-lasting effects — both positive and negative.

Here are some key decisions and actions you can do now that will make a difference when it’s time to plant next spring:

Check how combine settings impact residue. If you’re still harvesting, check your combine and see how it spreads residue. Is residue spread evenly along the width of the head? If it is concentrated in one area, it can form a thick mat that will cause difficulties with the planter. Uneven surface cover will cause differences in soil temperature, leading to uneven corn emergence.

Uneven residue can also put soils at risk. Areas left bare will be subject to soil erosion and surface crusting due to exposure to snow and rain. Also consider ways to reduce soil compaction.

Think about traffic patterns. Try to reduce the number of times tires run over the whole field. Consider leaving the grain cart at the edge of the field or set it up to drive on the same wheel tracks as the combine.

The less soil compaction caused during harvest, the less water ponding and root stunting you will have next year.

Don’t use tillage to “fix” tillage problems. Conventional thought is that the aforementioned issues can be corrected with fall or spring tillage. Be cautious in thinking tillage is the solution. Tillage has its place, such as fixing ruts that formed in wet spots or end rows during harvest. However, tilling to fix soil compaction or residue spreading issues will have long-lasting effects.

Tillage breaks up soil structure, reducing the pore space available for water to soak into the soil, leaving it prone to runoff and erosion.

Build up organic matter levels. Tillage can result in the loss of organic matter, soil structure and water-holding capacity. You want to improve organic matter, not tear it down, and that takes planning. Consider planting a cover crop instead of tillage.

Cover crops are a soil builder, adding organic matter, breaking up compaction with their root systems, and providing cover for the soil surface to prevent erosion. There is still time this fall to plant cereal rye as a cover crop. It can be planted successfully in November.

Consider financial impacts. Implementing a no-till cropping system uses, on average, fewer than 2 gallons of diesel fuel per acre, whereas a conventional tillage system consumes over 6 gallons per acre. That is over a 60% reduction in fuel costs every year. With current diesel prices, this could be a huge savings.

Engage in fall no-till activities. Instead of scratching that tillage itch, use this time to implement changes such as trying a cover crop, moving toward a no-till system or installing field borders. All these things can help to make your operation more profitable in the future. Take the time to tackle these tasks instead of hopping in the tractor to chisel plow. You’ll thank yourself later!

Kautz and Donovan are district conservationists with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They write on behalf of the Indiana Conservation Partnership.

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