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Serving: IN

Untilled Stalk Fields Bring Challenges

TAGS: Soybeans
Untilled Stalk Fields Bring Challenges
Think through process before tilling.

Two problems still linger for many Indiana farmers because of the late, wet harvest season in 2009. First, much less fall tillage than normal was completed. Some of it that was completed happened on soils far wetter than they should have been. Winter freezing and thawing may help some, but very little the first year. If soil compaction was created by working soil too wet last fall, it could show up this year, or even next year, depending upon weather conditions.

Second, many had no choice but to harvest on fields wetter than they liked. Many created ruts, some in soybean fields, and later in corn fields. The option was corn still standing. It's hard to argue that's a good option.

"It's a different situation for a no-tiller, especially dealing with ruts," says Barry Fisher, Indiana state agronomist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The biggest difference comes from the long-term effect tillage will have upon the soil. That's why many long-term no-tillers will likely attempt to fill in ruts with a disk or other tool rather than resort to full-scale tillage.

In the first place, Fisher says farmers should have fewer ruts in long-term no-till fields because these fields hold up better to combine traffic. "But once you deep till and loosen the soil, you won't go back to having the same conditions you did in no-till in one year," he says. "So next fall expect the soil to be softer. You won't see that firm foundation that tends to hold up the combine, because the soil has been loosened up."

Emerson Nafziger, an Extension agronomist at the University of Illinois, says the problems for this spring date all the way back to last spring. Much of the corn in his state, and in Indiana, was planted into wet soils a year ago, creating a considerable amount of soil compaction. Now much of what was created last spring is till there, since farmers couldn't till in the fall in many cases, he notes. Plus, the cornstalks in the field now will insulate the soil and slow drying rates. It's a snowball effect that's definitely running downhill.

"We simply need to live with most of the compaction and hope we do a good job of deep tillage next fall to relieve it," Nafziger says. He's talking mostly about fields where tillage is in the normal rotation.

"It remains unlikely soils will be dry enough to allow effective tillage before planting starts, he concludes.

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