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Agronomy Update

Don't Let the Warm Weather Fool You

Published on Tuesday, February 21, 2017

With unseasonably warm weather predicted over the next week in northern Illinois and Wisconsin, I anticipate seeing equipment hit the field for early spring field work. These early field applications can benefit any farming operation when done properly. Patience is very important as most of the compaction during a season occurs with the first pass of the year. Compaction can often rob you of yield potential and have harmful effects for up to seven years. Spring tillage is often a necessary practice on fall-worked ground, in corn after corn rotations, and on soil types that need help drying out and warming up in the spring. Keep these few key points in mind before you hit the field to prepare your seed beds for success without creating problems that will last all season long. 

One task that should be completed before spring tillage is a thorough inspection of the implements. Check over all points, shovels, or disks to ensure they don’t show excessive wear. Make sure the springs are adjusted properly for correct pressure and level the implement both fore and aft, as well as side to side. Completing a detailed inspection prior to tillage will ensure that the soil flows properly through the machine and leaves a level seed bed with no ridges or waves. A level seed bed will help with planting by maintaining seeding depth, providing adequate seed-to-soil contact and by giving us the best chance for uniform seedling emergence. 

The next thing (and in my opinion the most important) is to make 100 percent sure that the field conditions are fit to perform the task before considering spring tillage. Working ground with wet soil is one of the most commonly observed practices I see that leads to yield loss. Working wet soils will have season-long implications on both plant development and soil health. Due to the size and weight of equipment, making a pass across wet soil can easily lead to compaction from both the implement and tractor. The tractor will compress the soil particles, leading to a reduction of pore space and air in the soil. The implement may also cause compaction through compression or by smearing the soil and causing compaction layers where shovels or points have run. Compaction in the soil can lead to root development issues that will reduce the plants ability to uptake water and nutrients throughout the season. 

Hatchet Root

Root Development Issues Caused by Compaction

Another concern with compaction is that it reduces the ability of water to flow through the soil profile. When water cannot work down through the soil, we often seed surface erosion issues as well as ponding water on the soil surface. Standing water on the soil surface over longer durations of time will lead to further compaction and it can create an environment that is conducive to disease development. 

Manure Streaking 

Many situations will require a spring tillage pass in order to achieve maximum yields and prepare soils for the optimum seed bed. It is important to remember that all the benefits of spring tillage can quickly be erased and cause season-long, yield robbing issues if completed on unfit soils or under less than adequate environmental conditions. As always, please contact myself or your local Beck’s representative with questions.

Have a safe spring!


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Author: Jon Skinner

Categories: Agronomy, N Illinois, S. Wisconsin


Jon Skinner

Jon Skinner

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