2019 has been a year to remember, or maybe, it has been a year most of us in the agriculture community would like to forget. Late planting, variable rainfall all summer, followed by a wet and cold fall have made for many “headaches” this year. Many farmers are still trying to get crops harvested a few days before Thanksgiving.
The cold, wet fall has led to many challenges such as harvesting higher-moisture corn, muddy fields, compaction, lack of cover crops getting planted and less tillage, and fewer fall fertilizer applications than most farmers would have liked. This has left many farmers nervous as to how they should plan for next year.
Most of these frustrations are completely out of our control. We now have the opportunity to focus on next year and what things we can impact or at least learn something from. A few of these challenges may even have a silver lining if you look hard enough.
The soils are very wet and if it freezes hard while the soils are wet, we will definitely get more loosening of soil and breaking up of compaction than if our soils were dry. This will help “naturally till” the soil and hopefully alleviate some of the compaction caused by the wet conditions during harvest. In addition, we should go into next spring with plenty of moisture reserves in our subsoil.
Many of us did not get a lot of tillage done this fall. The upside to that is there will be less erosion and hopefully less phosphorus leaving our fields with the soil. Over the last several years, producers often tilled before soybeans, however we can be very successful with no-till or one-pass tillage in the spring. During the last several years, soybean genetics and seed treatments have made great strides in improving yields in these conditions.
Almost all our planters have some attachments like coulters, row cleaners and seed depth control to allow us to do an excellent job planting without the need for tillage, especially with soybeans. In corn, it is a little tougher, but again advances in planter technology and seed treatments combined with one-pass tillage or less in the spring can do wonders for soil health and your bottom line. Fewer trips across the field can have a significant impact on net incomes.
If you did not get cover crops in this fall, there may still be time. Many experienced cover croppers will tell you that it is “possible” to successfully seed cereal rye almost every month of the year. Now I do not recommend doing that if you are expecting “great things” to happen or you are not experienced with cover crops, but it can be done if you are desperate to get a cover planted. Cereal rye seed can survive the winter and germinate when the soil temperatures rise in the early spring. Another option would be to plant oats early this spring. Many years ago, oats were part of our crop rotations and grow quite rapidly when planted as soon as soil conditions allow in the spring. Having any living plant in your field will help with nutrient sequestering, soil health, erosion control, biological activity and water infiltration rates. The final option would be that we go one year without a cover on the field or maybe we have winter annuals—at least the soil is protected!
Even though this year has had its challenges, we can learn some things from those challenges. In addition, maybe some of us will be “forced” to try something we may not be comfortable with as it relates to how we farm next year. Sometimes we need that extra push to make a change. So again, take a deep breath, enjoy the upcoming holidays, and plan for a new year with all it will have to offer.