In many parts of the country, to say last fall’s harvest season was challenging is a major understatement. Attempts to finish cropping and apply manure through wet soil conditions left many fields in poor condition with deep ruts.
Farms that haven’t started their spring planting need to soon, but before these damaged fields can be utilized, some work must be done. Tim Harrigan with Michigan State University Extension shared a few tips to prepare fields before planting in a “Field Crops Virtual Breakfast” presentation.
“The 2019 harvest season was pretty rough,” Harrigan started out. “It’s important to have at least a short-term plan for how to move ahead with planting this year.”
The first step is to wait until soil moisture conditions are right, and that, Harrigan said, takes patience.
“When we come out of winter, we are pretty much at saturation. Saturation is not a time to do much field work,” Harrigan explained.
He noted that the first few inches of soil need to get down to 99 percent of field water holding capacity before it is okay to start traveling over the field with machinery. If tillage needs to be done, that level of dryness must go down deeper, below the level of tillage. Again, he noted that it is going to take some time to achieve this desired moisture level.
His recommended game plan for prepping fields this spring is to fill the ruts and level the soil. This means shallow tillage, just enough to get a suitable seedbed.
Then, Harrigan said to have a strategy in place to come back and deal with more extensive problems in the fall. “After harvest is a good time for that,” he said.
When it comes to fixing those big ruts, he said to use deep tillage to get about an inch or two below those furrows, but again, do it in better soil moisture conditions. Cover crops could also be part of a soil repair strategy.
To get this year’s crop planted in timely fashion while dealing with the leftover damage from last fall, “It comes down to patience and looking at all your options,” Harrigan said.