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Get your fields set for 2012

Gil Gullickson 03/05/2012 @ 2:37pm Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

The clock is ticking now in terms of the start of the 2012 growing season. Here are five tillage and fertility questions you'll want answered as you plan the season's start in a few weeks.

1. Will there still be boulders in my field?

Rock-hard boulders in dry areas like south-central Minnesota last fall ripped apart components on many tillage tools.

“Last fall was really a challenge for fall tillage,” says Jeff Vetsch, soil scientist at the University of Minnesota (U of M) Southern Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, Minnesota. “Fall tillage brought up some clumpy boulders, and this wore out lots of points on chisel plows. Implement dealers were selling out of them.”

The good news is the freeze-thaw cycle is breaking up lots of these boulders, notes Vetsch.

“By the time planting starts, we should be OK,” says Vetsch. “The challenge will be getting the fields level. Some of those boulders have rolled out, and that's left some holes in fields.”

Impacted fields may require a leveling with a tillage tool like a field cultivator, he adds.

2. Should I apply a starter fertilizer additive?

There are lots of additives you can add to starter fertilizer that promise a yield response. “Generally, responses are inconsistent and unpredictable,” says Vetsch. For the most part, you're ahead pocketing your money or spending it on an input that does pay, such as tiling.

3. Will my fall-applied anhydrous ammonia still be there in spring?

Dry conditions in many areas last fall made anhydrous ammonia application difficult. “Setting applicators a little deeper than normal and avoiding headlands enabled the ammonia to seal in the soil,” says Vetsch.

Last fall's warm temperatures have led to concern about N losses where anhydrous ammonia was fall-applied. Still, spring rainfall is the determining factor.

“If spring rainfall is normal or less than normal, N loss for fall-applied anhydrous ammonia should be minimal,” he says.

4. When is the best time to sidedress N?

Vetsch recommends N be sidedressed by V6 (six visible leaf collars). N can also be surface-applied and incorporated with a cultivator if needed.

“After that, corn starts taking up lots of N from V6 to R2 (blister stage),” says Vetsch. “If plants are stressed during this rapid growth, it can reduce your yield potential.”

5. What if it rains when I plan to sidedress?

Sidedressing can be risky. “If you plan on sidedressing N on all your acres, a wet June on poorly drained soils can make getting it done on time a challenge,” says Vetsch.

If wet weather curtails sidedressing, rescue N can help salvage some yield. If you need supplemental N, the U of M has developed a supplemental N worksheet for corn to determine if it's needed. It's at http://www.extension.umn.edu/corn/components/NitrogenWorksheet.pdf.

Rainfall is crucial to incorporate surface-applied N into the root zone.

“Those growers who got a nice rain on the field after applying supplemental N before it turned dry got a good response,” says Vetsch.

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