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Got ruts in your fields? Here are some tillage ideas

It's hard to think about doing much of anything in the field
right now in most of the blizzard-invaded Midwest.

But, one issue that won't go away no matter how much snow
piles up between now and spring is soil conditions that this fall's tough
harvest created, namely ruts and compaction.

So, if you had a long, rain-delayed harvest that has left
your fields a rutted mess, what can you do? There are several options for
conditioning the soil, but much depends on your tillage and management systems,
farmers say.

"All I have to use are a disc and inline ripper, both
of which are not favorable for current conditions," says Agriculture.com
Crop Talk member RichILL.

No matter what iron you use, smoothing over ruts can't be
done effectively until the soil is either good and dry or frozen up, says Iowa
State University Extension ag engineer Mark Hanna.

"Using tillage to loosen the soil and relieve
compaction requires soil to be dry enough so that soil shattering is effective.
Because soil moisture has refilled the top 12 to 24 inches of the soil profile,
deep tillage with a chisel plow or subsoiler this fall or next spring will use
fuel and time -- but is unlikely to loosen soil effectively between tillage
shanks," Hanna says. "However, the full soil moisture profile in upper
layers will freeze and thaw over the winter and help loosen soil, depending on
air temperatures and snow cover.

"Entering the field this fall in wet moisture
conditions for deep tilling or any type of tillage will be counter productive
by creating much deeper soil compaction," he adds.

 

Deep rut concerns

If you have deep ruts -- like RichILL, who says some of his
are more than 8 inches deep -- you may need to take a different tact, Hanna
says. One possibility is waiting until a couple weeks before planting next
spring, then performing light tillage only to the rutted ground (if it's not
field-wide). There are definite advantages to waiting until spring.

"A good strategy may be to wait until a week or 2
before planting next spring and use a light tillage pass, such as with a field
cultivator, light disk, harrow, or soil finisher," Hanna says. "If
only a portion of the field is rutted, consider tilling only that area to avoid
recompacting subsoil in other parts of the field. Waiting until warmer weather
next spring allows for some potential drying of the top two or three inches of
soil and avoids further compaction of wet, plastic soil on the surface -- which
will happen with a tillage pass this fall."

Farmers largely agree. "On our ground, the best remedy
has been to wait for the last moment before planting beans and disc...Maybe if
we had some real dry weather early next spring, I could see ripping or disc
chiseling," says Crop Talk member jdmcfarm.

"You will have to hit the ruts once to get some dirt in
them than another time to level. If you hit them a couple of weeks ahead of
planting this will let the dirt settle some before planting," adds Crop
Talk member SD455.

But, the wet 2009 season will continue to make light tillage
questionable for RichILL. "I could run my field cultivator over next
spring but I feel that will only mask the compaction caused from the
combine," he says. "The dirt here doesn't dry that fast with this
kind of weather, no matter how much tile is under it. I think they are just
causing vertical compaction between the chisel shanks. When the chisel is
raised it sinks in some on the ends."

So, despite the options at his -- and many farmers whose
fields remain waterlogged going into winter -- disposal, RichILL says Mother
Nature could provide the key element to making tillage effective in restoring
field conditions ahead of next spring.

"According to the Illinois Water Survey, 2009 has been
the 3rd wettest year since records have been kept," he says. "We
could use a January drought."We could use a January drought."

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