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5 no-till planting tips for dry fields

Jeff Caldwell 04/02/2013 @ 9:45am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

If you're low on soil moisture and plan on continuing no-till systems in your fields this year, you might want to make a few adjustments before you get rolling this spring, one expert says.

Most years, it's almost instinct to knock the crop residue away from the row when planting to help keep things warmer and drier when the chances are greatest for damage from cool, damp conditions early in the season. But this year, if you're planting into dry soils, you might want to reconsider.

"Too many producers move residue away from the row when planting, trying to make the seedbed warmer and drier during the cool part of the growing season. This isn’t necessary in a warm, dry spring, especially if drought conditions continue," says University of Nebraska Extension ag engineer Paul Jasa. "Growers should focus instead on using residue to keep the soil cooler and wetter during the hot part of the growing season. By leaving the residue over the row while planting, soil moisture evaporation is reduced and the root zone is kept cooler for the entire season."

Jasa recommends the following considerations for no-till in dry soils this year:

  1. Use seeding disks to cut residue. "Planters can more effectively cut residue using the seeding disks, as the disks are sharper than most coulters on the market. In some situations, the coulters start pushing the residue down without cutting it and the seeding disks fold or 'hair pin' the residue because they don’t have a firm soil surface to cut the residue," he says in a university report. "If hair pinning of the residue is a problem, increase the planting depth some to improve the residue cutting angle of the disks."

  2. Provide uniform residue cover. "Producers who did not uniformly spread their residue during the previous harvest could use residue movers to 'even up' the residue and create a more uniform residue layer," Jasa says. "However, they should not remove all of the residue from the row as soil moisture losses are higher from bare soil."

  3. Add downpressure springs and weight. "Residue of no-till, especially in hard, dry soil, requires downpressure springs and extra weight (as necessary) on the planter to cut through and penetrate the soil to achieve the desired seeding depth," Jasa says. "Enough downpressure should be on the row units to make sure that the depth gauging wheels are actually gauging planting depth."

  4. Plant on or near the old row. The root zone from last year's crop is the "most biologically active area of the field," Jasa says, making it the perfect place to plant this year's seed, both for any soil organic activity and it's usually far less compacted than adjacent soil. It's also easier on machinery, he adds.

  5. Consider planting deeper. Getting your seed a little deeper will help get it closer to crucial moisture and it'll be a more "buffered soil environment," Jasa says. "This improves uniformity of emergence which increases yields," he says. "By planting deeper, the root system is better established, improving standability and allowing the plant to better handle stresses."

Ensure good seed-vee closure. "The seed-vee should be properly closed for good seed-to-soil contact and to reduce drying out of the seed zone," Jasa says. "The loose soil created by the spoked wheels reduces the potential for the seed-vee opening back up as the soil dries. However, depending on the moisture situation, the tillage of the closing wheels might dry out the soil too much."

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