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Feeling Antsy About Fieldwork? Stay Off Wet Fields.

The time gain you make by planting on wet soils can be erased by compaction problems later on.

Getting itchy to get in the field?

Well, it is the first week of April, with the first few days of tillage and planting just a week or two away in central Corn Belt states like Iowa and Illinois. 

Normally, that is. 

This month’s snowfall and bone-chilling temperatures are creating concerns that planting delays will occur. That’s a valid concern, as planting delays can decrease yield potential.

Still, remember it’s early, and that jumping the gun this month can come back and haunt farmers later in the summer. We looked back at a story we ran prior to the 2016 planting season where we quoted A.J.Woodyard, a BASF technical crop production specialist. 

His message back then also applies to 2018. Don’t work wet fields.

“I can’t tell you how many times that tillage passes made while the soils are wet have led to horizontal compaction layers,” he says. “That affects everything for the rest of the year.”

It’s understandable why this mistake is made. If you’re behind the eight-ball and the 10-day forecast shows continual rain, fieldwork often wins out.

Still, congested and shallow roots that can’t penetrate subsoil due to compacted hardpan are signs of fields worked under excessively wet conditions, says Woodyard. 

“Once this occurs, you can’t recover the rest of the year,” says Woodyard.

Or Maybe Decades 

Field operations performed on excessively wet soils can have decade-long soil structure consequences. Scientists examined a field in Finland where a tractor-trailer combo drove over excessively wet plot areas in 1981. Twenty-nine years later, Nordic researchers performed a computerized topography (CT) scan of soil samples pulled at a 0.9- to 1.2-foot depth. CT scans were compared with a control soil that dried before field traffic passed over it.

After nearly three decades later, the soil structure of the areas through which the tractor-trailer drove was still damaged. The researchers noted the damage would have been worse today, as equipment is larger.

Realistically, farmers are sometimes backed into a corner during wet falls. They face a tough choice between harvesting on wet soils or letting corn linger over winter. Fortunately, Upper Midwest farmers have a soil compaction buster better than any deep ripper.

“Around here, there are extreme winter lows and summer highs, the biggest spread in continental North America,” says Aaron Daigh, a North Dakota State University (NDSU) soil scientist. “When our soils crack when it is dry, it can easily go 8 to 9 feet below the ground. That is the best form of deep tillage.”

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