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Keep spring fieldwork timframes tight

If you're holding off to plant corn despite the warm spring weather thus far, just don't fill that time with excessive tillage passes through your fields, advises one agronomist.

The warm winter and quick start to spring has made it possible to get on top of fieldwork ahead of the normal timeframe. But, that's not always the best situation, says Purdue University Extension agronomist Tony Vyn. If you got your tillage done early but will have to wait until your normal window to plant corn, the time left in between could do more to harm your seedbed than help it.

"From the soil, fuel and time conservation points of view, early tillage operations need to be considered as candidates for the final tillage operations farmers complete," Vyn says in a university report. "It's important not to till now and then do it again later before planting. That means that when farmers are ready to plant, they should consider using a stale seedbed approach. Cloddy seedbed preparation several weeks before planting should not even be considered acceptable, and certainly not on high clay soils."

But, it hasn't just been the 80-degree March and early April temperatures that have been hard on the soil. There weren't as many freeze-thaw cycles over the winter, so that has changed the soil structure. And, if you've got some crop residue and good drainage -- which Vyn says has been the case in much of Indiana through early spring so far -- you could actually lose soil moisture quicker. So, if you're on the wet side anyway, this spring might be a good year to plant into a minimum- or no-till system.

"This spring weather is not only speeding up tillage, but it's making it more likely that no-till operations can occur in a more timely manner," Vyn says. "There will be less delay associated with planting into higher residue. However, chemical weed control needs to be timely in a spring with such early weed pressure to maintain the no-till option."

Tillage isn't the only spring job on which timing is critical. It's also a good idea to try to keep your spring fertilizer applications as close to planting as possible, as the wider the window between application and planting, the more apt you are to lose some of what you put down.

"By applying anhydrous ammonia now, there is a clear time separation between application and planting. That means less likelihood of zones of high ammonium concentrations potentially interfering with early seedling corn growth," Vyn says. "However, it's a trade-off, because with early applications, mineral nitrogen has to stay in the soil longer for it to be available to plants."

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