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Soil preparation for the spring season

With planting season right around the corner, everyone is itching to get out into the field. Before the time comes, it’s important to think about proper soil preparation.

It’s common knowledge that before planting the soil needs to be prepared, either in the form of tillage or the use of chemicals to kill the weeds. Tillage methods can be divided into three main categories, depending on the amount of crop residue they leave on the surface. 

  • Conventional tillage – A bit of a history lesson, up until about 20 years ago the standard tillage practice for corn was the use of the moldboard plow followed by several secondary tillage and mechanical cultivation. Today’s farmers have turned away from that method because moldboard plows tend to leave minimal crop residue on the soil surface, in turn decreasing valuable organic matter.
  • Reduced tillage – is usually done with a chisel plow and leaves 15% to 30% residue coverage on the soil. 
  • Conservation tillage – leaves at least 30% residue coverage on the soil. An example of conservation tillage is no-till, where no tillage is done at all. Other examples are strip-till, ridge till, and mulch till.

The use of herbicide may be used in addition to all these tillage methods to kill weeds. In no-till fields, the herbicide is applied directly on last season’s crop residue. In other methods, some soil preparation takes place before the herbicide is applied. A common myth is that more herbicide is used with conservation tillage methods, but in fact farmers rely on herbicides for weed control under all tillage practices. The amount used is more or less independent of tillage methods.

Along will tillage comes the risk of soil erosion. The best tillage method to reduce tillage is conservation tillage. This method leaves at least 30% residue cover on the ground. The simple, low-cost practice can have a huge impact on the amount of soil eroded. Due to energy saving and improvements in soil quality, conservation tillage has been widely adopted across the Midwest.

Soil preparation is a crucial step for a healthy crop and longevity of the land. It’s important to determine what’s the best method for your farm ground. 

Source: USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service

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