Assess Field Conditions Before Planting
Farmers are feeling the itch to start their spring field work. But if the soil is too wet, the pressure from machinery will cause compaction and create a poor seedbed. Check moisture levels in the top six-inches before any tires roll over it. It can vary from field-to-field, depending on the type of soil.
Stanley Solomon is an Extension educator at the University of Illinois. He says with your hands, reach down into the dirt and pull some up.
"You squeeze it together and it does somewhat clump together, but as you open your hand up it also breaks back apart. It’s not a sticky mudball all stuck together there, and it doesn’t just crumble and fall away," says Solomon. "So, that perfect moisture is actually a zone that we think about, we just don’t want it to be too wet, don’t want it to be too dry."
In some cases, tillage may be needed to break up thick residue or alleviate field roughness. Solomon says you will have to weigh the pro’s and con’s because each pass across the field comes at a cost.
"If it’s too wet, you’ve got big chunks that are kind of hard to work with, you don’t have a real mellow seedbed to go back into. In certain conditions of some soils, you’ve actually created a compaction layer just underneath or right at where you ran the tillage at," he says. "So, a lot of guys will look at something that will do a minimal amount of soil movement and soil disturbance, but still maybe try to move some of the residue around. A strip till-type approach or some of those things may be a better thing to think about."
Winter can be hard on conservation structures in the field like waterways and terraces, so be sure to inspect and repair anything that will reduce their effectiveness.