Farmers Can Counter Cold, Wet Weather With Technology
Cold, wet weather has slowed tillage and planting progress this spring. Charlie Beeler believes it all stems back to the conditions we saw last fall.
“It was one of the wettest on record,” says Beeler, a research farm lead for The Climate Corporation who grew up on a small family farm in central Iowa. “In fact, it was the third wettest on record for Iowa.”
As we headed into winter and the temperatures dropped, a lot of that moisture froze into the soil profile.
“Water has a higher heat capacity than the soil material around it,” he says. “When the ground froze with lots of water in it, that translated into below-average soil temperatures this spring. For example, if we look at the first week in March, soil temperatures were 10°F. cooler than they were at this time last year.”
That means it will take longer for that ground to warm up. Beeler believes the key to overcoming these changing field conditions is deploying digital farming resources that can help you quickly adapt.
“I think what’s weighing on a lot of farmers’ minds right now is their nitrogen program and getting anhydrous on before they plant corn,” he says. “There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to get those applications done last fall.”
That window is once again getting compressed this spring because of the weather.
“Farmers are going to be pushed out of their comfort zone with a nitrogen management plan,” Beeler says.
As farmers evaluate ways to get their nitrogen down, they can play around with different programs before a single seed goes in the ground with a nitrogen management tool like the one in Climate FieldView.
“The nitrogen management tool uses predictive modeling to help us understand how that nitrogen will behave in our soils,” he says. “It’s using local weather data, years of agronomic trial research, plus your specific location and soil types to help you understand what a split application looks like. A farmer can plug in various rates to understand relative to his yield goals how that will impact his crop.”
And Beeler recommends giving that anhydrous application seven to 10 days to mellow out before planting corn.
“With corn, we don’t want to burn the crop before it even gets started,” he says. “If the farmer has RTK GPS solutions, I recommend they offset nitrogen bands from the planting line so they’re not putting seed into the band.”
The right rate
There are also a lot of farmers looking at early-plant soybeans – and likely more so this year, Beeler says. “If you have trouble getting nitrogen down, it might be advantageous to get some of your soybeans in early and wait for nitrogen supply to loosen up a little bit or get the application on the field.”
Conditions during the last week of April are going to be significantly different than the second or third week in May. Having flexibility to adjust seeding rates based on soil temperatures or germination of the seed will be critical.
“You can adjust those fairly quickly with an advanced scripting tool. You can adjust those prescriptions as you’re pulling into the field, and it’s pretty seamless to get that information into your monitor,” he says.
Document each pass
No matter what pass you’re making across a field, Beeler says having the data to document every application is extremely critical.
“We need to map all of those data layers. Digital tools allow a farmer to grab that application data straight from their equipment,” he says. “You need to have the data so you can learn from your fields.”
For example, if you are trying different nitrogen programs, you should map those applications. Beeler says to incorporate a couple of test strips where you lower the rate or bump it up a bit. At the end of the season, you can then look at the data to understand how the crop responded.
“There are a lot of resources from academia and from your agronomic consultants, but I truly believe there’s nothing more powerful than utilizing the data from your own acres to make those agronomic decisions that work for your farm,” Beeler says.
There’s a lot of work to get done and farmers are certainly faced with a number of challenges. While it’s tempting to do what they need to get that crop in the ground, Beeler cautions that farmers have to be conscious of the conditions and not pull the trigger too early.
“Bringing heavy equipment on a field that isn’t ready can cause long-term damage, and it’s just not worth it,” he says.
Digital tools that can help you better track changing field conditions are going to be even more beneficial in challenging years like this.
“There are a lot of farmers who farm large swaths of the county,” Beeler says. “Whether it’s rainfall or getting application passes through the field, there is a variety of digital tools that let you know what’s going on even before a piece of equipment enters the field as well as throughout the season to help you better manage your entire operation.”