Planting too soon when soils are damp can be costly

Producers may be tempted to jump the gun and get into fields while soil moisture conditions are still too damp. This could lead to soil compaction, a restrictive rooting zone, and yields could be reduced far more than from delayed planting.

The extreme wet and cold weather has delayed the start of the 2013 field work. Producers know that yield potential is reduced when corn planting is extended beyond the first week in May and soybeans will start losing yield when planted after mid-May. Also, corn will have higher moisture levels and drying costs in the fall with later planting. With a large number of acres to get planted in a short time frame, it is easy to see why everyone is anxious about getting started.

The concern is that if soil is worked before it is ready and the crop is “mudded in,” the soil structure can be damaged. Every soil is different and some are more resilient than others. When the soil structure is damaged, soil compaction can result. The damage can affect plant growth season long. According to the University of Minnesota Extension bulletin “Soil Compaction: Causes, Effects, and Control,” and the Penn State University bulletin “Effects of Soil Compaction,” soil compaction can cause the following yield-reducing problems:

  • Impeded root growth
  • Decreased nutrient uptake
  • Reduced soil aeration
  • Reduced water infiltration
  • Increased runoff
  • Reduced drought tolerance
  • Induced nutrient deficiencies
  • Increased potential for disease
  • Reduced beneficial soil biology

Ultimately, this all can add up a yield loss that can be far bigger than the yield loss potential from delayed planting. Most farmers have a good feel for when their soil is right to work. That skill needs to be communicated to others. With larger farms, hired employees are operating tillage equipment and will need to understand what to look for and be patient as well. Sometimes it only takes a day or two to make a big difference.

In addition, build soil organic matter to help maintain and even improve soil resiliency and productivity. Common methods to build organic matter are to return crop residues, add manure and utilize cover crops. This is discussed in detail in a Michigan State University Extension article, “Manage cropping systems to reduce compaction and restore soil quality and productivity.”

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