What can we learn from the wet fall?
Will the wet fall of 2011 affect my future crops?
Tim Berning: It depends on your soil management system, which refers to the combination of crop rotation and type of tillage used in crop production. The ideal soil management system would support equipment, drain relatively quickly and still produce a good crop.
To support equipment, soil structure should bond together like a building truss. Good soil structure gives room for air and roots, yet the load transfers to solid support below. Air space in the soil allows water to drain. Roots thrive in this type of environment, and healthy roots produce good crops.
Will tillage affect my soil structure?
Berning: The soil movement caused by the type of tillage implement and the depth of tillage could alter the bond between soil particles. Tillage steel creates a horizontal layer in the soil through compression and smearing. Tools that perform rolling and mixing actions (i.e., concave disks) grind the soil into smaller pieces.
The amount of damage tillage does to the structure of the soil shows up in the soil’s ability to carry equipment. Tillage can also negatively affect the health of the plants’ roots and, ultimately, yield.
How about soil types?
Berning: Higher-clay-content soils require special care because of their smaller particle size. They are easier to compress in moderately wet conditions. Even sands have trouble carrying a load when wet. The challenge becomes picking the system to improve soil structure based on the soil properties on your farm.
I have ruts. What choices do I have?
Berning: If you continually use the same tillage system, are you going to be comfortable with the outcome? Aggressive spring tillage (4 to 6 inches deep) only camouflages the problem and will create issues if weather conditions turn hot and dry or wet again. If you perform minimal tillage on dry soil conditions, that patience will pay off. You need only to fill the rut. There is a very small chance it will be dry enough to do beneficial tillage before planting.
If I only left cleat marks, should I be concerned?
Berning: That depends on how deep the cleat marks are in the soil and the amount of compaction damage the cleats have caused to soil structure.
The negative effect caused by compaction correlates to soil health. A healthy soil with active roots and good structure will be less impacted than a soil with poor structure and no active root system.
Any other suggestions?
Berning: We cannot control the weather, but we can control how soils are managed. The system you decide on needs a balance between profitable production and long-term improvements to soil health. Soil health is measured by the following: amount of organic matter, speed of water infiltration and level of production.
This article published in the February, 2012 edition of OHIO FARMER.