Before rushing into fields this season, make sure your soil is ready to work. If you get in too early when soil is wet you could set yourself up for stand and yield loss from compaction.
“Pre-plant tillage when soils are wet can create a cloddy seedbed that reduces seed-to-soil contact,” according to University of Minnesota “Sidewall compaction occurs when planter disc openers cut through wet, find textured soil, resulting in compacted soil around the seed that is difficult for nodal roots to penetrate.”
Test your soil to find out if it’s still too wet, says Rich Larson, Peterson Farms Seed account manager. “If soil ‘ribbons’ it’s too wet to work or plant into.
“Lower the down pressure on your planter units to a minimum and still get the seed at the proper depth,” he adds. “This lessens the compaction caused by closing wheels.”
He also recommends spiked closing wheels, a strategy Gilman, Ill. corn, soybean and wheat farmer Zac Borchers uses on his farm.
“We use a Yetter Tracktill system on our bulk fill planters as they relieve pressure off the center section where the bulk tanks are,” Borchers says. “And we eliminate row pinch with spiked wheels.”
In addition to equipment changes, consider increasing seeding populations by 5% up to 10% to compensate for stand loss, according to Larson.
Wet soil can be especially hard on soybeans. “Lack of oxygen in saturated soils and the formation of a soil crust of even modest strength can almost eliminate soybean emergence,” University of Minnesota research indicates. Pay attention to the forecast five days after planting.
While he hasn’t penciled out how much money compaction costs in dollars, Borchers sees it in poor root development.
“If you dig up roots you’ll see where they hit a hard layer and couldn’t get through,” he says. “If that happens you’d better hope there are enough nutrients for the plant where the root stopped—especially in corn where it likes to be spoon fed.”
Be mindful of your soil conditions and check as much of the field as possible—particularly if you don’t have drainage. When ridges and high points are ready to go, valleys and lower areas might still be prone to compaction. Scout thoroughly.
“Growers have one shot each year to get planting done right,” Larson says. “Patience will pay dividends in these situations.”