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Does all the rain have you in a rut?

By Randall Reeder, Ohio State University Extension

Ruts like these are present in farm fields around the state following the soggy harvest. Photo by Randall Reeder.

            “I’m in the combine cab, driving through water to get the corn picked,” said the voice on the other end of a cell phone call today (Dec. 2). Then the long-time no-tiller from Hardin County added, “I’ve got some ruts, but nothing like the neighbors who tilled last fall. What a mess.”

            Yes, even fields that are never tilled likely had some rutting and compaction damage in 2011. But nothing like fields that were plowed a year or two ago.

            Remember last fall? In 2010 corn and soybean harvest was finished about a month early. Too many Ohio farmers “took advantage” of a warm, dry fall to get out an old chisel plow or perhaps buy a new combination tillage tool to work up their corn AND soybeans fields. Research (and recent history) have shown that soybean yields after corn are equal or better with no-till than  with tillage.

            In 2011 a rainy spring delayed most planting until the first week of June. A lot of fields were compacted during planting. Fortunately, timely rains during the summer (for most of Ohio) allowed the crop to catch up and have good yield potential. Also fortunately, the killing frost was about a month later than usual.

            But now, most Ohio farmland is saturated and the window for any “fall tillage” has slammed shut. The best course of action for farmers concerned about soil quality may well be no action at all. Deep tilling wet soils will destroy soil structure. With tillage you have looser soils, and if we see more rains next spring, we’ll see even more compaction issues.

            Attempting to deep till anytime before planting next spring may lead to even worse conditions. Do the absolute minimum amount of tillage necessary to get the ground ready for planting. Often a light, shallow tillage operation can smooth out ruts and create a surface ideal, or at least acceptable, for planting.

            For more from Reeder, see the Ohio No-Till page in the Mid December issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.

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One comment

  1. With the span of equipment growing larger, there is a tendency to feel one can level low spots and avoid using ditches. In years of heavy rainfall, this is not enough and equipment tracks more deep than original ditches are the result. Our climate is changing, more wet, more dryness, increased wind, etc., seem to be here to stay. Farming as we did in the ‘good old days’ may be a thing of the past. This concept seems hard to accept, but one we all need to adjust to, accept and find a way to plant and harvest with all the problems it brings. It is a rare year anymore that is like the years past.

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