Weather and Spring Planting Issues
The warm weather this past week primed many farmers for spring planting. Government weather forecasting had gotten better but the results are still variable. According to the NOAA, the year 2020 was a year of extremes, with record temperatures, dry overall conditions, and forest fires in the West.

Spring Planting Decisions

Last year, spring planting occurred during a cold dry spring, while this year conditions are warm and dry. Farmers have several planting options, depending on whether they are conventional tillage farmers or planting no-till with cover crops.

Healthy Plants Produce Healthy Soils

Spring is a time for new growth by plants, animals, and microbes. As temperatures warm, microbial populations double with every ten degrees Fahrenheit increase in soil temperature. As days get longer, the sun’s energy is captured by plants and that energy feeds microbes and almost all living organisms on earth.

Pollinators for Birds, Bees and Butterflies

The birds are chirping while bees and butterflies will soon be flying as spring starts to blossom. Pollinators are an important food source for over 4,000 species of wild native bees and 725 species of butterflies in North America.

Building Soil Carbon

There is renewed interest in paying farmers to sequester soil carbon by building soil organic matter (SOM) levels. Building soil carbon is dependent upon temperature, moisture, vegetation, tillage, soil texture, crop rotation, and microbial activity.

Improving Drainage with Cover Crops

As the weather warms and snow melts, many fields are saturated with standing water. While cover crops may improve drainage, they are not a cure all. A farmer with no tile or subsurface drainage once asked why the cover crop’s he planted did not improve his drainage.

Making CRP Productive Cropland

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres are fields that private landowners put into conservation for 10-15 years to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and/or to improve the environment. Landowners are paid an annual government rental payment in exchange for keeping acres in permanent vegetation.

Manure and Cover Crops

Many livestock farmers who are being compensated by the H2O Ohio program may be looking  for guidance on planting cover crops. NRCS Appendix A (Cover Crops) is your best guide for  cover crop seeding methods, planting dates, and planting rates. Contact your local Soil and  Water Conservation office or local NRCS representative for additional questions.

Improving Fertilizer Availability

As fertilizer costs increase, farmers want to either lower their fertilizer costs or find ways to conserve soil nutrients. Cover crops can help do both things. Legumes and clovers sequester nitrogen (N) and grasses and radishes make phosphorus (P) more available.

Is Early Maturing Corn Profitable

Many farmers try to maximize yields but is that always the most profitable? Planting early season corn and soybean varieties allows farmers time to plant a cover crop which can add carbon and soil organic matter, protect your soil from erosion, and improve water quality.

Frost Seeding Cover Crops

Frost seeding is broadcasting cover crop seed over a frozen soil surface and letting the freezing and thawing incorporate the seed into the soil profile. For hard seed (seed that is difficult to germinate), the freezing and thawing may break down the seed coat and improve germination.

Soil Health Terms

Soil health can be hard to understand if you do not know the lingo or terminology. Talking to a doctor, sometimes you need a dictionary to know what they are saying. Heres a short primer on soil health terms. Soil health is defined by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) as the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.

Maximizing Factors that Influence Crop Yield

Farmers consistently attempt to increase crop yields but may not know which factors are important. Yield is influenced by climate and temperature, plant and water management, and soil nutrient management factors.

Is Soil Health Real

Sceptics of soil health abound in agriculture. After World War II, farmers became reliant on inorganic fertilizer to improve crop yields. Soil organic matter (SOM) levels were still high, so an investment in fertilizer gave big yields.

Inter-Seeding Cover Crops into Corn

Getting a good cover crop stand after harvest can be difficult, so farmers are inter-seeding cover crops early into standing corn. Benefits include erosion control, extra nitrogen from legumes or clovers, using grasses as nitrogen scavengers, weed suppression, and livestock forage (grazed or hayed).

Bio Stimulants

Bio-stimulants include both bacterial and fungal inoculants, various types of compost, and organic adjuvants that stimulate plant growth and improve yield. Farmers have been using bacteria inoculants containing Rhizobia bacteria on legumes and clovers like soybeans, alfalfa, and red clover for many years.

Using Humic Substances to Imporve Plant Growth

Soil organic matter (SOM) is carbon compounds from living organisms are decomposing or the dead bodies of microbes, small animals, and plants. A fertile soil has between 2% (sandy soil) to 8% (clay soil) SOM which contains essential minerals needed for plant growth. Humic (carbon) substances are vital to soil fertility and plant nutrition.

Cover Crops Benefit Wildlife

Cover crops provide many species of wildlife with food and shelter. If you want to maximize wildlife benefits, avoid cover crop monocultures. Cover crop diversity and interspersion are keys to improving wildlife habitat.

Healthy Soils Suppress Pets

Farmers who improve soil health increase the amount of soil carbon being stored, and recycled. The increased carbon flow increases microbial numbers and efficiency leading to improved plant photosynthesis. The entire soil ecosystem functions at a higher level.

Stop Tilling to Improve Soil Health

No-tilling corn is a difficult transition for most farmers. When farmers start no-tilling, the transition time may last 3-7 years and corn yields may often be reduced during that transition period. An alternative is to strip till the soil which gives a farmer some of the benefits of each tillage system.

Reducing Soil Compaction

Indian Summer is here with warmer temperatures and some sunlight as farmers try to finish up harvest. A lot of field work is being done including deep and shallow tillage.