Farm Horizons, August 2014

Managing non-planted acres

By Dave Schwartz
Certified crop advisor, Gold Country Seed

Thousands of acres were not planted this year in Wright and neighboring counties because of unusually wet conditions from mid-April until July 1. Very few fields this year were planted in what I would consider ideal conditions.

It was one of those springs where growers either mud their crop in early or mud it in late. In fact, some of the earliest fields planted have some of the best looking crops, even though soil conditions were far from ideal. It’s just that conditions never improved after that. Planting in these conditions nearly always causes soil compaction and yellow, stunted corn.

For growers that were not able to get their crop planted, several options are available. Some growers have chosen to seed in crimson clover as a cover crop. It is one of the more expensive options, but should pay for itself by providing 50 to 60 pounds of N for next year’s crop.

Sorghum sudan grass is another less expensive option, but serves primarily as a green manure plowdown crop that should improve soil tilth.

The least expensive cover crop may be oats, at around $9.50 per bushel. Oat plants in mid-summer won’t tiller out very much, so growers would need to seed approximately 1.5 bushels per acre to hold weeds down. Holding weeds down is the primary reason for planting cover crops.

Some growers have chosen to keep the ground black during the summer using tillage. Some weed growth is preferred to reduce what we call “fallow syndrome.” This occurs when fields are kept black with no root growth. Phosphorus deficiency develops under these conditions so if a grower plans to manage his acres with occasional tillage rather than a cover crop, it’s best to let weeds grow and then work the ground just before weeds head out, so seed is not produced.

One tillage idea I am sharing with growers is to do deep tillage this fall, but only if soils dry out. Dropping shanks down 12 to 13 inches can help shatter compacted soil and may improve root growth for next year’s crop.

Dave can be reached at

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