BEATING THE RUSH OF A WET SPRING PLANTING SEASON
Attention to soil conditions and potential compaction are major priorities for planting preparation.
This spring will mean a lot of long hours in the tractor cab for many farmers, said Ag Leader’s newest Precision Technology Agronomist Brett Buehler, who raises corn and soybeans in western Iowa.
Heavy lingering snowpack in the northern Midwest, early-spring rainfall and high soil moisture levels have weather experts expecting a challenging spring weather season. Many farmers are setting their sights on what will likely be a tighter-than-normal time window in which to get all spring fieldwork done, including tillage, fertilizer and herbicide applications, and planting.
Though Mother Nature is the final arbiter of when farmers can turn a wheel on their tractors, there are ways to both prepare and deploy technology to help hit the fieldwork bullseye this spring, despite the challenges many are facing.
Potential spring fieldwork dangers
Though temperatures have seasonally warmed, soil moisture levels are high in many locations as we enter the normal spring rush. That's a primary driver for fieldwork delays, but getting in a hurry to get into the field could have long-lasting implications for your crop after the seed is in the ground, said Buehler.
"If we stay cool and wet during and after planting, germination could be delayed because we're not getting the heat units to help it emerge," he said. "If it stays wet and cool after that, we could have diseases later in the year."
After emergence, the concerns turn to plant nutrition and weed pressures later in the season. These issues are typically exacerbated by emergence that's slowed or weakened by wet, cool conditions early in the growing season.
"Weeds will germinate when they have the moisture, so a lot of farmers should consider applying pre-emergence herbicide if they have time. If not, aerial applicators can bail you out later on," Buehler said.
Preparing your equipment ahead of time
For Bloomfield, Iowa, farmer Lincoln Joos, the first step he takes to get ready for planting well before he's ready to turn a wheel is to prepare his equipment.
"The No. 1 thing I tell my customers is to not wait to prepare — you want to get things ready early on so you can hit the right time window when it's time to plant, no matter what equipment you use," said Joos, a service technician with Premier AG Solutions and an Ag Leader dealer. "Personally, I like to have everything calibrated and ready to go and have run it a little bit, even in the shop. Basically, make sure everything’s ready and working correctly. I wouldn’t have seed in the planter yet, but have those little details nailed down. The little things matter just as much as the big things."
That same preparedness extends to his precision technology, both with the equipment itself and the operators who will be depending on it when the optimal planting time window opens up.
"When dealing with technology, it’s the little things I like to have fine-tuned. If somebody’s running a planter, you never know what gets deleted or who presses the wrong button. Do your homework even though you think you can ace the test, because it's easy to forget some of these specific things about the technology if you're not working around it every day. That's especially important in a wet spring like we could have."
Getting to know your soil types
The next step in preparing for a tight planting window is prioritizing what needs to be done to ensure the 2019 crop starts out strong. In some situations, farmers will likely be forced to plant corn and soybeans into less-than-ideal soil conditions, namely because of moisture. Knowing your soil types and their characteristics when it comes to water is a good basis for prioritizing planting so you're efficient with your time.
"Growers are really going to have to understand their soils, whether they're clay loam, silty clay or whatever other type. Some soils will allow them to plant earlier because of their water-holding capacity," Buehler said. "Sandy soils drain more quickly, then silty loams and finally clay soils because they are heavier and hold water longer. You may be looking at planting a little differently this year because of your soil types."
Ag Leader tools like SureDrive® electric drives and SureForce™ hydraulic uplift and downforce systems can help farmers overcome some of the challenges created by soil variability and differences in water-holding capacity particularly in a wet spring like many anticipate this year. That's especially true when facing a short window of time to get the entire crop planted, Buehler said.
"Our SureDrive and SureForce systems are going to be most advantageous for growers planting into these conditions," he added. "There will be a lot of variability in the soils and how likely they are to see compaction. Being able to plant seeds at exactly the right depth consistently without exerting too much pressure and creating sidewall compaction will help emergence and prevent issues like root rots later on."
Adds Buehler, "Root development is going to be huge this year and may be the biggest value driver for tools like SureForce. Roots will develop better with SureForce because of the consistency that sort of active downforce system provides. By actively managing downforce, as opposed to spring or airbag downforce systems, you'll be able to set it and forget it."
Other help for long hours this spring
Auto steer and satellite guidance are also important technology tools to help farmers plant a lot of acres in a short amount of time.
"I do most of my fieldwork after work in the evenings and weekends; guidance helps me out a lot so I'm not trying to follow a row marker in the evening when light is lower," Buehler said. "Having guidance is going to be more valuable this year than in a typical spring, since it will enable you to operate more hours without feeling as fatigued. It's more of a quality-of-life thing than it is something that can be penciled out on your overall ROI."
"Guidance not only helps relieve stress for the operator but helps to maximize the yield that we're trying to achieve out there. The minute you plant that seed in the ground, you're trying to minimize all the outside influencers that can affect it."
To find out how you can apply Ag Leader tools and technology to your fieldwork this spring, start a conversation with your nearest Ag Leader dealer here.