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As drought conditions persist, farmers on the lookout for soil moisture
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As drought conditions persist, farmers on the lookout for soil moisture


Photo submitted by Syngenta.

Planting season is here for North Dakota growers, but as drought conditions persist across the state, many farmers are searching for adequate soil moisture.

“As you move further north and west in North Dakota, looking at the U.S. Drought Monitor, we’re either in moderate to severe to extreme drought conditions, depending where you are in the state,” said Adam Aarestad, Golden Harvest agronomist for North Dakota. “One of the things (farmers) are running into out west is dry soil conditions, sometimes all the way down to four inches. They just can’t find any moisture.”

Finding uniform soil moisture is key for growers, and in cases of extreme or severe drought, it becomes all the more challenging.

“We want to put every seed in a situation to where it can absorb water right way,” Aarestad said. “But if you plant some into dry soil and some into wet soil, we’re going to end up with uneven emergence and that’s going to kill your yield right off the bat.”

In an effort to obtain uniform emergence, planting depth is going to be a varying factor this spring as farmers search for moisture.

“Looking at planting depth, we’re for sure going to need to be deeper than that 1.5-inch minimum for corn. Even going that shallow is playing with fire,” Aarestad said. “You’ll want to be deeper than that, 3-3.5 inches if you have to, but then you also run into the risk of crusting if you get a heavy rain after planning, so there’s more risk the deeper you go. It also takes a little more energy for that seedling to emerge, but if that’s where the moisture is and you want to plant corn, you have to do what you have to do.”

Another thing to consider this year, a year in which the weather outlook is a dry one, is plant population.

“I would say you probably shouldn’t deviate too far from your population that you plant on your corn or soybean. If anything, maybe a little bit less, 5-10 percent,” Aarestad said. “When you have drier conditions, reducing populations can sometimes produce a little bit of a bigger ear in corn. If you have too many plants out there, none of the ears will have a harvestable cob on them – they’ll be too small.”

While corn rootworm isn’t as much of a concern right now in North Dakota as it is in the neighboring states of South Dakota and Minnesota, growers in the state still see issues occasionally, so it may be something growers should keep an eye on, says Aarestad.

“We do find some of them every year, so a rotation to soybean is a good option,” he said. “You may want to use sticky traps to monitor the pressure. If you end up with a high enough threshold – three beetles per plant per day on average – you will definitely want to make a management decision for the following year.”

Those management decisions include rotating to soybean or a different crop, or in the case that a farmer can’t do that, they can look into insecticides.

“In North Dakota, we don’t have the same pressure as other states around us, but it’s not something we want to ignore either,” he concluded.

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