During one of the drier falls in recent memory, many farmers were able to get a lot of fieldwork done before the snows came. Now, as spring quickly approaches, the work will start anew soon.
Much of the western half of Iowa and the central portions of Illinois are under dry or drought conditions, according to the latest U.S. drought monitor, and soil moisture will play a key role in jump-starting the 2021 crop.
Corteva market development specialist Ron Geis, who covers the northern half of Iowa, said without rains this spring, herbicide treatments will be less effective.
“The Achilles heel of a residual program is it needs to get moisture to activate it in the first place, but also needs some continued moisture to keep the chemical active in the soil,” Geis said. “One rain doesn’t make it work all season long.”
Nate Levan, a Pioneer agronomist from Mason City, Iowa, said there seems to be enough topsoil moisture in his region to get the corn crop moving, but farmers need to ensure their seedbeds are prepared correctly. If that work was done in the fall, it may still require another look in the spring just to make sure everything is in place.
“We need to set ourselves up for all those seeds to emerge germinated,” Levan said. “The drought, or perceived drought depending on where you are, is not going to be as big of a concern. Folks are excited about the fall fieldwork that got done, but it’s going to be mid-season to see if this drought persists to where we are really going to see some concerns.”
Levan said another tillage pass may be needed in areas that are anticipating high volunteer corn populations, particularly for those who are planting into soybeans. Any unchecked volunteer corn can also have carryover corn rootworm issues, he noted.
“I want to get as many of those ears of corn buried and out of the way as possible this year,” he said.
If planting season stays relatively dry and planting pace is able to move quickly, that is often seen as a boon to farmers. The earlier a crop goes in, the longer it has to develop and produce more. Geis said the same is true for weeds, however.
“If we get a good, fast, early start because the soil warms up early and it’s relatively dry, weeds also get an early start,” he said. “Planning to go out early with a residual and a burndown is critical, particularly if we have a fast warmup in March.”
Geis said weeds such as marestail and pennycress that overwinter could sprout very quickly in conditions like that, and could be difficult to knock down if they get more than 3 to 4 inches tall.
Being flexible with weed treatments is also important for farmers, Levan said, allowing for a “surgical” approach to whatever weed problems are found in the fields.
“Especially with our more problematic weeds, always be considering what herbicides are used and if we can use them surgically,” he said. “Giant ragweed has an early application window, but a different application window comes for waterhemp. It really is dependent on the weed species.”