Tillage with anhydrous tank

Farmers may need to do more tillage and field work this spring to deal with ruts in fields following wet harvest weather last fall.

The rains kept coming this fall and this winter, followed by piles of snow. With planting season approaching, the soil could be extremely wet when farmers get back in their fields.

A sudden stretch of warm weather in March isn’t uncommon and will likely be needed to make sure planting stays on track for much of Iowa.

“Typically we don’t do much until the first week of April,” said Linn County, Iowa, farmer Jim Greif. “Hopefully we have a month to melt this snow here, but we could get another foot here the way it sounds. I’m hopeful that mid-March we’ll get a thaw and things will be normal.”

But the rains this past fall caused more issues for farmers who were trying to do post-harvest work. This puts some behind the eight ball when it comes to preparing soil for planting.

“It (2018) was the slowest harvest since 2009. Now there’s a lot of preliminary work ahead of the season that didn’t get done,” Bryce Anderson, DTN meteorologist, told farmers at the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky, Feb. 13-14. He didn’t paint a pretty picture for spring.

There are ruts in the field and the time to get that taken care of will be short, said the weather commentator. He forecasts more polar vortex events.

On the positive side, he said, “Once we get crops planted, I think it will be a pretty good year.”

Anderson said it looks like much of the Midwest is on track for another year of above-average yields, but springtime is going to be “a slow affair” with wet, cool conditions.

“The biggest thing ... is getting the field tilled for the following year’s crop,” said Black Hawk County, Iowa, farmer Jim Fettkether. “If it was a struggle to get your harvest out and things got delayed, a lot of things froze up pretty quick. A lot of guys struggled to get their field work done. We need a fairly friendly late-March, April time frame before this next crop goes in.”

While both Fettkether and Greif said they were able to handle all their necessary fall preparations, Greif planned to do spring strip tillage for his corn, and that could be in jeopardy.

“We will wait as long as we can before we go back to no-till planting,” Greif said. “My option would be to no-till again. The beans will be no-till no matter what, so that won’t affect them too much. The strip tillage on the corn, we are going to wait and get it done like we are supposed to.”

As farmers worked in wet fields last fall, Greif said there were some who caused damage by cutting ruts. With a relatively quick freeze after the rains turned off, he said there is plenty of work to do to fix things up.

“Most of them we got healed up, but there are some fields that are really ugly where they cut ruts the whole field,” Greif said. “That field is going to need something done this spring, and it could be ugly for these guys.”

Fettkether said he doesn’t anticipate much of a problem with tillage.

“You hope Mother Nature’s on your side,” Fettkether said. “I’ve tilled ground in January before, I’ve tilled ground in February and March. If we hit a warm streak and things warm up nice, we get rid of this snow, but we have a lot of stored up moisture here that has to be turned into water and piped on out of the ground structure.”

The northeast Iowa farmers said it wouldn’t be surprising to see planting delayed slightly if winter storms continue, but Fettkether also remembers last year, when he went from snow on the ground to planting in a matter of days.

“I would say (if you are being pessimistic) this spring is going to be later than normal, but I’ve seen it change so fast where all of a sudden it becomes average again,” he said.

“Last year, we didn’t have near the snow accumulation, but it just didn’t warm up. We went from snow on the ground April 22 to full bore planting season a week later.”