tillage and field work this spring

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

Last fall’s harvest was challenging for a lot of Missouri’s farmers. Andy Luke, a University of Missouri Extension agronomist based in Harrison County, in northwest Missouri, says wet weather slowed harvest progress, even preventing some fields from being harvested.

“It was a very slow, long harvest,” Luke says. “It took a long time, and there are still crops in the fields that haven’t been harvested.”

The tough harvest conditions often meant farmers had to harvest when fields were still wet, leaving ruts and damage in a lot of fields. Luke says this might mean farmers have to do more field work to deal with the ruts.

“A lot of growers are probably going to have to do some tillage on it, even if they’re mostly no-till farmers,” he says.

Luke says this could mean going over fields with a field cultivator, or maybe a disk. He says there could be some compaction issues with ruts.

Anthony Ohmes, an MU Extension agronomist based in Cape Girardeau County, in southeast Missouri, says wet harvest conditions and field ruts were also a problem in his area. Soybean harvest extended into December and January due to wet weather and field conditions. He says ruts and compaction are often problems with harvest conditions like that.

“That’s always kind of a negative,” he says. “There’s ruts in the fields this year. With anything like that there’s always a risk, especially if there’s a sand sub-layer, of some compaction.”

Modern equipment is designed to minimize ruts as much as possible, Ohmes says.

“A lot of the equipment today, the weight is distributed a lot better, so that helps,” he says.

Ohmes says farmers may need to fill in ruts and in general be prepared to do a little more field work ahead of spring planting this year. He adds that the amount of ruts and field damage likely depends on the soil type in each field.

Winter has brought more precipitation, and Ohmes says growers in his area are hoping for a drier March to get things ready for planting season.

“If we can have a dry March to kind of dry things,” he says, “that’s always the first thing. Then having a good April as farmers are getting back into the field, getting good weather and getting into fields in a timely manner, we’re off to a good start.”

Luke says the weather in 2018 was very difficult, with cold spring weather quickly turning to a hot, dry summer with drought issues. Then harvest turned into a slog through mud and frequent rains.

“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 before the end of winter.

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.

Luke is hoping this year will be better.

“Hopefully it’ll be better this year,” he says. “That’s how farmers have got to think.”

Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.