“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” Anyone who has served in the military or emergency services (police, fire, EMS) understands the importance of this statement and how it influences their training and preparation. This philosophy breeds traits like resiliency, adaptability, and perseverance. The drought of 2012 taught us that our soil must be prepared for challenges, stress, and less than ideal growing conditions. A healthy, resilient soil can adapt to those stresses and help crops persevere until conditions improve. Let’s take a look at what you can expect for the 2013 growing season and how you can prepare your farm for it.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor still shows 65% of the United States remains abnormally dry or worse, with 51% of land being in an official drought stage. Recent reviews of historical weather data show that in the Upper Midwest, it’s rare for two consecutive years to have below normal rainfall. In fact, following previous droughts in 1988 and 2005, the following years resulted in average to above average yields. While conditions are predicted to see at least moderate improvement in the Midwest and Great Plains, producers must prepare and plan for a continuation of extreme weather events. Although drought status can influence yields, the amount of heat and rainfall received in-season along with planting progress, plays the largest role in determining crop yields according to Paul Wescott, an USDA ag economist who analyzed corn production for the last 25 years. If in-season rainfall and soil moisture are such critical factors in crop production, producers must ensure their soils can make rainfall available to crops. With depleted soil moisture reserves, this year’s crops will need every inch of rainfall falling at the right time. Even short periods of dry weather during June or July could reduce yields significantly. Soil structure and organic matter content are the most important factors that influence water infiltration and holding capacity.
“Improving soil structure and increasing organic matter provides more available moisture throughout the growing season.”
Arkansas researchers have shown that each 1% of organic matter in soil can hold an additional 16,500 gallons/acre (or 0.60”) of rainfall above the soil’s natural capacity. Further, water held by organic matter is much more plant available that moisture “locked away” in soil particles, especially in high clay soils. Also, loose crumbly soils without compaction layers (hardpans) allow for better and deeper root growth. These roots can access moisture deep into the subsoil during times of water stress. Proper tillage, organic matter, balanced soil chemistry and biological activity all contribute to soil tilth and allow more abundant root growth. Although total rainfall for 2013 may be adequate, short dry spells can be better tolerated by soils with optimal organic matter levels.
As we proceed into the 2013 growing season, producers need to make sure they are addressing these key areas to promote good soil structure, water infiltration, and moisture holding capacity:
- Avoid excessive tillage that may lead to compaction and a collapsed soil structure which limits water infiltration.
- Provide adequate amounts of soluble calcium and sulfate sulfur for optimum root growth.
- Avoid fertilizers that can harm soil biology and/or burn up soil organic matter.
- Incorporate cover crops and green manure crops to increase organic matter, loosen the soil, and feed soil biology.
- Use crop rotation to increase soil diversity, increase organic matter, and improve tilth.
Although nothing can completely protect your crops from extreme weather there are many things producers can do to improve the productivity and resiliency of their soil. Improving soil structure and increasing organic matter provides more available moisture throughout the growing season.
Contact your Midwestern BioAg consultant today to discuss how our products and programs can help you prepare for 2013’s uncertain weather conditions.
Here’s hoping for a great 2013!