Here are some thoughts to consider as we look forward to Spring 2017:
- Cover Crops are becoming more and more popular across our farms…some things to consider include:
- When using Winter Rye or other small grains as covers, remember that they need to be killed as early as possible (prior to 6-8” if possible); whether you’re using herbicides, tillage, or both. The more time they’re given to take up nitrogen, the longer it will take for the nitrogen to be mineralized for the crop, so adjust starter N accordingly.
- Clovers and related legume covers planted last summer or fall can and should be allowed to grow some into the spring before killing them as they will fix some more atmospheric N and improve soil condition if allowed to grow a bit.
- Perennial legumes that have formed a sod should be plowed or killed as early as possible (if you didn’t kill them last fall); and if there is a significant amount of grass in the stand, adjust starter N because the decaying grass will consume soil N as it breaks down.
- Living Mulches like hairy vetch and spring oats can be an effective practice in some situations…just be conscious of early spring challenges like residue management and control of germinating summer annual weeds.
- Frost seedings may be a good option this year if you have conditions that are favorable for them. These include limited or no snow cover heading into late February, early March; and good freeze/thaw conditions at the soil level. The idea is to have the soil honeycomb over the seed with the temperature variations (heating days, freezing nights) to give the small seeded planting a little soil coverage. The basics still need to be met for success..inocluation of legumes, pH, soil type selection, etc..and these are perhaps more important because frost seeding is a challenging environment for these crops. If possible, a cultipacker behind the seeding will help (assuming its not too wet)
- Soil Testing can be done pretty much any time of year, even in the winter, when looking to evaluate measures that are not tied to soil temperature. This would include pH, Phosphorus, Potassium, and most of the standard elements other than Nitrogen. Nitrate readings on frozen or cold soils are not relevant, though Organic Matter can give you an idea of potential nitrate availability once the soil warms in the spring.
- Planting Corn Early is still the single most important controllable field decision we can make. Soil temperature, while being important with a 50 degree target, is not as important as soil moisture at near 50 degree soil temps. If it’s dry, but cool, go ahead and plant. Seed treatment against early seed diseases and insects helps this along. If you’re not using seed treaters, best to wait till the soil warms sufficiently…but the saying that ‘the crop isn’t going to do much if it’s still in the bag’ applies as always.
- Evaluate Heaving and other winter-kill symptoms as early as possible in perennial legume and legume-grass sods. If plants per square foot drop below optimum for your age of stand, you may need to consider rotating out to corn. Refer to your local Cooperative Extension or University resources for the best populations per square foot for this decision.