Sunday, October 3, 2010

My NoTill Post

I have a friend who made a notill post about his half a corn crop and super weed crop this year in western Illinois where they got double normal rainfall this summer.

He asked what could he do to try and improve his overly compacted soil from all the rain that hurt his corn and caused the Tall Waterhemp to just go crazy.

I think it is a real good question lots of farmers are thinking about so I thought I would share my response with you. What do you think?

"Hi Paul, Hi Robert et. al.,

I think it is quite possible that you will have to do something more drastic if the air and water movement of your soil has been limited.

I would dig a few soil pits and get a good eye to come over and help me digest just what am I looking at.

You know everything we have bought or rented was beat to death when we got it but one. One was taken care of. It was notilled and rotated and improved, not tore down. It has always been our easiest farm to farm.

Some of these farms have been beat for 100-200 years and every last little bit of humus is burned up or washed away. When you started strip tilling your bandaid was big enough to cover the wound and hold it in place for you to make a profit and some progress until you got double the rainfall this year. Talk about a pounding, it got it.

Dig a hole or two or a whole bunch and run something down it that kind of imitates a tillage point going through it and feel the layers for yourself. I use the biggest straight blade screwdriver I have and you can feel the man made layers and the glacial layers. Look for roots and residue as deep as you can find them. A real healthy breathing soil will have a layer plenty thick for root growth with lots of pore space and the better the soil the deeper you will find it. If it is dead, it is dead and needs to be renewed however you decide to do that. A cover or combination would have really helped but that sounds out of the question. Healthy soil is a lot harder to build than any writing leads you to believe.

You couldn't control the amount of water you got, you have a little on what to do with it and thus your question. I will never forget doing this at field days and demonstrations and the owner watching intently and feeling every blow of my hand on the screwdriver has I forced it through those layers. Even 3 feet away, you can feel it in your feet as you force the tool through those layers and I have no doubt you have some.

Somehow you have to move water above field capacity down and away and create new channels for roots to start rebuilding those soils. Double rainfall could have been a catastrophic event on those soils. It was impossible for you to raise a full crop of corn with low weed pressure given your circumstances so now you are thinking how do I get this back in some kind of decent shape? It's a great question many of us have to try and answer to get back to profitability next year because no one can stand many years of this.

Get down there at eye level and study your fields and I think you will come up with answers.
The worst thing is getting it dry enough to do what you need to do to start the growth curve back the other direction. If you chisel you are going to leave a fairly new, tight compaction layer at the bottom of those chisel points. If it freezes deep enough I guess it wouldn't be as catastrophic as double normal rainfall and your layers all run together.

You are not alone in this problem. All those low yield reports tells you the soil wasn't able to handle the conditions Mother Nature and WE put them through.

I had this in a farm of RR soybeans in 99 when they couldn't go down get the deep water in the soil. I didn't get the right variety rooted to follow the moisture down on that droughty year after 4 years of excess water. This year all of my fields got down there and picked up the deep moisture and we had just enough rain to keep them alive and fresh through the drought of July through September.

I sure hope you and everyone who wants a better crop next year find your answers but a soil pit is the easiest way for me to try and understand what happened so I can avoid it in the future.


Does this make any sense to my savvy farm friends and city cousins? It is what I have learned after 60 years of digging and makes sense to me but may not to others. I don't know anyway at looking at your soil profile than at eye level and that means you have to dig a 60 inch pit so you can look and study and dig and learn. I do it every chance I get and I was so pleased when we repaired the broken tile on this farm a few years ago and I got down in the tile layer and studied what was above it. The old farmer had done a really good job and I got the chance to take what he built and keep it and maybe just build it a little more.

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