It’s a dry heat

Category: Planning, Tillage | Tags:
The key to a great finish of the growing season is a great start.
A cold and wet seedbed is a recipe for disaster for your corn crop.

The longer seed cannot get the warmth it needs to germinate, the more chance it will rot and fail to emerge. The need for a warm, moist seedbed to germinate corn is universal; however, the approaches to achieve that seedbed can be different across different geographies and tillage systems.

Tillage should never be performed if the soil is too wet and crops should not be planted if the soil is too cold. Driving over and tilling wet soils causes compaction, which will lead to yield loss. Planting in colder soils lowers germination rates as many seeds require certain temperatures to come out of dormancy and start the process of germination. Corn for example should not be planted until soil temperatures consistently reach a minimum of 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

One way to dry out soils is by installing a tile line. Although tile material has changed over time, it still has the same purpose: to carry excess water away from the soil and crops. Traditionally, tile drains are placed at uniform depths and can be constructed in various patterns based on topography. The quality of fall tillage will also have an impact on how well soils dry in the spring. Soils with some residue incorporated and some soil exposed will dry quicker than soils with a thick mat of residue on the soil surface.

Before you go out and spend $500+ an acre to tile your fields, determine if you really have a drainage issue. Use Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) photos and yield maps to evaluate your fields. If the same spots are low-yielding every year, you might have a drainage issue. Determine which areas are affected, many times the affected area is larger than the spots that regularly hold water. Dave Williamson of Williamson Farm Drainage Inc. suggests, “To quantify the benefits of drainage, compare the field to one of similar soil type, managed in a similar fashion, which has been systematically tiled, not just in the wet areas. The farmers of such fields can give you a good idea what to expect.”

When we think of getting into the field, we wait for an entire field to be dry to get into it. However, if you tiled the wet part of the field and it drains quicker, you can get into the entire field quicker, meaning you can till, spray and plant at more optimal times for the rest of your field.

An example from Williamson: Say 80% of an 80-acre field is dry and 20% is wet. Tiling the 16-acre wet spot increases yield by 20 bushels per acre, for a total of 320 bushels. Because you are more timely on the other 64 acres, you increase the yield in that area by 10 bushels per acre. That’s another 640 bushels of corn for no increase in cost.

Ideal soil temperatures for planting various crops

Crop Temperature (°F)
Barley 35
Canola 40
Corn 50
Cotton 65
Oats 40
Rice 60
Sorghum 60
Soybeans 54 minimum, 60 ideal
Wheat 54 – 77

Another approach to warming and drying a field is to use minimum till implements, such as a vertical tillage tool like the Sunflower 6631 or 6830, to open and mix some material without creating too much of an erosion risk in advance of often heavy spring rains. The Sunflower 6631 uses Saber Blades™ with a low concavity to lift soil upward while sizing and mixing reside.

One newcomer to the seedbed preparation category is the Sunflower 6830 rotary finisher–a unique tool with an all-rotary approach to preparing seedbeds.

Whatever method or mechanism is used to warm and dry seedbeds, the goal is the same. Get the crop in the ideal environment and ensure uniform and quality germination as much as you can. Because the key to a great finish of the growing season is a great start.

Tile Line

Reasons to tile

• Allows for more efficient use of resources
• Reduced financial risk
• Earlier and more timely planting
• Improved harvesting conditions
• Less wear and tear on equipment
• Less power required for field operations
• Better plant stand
• Less plant stress
• Fewer plant diseases
• Less soil compaction
• Increased land value


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