Manage fields to stop dollars from going down the drain

Making just a few changes to keep the soil and nutrients in the field can keep your money from going down the drain.

Fertilizer is expensive, top soil is hard to re-build and water is often our most limiting factor in obtaining high yields. Conservation practices can help keep nutrients and moisture in the root zone. Both put money back in your pocket when utilized by growing crops.

Spring rains are ideal for re-charging groundwater and mellowing the soil for future crop growth. Incorporating conservation practices such as no-till, residue management or cover crops can enhance the soils ability to hold onto these resources during the rainy season.

This is a great time of year to take a close look at your fields. They can tell you if you are losing resources – just follow any trails of rain running off or ponding. Check to see if there is evidence of soil movement with the rain. When soil moves it carries top soil and nutrients decreasing the long-term productivity of the field. In addition, if water is running off the field, it is not soaking in! Soil with good infiltration and organic matter will drain quicker in the spring and help hold the moisture in the soil during drier times of year.

Adding cover crops, leaving residue on the soil surface, leaving tilled fields rough over the winter, incorporating no-till, vertical or strip tillage, or any other residue conserving practices close to the time of planting will help to keep the soil on the field.

Growing cover crops hold soil over the winter and provide a “sponge-like” effect to soak up the water. The root structure holds the soil in place and the growing plant will take up nutrients that can be used throughout the season as the plant matter decomposes. The Midwest Cover Crops Council has developed a Cover Crop Decision Tool that can help to select the right cover crop for a particular situation.  Try the tool to select a cover crop to fit your needs.

Leaving 30 percent or more of crop residue on the field will reduced soil erosion, result in cleaner run off from the field and allow for higher soil moisture and water infiltration. This will also result in higher economic returns and improved long-term productivity.

For more information on management practices that can decrease erosion and increase soil condition, contact Marilyn L. Thelen, MSU Extension Educator, by email or phone: 989-227-6454.

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