As seen in Illinois AgriNews on October 23th 2015

With all the work that growers have to tackle this time of year, it may seem premature to think about 2016 spring planting. Yet, shifting from a linear, “one season at a time” approach to a more 365-day yield strategy can pay measurable dividends—especially in increasing actual production-harvest numbers. 

The fact of the matter is growers can proactively affect 2016-yield potential right now by making a few postharvest decisions to promote an ideal seedbed for next season.

Optimize Fall Tillage Opportunities

Fall tillage typically provides a more ideal environment for establishing a nutrient-rich bed where seed can thrive. Soil temperatures are generally more suitable in the fall. Plus, soil moisture during this time of year is normally below field capacity, which minimizes compaction. With that in mind, growers have some seedbed tactics to consider depending on their preferred tillage methods.

Conventional tillage calls for verifying that the equipment is set to the ideal depth, creating a uniform seedbed that has a good mix of residues. Strip tillage, on the other hand, demands a focus on accurate nutrient placement to successfully create a high-fertility zone.

Meanwhile, in no-till situations, where residues are managed through the combine, growers should watch the chaff and debris coming out of the combine and ensure it’s spreading uniformly across the field. This will protect the soil from raindrop impact, high temperatures and weeds, while also conserving moisture and providing food for soil microbes. 

Consider Fall Fertility Management

A crop’s ability to optimize investments in fertility inputs can be directly tied to soil pH with an ideal range that is slightly on the acidic side of 6.0 to 6.8. Therefore, before buying fertility inputs, growers should gather as much soil data as possible through uniform soil testing.

While soil testing in the spring has its advantages—one of which is a wider window to evaluate soil test results and develop a management plan—soil and weather conditions are often better suited for sampling in the fall. Either way, it comes down to acquiring the information growers need to move that pH range, if necessary. Once you have established a timeframe for soil sampling, stick with it. Different seasons will result in differing test results, especially phosphorus.

Meanwhile, when it comes to nitrogen application, the specific form and given weather conditions are always factors for consideration, but timing is as well. Apart from the fact that a fall application has a much lower soil-compaction effect compared to the spring, it also optimizes nutrient uptake for the following season.

Research shows, whether using AMS to stimulate soil microbes that, in turn, promote mineralization of this year’s crop residue, or anhydrous ammonia to establish a foundation for additional N applications throughout the growing season, growers are well served when applying between 60 to 70 percent of nitrogen prior to crop emergence. Obviously, a fall application allows a great head start to achieve that goal.

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