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Crop Corner – A Suggestion for a New Year’s Resolution

June 04, 2016

We have taken many soil samples already this fall from fields where growers reported below average yields of soybeans.  It has become apparent that a major reason we are seeing big swings in yields from one year to the next on our heavier soils, is the disappearance of organic matter from our topsoil. Clay soils should have O.M. levels of 4% or greater while our recent soil tests from some poorly performing fields of soybeans are as low as 2.5%. That difference represents a total of 30,000 lbs of plant and animal food annually for your soil life.  We all know how important O.M. is to our soils, ask any dairy farmer who has access to manure and hay.  Their yields never fluctuate as much as a cash cropper in difficult growing conditions.

We are all seeing the change in our soils, the need for tillage when no-till use to work, severe erosion during heavy rainfall events and disappointing soybean yields. Our county average this year will be around 30 bushels/acre while some growers reported the best yields ever. We all experienced the dry May, the wet June and the subsequent pressure from septoria leaf spot and aphids. Treating these challenges this year paid off greatly to reducing the stresses our soils could not cope with.  We have 20,000 extra acres of winter wheat that looks great in our fields.  Make a resolution this New Year’s Eve to seed all of your wheat acres to red clover to begin the long process of rebuilding our soil productivity!

It will take a long time to re-build our soils without the benefit of manure and forage crops.  Our present cropping system in my mind is not sustainable and we are gradually digging ourselves into a situation where we will not be able to grow profitable crops in the future without an aggressive campaign to restore the organic matter levels in our soils, starting this spring. If you want to judge your soil health, take a soil sample from your field and then take one from the fencerow, you may be much surprised at the differences!

This Crop Corner has been written by Jerry Winnicki, Agronomy Manager at Clark Agri Service.  Jerry can be reached by email jwinnicki@clarkagriservice.com or by phone 905-736-1426