Fewer fields were tilled last fall in Indiana and Illinois than in a long time. And while the no-till enthusiasts would like to think it was because there will be a strong shift to no-till this spring, that remains to be seen. The most obvious explanation is that a late, wet fall let little time to get fall tillage done. Either the concentration was on getting the crop out, or there was precious little time when fields were dry enough to till properly anyway.
Now many farmers are asking seedsmen and other specialists what to do about the residue. Even those who usually do minimum tillage in the fall are concerned that since the residue didn't get touched, especially corn residue, no breakdown occurred. That could pose problems this spring.
The first thing they have to do is go in and fix ruts, most experts say. If fields were rutted, that's quite a different thing than just a field that didn't get worked last fall because the farmer ran out of time or couldn't find a suitable window for harvest. If there are ruts, most people recommend disking them in lightly. Otherwise if ruts are left open and have any depth at all, in many parts of the world where they exist, they will fill up with water if spring is another wet one. Once ruts fill with water it's even tougher to deal with them and get the field back in shape.
Scott Ebelhor has a suggestion that he thinks would be prudent for this coming season for corn. Ebelhor farms with his family in Kentucky, and also runs the research farm for Beck's Hybrids near Ft. Branch, Ind. Working on some 80 acres, his goal is to conduct practical farm research and demonstrations that test out not only the company's products, but also various agronomic practices that other farmers in the area are interested in trying out.
He suggests adding N as starter with the planter this spring, even if you don't no-till. "I believe it would be a good move since residue didn't get a chance to break down where tillage wasn't done," he says. "The worst thing you could do is apply liquid nitrogen over the top, especially in corn fields going back to corn. Then the nitrogen would become tied up in the residue and would not be readily available to the plants."
If you inject some N with the planter instead, there will be nitrogen there to feed young corn seedlings, he suggests. Then you could sidedress the rest of the N you wanted to apply alter. He believes it would be an efficient choice.
"I like that approach in any year, but especially this year," Ebelhor concludes.