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No-till Planting Tips for a Dry Year

Water conservation needs the residue that the un-tilled field has. This residue layer keeps moisture in the dirt – not allowed to escape. So at planting time, the less a farmer messes with the soil, the better.

That residue layer even needs to be preserved on the row. Often, agriculturalists make the mistake of clearing the rows for planing for the sake of a dry and warm bed for the seed while the weather is cold. But if the weather is not wet and is warm, and particularly if it’s a drought year, the residue clearing is a bad idea. Growers need to think ahead and make sure the dirt is cool and wet enough during hot months. When the residue remains, the soils stays cooler all year.

A disk for seeding cuts through for planting. Double disks on planters can be configured to work in tandem for planting seed through the layer of residue. A coulter ahead would cause more “hair pinning” of that residue since tilling puts some residue down into the seed bed. Therefore, since disks are generally sharper than coulters, a grower who uses disks will cut through the surface residue more effectively. Sometimes, coulters just push down the residue instead of opening a hole in the ground for the seed, then seeders just push down into the residue, folding – or “hair-pinning” – it. This folding can be solved by making the desired depth of planting a little bit deeper. The disks will cut at a stronger angle.

It’s important to have the same spread of residue across the field. If a farmer didn’t ensure an even spread at harvest, they can use a residue mover to make a more uniform layer. But a farmer should be careful not to ever take off all the residue, exposing the dirt underneath to the risk of getting dry. On a field where the residue layer is already pretty even, a mover might just damage the conditions. They can break up the layer making some residue spread unevenly. Under loosened residue, little plants coming out of the ground might sprout a leaf underneath the residue. These plants can’t live very well in such a condition.

To make sure seeds get through, use pressurized springs and extra weight when planting. An a dry, hard, un-tilled plot of land, it’s a good idea to employ downpressure springs and weight to get deep enough into the dirt for the seed. Make sure the pressure is enough to get down under the row units far enough so the wheels that are measuring the depth are measuring correctly. Review the pressure often during this process so that when the soil is a little more or less dry, the planter isn’t making a compaction resulting in sidewall compaction.

Re plant near or exactly in the same rows as before. The old rows house where plants grew their roots the year previous, making these rows the epicenter of biological activity in the field. If a farmer were to plant between rows then the seed beds would be in soil that is too soft, while the areas where wheels roll will be the most compacted. If planting corn, though, a farmer would do well to plant corn five in. away from last year’s row so that planter bounce doesn’t happen, and it’s easier to ensure the seeds are all planted at the correct depth. This plan also protects vehicles’ tires from wearing down because of driving on old stumps in an attempt to plant between old rows.

For a year with little rain, it may be a good idea to plant even deeper. Deeper seed beds make sure that the seeds all have sufficient water so that they can all sprout together. Schaffert Rebounders can utilize Keeton Seed Firmers to put seeds in an ideal place in the seed-vee to make sure all seeds are planted at the same depth. Deeper seed beds are also a safer place that offer even temperatures and moisture. This way, seeds sprout at the same time and produce more. Deeper soil beds also tend to mean better root systems which in turn help the plant be more stable and capable of handling rough conditions. Corn seeds must be placed at a minimum of 2 inches below the surface. Most planters place them 2-3 inches under. Dry years or little residue call for 3 inches so that the seeds have sufficient moisture. Make sure to close the seed-vee well so that soil and seed contact is good and the bed doesn’t dry out. Farmers have even attached closing wheels onto planters to cover the seed-vee, particularly when the field or weather is damp. These spoked closing wheels do three things:

  • dry out the soil
  • cover the seed-vee and fracture the sidewall
  • put loose soil on top of the seed

Loose soil on top makes it unlikely that the seed-vee would re-open and dry up the seed bed. Sometimes, though, the closing wheel tills up the soil and dries it out too much. A good alternative might be using one normal closing wheel and one spoked wheel. Depending on the brand, some spokes are cause more tillage than others. For very aggressive spoked wheels, leveling of the soil by a drag chain is called for.

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