Ohio and Indiana have been hit hard and often with rain this growing season. Many fields have just been planted in the last week or two, some remain unplanted and prevented planting is being taken on many fields.
At my office we have received more than 17 inches of rain since April 22, and had 27 days with measurable rain in that 67-day period. That’s leading to tough conditions to get a crop planted properly, and then a rough road for those crops that are in the ground.
An observation from this spring is that no-till corn fields that were planted and have good soil balance are in much better condition than the conventionally tilled fields. The exceptions are those fields that contain a high level of magnesium in relationship to calcium. Those fields don’t have the soil structure and internal drainage of fields where the farmer has paid attention to the calcium and magnesium levels and has applied lime.
The tilled fields also have been hit harder by excess water. Precious soil aggregates were destroyed in the tillage process, and many times a layer was put in the soil that inhibits the movement of water and air.
We have been so wet for so long that many of these fields have gone anaerobic, such as the one in the photo. With poor soil structure, there are no air pockets and channels for the soil life to hide and survive.
We have noticed the hair roots disappearing in these fields. Without those tiny roots, the plant can’t take up nutrients. Farmers are looking at foliar feeding these stressed fields — if they can get dry enough to apply — but I have little faith that will change anything. The real problem is with the roots and the poor soil condition.
The calcium-magnesium relationship that has been well-managed shines in a year like this. Soil microbial populations are much higher under no-till with good soil balance, and can handle longer periods of water stress and recover quickly. The soils where magnesium hinders water infiltration (soils with clay content) lose microbial populations fast and recover extremely slow.
All these organisms are important for nutrient uptake in the plant and development of new plant tissue. They are the key to successfully handling weather stress. No-till fields that are well-balanced with nutrients, as well as calcium and magnesium, provide a great environment for soil microbes and that optimum “live” soil. They are definitely more profitable to farm and can relieve a lot of “farmer stress” in weather patterns like we are experiencing this year.