Farmers who still have crops in the field are acting quick to access land and complete harvest operations. However, they must do so in a careful manner and be mindful of their conservation credo, according to Bill Gradle, Illinois state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“A wet summer and a wet fall have created serious harvest delays and now you have to get out there even though in some areas it may be too wet for traffic in the field,” Gradle says. “We know your fields are wet. We know ruts and compaction are — or will be — a real problem out there,” Gradle says.
Although tilling the soil may not be allowed in your conservation compliance plan, it may in fact be the only way to re-establish a driveable landscape that you can plant into next spring. As a result, Gradle offers some steps to take to keep you in compliance on highly erodible land.
1. Grab your camera. Take a few photographs to document field conditions you face. If ruts exist or residue has drifted into piles, pictures will confirm that situation. Keep the pictures for later use and evidence just in case your tract comes up for a random spot review or a whistle-blower reports it.
2. Don’t till the entire field for just a few bad spots. Use tillage only in truly problem spots. Only perform the amount needed to till in ruts or break up compacted soils. Only till damaged areas that need it — leave other areas alone.
3. If you have other critical areas or problems or special circumstances that call for unique or extreme measures, photograph them and be sure to let your NRCS staff know what the situation is. They can advise you on what action will work best and will be familiar with it if your land shows up on a spot review sometime next year. They can make a note of it for later reference, if needed.
Keeping these guidelines in mind should give producers peace of mind as they deal with current conditions and worry what it may mean for next year, Gradle says. If you run soil tests or have other records that document conditions, keep them and have them available if documentation is needed next year.
Gradle adds that when conducting compliance reviews, NRCS always looks at recent and long-term conservation history. If you must perform management techniques that fall outside of your usual and ordinary activities, NRCS must ensure the tillage or operations performed were indeed necessary and were the best management decision or option available.
“If you approach the problem sensibly, document actual conditions and the decisions you’ve made and you’ve communicated with NRCS, you can remain in conservation compliance and get your crops out this winter,” Gradle says.