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With a dry growing season anticipated in some areas, the big question is how limited soil moisture should affect your cropping plans.
Conservation Technology Information Center officials estimate no-tilled fields can store 2 or 3 inches more topsoil moisture than conventionally tilled fields. Since dry harvest conditions last fall left few ruts or compaction problems, no-till will let you turn what moisture there is into higher yields.
“I don’t think farmers should get lulled into a false sense of security by early rains,” says Jerry Hatfield, the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Soil Tilth Lab in Ames, Iowa. “We have a dry subsoil. The crop is going to go from rainfall to rainfall and rain is likely to be spotty. In most areas, the plants don’t have a soil moisture reserve to grow into. I’d urge guys to be cautious about working the ground too much, as just 1 inch of moisture saved by reducing or eliminating tillage could be worth 25 to 50 bushels of corn in the fall.
Hatfield says research data indicates 1/2 inch of water is lost every time a farmer tills in the spring. Another 1/4 to 1/3 inch of moisture is lost during planting.
Even with dry soils, avoid no-tilling wet soils. This will increase compaction and restrict root development which can be very damaging in a dry season, indicates Bob Frazee, a University of Illinois natural resources educator.
To conserve season-long moisture, Frazee suggests no-tillers drill or…