How to cope with a dry (so far) 2024 growing season

How to cope with a dry (so far) 2024 growing season  Farm Progress

How to cope with a dry (so far) 2024 growing season

How to cope with a dry (so far) 2024 growing season

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Iowa Farmers

Iowa farmer John Hanson of Gowrie finds himself in a situation akin to nearly all farmers in the state over the last few months.

“We’re dry,” Hanson says. “We had some snow this winter, but it all melted and our tile lines aren’t running at all. The creeks are already dry.”

This winter’s lack of moisture combined with a multiyear drought has created spring planting concerns, says Angie Rieck-Hinz, Iowa State University Extension agronomist. Although drought plagued much of Iowa last year, crops still yielded well in some of those areas.

The difference between 2023 and 2024, though, is that adequate soil moisture sustained crops for many weeks last year. “A large part of Iowa does not have that luxury going into the 2024 growing season,” she says.

What to do?

University of Nebraska research shows that tilling soil can trigger a 0.5- to 0.75-inch loss of soil moisture per tillage pass. This can worsen moisture losses in soils that are already dry, and lead to non-uniform germination and emergence. A joint research project completed by University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University shows soil moisture differs with various tillage practices, Rieck-Hinz says.

  • Tillage tips from Rieck-Hinz:
  1. Do a little. If fall tillage left a rough field surface, do spring tillage to provide an adequate seedbed for planting. Till as shallow as possible to obtain a good seedbed. Tillage also should be done as closely to planting as possible.
  2. Check soil surface. If fall tillage left an adequate soil surface and seedbed, you may not need to do any spring tillage. You can easily plant into existing conditions by adjusting your planters to manage residue. Leaving residue intact will reduce evaporation from the soil and lessen soil particle detachment when rain does fall. When rainfall occurs, it will also reduce soil crusting and allow more water to infiltrate.
  3. Plant directly. If you didn’t do any fall tillage, you may plant directly into existing residue. This allows existing residue to reduce evaporation from the soil by acting as a mulch. This may require adapting your planter to manage the residue. More information is contained in the ISU Integrated Crop Management blog, Considerations for No-Till and High Residue Fields in a Predicted Dry Season.

Cover crop termination may also be earlier this year. Favorable temperatures have spurred cereal rye and other overwintering cover crops to break dormancy earlier this year. This means they’re actively growing and pulling up soil water. Consider terminating cover crops earlier than originally planned to conserve soil water, she says.

“Once terminated, the decaying cover crop will serve as a mulch or barrier and reduce soil evaporation,” she adds.

For more information on terminating cover crops, visit the ICM blog, Cover Crop Termination Review for 2023.

Other issues of concern

Drought can also impact the following areas:

  • Weed control. Preemergence herbicides continue to helpful in preventing early weed flushes. However, drought complicates their effectiveness.

“Some of these active ingredients have certain water requirements for activation,” says Andrew Penney, a Bayer technical agronomist. “Unfortunately, if we don’t get rain, weeds can’t take in the [herbicide] product. This makes it challenging in really dry climates to maintain efficacy with preemergence products.”


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