Soil Health Minute: Fire those acres
If you've been to a soil health meeting where Lee Briese (Independent Crop Consultant with Centrol Ag) presented you'll hear him make the statement, "fire those acres." I'm going to take a page out of his playbook and share more about what this means.
I'll use the example of a soybean field with salinity issues — I'll talk about it in the context that I am a farmer, it's spring-time and it's go-time, so I seed an entire field to soybeans. I do this: 1) knowing that I have had stand issues in parts of the field in the past because of salts; 2) thinking that this is the year that it will be different and soybean will grow in those spots;(3) wondering what my other options are that will pencil out because I rent that field; and 4) imagining how could I possibly do something different that requires different management because I'm already busy.
Soybeans emerge on most of the field, the stand is still poor in those salt-affected areas. I see those salt areas are larger this year than they were last year. I see herbicide-resistant weeds establishing in those salty areas where I don't have any crop competition. I am again frustrated that this area doesn't produce and I feel like I can't do anything different out there without running over my good crop and what do I do for herbicide program? What's the solution?
Start planning for next year. I'm suggesting to "fire those acres" and do something different on just those acres. It doesn't have to be the whole field.
Next year, my goals are to: 1) stop dragging down my proven yield for that entire field because of those salty areas with zero yield; 2) stop those areas from growing in size; and 3) lower my input costs to reduce my losses.
Over the winter, I'll look at my yield maps from these fields and block out areas that need to be managed differently from the rest of the field that is productive. I'll keep my fields square and easy to farm, but instead of seeding soybeans or planting corn in the saline areas, I will seed barley (forage or malting, you decide based on your experience). Barley is the most salt-tolerant crop option we have. I will come to terms that I may not make money off this area, but I will have removed that area from my proven yield on the rest of the field, stopped or slowed the area from growing in size, and reduced my input costs. If I can't get barley to grow, I will manage those areas with a batwing mower to keep the weeds from going to seed and create a mulch. The mulch will reduce evaporation and keep salts from coming to the surface.
This is just one example of what could be done and there are other options. What I wanted to share is the thought process that should happen this year at harvest, the planning that needs to happen this winter and the creative management to implement next year.
I'm happy to help with the planning, so bring your yield maps, soil tests from those problem spots and ideas to the Café Talks this winter and let's come up with a plan. The Café Talk schedule will be posted on the NDSU Soil Health webpage (ndsu.edu/soilhealth) in December.