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Keeping things interesting

FG Editor Lynn Olsen Published on 30 March 2012

Headlines from some of the news stories coming into my e-mail box in the past couple of weeks have been things like, “Winter Annual Weeds Going Crazy” and “Warm Weather and Pest Populations.”

Mother Nature, in all of her uncertainty, has been keeping things interesting with a relatively warm, mild winter and an early start to spring in many areas.

The mild winter made for better working conditions for farmers and more available feed animals. But it also brings with it concerns about available moisture levels and how that may influence the growing season.

While it may be too early to know what the impacts of the weather over the past months or the weeks to come might be, there are some production practices you should remember as you begin the new crop year.

For new field plantings:

  • Consider crop choice.

Choosing the forage you want to grow is usually a bit of a gamble, but in addition to the usual decision about markets or field rotations, perhaps you should also think about how much water you had available during the past year and what the season-long forecast is predicting for your area.

Will you need to look at a crop that requires less water? Or one that tolerates higher or lower temperatures?

  • Don’t till or plant too early.

With warm temperatures coming earlier than normal to many areas, it can be tempting to get into the field early to till or plant, but in the long run that could be a mistake.

If the soil has not dried sufficiently, unnecessary compaction can occur and cause damage to the soil structure itself. When you are able to get into the field, be sure to not overtill. Not only does it waste fuel, but if the soil is already dry, excessive tilling can further deplete available moisture.

  • Pay attention at planting time.

Planting seeds at the proper depth is always important, but it becomes even more critical when available soil moisture levels are lower than usual. Be sure your planter is properly calibrated and use appropriate seeding rates for the crop and your field conditions.

For new or established fields:

  • Apply fertilizer at appropriate times and at appropriate rates.

With the rising cost of fertilizer, you can’t afford to apply at the wrong rates or at the wrong time. Do a soil test and follow the recommendations. Know when to apply to get the most benefit from the nutrients applied.

  • Keep a close eye on pests and diseases.

Although many people believe a mild winter or warm spring means an increase in pest populations, that may or may not always be the case.

What it does mean is early emergence can be an unexpected problem. Scout often, and be prepared to implement control measures if thresholds are reached.

  • Be aware of weed populations.

As is the case with insects, warm temperatures can bring an early flush of weeds. If necessary, control weeds to eliminate future problems during the growing season, but keep in mind that some residual herbicides, if applied too early, may lose effectiveness before weed populations reach their peak growth periods.

• Don’t graze pastures too early.

Be careful to not turn animals out on pasture too early, particularly if your fields are already weakened from previous drought conditions. Doing so can damage plants even further or invite weed or pest problems plants may not be able to fight in their stressed state.

  • Don’t make decisions based on a date on the calendar.

Be aware of what’s happening and use that information to choose what you will do on your farm rather than relying on a predetermined schedule.

Every year is different, and this growing season will bring its share of challenges and opportunities like any other. Being out in the fields early and often will prove invaluable to your operation and will help give you the edge needed to make this year a profitable one.  FG


Lynn Olsen

Progressive Forage Grower magazine