Spring fieldwork in northern Indiana can start anywhere as early as mid March, but we started working ground this year early April. Most of the ground has to be worked prior to planting, although some of the ground is no till, which I will explain. Now if only the rain would stop around here, so we could get back in the fields and continue planting.
Soiling sampling is something we have done after crops were out of the fields in fall 2015. Our local co-op comes and takes soil samples and then sends them into the lab for testing. The reason we test our soils is to make sure the ground is within the range it needs to be and has the fertility required for the next seasons crop. Variable Rate Technology(VRT) lets us apply fertilizer exactly where the field calls for it and applies what is needed to get us back into the range that is optimal for the next crop planted. So, thanks to mapping capabilities, like GPS, combined with VRT, farmers can create a prescription for what their field needs and precisely where.
So back to springtime, basically you can do 1 of 3 things to prep the ground and soil for seeds. First, you could plow the ground. After plowing you need to disc the ground or skip the plowing and just simply disc the field. Finally, you could leave ground no-till, meaning you leave the soil untouched and undisturbed from equipment like plows and discs and just simply plant the field as is.
The advancements in seed genetics technology (like Roundup Ready), has decreased the need for the plow. Before the technology of Roundup Ready, a farmer had to plow his field to bury weeds that had take root in his soil after the past seasons harvest. A plow basically hugs and flips over the dirt, along with any weeds. The plow leaves the ground rather unsettled, so the farmer would need to come in and disk over the field to make it smooth. Sort of double the work, and because seed genetics have become quite sophisticated, the use for the plow, is less and less.
In the picture below, we are plowing a neighbors field for our county wide Plow Day. All plow work accomplished this day is done with antique tractors and alongside fellow farmers in our county. Fellowship with our neighbors is ultimately what this day is about.
The disk is a big piece of equipment, it roughs up the top layer of soil. Then right behind the disk is what we call the packer. It smooths any clumps left from the disk and also will smash down any smaller rocks that may be on the surface. This way when the planter comes in it can run as smooth as possible.
The disk will break up that top weed layer of a field, and reveal the nutrient dense soil beneath. The ground that you will see us working in these pictures is especially nutrient dense, it has been supplemented with liquid gold…hog manure!
There is nothing like the smell of freshly turned soil.
or freshly cut hay…..
or cattle at pasture…..
or hog manure,
okay maybe not that last one quite as much……
So, above you will see a side by side picture ofthe work that a disk does. You can see in the picture on the left the ground is very compacted and all that green is competition for a seed to grow. So that is why we disk, it gives the seeds their best chance and creates a nice seed bed. The picture on the right, the soil is almost fluffy, if I was to walk across it right after the disk, I would leave close to an inch deep footprint.
So no-till ground is exactly as it sounds. No equipment goes across the ground, we rely on natural processes to breakdown the previous years crops. Some reasons people choose to no-till is that it requires less fuel, less wear and tear on equipment, less equipment is needed, saves time and labor, prevents loss of soil moisture in drought conditions, and reduced potential for erosion because the soil is more compact. No till is not used on every field or farm because of various reasons such as; the type of soil on that farm, it takes more time for the soil to reach plantable temperatures, risk of carrying over previous plants diseases, and some studies have said the yield at harvest is not as productive.
Now, we are ready to get back to planting if the rain would just hold off!