9 things you can do to prep your soil for your 2017 corn and soybean planting.

Spring is officially here, the Easter bunny has come and gone (for those of you who celebrate such things), and so our thoughts turn in earnest to planting season. While there are many factors to plan for, one of the first questions to contemplate is: Is your soil ready for #plant17? In this post, we outline 9 things you can do to prep your soil for your 2017 corn and soybean planting. Some of these are short-term things to do this spring prior to or during planting; others are more long-term strategies or things to do in other seasons to ensure good soil health come planting time each year.

  1. Terminate cover crops – If you used cover crops, and if they are winter-hardy, you need to have an action plan ready for spring termination of the crop – be it chemical and/or mechanical termination. Keep in mind that, depending on the maturity of the cover crop plants, two passes might be required (of either herbicide application or tillage).
  2. Assess soil moisture levels – It’s important to avoid tillage and planting when the soil is wet – the soil within the tillage depth should crumble when you squeeze it in your hand, if it is ready for you to prepare the seedbed. If you till when the soil is wet, you can end up with a “cloddy seedbed that reduces seed-to-soil contact.” It can also create a layer of compacted soil below the tillage depth that results in restricted root development. In their recent article on key factors for successful corn planting, Corn & Soybean Digest notes that: “Achieving excellent seed-to-soil contact is essential for rapid and uniform imbibition of moisture by seeds and uniform emergence.”
  3. Measure and forecast soil temperature – Waiting until your soil temperature reaches or is near 50° F for corn, and 54° F for soybean, reduces the risk of inadequate stand development, and allows the seeds to germinate and grow. Below optimal temperatures can cause seeds to remain dormant, and can also increase vulnerability to diseases and insects.
  4. Test soil fertility – In a previous blog post (“6 Tips for a Successful Soybean Plant”), one of our Regional Sales Managers (RSMs) recommended ensuring that you have your soil tested and have a fertility plan in place that coincides with your soybean [or corn] crop maximize yield.
  5. Prepare a level seed bed – In the same blog, our RSM also suggested that you “properly prepare your seed bed, ensuring it is level, to establish a consistent seed depth. Target should be about 1.5” depth. When changing fields, take the time to check depth again as soil structure can change in different fields.”
  6. Evaluate need for pre-emergent herbicides and other inputs – Evaluate whether applying a pre-emergent herbicide at planting – as well as other inputs such as fungicide, fertilizer, carbon mix and nitrogen, etc. – will benefit your crops and have a positive return on investment. For example, Real Agriculture’s Soybean School says that “the best strategy for growers when applying dicamba on Xtend soybeans is to target a pre-plant application, especially when dealing with glyphosate resistant weeds such as Canada fleabane… and only use dicamba in-crop if need be to control tough weeds.”
  7. Balance soil health and water quality – At the same time, consider how to “improve soil health and cut soil erosion while reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loss in a measured, whole-watershed way” before water quality regulations force this issue. Some states in the US already have voluntary targets – e.g. Iowa has a goal of a 45% nitrogen and phosphorous reduction in streams and rivers. To achieve this goal, more than just the use of a nitrification inhibitor and adjustment of nitrogen rates or application timing are needed; it requires practices such as cover crops, nitrification inhibitors, and corn N rate calculators. Check out the 4R Nutrient Management program, which focuses on the 4 Rs: “Putting the Right nutrient sources in the Right place, at the Right rate, at the Right time.” Nearly half of the North American Certified Crop Advisors (CCAs) with the new 4R Nutrient Management designation live in Ontario, so our Ontario growers have a good resource pool available to them locally if they want to learn more.
  8. Consider cover crops – Last month, we wrote about some of the benefits of cover crops and how they can impact your bottom line. Did you know that cover crops can also help reduce erosion by wind and water, improve water retention, and increase the organic matter in your soil? All of these characterize healthy soil.
  9. Build the carbon pool in your soil – Carbon serves to reorient or build soil structure to “increase aggregate stability and porosity, which is the volume space available for water storage… The linear relationship between organic matter content and water holding capacity is well proven,” reports Mahdi Al-Kaisi, professor of agronomy, Iowa State University. To build the carbon pool in your soil, he recommends that you “practice no-till, cover crops and/or apply manure. “

PROSeeds - soil health - spring planting

Image credit: valio84sl / iStock / Getty Images Plus #510065980

If you’ve measured, evaluated, and planned for the factors described above, you’ve taken the right steps toward having healthy soil for your crops this spring. Did we miss any soil preparation steps that you follow? Share your tips with us on Twitter or Facebook.

One last thought on soil and successful planting: It’s also important to select the right soybean varieties and corn hybrids to suit your soil. Check out our dynamic product information pages or ask your Regional Sales Manager for guidance on the best seed for your farm.


Feature image credit: standret / iStock / Getty Images Plus # 600174090