David Mowers, agronomic consultant for AIM for the Heartland and Nitrogen Pulse, shared his insights about the past and upcoming growing seasons and the impact of cover crops.
Nationwide prevent plant acres are estimated at a record 11.4 million acres, topping the previous high mark of 8 million acres. Illinois had over 1.5 million prevent plant acres and Indiana had more than 944,000. What impact does that have in terms of soil health?
“It’s good and bad. The problem is if the soils remained saturated they’d be in an anaerobic condition and they would not be able to conduct beneficial biological activity.
“However, most of those prevent planted acres drained off and there was something growing there and in a lot of instances it was weeds. But still that allows for microbial activity to take place and to some degree that’s quite beneficial.
“Some cover crops favor microbial growth and actually make it better. It helps for nutrient exchange and water-holding capacity.
“I think if they can get good weed control this year that will alleviate a lot of problems and they should see a better growth next year.
“I would imagine some of this stuff got awfully compacted, as much rain as they had on it and if a person tried to till it in vain they could do a lot of damage. It’s the aeration I think more than anything else.
“There’s something to fallowing ground. In biblical times they did it once every seven years. In the west they do it with wheat and it conserves several things.”
Weeds seemed to take over some of the prevent plant fields because the wet conditions delayed herbicide applications. What does that do to the seed bank?
“That is a problem. You have a weed nursery. There’s no question about it. It was really difficult this year with the growing conditions and everything else to get a good seeding established that would compete with weeds. If you could do that, it’s going to pay big dividends.
“That’s going to be a problem these growers have. It’s going to take diligent weed scouting to make sure that they don’t let anything get out of hand.”
This winter hasn’t been as cold as some in the past in terms of a hard freeze. What impact, if any, does that have on the soil and soil microbes?
“Biologically it probably doesn’t do a whole lot, but physically it heaves the soil and does a lot for it to become more absorbent over the winter.
“A year ago today it was 28 below zero or something like that. We had quite a bit of snow cover, so actually the frost wasn’t that deep last year. I think this freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing cycle helps soil conditions about as much as anything.”
Any comments regarding nitrogen in the upcoming growing season?
“One thing we’re going to have to worry about is nitrogen management. It’s going to be something that will be a focal point for farmers. A lot of fall nitrogen did not get applied, so we’re going to be in a bit of a situation there, especially if it stays moist in the spring, you are opening yourself up for problems.
“There is talk of more corn acres. We’ll have a lot of first year corn this year because of the prevent plant acres.”