In many parts of the Midwest, spring is almost here. Some growers may be dealing with spring snowstorms, which will further push back planting season, but planting is on many farmers’ minds. How quickly the soil will warm up is a question that some growers may be asking. However, if you grow cover crops, your soil may be warmer than you think.
Fields planted with cover crops, when used in conjunction with no-tilling, have been shown to have warmer soil than fields where other types of tillage are used. Dave Robison, a cover crop and forage agronomist, shared information on his website showing soil temperatures from his fields.
Using cover crops to improve water infiltration can also improve soil temperatures. When water dissipates into the soil, rather than simply sitting on the soil surface, the soil can stay warmer than it would with the water just sitting there.
Soil temperatures with covers also can influence how soon those fields may be ready for planting green. At the 2020 Nebraska Cover Crop & Soil Health Conference, during a panel discussion, experts were asked about frost depth causing compacted soil.
One grower on the panel responded with, “In our system, we’re getting to where our ground doesn’t freeze as much as it used to.”
Another expert added that no-till fields probably aren’t freezing very often. If soil is only freezing down to 8 inches one to two times per year, that’s not enough action to cause compaction.
According to information from North Dakota State University, soils are more likely to become compacted when they’re wet. A frosted field is not necessarily wet, so frosted soil is not likely to experience compaction. Because cover crops help remove water from the soil, the plants will not be sitting in wet soils that are vulnerable to compaction.
What have you seen on your farm? Are your fields with cover crops infiltrating the snow melt and any spring rains faster? Do those fields with covers have higher soil temperatures, too? Let me know!